We all have had embarrassing moments. Even corporations or countries can have them. The United States is having one right now, one that is being witnessed by the entire world. Like the Trump fiasco, some embarrassing moments occur on a grand scale; they are newsworthy and covered in the media or witnessed by millions. Remember John Travolta’s butchering of Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars? Or Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction? Or the introduction of the Chevy Nova to Latin America where “nova” means doesn’t go?
But some embarrassing moments are smaller in scale, more private, like having your water break at your last-minute Las Vegas wedding ruining your Daisy Dukes with the maternity waistband and your turquoise crocs. Or loudly farting at a job interview. Or having an uncontrollable laughing fit during the moment of silence for the deceased. Or calling out the wrong name when you are having sex with your wife. And the name you call out is a man’s.
I’ve been thinking about the most embarrassing moments in my life since my Mérida mishap in January. As you may recall, I walked into a knee-high lily pond in an elegant restaurant, ruining a pair of socks, injuring a pair of shoes, and transforming the color of my calves and ankles from bronze god to silt. (If you are unfamiliar with the incident, scroll down to my January 30 post “Making a Splash in Mérida.”) As I recall, I was not particularly embarrassed by my unexpected pond plop. Perhaps that was because I was among strangers and I’m not overly concerned what strangers think of me. Or perhaps it was because, at 68, I realize that I have more important things with which to be concerned than fleeting embarrassment, things like mortality, global warming, and rejection by Nick Jonas.
In recalling my most embarrassing moments, three stand out. One occurred when I was 17 when self-consciousness, insecurity, and self-involvement are a part of life and, therefore, the impact of perceived humiliating moments at that age should not be surprising. I am certain, therefore, I am the only person who remembers the incident; if witnesses noticed it, they probably forgot it before my reddened face returned to its normal pallid, blackhead covered teenage state.
As a high school senior I was a yell leader, one of four boys complementing a line-up of cheerleaders. Our football team had won the annual Thanksgiving Day Metro League championship game. We returned to school Monday and held an assembly, a victory celebration. I’m not sure if it was because four days had passed or the 1500 person student body was still digesting their umpteen billion calorie Thanksgiving Day meals, but the energy level was as low as the price of 1965 gas. After a spiritless response to a cheer, I stepped to the microphone, to inspire, to ignite, to “lead,” and also to chastise the students. “That was pathetic,” I charged. “We’re celebrating a championship here, a victory, not a…” and I went blank. For the life of me I could not think of the word defeat. Nor could I come up with a synonym. “Loss” would have been an easy one. For several seconds, frozen-faced silence stared at the microphone. Finally, someone… and I am not sure if it came from the squad behind me or the stands…yelled “defeat.” The cheerleaders then performed another cheer which was met with considerably more spirit and all was fine. Why, I have long wondered, was this minor incident so important to me? It was, after all, just a blip on the radar screen of my life. The answer actually is quite simple; at 17 I was just realizing I was “the word guy.” I was serving as the school newspaper associate editor and would be the co-editor the next semester. I enjoyed language, writing, and playing with words. Not being able to draw the word defeat out of my memory bank was a humiliating shock. Years later, I realized that since the incident occurred when I was a senior, it was, technically, my first senior moment.
My next memorable embarrassing moment occurred on a trip to Honolulu in the early 1980s. I had spent the day on Waikiki Beach. By the time I was ready to leave, I was covered in a combination of tanning lotion, sweat, sand, and sea salt. I don’t recall if there was a shower nearby, but I do know I changed from a wet gym shorts-style swimming suit to regular cut-offs. On my way home, I stumbled upon a Happy Hour at a gay bar between the beach and where I was staying. I went in.
The first thing I noticed was a shaded shallow swimming pool of sorts in which several men, none of whom were my type, were sitting, standing, chatting, and drinking. No one was actually swimming. I can cool myself off and get this sandy-salty grime off me, I thought. But where do I change into my swim suit? I then noticed a wall of tropical plants with beach bags, backpacks, and clothing peeking from behind it. Oh, this is where you change, I thought. Right here in the open, but hidden by tropical foliage. I stepped behind the plants, quickly took off my clothes, and tried to step into my wet, clingy swim shorts without exposing myself to any unwanted lecherous eyes. It was awkward, but I managed to do it. I grabbed some money, headed to the bar, bought a beer, and stepped into the pool.
But as I walked to the bar and then the pool, I felt my suit pull and twist in an odd manner. I could feel each step hindered somehow. But I was not going to look down at my crotch, feel around it, and investigate because that simply would be uncool and would lower my hotness score. Is it normal for this kind of suit to cling like this when it is wet? I thought. Did the salt water shrink it? I laid my beer on the pool’s edge, sat in the water, cooled off, and splashed the collection of sand and salt off my body. When I was done, I stood, grabbed my beer, and leaned against the pool’s edge in what I thought was a masculine, alluring, seductive, and flirtatious manner. I was trying to make myself look available to the right man if he were there. But I quickly realized he wasn’t. I chugged my beer and climbed out of the pool and stepped toward the dressing area. But, again, I still could feel my suit pulling my hips, crotch and thighs in an awkward, uncomfortable manner.
Once behind the wall of foliage, I had the privacy to explore my ill-fitting suit and the body parts it covered. I looked down and realized the seams on my suit were not where they should be. What the fuck, I thought. I then tried pulling off the shorts, but it became a struggle. Once I got then somewhat over my hips, however, I realized what the problem was. Somehow, in the haste of stepping into the wet shorts in that semi-public place, I managed to step both legs into the same liner leg hole and the excess material around the other leg hole was wadded up, forming a visible hump on my hip. I had been parading around that bar, attempting to look impressive, seductive and available, when in reality I looked like a hip-humped Quasimodo. I forced the swim suit off, demolishing the liner, and dressed as rapidly as I could. I walked out of the bar, pretending nothing had been or was wrong, certain that snickering eyes were following me, and never considering that my fashion gaffe may have gone entirely unnoticed.
Like I said earlier, I don’t really care what total strangers think of me. So, in a way I was not, in the true sense of the word, embarrassed. I was, however, humiliated because, at 30-something, I discovered I not only was so incompetent that I couldn’t dress myself, but that I also didn’t have the intelligence to figure out the problem. Since then, however, I have taken numerous classes on how to dress one self. And I am proud to say, I have even passed a few.
I lived in Portland, Oregon during the late 1980s. The incident that occurred there remains the most embarrassing of my life. My partner at the time and I had lesbian neighbors. They were a couple. One of the women was not “out” to her parents, rather conservative Seattle suburbanites. As fate would have it, they visited their daughter, her “roommate,” and Portland on Gay Pride weekend. The parents were not expected to arrive until late afternoon, so I convinced my friend, who had never attended a Pride Parade, to come with me. She was concerned TV news cameras would capture her. “We know what TV cameras look like,” I assured her. “We’ll just avoid them.” I was picturing old-fashioned location cameras, large, clunky, shoulder-balanced black boxes. I wasn’t aware, when I said that, however, how rapidly technology was changing. Therefore, when we saw a small light blue handheld camera aimed in our direction from across the street, I thought nothing of it. I watched the cameraman scan the curbside parade observers around us, including my friend and me, thinking someone is going to have some amateur-looking home movies.
That blue camera, of course, was a TV camera and we were on the 5:00 News. The cameraman, in fact, zoomed in on us, making us recognizable. And as my friend’s parents prepared in their hotel room to go to dinner with their daughter and “roommate,” they saw the news, the Pride Parade coverage, and us.
But that isn’t the embarrassing part.
Months passed. While there was no estrangement between my friend and her parents, her sexual orientation and her relationship with her partner were not discussed when they talked on the phone. It was simply an awkward topic, one neither side knew how to approach. Then my friend’s parents announced they would make a return visit. I was told about it. I was given the dates. But I forgot.
It is after dark. My partner and I are outside, in front of the house. A car ambles down our street, headlights blinding me. It stops near us. I hear my friend call something greeting-like from the open passenger side window. I step toward the car and shout in the most effeminate, camp voice I had ever used, “Well, if it isn’t the neighborhood lesbians!” My friend’s face goes from happy to horror in a nanosecond. I then realize there are two shadowy figures in the back seat and I remember the dates of her parents’ visit. Fuck, I scream to myself, those are her parents! This is the weekend. I’m praying the car’s engine and heater noises drowned out my comment. But I know they didn’t; I had roared the ill-timed, unnecessary greeting louder than an Alabama tornado warning. Meanwhile, my friend is trying to save the situation. “Tom,” she says with faux cheeriness, “do you remember my parents?” And I, now in my most controlled, over-compensating masculine voice, reply, “Yes, of course. It is so nice to see you again.” They drive off a moment later in what I was told the next day certainly qualified them for the Guinness Book of World Records for the most awkward silence in a car.
My partner and I, frozen on our lawn, gawk at each other in shock. “What were you thinking?” he is yelling.
“Oh, my God. What did I do?” I scream. We run into the house, guilty, nervous, panicked laughter triggering convulsions of dread. We know the phone is going to ring momentarily. It does. I answer it knowing damn well who the caller is, knowing I deserve the reaming I am about to get. I have no excuses, no reasons for my behavior other than it was an attempt at humor that backfired. Big time. I have never apologized to someone as many times as I did that night.
While what I had said when the car drove up was true—the women were the neighborhood lesbians—the more important truth exposed that night was that I was the neighborhood idiot.