Monday, July 16, 2007
The Power of (Poor) Communication
I spent yesterday in Newport, Rhode Island, with two of my closest friends. We toured The Breakers, the Vanderbilt mansion, and had lunch at a lovely seafood place on the harbor. The weather was perfect and the conversation plentiful.

Sounds about as perfect as a day can get, right?

Hah. Since when do I do perfect?

The day started on a jittery note when I got lost on the way to Carolyn's house. I've been there dozens of times, but hadn't in a while, and somehow just got confused. I knew she lived near the 95/93 interchange north of Boston, but couldn't remember which road or which direction from the intersection. So I chose all three wrong possibilities before finding the right one. Love that lost-in-Boston feeling.

But I found her, and asked if she would drive from there, because I was frazzled already and didn't want to spend my day irritated at myself. Sure, no problem; off we went. We drove down to Jenny's house, where we left Carolyn's car and piled into Jenny's minivan. Her tricked-out, ghetto minivan. She's got all the toys: automatic doors, built-in GPS, DVD, camera for reversing, small tanned men who leap out to administer massage at every red light. My minivan would have had a serious inferiority complex if it knew.

We proceeded to have a few quiet, pleasant hours, driving to Newport and wandering the mansion. Having recently been to Versailles I had a double-edged reaction to The Breakers; on the one hand, its opulence pales in comparison to the palace at Versailles, but on the other hand, Versailles was a palace for a king and this was just a mere summer cottage for some random Americans. Crazy.

We decided to take a break from the excesses of the wealthy and head to lunch. On the way there, Carolyn got a phone call, and Jenny and I listened to the inform-ee side of a bad-news exchange: "Oh, no! Really? ... Is anyone hurt? ... What is broken? ... How did it happen? ... Calm down ... No, calm down ... Get someone to watch the kids so you can deal with this ... Call the sheriff and try to get them to take a report ... Calm down..."

Turns out, the bad news was, her husband called to report that they'd had a windstorm and a tree had fallen over... on my minivan. He said he couldn't begin to estimate the amount of damage because he couldn't even see the driver's side because the tree was in the way. He had fallen into hysterical freak-out mode and was not making or receiving decisions by this point. Lovely!

So, we talked about it and decided we might as well continue with our lunch plans. Hurrying back north wasn't exactly possible anyway; we were two and a half hours away anyway, and frankly none of us wanted to deal with hysterical husbands. Carolyn kept trying to call her husband back, to remind him to take pictures and to generally find out what the status was. He wasn't answering his phone.

I called Willem to share the latest adventure. I told him I thought the minivan was cursed, given the number of adventures I've had with it in just one year. He replied, "Oh, I don't think it's the minivan. I think it's you. Things like this don't happen to anyone else."

Way to be supportive, there, chief. We'll be scheduling sensitivity training soon.

Because it's not that what he said was bad, it was just poorly timed. There is a time and a place for sarcasm, and that was neither.

The next four hours, between lunch and driving back to Carolyn's, were characterized by Carolyn trying and failing to get her husband to answer the phone, and Willem calling me to complain that Carolyn's husband wasn't answering the phone. And Jenny's husband calling to complain that she was a half an hour late and he really, really needed her to be home so that he could start his role-playing game with his friends. (Read: "My playing with my friends once a week is more important than you playing with your friends once a month.") Testosterone was not high on our list of favorite things yesterday.

Finally, after hours of nothing, her phone rang. It was her husband. She asked him, "Why haven't you been answering your phone? We have no idea what's going on up there."

He replied, "Oh, two more trees fell down. One fell on our swingset and the other fell on our neighbor."

She about died on the spot. Turns out, ha ha!, he was only kidding. Let's return to the concept of a time and a place, shall we? Because this was really, really neither. He was actually calling to ask when she would be home (thereby making it a perfect trifecta of husbands calling to ask, "When are you going to be home?" and making me consider not bringing my phone on these days out anymore) because he wanted to take a shower and couldn't possibly figure out how to do so with both kids in the house. Both kids, who are 7 and 3, and old enough to behave themselves for five minutes while he attacks the major areas; how does he think Carolyn, a stay-home mom, ever gets clean?

And, oh, by the way, Kate's minivan is completely fine. Not even a scratch on it. He'd just never bothered to go all the way outside to look closely at it before making the initial phone call, and then was too busy helping cut down the tree to call back with an update. Or answer his phone.

Which leads us to the idea of, really? Really? You couldn't have bothered to investigate the situation before making an alarmist phone call? Okay, in the presence of panic and initial freak-out, you were unable to censor yourself. Fine. But then you couldn't be bothered to make a 30-second "never mind" call and save me several hours of problem-solving and anxiety?

Great, thanks, dude.

And what does one do, when angry at the husband of a friend? You can't exactly lay into him in front of the wife and kids, and really there's nothing else to be done. Except seethe, and blog it.

So, it ended up being fine. The minivan is perfectly fine, no one was hurt, and I still had a lovely day with dear friends in Newport. And except for the headache from stress and teeth-grinding, no ill effects. All's well that ends well, except for the phenomenal pile of miscommunication in the middle.