A few years ago, I was a restaurant Marketing Manager, where I shared workspace with the hotel employees who housed the restaurant. The Events Manager (a tall, young, African-American gentleman) welcomed me every morning, by slapping the back of my neck when I least expected it. And every morning, I practically jumped out of my skin. While I sat behind him in our weekly staff meetings, I dreamed of getting back at him. Just once. His big, bald head was practically asking for it. But someone had to be mature and dignified. (Ok, so I was too short to reach the back of his neck, unless he was sitting with his back to me which he rarely did). I know he did it affectionately (or so he said) and that he actually liked me(or at least didn't hate me). None of this mattered as I sat at my desk, heart racing, trying to calmly plan no-budget marketing campaigns.
One night, The German planned a dinner get-together at his favorite sushi joint, a tiny hole in the wall with an L-style sushi bar and pictures of all of its patrons on the wall. M and I were the last to get there, everyone else was sitting along the long side of the L. We walked in, waved hello to everyone and that's when I saw Ryan--sitting with his back to the door; big, bald head shining; and within my reach. He was still wearing the blue shirt he had worn to work that day. All of the sudden the wish to get back to him was so great, my fingers were tingling. I could just see him jumping out of his chair the way I had every morning for the last three months. I didn't care that M's co-workers would see me in a moment of gleeful indignity. I was not afraid.
As M walked toward his friends, I raised my hand, focused on the big bald head and SLAP!
It was beautiful. There was an echo. Everyone saw it. The big, black man jumped out of his seat and turned so fast his chair hit the floor. My victorious laugh turned into a blood curdling scream. The man was not Ryan.
Did I mention I couldn't stop screaming?
He was incredibly nice. Not many men would start laughing that hard after being slapped by a complete stranger. I couldn't stop apologizing; M couldn't drag me away. My audience was laughing hysterically at the end of the bar. I had no dignity left.
I didn't taste anything that night. I wanted to die when the nice gentleman walked over to wish us a good night. I almost cried when he laughingly told me to pick on someone my own size next time.
I never recovered from my performance that night. It's hard to maintain any sense of dignity when people refuse to let a small matter of mistaken identity die.