Funny Thing ... Impressions

There used to be a woman who worked in our office who, I swear, every time I went into the breakroom, she was there.


I'd run in early for coffee; she was there. I'd pop in after lunch to hit a vending machine; she was there. I'd duck in late in the afternoon for water; she was there.


And I began to think, "Doesn't this woman ever do any work? She lives in the breakroom." And then I thought, "Wait a minute. If I see her every time I set foot in the breakroom, she also sees me. She probably thinks I do nothing all day but goof off in the breakroom. What? That's crazy! As hard as I work and she thinks I'm up here GOOFING OFF? She's got one helluva nerve!"


We never spoke further than to exchange office pleasantries so she never knew I thought she was a freeloader. And I never knew whether she thought the same of me.


But it made me think about the impressions we leave on others' lives — particularly those to whom we are not close or, perhaps, have never even met.


I had a high school friend named Baz who argued one day in the lunchroom with a kid named Paul Chu. Chu came to our district in eighth grade and for the last 4 and 1/2 years of his public-school life  — from the first time his name was broadcast at an assembly to the day he was called on stage to accept his diploma — the announcement of "Paul Chu" prompted everyone in attendance to feign sneezing.


Ah-CHU!


Paul Chu had a good sense of humor. He also had a wicked fastball. I used to play against him in Little League and he had this odd delivery where he seemed to take a second step after coming off the rubber before releasing the ball. It was like he was right on top of the batter.


"Balk!" I yelled the first time I hit against him.


"Balk?" responded the umpire. "There's nobody on base. A pitcher can't balk with nobody on base."


There wasn't likely to be anybody on base with Chu throwing from what seemed like 30 feet away.


But back to his argument with Baz (no, I didn't forget). What they were arguing about I don't recall; how long they had been arguing I couldn't tell you. But at one point, a frustrated Baz, not seeing the logic in Chu's argument, blurted out, "Chu, don't be a horse's foreskin."


By replacing the part of the horse's anatomy customarily used in this saying, Baz not only avoided the cliche and won the debate, he buckled me over.


I don't know why, but I found this line hysterically funny, likely because I appreciate the wry turn of phrase but more likely because I can be incredibly juvenile. For years, I could be just walking down the street and if that saying popped into my head — "Chu, don't be ..." — I would laugh out loud.


Paul Chu, of course, knows none of this. He has likely long forgotten that throwaway line and maybe even our old baseball debates. I'll bet he still remembers the mass sneezing though.


But there's a good chance he doesn't remember me. Or maybe he does. And if so, I wonder what I said or did that stuck in his memory.


And it's like that with everyone we know, even casually. We carom through life tossing off expressions and leaving impressions and we have no idea which ones will find a home in some cranium for the next 30 minutes, or the next 30 years.


And we can only hope that the intentional acts of kindness and positive words outweigh the unintentional slights and occasional negativity — whether with friends,  colleagues or strangers at the checkout line. Once it's out of our mouths, it's out of our hands.


So I hope my former co-worker didn't leave with the wrong impression of me — as a slacker who spent too much time in front of the coffee machine instead of behind his desk.


Of course, if she weren't in the breakroom every waking minute she never could have gotten that mistaken impression.


Kevin Frisch is managing editor of the Canandaigua Daily Messenger. Contact him at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 257, or via e-mail at KFrisch@MPNewspapers.com.