Sometimes you just can’t explain human behavior

It’s my favorite time of year: Cooler days, falling leaves, pumpkin picking, apple cider donuts . . . and people acting really, really weird.

I was recently at a friend’s house for a casual get together, and I brought my 15-year old daughter. She had nothing else to do that day and wanted to see how my friend had redecorated her house, so why not?

There were a few people I knew there, many that I didn’t, and everyone was wrapped up in conversation, so my daughter (let’s call her Joy) and I hung out in the kitchen, munching on snacks. I spotted someone I know (let’s call her Gerty) in the living room talking to a group of people and gave her a polite wave.

Gerty was dressed for this festive occasion in head-to-toe black, her slight frame barely solid enough to hold her steady on impossibly tall black boots, hair characteristically pin-straight, her mouth a bright red gash. She can be a little severe, our Gerty.

Suddenly she was right in front of me. How did she cross the room so fast? Did she glide? Not possible in those boots, I would have heard her clumping toward me.

“Hi there,” she said. “Hi!” I responded, then gestured to Joy, who I don’t think she had ever met. “This is my daughter, Joy.”

If things didn’t already seem a little off, they were about to get weird.

Gerty turned toward me, eyes wide, moved in so close I thought she was preparing to lick my face, and said with a tight grin, barely moving her lips:

“You brought . . . CHILDREN?”

I really had to think about my response. Mentally I looked around the room to make sure I hadn’t misjudged the audience. There was food, there was wine, there were lots of people about my age engaged in loud, happy conversation. There were no strippers, no gimps, no one was cursing, no one was naked. Why not bring a child?

My next thought was: Technically Joy isn’t a child. She’s close to 16 and could pass for 18. In fact, one of the guests had previously (jokingly) recommended she have a shot since we lived close and could walk home. He had no idea she wasn’t even old enough to drive.

I opened my mouth to say . . . I’m not sure what . . . Probably “Uh?” and Gerty, who was sandwiched between me and Joy, turned her back on Joy, effectively pinning her against the stove. Joy looked over Gerty’s shoulder at me with a slightly panicked expression. I shrugged, as if to say “She’ll move along soon, I’m sure she’s not aware that she is suffocating you with her black turtleneck.”

Then Gerty spotted someone she knew on the other side of the kitchen, and although the distance was only about 8 feet, she started bellowing to get their attention. Meanwhile, she hadn’t moved. Joy was still pinned, holding a cookie up in the air, unable to get it to her mouth since Gerty was leaning against her.

That’s when I went from puzzled to angry. When you introduce someone, the absolute minimum response required in a civilized society is to say hello and make eye contact. Ignoring the introduction and then turning your back on the person you’ve just been introduced to is beyond rude. But then preventing them from moving while shouting to someone else? To me, that’s baboon behavior.

Thankfully Gerty tottered away before I could smack the physically passive aggressive personality right out of her body. I considered tackling her but there wasn’t much room and I would most likely take other people down at the same time.

Instead, I told Joy “She’s just . . . a little unusual. You know some people, not aware of their surroundings. Loud talker. Close talker. Socially tone deaf.  I’m sure it was nothing personal.”

For all I know, that’s true. But it doesn’t excuse the behavior. And it made me wonder: Are some people just hard wired without basic human empathy, or the skills needed to analyze a situation and behave accordingly? If so, is the ability to act like a social animal something that can be learned through intense training? Or are people like this just destined to go through life offending everyone, yet fortunate enough to be oblivious to the negative effect they have on others?

So many questions. But I don’t want to spend too much time pondering them. If my observations are accurate, at least one out of 5 people seem to have the makings of a true sociopath. From now on, I’ll trust my gut and walk away instead of waving at them.

“Someone threw a HERB at me!”

My son has always had a strained relationship with nature. He doesn’t like to go outside if it’s hot or sunny, because he gets sweaty very easily. If he is forced to go outside, he first puts on his sun hat and then inspects his surroundings to make sure there aren’t any bugs in the vicinity. If a bug is sighted, he immediately heads indoors.

A couple of greenery-related experiences could have contributed to his distrust of the outdoors. Or if not, they’re still amusing to me.

He couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, going somewhere with my husband in the car. They stopped for gas and the attendant, after peering in the window at my son in his car seat, declared “What a handsome little fella, he looks like a Bush!” Meaning the former president, which of course went right over my son’s head. He was quiet for awhile, then as they pulled away, my husband heard him say softly, as if to himself, “That man called me a bush!” I still wonder what he really thought that meant. And for the record, he does not look like he’s related to anyone in the Bush family. Or would that be the bush species? He also doesn’t look like any type of shrubbery.

Fast forward about 7 years. I love gardening, and I often force my son outside to help me transplant and water plants. He’s familiar with most varieties of the herbs and vegetables growing in our garden. One day the kids were getting in the car, and as usual they argued about who was going to get the front seat. Being smaller and faster, he got to it first.

As she got in the car, my daughter grabbed a leaf from a nearby basil plant and threw it over the front seat in retaliation. There was a moment of silence, followed by a loud exclamation: “Someone threw a HERB at me!” This made us cackle for so many reasons. Mostly because he pronounced it with the “H.” As if someone had physically thrown a man named Herb over the front seat of the car. Also, he was aware that “someone” had thrown it, but didn’t know who. My daughter was the only one in the back seat. Who on earth could it have been, if not her? And then there’s the formal (if incorrect) way he identified the basil leaf. He knew it was an herb, but didn’t know which type. Not wanting to dumb things down by simply calling it a leaf, he called it A HERB. So now, when I go outside to water anything, I’m going to water my Herbs.

He hates when I tell both these stories, so of course I have to publish them so I will never forget how to tell them.