Some people are good at everything... others of us befriend those people. Growing up, my best friend Lauren was more on top of her game than any 16-year-old ever should be. After being named the Chair of the Youth Task Force, a branch of city council composed of local high school students, she pulled a few strings and nudged me onto the committee as well. Unlike Lauren, I had no desire to go to law school or educate myself on city politics in any way, so the bulk of my time and energy was spent masking just how little I knew about... pretty much everything. In other words, I did what most politicians do, sans the baby-kissing and extra-marital affairs.
Occasionally, we had to attend or host "service" events which were really about networking with local bigwigs. As a gangly 5'9" teenager with acne and split ends, I found "working the room" to be overwhelmingly stressful. At one particular event, I caught myself crashing and burning in a way that was noteworthy - even for me. What did I know about zoning laws? Or the transportation comission? Or the current city-wide election? I mean, where was a good Ricky Martin reference when you needed one?
Defeated, I began to scan the room for Lauren. She understood how helpless I was in this environment - the conversational equivalent of a baby lamb in a shark tank. When I saw her calmly talking to a woman with salt-and-pepper hair and an expensive suit, I crashed the party. To my horror, they, too, were knee-deep in smart-sounding discussion, and Lauren's mere presence did not provide the social oasis I was hoping for.
...until the conversation shifted. The woman, who turned out to be the mayor of a local suburb, asked Lauren what she wanted to do when she got older. When Lauren revealed her interest in the political realm, the mayor cautioned her to guard herself against pulling a Monica Lewinsky (since that's the sort of advice you give to a high school student) because "power can be such an overwhelming aphrodisiac."
And this, dear friends, is where is the story gets interesting.
What I thought the word "aphrodisiac" meant: something that makes you very happy. Like cookies or fresh-cut grass or watching someone you hate trip and fall down a flight a stairs. What the word "aphrodisiac" actually means: something that awakens certain... urges... in you.
Eventually, the topic of discussion shifted from Lauren's future career aspirations to... grandparents. I thought to myself, "Finally! Something I can talk about! I have grandparents! I know all about having grandparents!" In an attempt to show that I, too, could use big words, I opened my mouth and, after approximately 10 minutes of awkward silence, joined the conversation with:
"Well, I know that, personally speaking, my grandparents are my greatest aphrodisiac."
And it happened. That awful moment when you can tell, based on the horrified expressions around you, that you have done or said something terribly taboo... and you have no idea what it is or how to fix it. Little did I know then that I had just told my best friend (and a high-ranking political official) that I was turned on by old people. Old relatives, nonetheless.
I wish I could say that I found a way to save face... to explain my error... but, alas, I did what most awkward girls do at social functions: I darted toward the punch bowl and stayed there till the event was over.
Years from now, when the world is in chaos and you think to yourself, "Why won't Rachel run for office and fix all of this??"... well, you know which 11-letter word to blame.