Wednesday, January 26, 2022
THE GIFT OF REPARTEE
If I could choose a superpower, I wouldn't waste the opportunity on acquiring a skill as mundane as flying or X-ray vision. What I'd really like to have is the gift of instant repartee. Repartee, or as the French call it, L'esprit de l'escalier, or Staircase Wit, has two components: precise timing and a witty way with words. I already have the latter (after all, you're here reading my blog, aren't you?) but some of my best comebacks only occur to me after the moment to use them to greatest effect has passed. One of the best things about being around Ivaan was the fun of outdoing each other with wit. It didn't matter if the occasion to utter a funny retort had passed, because we lived in the same house and we'd trade quips any time at all, sometimes laughing so hard his head would start to hurt and we'd have to take a break. When you live alone, and especially when you live alone in the country, you talk to yourself more often than you speak to other people, and sometimes you find yourself saying something preposterous. Because time is so fluid when you live alone in the country, you may think of a witty retort hours after, or sometimes days after it's needed. And because you're there by yourself, you say it aloud and you chuckle to yourself, but later on you polish that retort and improve on it, so you tell it to yourself again and this time you laugh harder at your dazzling wit. Lately I've been thinking of incidents where my wit and my timing were in perfect sync. They tended to happen when Ivaan was around, and they were all the better because he got to enjoy them too. So I'm going to write them down in this post and add to the post as other incidents come to mind. Once I had to make a speech at a conference in a downtown hotel. If there's a skill I have in spades, it's the ability to speak to a crowd of people without a shred of stagefright (or an iota of knowledge about the subject). You could put me on a stage, hand me a microphone, and say "Go and speak to that million people in the audience about Astrophysics - or Mortgages, or Choosing Well-Fitting Shoes" - and I'd be off to the races. This speech was about Organ and Tissue Donation. I had picked a smart-looking outfit to wear: a short charcoal grey jacket over a matching sleeveless sheath dress with a very large thick zipper that ran down the back from top to bottom. As I was getting ready to go, I asked Ivaan if he'd like to come along and hear my speech. He was already using a wheelchair but the hotel was not far from our home, so I helped him get spruced up and we headed out the door and down Yonge Street, me pushing him in the wheelchair. Half way to the hotel, a nice woman came up to us and said to me, "That's a really nice dress!" I thanked her, and she continued, "But aren't you worried someone is going to come up behind you and pull down that zipper?" Without missing a beat, I shot back, "How'd you think he ended up in the wheelchair?" gesturing toward Ivaan. He howled, the lady howled, and even I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. A couple of years earlier, Ivaan was newly home from the hospital after his third stroke, and he was pretty frail. I'd just gotten him into bed and was reading to him in our second-floor bedroom. It was past eleven o'clock. Suddenly the doorbell rang. I went downstairs to see who on earth would be ringing our bell so late at night. It was a couple of acquaintances named Bernard and Julie, and they'd clearly been out for dinner and more than a couple of drinks. Overly animated with alcohol, they said they'd just dropped by hoping to see Ivaan. I explained he was already in bed, but they persisted. I went upstairs to ask him if he was willing to have visitors. He acquiesced, so I invited them up. Now, I should mention here that Bernard and Julie were an "opposites attract" couple. He was intelligent and humorous in a quiet way. Julie was dramatic and theatrical with a musical lilt to her voice. When they walked into the bedroom, in which we'd recently had leopard print broadloom installed, they were a bit startled to find themselves in a room that had a touch of safari about it. Honestly, I was irritated and just wanted them to leave, so when Julie said, dramatically, "Oh! I could NEVER sleep in a room with a carpet like this!" I turned and fixed her with a look that would have stopped a clock, and replied, "We don't do much sleeping in here". Bernard roared, Julie looked slightly abashed, and I thought to myself, "Check...and...mate!" and ushered them out the door and on their way home. I'll add more stories as I remember them, but those are two I remember fondly.