Thursday, March 17, 2011

Embarrassed by A Sock

I’ve never much been embarrassed by socks. Underwear, yes, that’s sometimes embarrassing – like the time in elementary school I reached into the pocket of my freshly-laundered jacket and found a pair of my brother’s underwear – also freshly laundered – inside. Or the time my aunt went shopping with a pair of panties statically stuck to the back of her coat.

Ruth McKenney, however, was once embarrassed by a sock, as she recounts in the humorous essay “The Sock Hunt.”

The story in brief: She decides, against all opposition and a highly patriarchal society in Columbus, Ohio, to infiltrate the hotel where Randolph Churchill, son of famed English Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was staying prior to delivering a talk on “Fate of an Empire” to a men’s group in Columbus. (Gratefully, we’ll get to hear from another of Columbus’ humorous writers, the inimitable James Thurber, shortly.)

She succeeds in getting an interview. They get chummy, and, as they say on the Internets, hilarity ensued:

“I say,” he said, “how about a spot of food, what?” He really talked just like that.

“OK,” I said. “Let me order, though. They can’t understand you over the phone. You talk so funny.”

Mr. Churchill glowered. He said I was the one who had a peculiar accent.

“You talk through your nose,” he said, with truth, “and you pronounce all your ‘r’s. They aren’t supposed to be pronounced.”

“That’s what you think,” I said, feeling hilarious. “Old Mushmouth.”

For some reason, Mr. Churchill thought that was very funny. “’Mushmouth’!” he shouted joyously, amid peals of real upper-class English laughter, very high-pitched, like a whinny. “’Mushmouth’! Deah me, I must remembaw that.”

That’s only the start of the hijinks. All culminates with both Churchill and McKenney looking for his one missing black dress sock, which he must wear during the luncheon speech. It is found, of course, by one of Columbus’ leading citizens, come to the hotel room with others to seek Mr. Churchill, catching Churchill and the young, earnest journalist crawling on the floor beneath the bed looking for the offending bit of frippery. Kenney concludes her essay thus:

But even the sweet rewards of college fame and my colleagues’ envy did not erase the memory of that hideous moment when I was caught, red-handed, looking for Mr. Churchill’s sock. It is comparatively easy to recover from honest sorrows, but I wake up in the dead of night at least twice a year and my heart fills with agony, remembering that unspeakable moment when, like a rising moon, my face slowly appeared from behind Mr. Churchill’s bed, to confound the three leading citizens of Columbus, Ohio.

Life can hold no further terrors for me.
Ah, the classic, classy anecdote. Not even Dobby's sock can beat this one.

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