It’s a recurring nightmare: You are walking through a crowded public area when you come upon a group of familiar faces. Heads turn, mouths drop, eyes flash open wide, fingers point accusingly. As you look down at yourself you realize why: You’re naked.
This cliched example is obviously just a dream (at least, we hope), but we all experience public embarrassment in waking hours as well. From an unzipped fly to showing up last to a crowded meeting, we try to avoid these moments, but they still happen. Humiliation is inevitable, a fact of life.
For me, embarrassing moments seem to be almost a daily routine. For example, there was the time my iPod decided to serenade my second-period history class with a love song marketed toward preteen girls (how it got onto my playlist is still a mystery); the presentation I gave on a math problem I understood about as well as I understand Japanese or the female mind; the day I forgot to bring extra pants to change into after the “swimming in clothes test” in freshman PE.
Embarrassment is so frequent for me that I cannot help but cringe when it happens to others, even on television. Awkward scenes in movies have me covering my ears or excusing myself to another room.
These moments might not be fun to experience, but some become fond memories or hilarious stories with time. However, sometimes it doesn’t take years or even days to be able to look back and laugh. Sometimes, I have discovered, I can be embarrassed and laugh about it at the same time.
Picture this: It was a warm evening in early June and the senior class was enjoying prom night on the 76th floor of the Columbia Tower in Seattle. Boys were sharply fitted with classy tuxedoes; girls were strikingly dressed in elegant, ankle-length dresses. Amid floor-to-ceiling windows and lavish decorations, dance music burst out of 3-foot-tall speakers.
Blessed with all the boogying capabilities for which suburban white boys are famous, I relied mostly on energy and enthusiasm to make up for what I lacked in style. Tired of such rhythmic jives as the worm and what in the Seinfeld universe could only be referred to as The Elaine, I decided to try out an old classic: the Charleston. I put a palm on each kneecap and knocked them together, crossing my hands with funk and zest as I did so.
But just as my knees reached their maximum separation, I heard a terrible noise, a ripping, tearing and shredding, as though The Gates of Hell had just been opened. I looked down between my crossed hands to see 6 inches of exposed boxers and ghostly pale leg through the new, gaping hole in my tuxedo pants.
For some, this would be game over. They would call it quits and head for the door. But I had been in similar situations so many times before, it was like I had been training for this moment. I was told to never give up, to trust in myself and take on challenges without flinching. I also did not have a ride home.
With an eerie sense of calm, I walked toward the boy’s bathroom, untucking and yanking my dress shirt down as far as it would go. Once inside, I removed the safety pin that secured my bowtie and used it to fasten the yawning gap in the crotch of my pants, MacGyver style, as other bathroom-goers watched. All were extremely sympathetic, truly supportive and mostly out of breath from laughing.
However, the more people who saw my misfortune, the less embarrassed I became. These people were laughing not because I looked ridiculous — well, not only — but more out of relief that it happened to me and not them.
Providing this level of entertainment just by looking stupid, I thought, was really no nightmare at all.Aidan O’Neill, a recent graduate of Gig Harbor High School, recently fled the country after taking his new “entertainment” role a little too far in a safety pin mishap. Knowledge of his whereabouts should be reported to authorities at email@example.com.