I have four sisters and no brothers. I have worked primarily for women, outstanding women: Susan Winters, Rhonda Viney, Coleen Grissom, Gage Paine, to name a few. I have had many female colleagues in a profession dominated by women. Strong women. I have respected and feared many female secretaries as well. My wife Donna - a fantastic woman- has been at my side for nearly 19 years to love, guide, correct, and fix me. (Pictured at right are Sandy Ragan, Coleen Grissom, Felicia Lee, little Kellyn, and Donna Tuttle.)
So what took place on November 13 was as unpredictable as it was inevitable. Men have an internal clock that ticks to a time when a bone-headed remark or action will have to take place. It is nature's way of keeping us grounded. Exhibit A: Telling your bride at the altar that her mother looks great in her new dress.
Back to November 13. My supervisor and Vice President, Felicia Lee, stopped by my office so we could walk together to the Young Alumnus Luncheon, honoring an outstanding 1993 graduate named Tess Coody. As she bounded into my office suite in Northrup 118, Dr. Lee asked, very directly, "Does this skirt make me look fat?" She would later say that she was asking my administrative secretary, Lynette Kenyon, and not me. But she posed the question and she looked at Lynette, and looked at me.
It was really ironic that she asked about her skirt, because I had met with her earlier in the day and actually thought to myself "what's with the skirt?" Sometimes men make decisions to do the wrong things with confidence. Exhibit B: "I don't want anything for Mother's Day, it's such a busy time for you." Other things just jump out: "Wanda, you look like a Den Mother."
What is it about time that in a split second one can go through an incredible thought process? Here's how mine worked. First, I don't think my boss looks fat. So, no, I could definitely say, to the question I thought was directed my way, "no, you don't look fat." However, Felicia Lee is a complicated person. Lynette, who speaks her mind to me, clearly knuckled under to the VP, declaring, "no, not at all, it's really cute." Ha, she totally fell for the trap. I knew this was a test from Dr. Lee. There is a lot riding on this, I thought. If I lied, like Lynette, then Felicia would not trust me as a confidante in important decisions, like what to do with the Tigers' Den or where to have the holiday party. If I told the truth, she might ridicule me and harass me forever.
As the perspiration started to bead up on my brow I could hear my father-in-law's voice in my head saying "when will you ever learn?" I even heard my wife's voice saying, "David, those skirts are in style, and besides, never say anything about a woman's appearance, ever."
But what came out of my mouth was this, in my own voice: "I don't really love the skirt, but it doesn't make you look fat." It was, I believed, a brilliant tactical ploy. Avoid any negative reference to weight, but attack the object: I was honest and sensitive, right? "So let's go to lunch."
"I wasn't asking you!!I look like a clown! I'm fat!" It was like something out of a bad Cathy cartoon. Lynette called herself on the phone so she could answer her own call to escape, leaving me to my own misstatements. Sometimes knowing when to be quiet is a good strategy. Instead, the rest of the conversation went like this:
David: "It's just that the way the fabric hangs over the top, it makes it look... a little, big."
Felicia: "I have to go home and change!"
David: "That belt thing in the back, all of that fabric bunches out around it and..."
Felicia: "I thought it would be different, I wanted to take a risk."
David: "It looks like a burlap bag. I am sure it is fine, I just prefer a classic look."
Felicia: "James said I was dressing too old, I took a chance, and YOU called me a clown."
David: "I've just never seen pleats there on a skirt."
I was like a broken sprinkler head, I couldn't stop. It got a little worse after that.
At the luncheon, budding Lynette's, er, students, kept commenting on how "cute" Dr. Lee's skirt looked. You've got to be kidding me. "Oh, wool is really in right now," one said. There is a fine line between wool and burlap.
Suffice it to say, the rest of my day I received harassment from all quarters, even strangers, about what had by then been blown completely out of proportion by my boss. So to my brethren at Trinity, I offer you some advice. When you make a mistake with a woman, please just shut up.
As for me, at least I didn't say anything about Dr. Lee's shoes.