In the time B.K. (before kids), my wife and I lived and worked in Houston. I was at Shell Oil, and she worked at the Houston Chronicle in the department that wrote and produced the travel sections and special editorial and advertising sections.
Her department had five or six people, including her boss. One of her co-workers, whom we’ll call Mollie to protect the identity of the innocent, had gone to college with us at LSU. And Mollie said she would be late one morning, because she had to first take her beloved but old and ailing dog to the vet to have him put to sleep.
My wife knew the people she worked with had a tendency to the cruel and cretinous. She could imagine what jokes they were going to come up with. And so that morning, before Mollie arrived, she put the fear into them. Don’t you dare make light of this, she warned. Don’t you dare make a joke about it. This is really upsetting, she loves this dog, so back off and give her some silence. Even back then, she was known for “the look” – which I had been the squirming target of many times, and our sons would be even more – the look from Mom that says don’t even think about it.
Her co-workers got the look. They promised to behave.
Later that day, my wife and Mollie would be going to get their pictures taken for passports, needed to do many of the travel stories they were being assigned. So they both planned to be a little more dressed up than usual (this was back in the days when people dressed like they were going to work in an office, because they were).
The department was working, when in walked a somber Mollie, quiet after bringing her dog to the vet and dressed for her photograph.
My wife, my poor wife who wanted to be encouraging and sympathetic, who had warned the cretins within an inch of their lives, decided to say something nice about Millie’s clothes.
“Mollie! You look dressed to kill!”
The words were out before my wife realized what she had said. There was a moment of silence. No one said a word; everyone focused on the typewriters in front of them. My wife thought she might have dodged the supreme embarrassment bullet, that everyone had missed the gigantic faux pas she had just committed – the very one she had warned the others against.
And then she saw shoulders shaking, as people tried to stifle themselves. She saw people shaking. And then it couldn’t be contained, as a huge wave of laughter erupted.
When she told me later what had happened, I tried to be sympathetic. But I was laughing too hard.
I got the look.