It was a rather brisk, blustery November morning, 7 a.m. I was, as usual, running late, with myself to get ready for work, and an eleven-year-old daughter to shuttle through the morning routine, then get her to school on time. There was the inevitable, last-minute question,”Where the heck are my keys?”, which always puzzles me, because #1: I know I’m going to need them next time I leave, so why do I not put them away in the same spot?, and #2: why is it that I wait til the last-minute to be sure I have the most important thing that leaving hinges upon? Go figure. I do not have the answer. More stupefying, and not at all helpful, is the absolutely predictable response from whoever is standing around, “Where did you have them last?” Now, I know the question is intended to be helpful, and I usually subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as a stupid question. This is the one exception to that lovely, and slightly naive, philosophy. That response is exceptionally irritating, because #1: I’m already late, and #2: I don’t have the time to answer that single, predicted, stupid question, especially when I’m already late. If I knew where the item being searched for was the last time I had it, I wouldn’t need to be asking that particular question, now would I?
Fortunately, I had something awaiting me in the very near future, that would dispel the unreasonably high level of frustration and irritation I was currently experiencing. I found my keys, gathered my dear, lovely daughter and my bag, which fortunately, was not missing. Miracle number one was that the car started on the first try. Dilution to miracle number one was that the gas gauge needle was hovering uneasily just below the “E”. No time to waste, and off we went, faster than usual, as we all know that when your gas tank is on “E”, it’s more important to get to the gas station really fast, which of course uses more gas, than to get to the gas station later, even if you do have to endure the terrifying “coast” up to the pump. I know, I know. But the point is, we did get to the gas station, coasting or not. The road was mostly downhill, which probably helped on that one.
I threw open my car door, and grabbed my wallet, simultaneously pulling out my debit card. Remember, now, we had had a very rushed morning, and though I may have thought I was finally together and on my way, as it turned out, not so much. I jammed the debit card into the gas pump slot and waited for it to decide whether or not it would reject me, as I impatiently watched the cars passing in both directions on the very busy, adjacent 5-lane thoroughfare. Somehow, watching those people moving along on their way to wherever they were going, was irritating, and the gas pump seemed to be taking an excessively long time to do its thing, so I could eventually be one of those cars moving along to where I wanted to go. I tapped my foot rapidly against the asphalt, presumably to make the pump do its thing faster.
The pump finally blinked at me, authorizing my plastic, and I whirled around in a single motion, pulling the nozzle from its slot, then whirled back toward the car to insert the nozzle into the gas tank portal. As I did, I felt a sudden, cold whooshing sensation rush up my legs, moving rapidly toward the north pole. The sensation exited somewhere around my collar region, and it was followed by another colder whoosh, following the same general, anatomical path from knees to neck. I noticed the passing cars were slowing down, but didn’t know why. At least, not til, at the third whoosh of cold air, I glanced toward my feet, and observed with horror my skirt puddled sweetly somewhere around my ankles. I stood, panty hose and all my glory, exposed for all the passing commuters to see. Oh, yes, and these were the extra sheer panty hose.
I would call it an awkward moment, as I tried to look nonchalant, while stooping to pull up my skirt. We’ve all watched as someone slipped or missed a step and stumbled, then tried, with embarrassing futility, to appear as though it was all planned that way: I meant to trip on that bicycle or step, you know? And the head tilts slightly up, in a weird, silly attempt at maintaining some form of dignity. I was beyond that. There was no point. How can you nonchalantly pretend that you just routinely lose your skirt, while standing adjacent to a 5-lane thoroughfare at one of the busiest traffic times of the day, pumping gas into your car? I’ve never trusted those zipper locks on skirts, since. I also learned that, whether my skirt was lined or not, a half-slip is not an option, it is mandatory. You women out there will understand the mechanics of all that.
Of course, I still needed gas, so after publicly redressing myself, I resumed the process of filling my gas tank. The daughter, whose name I will not use, was abhorred beyond belief: “Mother?! What are you doing?! What if someone I know saw you, Mother?!” She wasn’t asking, she was screeching. Her head was tucked between her knees.
What can I say? I still needed gas. And, I was focused fiercely on preserving some sort of nonchalance, as I defiantly stared down the drivers that
seemed to be were gawking in my direction. Nothing to see, move along, folks, nothing more to see here, I thought. Where was a police officer when you needed one? Those people, with all their rubber-necking to see the woman by the gas pump in her panty hose, could cause a terrible accident, after all!
I’m sure there were lots of laughs around water coolers and lunches and dinner tables that day. I made a lot of people laugh. I can probably even take credit for heart attacks and strokes that didn’t happen, as the site of my morning wardrobe malfunction sent lots of those good healthy chemicals coursing through bodies, as the result of a good belly laugh. Who knows? I could possibly have lowered someone’s stress level enough to save a life that morning at the gas pump, in my panty hose, and not even know it! The rationalizations continue.
My daughter didn’t say a word to me, for the remainder of the drive to her school. And her head remained between her knees. Apparently, none of her friends had seen her mother standing practically naked by the gas pump that morning, because nothing more was said about the incident by my daughter when she came home from school that afternoon. Oddly, though, she always saw to it that my keys were next to my handbag in the morning. I guess there’s more than one way to get your kids to help. Personally, though, I advise just keeping your keys with your bag. It’s easier that way.
©Janet Mitchell, September 2011