The One with the Stupid Question

“There is no such thing as a stupid question.”

~ Mrs. Reynolds, kindergarten teacher


I’m sorry to be the one to disappoint Mrs. Reynolds, but there are stupid questions. Many of which I, personally, have asked. Take last week, for instance.

Upon returning home from work, I found a woman was trying to get into my building. She looked to be in her late 60’s or early 70’s. She had short hair and wore bright red lipstick. As I approached, she smiled and immediately struck up a conversation. Clearly, she was from out of town.

“I’m here to see S and C. I can’t get the door open,” she said, looking a little frazzled. She demonstrated by ringing their apartment. I heard C’s voice over the intercom. He buzzed to unlock the door  and she waited until the buzzer clicked off, then tried to open the door.

“Ah, well, you have to push the door while he’s buzzing. You know what, why don’t I just use my key?”

As we entered the lobby and made our way to the stairs, she asked if I knew S and C. I said that I did. “I’m S’s mother. How do you like that?” Maybe she thought they were some kind of power couple — the Brad and Angelina of our building.

Just then, we intercepted C on his way to the lobby. “I buzzed you in three times. I was coming down to see what was wrong.”

She ignored him and took me by the hand — we were old friends by now — as we started to climb the stairs. “I’m here to see my granddaughter, B. Have you met her?” I had, indeed. She and Reggie are quite good friends. Reggie searches her stroller daily for any Cheerios that may have been left behind.

Anything interesting in here?

Anything interesting in here?

“And I’m here to celebrate my birthday.” She put her finger to her lips and nodded in the direction of C, who was bringing up the rear. She rolled her eyes and whispered, “It’s tomorrow.”

“I can hear you, and I know your birthday is tomorrow,” C said, more to himself than us.

“Well, happy birthday.” And then, in the midst of all the awkwardness, I added another layer to the uncomfortable conversation. “So how old will you be?”

How old will you be? Had those words really issued from my lips? Had I just asked a slightly off kilter, postmenopausal woman how old she was? My mouth had disconnected from my brain and taken leave of its senses. 

We each paused in our tracks for a beat. She opened her mouth to say something, and I thought, For goodness’ sake, please don’t answer that question. I looked to C for help, but he was staring at his shoes, probably glad that the heat was off him for a moment. Lucky for me, she didn’t answer. Submarine captain to crew: Dive! Dive! Dive! 

“Well, would you look at that? I seem to have forgotten my mail. You all keep going. I’ll catch up with you.” I hunkered down by the mailboxes until I was sure there was an all clear.

Have you asked a question or made a comment you wish you could take back? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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27 comments

  1. Yep I do this all the time. I can be quite awkward and the Better half teases me constantly about it. I’m surprised she didn’t have a zinger for you. and tell Reggie not to give up on the Cheerios!

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  2. Oh yes, all the time for me too. I don’t even want to remember some of them.
    I think it’s OK to ask a woman her age if she looks to be around 100. 😉 Then it’s something to celebrate.
    That shot of Reggie is too funny!

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    1. Yes, what are they called: Centenarians? Though, I have a feeling I’d find a way to flub that.
      Me: You don’t look a day over 100.
      Her: That’s because I’m 95.
      😛
      Have a great weekend!

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  3. When I teach my communication classes to police officers, I always use the example that we all eventually say “see what I mean?” to a blind person. The thing is, no one else ever admits to having done that. Perhaps it’s just me.

    I have to give you a pass on the age question. It is off the table between 23 and 62. Before and after those years, people want to tell you. Perhaps its just me.

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  4. My speciality are not stupid (or rather poorly timed) questions but statements or funny remarks which may have an at least unpleasant (but sometimes rather hurtful) second meaning in the given context – and for the addressee, this may be the first, intended meaning. Of course, I reveal the second interpretation only after having sent the e-mail or uttered the remark.
    And I often does not realise that “objective” criticism can be offending in large quantities…

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  5. Oh, I can just see you walking up those stairs with your neighbor’s mother. Of course, she’d take your hand. You are a total dear–made her feel comfortable–UNTIL! LOL Oh, well, sometimes old people don’t mind sharing their age–a badge of honor they can brag about–kind of like little kids.

    Sara and I have finally moved into our house in Ecuador (at least for the first year) and furniture arrived over the weekend. Now we have something to sit on. Maybe that means I can write again. What do you think?

    And, good God, I ask stupid stuff all the time! What can I say?

    By the way, when are you and your friend coming to visit us? Hopefully soon! Now that we’ve actually met, I miss you!

    Hugs,
    Kathy

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    1. I’m so happy to hear from you Kathy! And I’m glad to know that you and Sara are getting settled. I hope you can post an update with photos soon! I miss you guys too!
      How are Sara’s Spanish language classes coming? I hope Ralph and Lucy have made a good transition.

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  6. Sorry I’m so late to this post Jackie. I’m still in California with my family. Wow, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time resonates with me, too. I feel you pain. Big time. I also frequently think what could be the wrong thing. On the subway it’s trying to decide if someone is pregnant or fat and should I offer her my seat or might I find myself the subject of the stink eye?

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    1. Oh, I have been there. I’ve offered my seat one too many times to a woman who, on second glance, simply ate too much for dinner.
      Hope you’re having a good time visiting family!

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  7. OH my gosh, I HAVE made a comment like that. But it was so horrible, I can’t print it… you know, one of those stupid ‘phrases’ that you hear other people saying, use it yourself out of habit, but never stop to understand WHAT it means… that it is derogatory. BOY did I do some backpedaling. Horrible. Horrible.

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    1. Melissa, I have done the same thing! I thought I was being cool and hip…until I found out what I was really saying. It was not cool, or hip. To this day my friends say that I pulled an “Archie Bunker” move. I don’t know if you remember that tv character, but they were right on target!

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