Standard Spilling Occasion
I’m standing at a party, holding a cup with ice and soda pop in my hand and talking to my friend Sue, who at that moment happens to have her handbag open, looking for a pen or something. Somebody bumps into my elbow from behind, and a split second later Sue and I are watching little pieces of paper and sundry personal items swimming around in her purse — her evidently watertight purse, now functioning as a portable aquarium.
Well, so much for that conversation. Completely submerged in the blink of an eye. And you know, there’s no cool way to follow a performance like this. Maybe say something like, “Sorry about that.”
Or: “I’m really sorry about that!” There’s a lot of variations on this theme, degrees of alarm-based regret. Depends on how bad it was and who you did it to. At any rate it’s probably going to contain the word “sorry.”
This expression of regret will be genuine, and not only for the sake of wet friends.
This kind of gaffe lays a body blow on that ace rapport you had going on. Instant whammy to the flow, no joke.
However reputation-damaging these innocent violations may seem at the time, this level of social mishap pales in comparison to, say, spilling a drink on a famous person.
Elevated Spilling Occasion
Post-concert cast party in Atlanta: Everybody’s hanging out on the stage after the gig. Draft keg, and those thin-walled, translucent plastic beer cups. I’m there talking with Pauline, a vastly respected maestro and internationally known composer and musician who I don’t really know that well at all.
At one point, in a diabolical combination of gravity and condensation, my beer cup slips without warning from between my fingers, and suddenly I’m standing there like a mannequin, with my empty hand poised as if the cup was still there.
Looking down, we see that I couldn’t have drenched her foot more accurately if I had leaned over and poured the beer on it.
She was incredibly gracious, given the circumstance. Nice shoes, at that; goldish, sandy-colored, open toes. Practical onstage. Attractive. But subtle enough that they possibly wouldn’t have gotten my attention unless, say, somebody dumped a beer on them.
These incidents are just a couple of examples of a regrettable proclivity I have for events involving unwelcome fluid activity. Always been that way, knocking over glasses on tables, coffee splashes, what-have-you. Goblets, teacups, cans, even oil cans. You name it, I’ve got you covered, or your tablecloth at least.
I’ve wondered for years about this phenomenon, and about the origins of this tendency to accidentally spill liquids. After decades of unwitting research, I’ve ruled out “Subconscious Desire to Initiate Personal Contact by Embarrassing Myself.”
That old “Latent Urge” chestnut. Not likely. “Subconscious Desires” notwithstanding, getting blindsided in this way doesn’t do a thing for my “Subconscious Vanity,” let alone for “Initiating Personal Contact,” an idiotic scheme to begin with.
I also thought about some kind of “passive aggressive” explanation, but that doesn’t hold up either. These events happen despite my moral objection to aggression of this sort, and anyway they are always unexpected. Too unexpected, in fact, to reliably act as either passive or aggressive.
Self-searching for symptoms of neurosis, probably barking up the wrong tree, actually. This whole phenomenon could actually be simply the results of true happenstance, based on nothing but a probability. Case-by-case basis; recurring natural randomness.
Upon close examination though, all these explanations appear fundamentally flawed, and the true nature of the hydrokinetic social mishap remains a stubborn enigma.
Therefore, we must look outside the teapot, so to speak, and speak frankly now, for it’s high time we finally face up to the jarring probability that humans do not accidentally spill liquids.
Liquids spill themselves, and it’s no accident.
Fluids are crafty and restless, you know, and possessed with an endemic desire to escape any vessel. Their heroic model is the ocean, whose relentless waves against the shoreline reveal an eternally tenacious urge to spill.
Round-the-clock containment is necessary to prevent escape, for liquids are absolutely persistent, and capable of blinding speed once on the loose. Based on this evidence of persistence and intent, we must assume that the fluid state has a mind of its own, combined with great willpower and an insurgent bent.
This is why, throughout human development, we have known and kept foremost in mind this ironic advisory:
Liquids are adversarial by nature and never to be trusted.
Can I use your napkin?
Back to the spill: Always happens in a flash, even if it looks like slow motion when it’s occurring. One moment I’m in like Flynn and a second later it’s, “Oh, I’m so sorry I spilled coffee on you!”
Note: The Gaffe-Alert reaction comes after the fact, usually in the form of an apology, and is always concerning the immediate past. That is, I’d almost never say, “Oh, I’m so sorry that I’m spilling this cup of coffee on you!”
Unless I was announcing an intention to pour coffee on someone, which would imply that I was not really that sorry. Regardless, this would be a rare case in which a spill might not be blamed on the liquid.
In any event, there may be “no use crying over spilled milk,” but you can rest assured that when that quart of cow juice is making its break for the floor, it won’t be shedding any tears over you either, pal. That splashing sound is a victory cry.