Some faces hang out better than others, and mine has rarely served me well in that regard.
Flannery O’Connor once wrote about a farm wife who “only had two facial expressions: forward and reverse.” I know the feeling. Somehow I’ve never mastered the “neutral” expression that is apparently called for in transacting some 99 percent of one’s daily business in the world.
Ever since I was a little kid, people —even strangers — have regularly come up to me in a quiet moment and asked, “What’s wrong?” When I answered them that nothing was wrong, I was just fine, they told me my expression was Melon Collie, which I eventually learned is actually one word and is spelled differently. “Pensive” and “far away” are other descriptors I hear often.
Yet when I try to put on a totally neutral expression in some difficult situation, people inevitably ask me, “Oh, you think this is funny, do you? Well, I can assure you it’s not.”
When I try to wear an expression of simple satisfaction and resolution, people say to me, “You seem to be having second thoughts.”
There used to be a popular song on the radio with the lyrics, “You say it best / When you say nothing at all...” For me, saying nothing at all is the surest way of putting my foot in my mouth.
I’ve found that growing a mustache and beard have helped the problem somewhat, as does the habit of putting my hand across my mouth when I’m thinking.
All of which leaves me wide open for the frequent exclamation, “I can tell from your eyes that you’re thinking [insert whatever the farthest thing is from my mind, at that moment]!”
Which always reminds me of the neat poster I saw in a kindergarten once: “Sometimes I sit and think, but sometimes I just sit.”
Yet I’m frequently told by somebody in the middle of conversation, “Well, go ahead and say it!”
”Whatever it is you’re thinking.”
At which point I have to manufacture something out of the air, because it would be impolite to say that I’m thinking about being somewhere else and reading a good book, instead.
All in all, though, I’d say that people — even strangers — are pretty patient with my odd facial gyrations. Or lack thereof.
One solution would be some type of face-covering with one-way gauze that lets me see out, but this would probably frighten small children and excite the Office of Homeland Security in one fell swoop.
Another solution would to have a small monitor attached to my forehead, with a portable keyboard at my waist, Stevie Wonder-like, into which I can type a more accurate rendering of whatever’s on my mind.
Or, I could just be a hermit and write for a living.
Oh, wait. I already do.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His newest book, “I Left My Heart in Shanghi, Alabama: 25th Anniversary Edition” is available on his website carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 and is archived afterward on his website.