Last weekend, I attended my 20-year High School Reunion. (First and foremost, WTF?)
While we were touring our old high school and trying to piece together the details of our lives that far back, my friend Sarah pointed out the memories that she recalled were only the embarrassing ones – like the time she squatted by her locker and her pants split from the top of her butt to her crotch. Or the time she was rushing out the door to get to school and grabbed a pair of pants out of the dryer. Only in second period did she realize there was a pair of (freshly laundered) underwear hanging out of the bottom of her pant leg. She quickly stuffed them back up…
Later that night, as I tried – unsuccessfully – to get the “dance” part of the reunion going, I thought about how great it is not to care what anyone thinks anymore. Take one part age and one part alcohol, mix well, and inhibitions melt away. I was one of three people on the dance floor for the entire night – I have some mad dance moves reserved for just this type of occasion – and it didn’t matter that the rest of the adults chose to be dignified and socialize rather than shaking a tail feather. (Thank you Bo and Luke Duke from the “Bartlesville Party Specialists” for digging up the Tone Loc, Mr. Bigg, The Outfield and EMF. And for wearing the trendy flannel shirts with the arms cut off. YOU KNOW HOW TO GET THE PARTY STARTED!)
Sarah’s recollections got me thinking about some of the embarrassing moments in my life – I’m afraid there are many that are cringe worthy. So, for your entertainment and my mortification, here are a few from my storied past:
*Falling out of the bus into the mud at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. Picture this: it’s raining. There is mud. I’m wearing a short “babydoll” dress spattered with sunflowers (popular in the 90’s) and clunky black heels a la Doc Marten. As I’m walking down the bus stairs, I think “Hmm. What would I do if I fell out of the bus?” At that precise moment, my heel catches on the rim of the step, the heel breaks off and I FLY out of the bus into the mud, bus fumes blowing up my short dress, and the bus driver (a cute camp counselor, no less) leaning out yelling, “ARE YOU OKAY?? ARE YOU OKAY??” I semi-crushed my “basket purse” when I landed on it, but it hadn’t fatally stabbed me – like I wished it had. (The basket purse was also a fad at this time; mine was decoupaged with Victorian images. See “Victorian Phase”, below) One of my fellow actors picked me up, handed me my heel, grabbed my elbow and led me to the bathroom, whispering sweet nothings like, “No one will remember this in a little while. Most people didn’t notice. It’s okay. Here’s your heel.” On the return trip, as I was exiting, someone yelled, “Don’t trip!” Teenagers are a hoot. Later that afternoon, I managed to dump my pot roast gravy on some poor unsuspecting camper as I squeezed between tables in the cafeteria, tilting my tray inadvertently. Clearly, it was not my day. (Or his).
*When I made up “Ghost Land” in the sky and acted like it was a totally normal – and very real – place where ghosts lived and wore different colored sheets. And that I traveled there occasionally. No, really. And the ghosts had names based on colors and/or foods. My best friend was Blueberry. I would connect with Blueberry when we had to fight the evil spirits – who lived in Dragon Land, which were clouds that were shaped in a loose interpretation of a dragon. When I was in Ghost Land, it looked very similar to my own backyard. I would let friends I trusted know that we had crossed into another sphere and were actually on a cloud …. You might guess that I didn’t have many friends. You might be right.
*The time in 7th grade I had a wart on the end of my nose and everyone thought it was a booger. This was particularly mortifying because I kept catching people talking about it. (And, really, is it better that it was a WART than a booger? I don’t know. That’s pretty gross.) Stacy, who sat behind me in choir, asked me to turn around and – when I did – she said “I like your…” looking frantically around my being to find something to compliment me on “…shirt color.” I thanked her, with an I-know-what-you’re-up-to look, turned back around and heard whispering and snickers. In Biology, Bubba said “Hey, Jamie…” so I’d turn around. Bubba never spoke to me in school – that didn’t happen until the joy that is Facebook united us years later and we became fast, insubstancial friends – so I knew this was a ploy. He, too, tried awkwardly to find something to say to my while his cronies stared at my nose. “It’s a beauty mark.” I said, flicking at my wart. (My mom had told me to say it was a beauty mark. I will never, ever tell my daughter to say her wart that looks like a booger is a beauty mark.) Silence. They stared at me. “It’s a wart.” I said, flicking at my wart. I kept flicking at it so they could be sure that it was firmly adhered and wasn’t, in fact, a booger. The next day, my mom took me to the doctor to have the wart frozen off. Thank YOU, discoverer of Liquid Nitrogen.
*Ripping the toilet dispenser – and wallpaper – off the wall at my friend Karen’s house. Karen was from China and her parents were very nice, somewhat formal by culture, and spoke Chinese at the dinner table. I figured out quickly that I was to remove my shoes upon entering the house and leave them at the front door. Their formality made me a little nervous. I was spending the night and wasn’t sure I would make it through without being banished and having to walk home 14 blocks, barefoot. So, what do I do? I excuse myself (formally) to the bathroom to nervous pee, grab the toilet paper to pull a piece off, and manage to rip the entire dispenser along with the wallpaper off the wall clear down to the baseboard, where toilet paper pooled in a heap. I sat there fretting. Could I super glue it back?? Would they be suspicious when they noticed the toilet paper dispenser was ripped off the wall later that night? (I imagined saying, “Wow. How did that happen?”) Could I feign illness and have my mom pick me up before they clued in that something was amiss? No. I could not. I tried one more time to balance the dispenser on the protruding screws from the wall. It fell back to the floor with a clang. I grabbed some tissue off the floor, wiped, washed my hands, and went to Karen, shame-faced, to admit what I’d done. She came in the bathroom to see. Her mouth hung slightly open. She and her little brother, Stanley, looked at each other. Then they both looked at me. They started cracking up. After wiping tears out of their eyes, she and Stanley led me back out to the dinner table where her parents sat finishing dinner to explain to them in Chinese what had happened as I stood quietly in the corner and stared at my bare feet. They listened patiently. They asked a few questions back in Chinese, glancing sideways at me. Karen answered, smiling. At once, their faces cracked into grins and they laughed. And that is how I learned that senses of humor translate across cultures…
*Giving myself a hickey in the exact middle of my forehead. It’s not what you think. Do you remember those little rubber half circle “poppers” that came in cereal? You turned it inside out, set it down, and it would “pop” back right side out and fly up to the ceiling? Well, I had a blue one. I was a theater kid, so my highly intellectual mind found creative uses for objects. Before play rehearsal (Bye Bye Birdie), I was killing time and sticking this thing on me and putting theater makeup over it to see what kind of effect I could get. I stuck it to my hand and ran out into the living room, clutching my wrist and shrieking, and my Mom shot from her cross-legged place on the floor to the ceiling in two seconds flat, thinking I’d electrocuted myself. She was pissed when I laughed and pulled it off my hand. (Don’t worry. She got retribution.) After my hand, my highly intellectual mind thought it would make a great “bump” on the noggin in the middle of my forehead. So, I stuck the blue thing on, threw some foundation over it, and walked back out to show Mom. She looked at me for a second – still not amused – and suggested that maybe putting that suction thing in the middle of my forehead, where the skin was very thin, wasn’t the brilliant idea I thought it had been. I ran and pulled it off, but it was too late. I had a perfectly round hickey in the middle of my forehead. And I had 30 minutes until play rehearsal. It wasn’t fading. Theater makeup was doing a half-assed job of covering it up. My lame excuse for bangs refused to be organized to hide my forehead. My mom laughed and laughed and said that, no, I couldn’t skip play rehearsal. I came up with some unconvincing story about running into a cabinet knob in the kitchen. I don’t know if any of my fellow actors bought it, but – once I commit – I’m all in. (Again: see “Victorian phase,” below). For a number of years, my oldest sister referred to me as “Hickey Head.” Later, in high school, my dear friend Maggie led me into the girls room and said, confidentially, “Don’t laugh.” She lifted her bangs to reveal a perfectly round hickey in the middle of her head. She had done the same thing with a suction-cup arrow in an effort to entertain her younger brothers. I never felt such a kinship to someone.
*Missing a cue in “Bye Bye Birdie” and falling backwards off the riser. This was a different rehearsal…I think. There was a part in the choreography when all the girls were fainting because Colonel Birdie (think Elvis) was singing to them, and the actors playing our boyfriends caught us mid-faint. I thought it was time to faint. It wasn’t. Hence, my fake boyfriend, played by Carl Crane, didn’t catch me. I just fell backwards off the riser. Dazed, I looked up into Carl’s concerned face bent over me, his brow furrowed. The director (not a camp counselor) yelled “ARE YOU OKAY?? ARE YOU OKAY??” I was never again able to convincingly fake-faint… Luckily, the University of Oklahoma didn’t require fake fainting to earn your BFA in drama performance.
*My Victorian phase. My husband got to hear the phrase “back when your wife was shy” several times last weekend. He was perplexed. I told him I wasn’t shy, I was being Victorian. He was even more perplexed. Knowing women like he does – he claims to have a keen sense of the way the female mind works – he asked what movie inspired my Victorian phase. I told him it was a book and that my Victorian phase lasted roughly two years. He told me that’s not a phase – that’s psychosis. (I, personally, like to think of it as an acting exercise.) I had lots of flowing dresses and skirts, wore my hair up like a Gibson girl, spoke demurely, and used words like “lovely” and “beau”…. For the record, this apparently was not what teenage boys were into, so I rarely got asked out and I didn’t have a beau. But I spent a lot of time pining about it in my Victorian garb. Writing poetry. Drinking tea.
*When Chris took me to the movies and tried to make a move. The movie, “Memoirs of an Invisible Man”, sucked. But, I was there with my would-be beau, and that was all that mattered. (I probably told him the movie was “lovely”). As the credits rolled, I looked at him and he looked at me and got a “serious” look (sultry? complex? did I have a wart on my nose he thought was a booger?) Whatever the look was, it made me nervous and I turned my head – just as he leaned in to kiss me. He got my earlobe, and then he nervously laughed and squeezed my shoulder. Mortified, I couldn’t look at him again. Then, my mom drove him home. (Hey. We didn’t have our licenses yet. Give me a break.) I walked him to the door, hoping for another shot. My mom – subtle as she is – turned off the headlights. He looked back over at the car and nervously laughed again. That was our only date. We never kissed. He broke my heart and moved to Houston two months later. (More pining and Victorian poetry followed).
*Screaming at the substitute (who was a pastor) in Drama class. PMS and teenage angst are a dangerous combination. This particular day, it was raining and I killed a bird on the way to school. I got out and checked on it. It was dead. I cried. Then, in second hour, I got in a fight with my friend Jimmy about existentialism – but it was probably more of a fight about unresolved feelings. After lunch, two different groups of kids in Drama class started bickering while we were playing charades. Our substitute teacher – a pastor, no less – wasn’t sure how to handle it. “Shut up. I’m charading.” said one. “Don’t tell me to shut up. You shut up.” said another. And on and on and on. Somewhere in the back of my brain, a gasket clicked over. And I – who was still in my “quiet” Victorian phase – blew a fuse and screamed, “No, really. SHUUUUUUUT UUUUPPPPP!!!!!!!!!“….. You could hear a pin drop. Rena clamped her hand over her mouth. No one knew what to do. Nathan started nervously tittering. (He probably thought I might grab a fake drama sword and start stabbing people.) I got up, kicked my desk out of the way, stomped to the front of the room, and said to the substitute, “I need to leave.” He nodded. His eyes were saucers. I grabbed the Drama hall pass – we had two of them, cut out of plywood and painted Bruin Sooner Blue – the “happy” theater face and the “sad” theater face. I grabbed the “sad” theater face – which was as large as a small window (Drama folks aren’t subtle) – and headed to the first floor bathroom to hide. At some point, a counselor came to find me and took me to her office. She asked if everything at home was going okay. I told her I killed a bird.
*Having food poisoning hit in the middle of theater movement class in college. We’d been doing a movement exercise where we were pretending to walk through a sand storm in the desert. Afterward, I looked in the mirror (all theater and ballet rooms are surround with mirrors), and noticed my eyes were red. Impressed, I thought, “Wow, I really ‘felt’ the sand blowing in my eyes.” Then, the stomach cramps hit. I shot a look at the professor as I stepped out of class, letting her know I wasn’t feeling well. I made it halfway down the hall before darting to the nearest industrial trash can and barfing in front of the modern dance room while dancers sprung across the floor and gracefully ignored me. After a few minutes, I crawled back towards my drama room to get help just as class was taking a break. Carlton ran back into class and grabbed my inhaler, thinking I was having an asthma attack. I didn’t get to properly thank him because, as soon as he held it out in front of me, I had to get back up and run to the trash can to continue barfing while Professor Shaughnessy held my hair back and discreetly asked if I might be pregnant – (OH MY GOD!) – and classmates ran to get me wet paper towels. Luckily, the diarrhea didn’t kick in until after two classmates drove me home. I thought I was going to die, but I would have truly died had I not only barfed in front of my peers, but shat myself, too.