“I particularly dislike compliments that are basically insults,” I said.
It was too noisy and I wasn’t heard.
The wine bar had flung all the doors open, the fresh summer air mingling with soft brie and salty crackers, the sun warming our flights of red wine to just the right temperature, alcohol and laughter making the tip of my tongue tingle with delight.
My sons had taken me to happy hour for my sixty-third birthday. On the one hand, I would be drinking. On the other hand, there wouldn’t be anyone they knew. Evan and Andrew felt it was a fair calculation.
I gazed outside and loudly chuckled, truthfully more of a bark. The patrons stopped in mid-sentence, staring at us, my sons stiffened, worried the wine had made me too boisterous.
I repeated what I’d said, “I particularly dislike compliments that are basically insults,” and added, “I’m sorry. I was remembering last winter when your dad and I were at the restaurant up the street. The place was packed and two guys at the next table were pretty much sitting with us. They were younger, but not my much, long-haired, dressed in flannel shirts and faded denim. We started a conversation, mostly to alleviate the awkward fact that we were so close, After a short while, one of the men exclaimed, “You are so much cooler than you look!” and they invited us to the heavy metal concert of equally aging rock stars. We declined. It stuck with me though, “You are so much cooler than you look!” I was more than a little offended. Why didn’t he simply say, “You are cool.”
Relieved and engaged now, Evan said, “I hate it when I golf or hike with a new group and someone always says, “You’re so much more athletic than you look.”
Andrew stitched his comment close to his brother’s sentiment, “…or when, after a couple of beers, some guy says to me, “You’re not nearly the jerk I thought you were. Want to hang out next weekend?”
We all shook our heads, simultaneously lost in our own thoughts.
I sighed and murmured, “I wish there was something I could do so that people wouldn’t look at me as just another old woman, and the Real Alice was more visible.” Andrew, because he is a good son, examined me over the table.
“You could keep your hair the same, clothes and make-up. What you need is a superhero t-shirt.”
Evan nodded, equally serious.
The night faded into memory, stored amongst the jumble of other good times together.
Christmas morning of the same year, Andrew eagerly handed me my present before I even settled into my chair, urging me to open it first.
I pulled out a Spider-man t-shirt, then a Captain America jersey.
I save them for special occasions and the most important situations.
Maybe the Real Alice is cool…Super Cool.