The other day my wife and I decided to go out for a dinner at the local Lone Star Steakhouse. This was the first time in quite a while we had been tempted to go to that particular place. There were several reasons for our absence, but since the recent revamping of their menu, and quasi-update to the decor, we decided to give it another shot.  There were quite a few very interesting new things to try, the prices were better and overall it was a very enjoyable meal out on the town.  We were finishing our dinner and the glasses of tea were getting very nearly empty when something happened that I found completely derailing to my inane dinnertime banter. It kicked off a bit of self psychoanalysis that completely preempted our crucial discussion of whatever our cat was doing just prior to leaving the house.

A waitress (not our own) was passing by, carrying a stainless steel pitcher. She stopped by our table, gesturing with the pitcher towards my one-third filled glass of tea in the universal gesture of “would you like a refill?”. She supplemented her motion with the fairly simple question “you had regular tea, right?” 
Believe it or not, I froze for a moment while I had to process her question. I verbally stumbled for a moment, and then replied in a way that she didn’t understand at all.  But before I get into that, I need to supply a little back-story.

Unbeknown to me previous to this fated evening, Lone Star had augmented their menu of drinks to include several fancy flavored iced teas.  As our waiter was running through the list of flavors, I practically pounced when his list reached “Blackberry”. I didn’t really care what else was on the list, I would float away on a river of blackberry iced tea and would be unnaturally happy for doing so. On hearing the list of flavors, my wife, also pleased by the options, changed her drink order from water to Prickly Pear Iced Tea. I will freely admit, prickly pear cactus as a flavor was quite intriguing to me, but not enough for me to change my order. Besides, it would be very simple just to try a little of my dinner-mate’s drink without losing any precious blackberry.

As dinner went on, I was provided with an additional glass of my chosen beverage before even half of my wife’s was gone. By the time the meal arrived, hers was also ready for a refill. A manager that brought the meal noticed the empty prickly pear glass and said she’d get it filled right away. However, our waiter efficiently noticed the same thing as well and in no time at all, my wife had two new glasses of prickly pear iced tea that she could never possibly finish. Being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, I kindly offered to help with one glass and we both spent the remainder of the meal happily sipping on the cactus flavored goodness. 

This brings us back to my moment of mental incapacitation. When the kind waitress stopped by to pose her question and fill my glass with tea, my brain tried to determine what the correct answer was and it had an hour-glass moment. The simple question of “you had regular tea, right?” shouldn’t really be that difficult to answer, but I might as well have had a “Loading…” sign over my head like a lagging computer.
Ahhh, Vacation! by Chris O'Brien - Ellipsis-Imagery, on Flickr
I ordered blackberry tea, so that is technically what I had. But, I switched and was now drinking my wife’s extra prickly pear tea. I never really ordered it and our waiter didn’t know I switched, and she wasn’t our waitress. How were either of them to know? On the other hand, I could have just had her fill it up with regular tea at this point and drank that instead.  In reality, this girl didn’t really care what I ordered, she saw an empty glass and thought she had the right stuff, so she was going to fill it.
Why was I hesitating?
Trying to pick the “correct answer” was more difficult than I anticipated. So what were my options here?

  1. Answer directly: “No, thanks though!”

  2. Answer directly but tell her what I actually had ordered: “No thanks, I ordered blackberry tea””

  3. Answer directly but tell her what was in my glass: “No thanks, I have prickly pear tea””

  4. Answer her implied question of “do you want me to pour this in your glass?”: “Yes thanks!””

  5. Answer her implied question, but explain anyway: “Yes! I had a different flavor, but regular is fine.””

  6. Answer the larger question if I actually wanted any more to drink: “No thanks, I’ve had enough””

So there are six options…and each one could have led with a positive or a negative response, so that’s twelve.  The way my brain works, I had to pick the “correct” one. I had to pick the one answer that was the most precise.  The problem was, they were all fairly similar, if spoken correctly.
She stood there patiently as the gears of my mental engine clicked, sputtered and coughed. I turned the key and cranked the cranial starter again and again as the minutes ticked by, the poor girl’s arm weakening and lowering from the weight of holding the full pitcher as I stumbled through my intellectual stall.   Ok. It wasn’t really that bad, but it is pretty crazy how long a couple seconds can feel in that kind of scenario.

Of course what really happened is that I paused thoughtfully for a moment, selected the right answer and calmly replied.
Nope. I panicked.
“Uhmmm……” I eloquently replied, “I had the cactus one”
“The what?!”
At that moment, I realized that it was very possible that this poor girl probably had no idea that prickly pear was supposed to be a cactus flavor instead of some sweet tree fruit.
I had fumbled, but I tried to recover.
“The prickly cactus tea…”
Blank stare. Another fumble.
“Err…the prickly pear cactus tea”
She paused, very bewildered, clearly wondering what I was really drinking.
“Um…I don’t know what that is…”
She sheepishly shuffled away.

If I hadn’t been a complete socially inept buffoon and had I selected any of the other twelve answers, we could have avoided some unpleasant awkwardness, and we both could have gone on happily with our respective days.  Somehow though, I had managed to pick the thirteenth option from the list…the one that makes practically no sense at all. A mild case of internal panic kept me from just being conversational and answering a simple question.

I know others can relate to that feeling as well, but I seem to have a close personal relationship with the awkward, paralytic pause over the inconsequential. 
I need time to process! 
Is it a matter of being slow? 
Is my cpu missing a core or duo? 
Or am I just getting old?
Actually I know it’s not age since I have been this way ever since I can remember. I remember thoughtfully filling out long essay questions on tests with simply six or seven words.  Each word carefully chosen to say exactly enough to be correct, but not an extra word more. 
Precision should be efficient! 

Precision in conversation though can be quite annoying. The pause for thought breaks up the flow and can be awkward. For some reason, I feel the need to divine exactly the correct words. Typically I don’t find them, so it comes out awkward anyway! You’d think at some point I’d try to give up on precision and just say stuff. You might think that is what I’m doing here by writing this, but, no. You’d actually be laughing at how long ago “the other day” (from the start of this story) has turned into….so, I won’t tell you. I’ll give you a hint though, it wasn’t this week.

One day I hope to master this thing you humans call “conversation”. 
Clearly I still have a bit to learn. 
Latest lesson: when someone offers to refill your tea, just say “yes”.