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Column: Communicating across a room

The other evening at a public gathering of some sort or other, My True Love got my attention from across a gift display table. She was making swiping motions at me, across her face with her hands. I observed her doing it, and wondered if she had developed sudden onset Parkinson's, or some other exotic winter illness.

I thought this was some new way of communicating mutual fondness, and smiled lovingly at her. She came over to me and said: "You have a big piece of chocolate custard stuck to your chin!"

Oh. Oh dear. One hates to think that, with old age and all, one has slipped that far, but it's true, I guess. I need help. So I sat down with her and worked out some sign language that should cover all future booboos of this sort.

First, food stuck to the chin. If it's on the right side, use the right hand, tap the chin; left side, left hand. If it's on the upper lip, tap your upper lip with your right forefinger. Left side, do accordingly.

Upon further thought, this signaling could also transmit density and color of the various food groups, so I began to detail which finger to use for salad, light foods, dark foods, etc. After all, with ten fingers and some amount of repetition, we can put Morse code to shame.

What about other gaffes, you're thinking? Right. Everyone knows the zipper sign meaning shut up, one hand across tightly closed lips. You get that one when you start that story about divorce with someone who is newly fresh in the throes of it and you're unaware of it.

Even better, right to left, personal tragedy. Left to right, racial impropriety. Left to right first, then right to left second, extreme political difference of opinion and, if you keep that story up, think Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton at twenty paces with revolvers.

While we're on zippers, what little time is left at this age has to be conserved, and that's how you get out of the bathroom with your pants open and your shirttail sticking out. So, the signal for that is one finger of the right hand under the right eye, pulling the lid downward. The left eye? Let's use that for toilet paper stuck to your wazoo.

We can't forget a good, old-fashioned nose booger, that's worth a public service announcement for sure, so for that, let's assign a tug on whichever ear is on the same side as the booger.

There. I was pretty sure we'd covered all the bases.

A couple of weeks later, we were out in public again, my True Love and I. Suddenly, as I was telling a small group of friends a story, she began a series of hand signals. First, an ear tug, so fast that I forgot which ear was which, so I pulled my ear back at her, and raised my eyebrows. She tapped her nose. Nose? What did that mean? Then she rubbed her stomach, pointed at her mouth, winked both eyes one after another, and gave several other signs, one of which from high school baseball meant bunt and run like heck. Then came more signals from her. What had I done wrong?

Like a monkey in a cage, I gave them all back to her, which only led her to repeat all of them and add a couple of more. Faster and faster, like she was swatting bees while having a seizure, and then...

I woke up from the dream about this. It was just a dream.

Or was it?