As probably every half of a close couple can attest, there is some kind of secret signal we use to communicate with our partner — in full view of others, when we want no one else to know what we’re saying. Whether it’s signaling that a) it’s time to leave the Horowitz-Solomon wedding reception; b) I can’t stand these eight strangers we’ve been seated with; or c) does that food look as inedible to you as it does to me? — all of these thoughts can be conveniently communicated and easily understood between partners with just a subtle gesture. Usually.
In my case, it’s one perfectly raised eyebrow, usually my left. Don’t ask me how I can do it at will — I just can. And once B. sees it, he knows it means a) the party’s over; b) if I spend one more minute trying to chat with these pre-assigned tablemates my head will begin to spin around 360 degrees; or c) better to fill up on bread and dessert. Most times.
As for B., he’s got his own signal that tells me all I need to know — it’s a quick wink of one of his amazing turquoise eyes (the very first thing I ever noticed about him). It is code for: a) let’s blow this popsicle stand; b) ten more seconds with these insufferable strangers with whom the Horowitz-Solomons have seated us and I’m going to spontaneously self-combust; or c) what is that on my plate and where can I hide it? Almost all the time.
Do our signals ever get crossed? Er, maybe. All right, yes. In fact, three times at that one proverbial wedding reception. First, when B. thought my raised eyebrow meant I wanted to leave — he tried to rush me out the door before the bride had even changed into her second “yes-to-the-dress” dress of the evening. In truth, I had something in my other eye, which was squinting. The raised eyebrow was just a reflex of my non-squinting eye being wide open.
Or when I misread his wink as “time to go — don’t even think about starting a new topic of conversation.” I got up to leave immediately, even before the Viennese table had been set out (see my post an affair to remember if you’ve never heard of a Viennese table). In fact, the wink was his way of encouraging me to tell my latest funny story to that table of the most boring people on earth, thinking it would make the evening at least a little bit interesting. (Thankfully, he pulled me back just in time so that we didn’t miss out on the chocolate parfaits.)
And when we both sent our “danger Will Robinson — do not eat!” signal to each other. Or so we thought. The truth was, I was raising my eyebrow in awe of the eyebrow-raising presentation of the catered dinner while he was winking at me because he was flirting. The result? Two very hungry people who passed on what looked like an absolutely delicious entrée (nary a crumb of stuffed derma to be seen!) because of a misread signal.
Okay, so maybe subtle, private signals between partners can sometimes go awry. But what about those signals that everyone knows — those most universal of signals that strangers share everyday? Why is it so hard for road signals to be received and perceived clearly? It’s really not difficult. To wit:
Hey, Ms. BMW — are you thinking of changing lanes? Give me a clue. You, Mr. SUV — want to make a right? Just push that lever on the left of your steering column — the one that goes tikka, tikka, tikka — up before you do so. And whoa, Sir Range Rover — see that traffic sign that says, “No left turn. Right turn only”? It’s not a suggestion, buddy.
When I’m sending my traffic signals, please take a second and think before blaring your horn at me. Like if I’m sitting in the right lane at a red light with my turn signal on but not moving, maybe its because the sign directly above the light says “no turn on red” and not because I’m an idiot. (You really want to go IQ to IQ with me, Ms. Gas Guzzler?) Or when I’m stopped behind a sanitation truck with my left signal on, perhaps consider slowing down and letting me cut in front of you, Mr. Maserati. That one is a suggestion — a suggestion that you be a mensch. Do the right thing and I’ll reward you with a wave — my signal for “thanks.”
You know what we could all use these days? A little bit of a signal switch. If you take that angry middle-finger salute and just add your index finger to it, bam! You’ve got a peace sign. And a peace sign could never, never be confused with that middle-finger dismissal (the same way “the Corvette could nevuh be confused with the Buick Skylark!” as per Marisa Tomei’s big-haired Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny).
The lesson here? Choose your signals wisely. Read others’ signals carefully. And always, always, go with the Corvette.
© 2019 Claudia Grossman