Friday, January 11, 2013

Social Vertigo

I might file this post under the heading, "I hope I'm not the only one who..." because there are times that I'll think about something or do something and wonder if I am the only person who has had the particular thought or action. If any of the following discussion resonates with you, please let me know. If it does not and you now think that I may be a little bit more insane than I originally portrayed myself as being, I suppose the jig is up. Finally, this post contains some salty language. You've been warned. 

Years ago before the K and I were married, we lived in Birmingham, Alabama. For those of you who have never been, Birmingham is a lovely city. The people are friendly and welcoming, the neighborhoods are beautiful, and the populace's dedication to college football rivalries is truly awe-inspiring.

A house divided, literally

Generally speaking, I found Birmingham to be much more conservative than any other place I'd lived. I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking about a man saying something like, "I'll tell you fellows later, when there aren't any ladies present." I'd look around for the lady and realize that the gallant gentleman was referring to me. Now, I suppose that men in New Jersey were saving some really unsavory things to discuss when the women weren't around but I really can't imagine what they could be considering the topics that were discussed in my presence. I knew which guy in my college boyfriend's fraternity had a third testicle, which guy had a girlfriend who popped his back zits for him, and which one unintentionally exposed himself while studying at the library. 

It seems strange in a way, then, that I was introduced to the concept of social vertigo in Birmingham. It came about thusly: The K and I were at a party talking with our friend, Spence who was telling us about fixing up a house for Habitat for Humanity. The conversation went something like this:

Spence: We realized that the shower pan in the bathroom was all messed up, so one of us had to crawl under the house to take a look. So, I volunteered to go under the house and darned if I didn't find a mother cat and three kittens under there. 
Me: Awww. So cute. 
Spence: Yeah, well I pulled out the mama cat and she didn't like that much, leaving her kittens. So, I crawled back under and pulled out the kittens. They were really little. Probably about a month old. There was one orange and two black and white ones.  
The K: What did you do with them? 
Spence: Well, there was really only one thing to do. I took a rock and smashed the shit out of those furry little mother-fuckers. 
Me: (Look of complete horror)
Spence: I'm totally kidding. We found them homes. They're fine.  
So, Spence apologized and explained that he had a moment of what he called "social vertigo." I immediately understood what he meant. It's when you feel compelled to say something completely horrible and socially unacceptable. This is the feeling you have when you're in a business meeting or church service and you want to shout, "You have no uterus!" or "Prostitution Whore!" just because it would be absolutely inappropriate.

Social vertigo is a kissing-cousin to the foot in mouth condition that I previously discussed. The main difference is that social vertigo is intentionally, while foot in mouth condition is just a product of poor breeding, alcohol, or a combination thereof. For example, social vertigo is responsible for my actions on the day of the Baby's preschool Thanksgiving performance. She attends the same preschool as the Girl and the Boy did and the Thanksgiving performance has not changed an iota in six years. In fact, the music teacher at the school has been there for over 30 years, so I believe the performance may be unaltered since the Carter administration. This includes the rendition of "Ten Little Indian Boys (and Girls)" that has driven me insane since I first heard it in 2006. The little Indian boys (and girls) kill buffalo, build teepees, and paddle canoes through this homage to historic revisionism. Somewhere during the second stanza, I turned to my friend and whispered, "For goodness sake, when are they going to build their casinos and develop diabetes?" My friend, to her credit, looked confused and a little alarmed.

This might be the most controversial thing I've said since my proclamation that all customer service representatives should be British. I don't mean to offend Native Americans, but I'm not sure that my comment is any more insulting than the actual lyrics to the song. I would ask one, but I've never met a Native American in Georgia. You see, there was this thing called the Trail of Tears that started hereabouts. If that was in my history I wouldn't make haste to revisit that location even if Georgia tried to make nice by naming a county after my tribe.*

*Good grief, that paragraph makes me sound like Dennis Miller during his short stint on Monday Night Football ("the Jets and the Patriots have a rivalry bloodier and murkier than the House of Plantagenet.")

I had a mild attack of social vertigo at a party where I was talking to a very nice, but straight-laced man who happened to be an attorney. I mentioned that I used to work as a bankruptcy lawyer. He made a perfectly innocent comment about bankruptcy work and how it must have been interesting and I let loose with this story:

Me: The big problem was that if you're representing a company that's not reorganizing, none of the employees want to help you because they're going to lose their jobs when the company is liquidated.
Guy: Oh, yeah. I hadn't thought about that. 
Me: Yeah. For example, I was working with an in-house counsel for this one company and he was supposed to send me a bunch of documents that we needed and he just wouldn't do it. I kept calling him and he kept saying that he'd send them, but he never did it. Finally, I called him and he said, 'Susannah, I have your fucking documents spread out all over the floor. After I piss all over them, I will send them to you.'
I could have told a million conventional stories about being a bankruptcy lawyer, but instead I pulled out this story. Why? Social vertigo.

Please tell me that you've had this experience. Tell me that you, too, look at a picture like this from Pinterest:

And think, cute picture, but what wouldn't it be better if a train was just visible in the background, barreling towards this quartet of cute girls? I know, I know, it's really a terrible thought. But these girls would be fine because I've seen "Stand By Me" and River and Jerry and Wil and the other Corey were on a train trestle which is far more dangerous and they got away without a scratch.

So, please let me know if you've had any instances of social vertigo so I don't feel like it's just me and Spence, who I haven't seen in nearly 15 years, which means it's basically just me.

Also, don't forget the giveaway!


  1. Unfortunately, all that is coming to mind right now are some cringe-worthy foot-in-mouth, but I will try not to leave you hanging. Social vertigo (nice term!) was a much more common occurrence in my 20s, so I will have to rack my brain for the good ones. I have been known to mix it up a bit. ;-)

  2. One of your best!