My father drove up to a convenience store, handed me some change, then asked me to run in and get a copy of the latest “Green Sheet”, which I found out later was what locals called the San Diego Tribune. Based upon his description, I assumed that the paper would be green (which, I’m told, it was). Not wanting to seem silly by asking for a more detailed description, I was confident I’d be able to pick out the right paper. I was fourteen. I certainly didn’t need help buying a newspaper.
This particular store had many stacks of newspapers along the front windows. None that I could see were titled “Green Sheet”. I guessed that, since the one I was looking for was referred to as “green”, most other newspapers probably weren’t green. Frankly, I still don’t know if this is true. Anyway, scanning the confusing array of papers, most of them seemed to be of a similar shade. However, there were a couple of darker ones. Since there was no paper entitled with the word “green”, my primary guiding instruction was now to select the green paper. I deduced that for this to be the key characteristic, it must really stand out. So, I picked up the darkest paper, paid for it, and returned to the car.
“WHAT’S THIS? I TOLD YOU TO GET THE GREEN SHEET. IT WASN’T A COMPLICATED REQUEST. THIS ISN’T EVEN GREEN!” He huffed, got out of the car, went into the store, and came out with a different newspaper. Turns out, I had selected a blue paper… some obscure county publication. Returning with a blue paper when instructed to pick a green paper was so flummoxing that his sympathy circuits simply blew a fuse. We rode off in silence. I don’t recall conveying an excuse for my blunder. I only visited him for a week each year, but I somehow assumed that he knew and remembered that I was colorblind.
While my outward reaction was muted, I was devastated. Partly because I had disappointed the father I visited only a week each year. But mostly because I felt that there must be something profoundly wrong with me. This hadn’t resulted from adolescent carelessness. It wasn’t a stage I was going through. It was an invisible, uncontrollable flaw that could surface during any human interaction, even with someone that should know me.
A few decades later, I visited my father for maybe the second time as an adult. He had just gone through his third divorce, so was living in an almost empty apartment. It was kind of awkward, seeing him start over… again. We didn’t really have much to say to each other, so to break the ice, he asked if I’d like a beer. I said sure, then walked over to the refrigerator. He asked me to get one for him too, “The one with the blue label.” I paused, mid-stoop, and said, “Do you remember the time…?” He finished my sentence, “… that I got upset with you over picking out the wrong newspaper? Yeah, I still feel bad about that.” The incident had stuck with him too.
In retrospect, I like to think that the blue paper must have been some kind of socialist propaganda rag. That would have been the perfect gag to pull on a right-winger such has he. Had I known something like that occurred, his overblown reaction might have felt less personal. It would have just made the whole thing seem kind of hilarious.