When we look on the moments that may be slightly embarassing, but also make us who we are, those moments may have a theme. Some people have a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, while others develop a keen timing for clumsiness.
My own theme is ignorance. Specifically, not knowing something that seemingly everyone else knows, thereby leading to a very awkward situation. And the longer it goes on, the more impossible it becomes for me to ask for help, because after all, why the heck didn't Michael ask earlier?
Two stories from childhood, two from adulthood. Here we go, in chronological order:
I was in second grade, I believe. Mrs. Hurst's class. For some reason I was in the Vice-Principals office and was supposed to be calling home to my mother. I honestly don't remember what was going on -- maybe I was in trouble, or maybe I was sick. Beats me.
Anyway, the VP asked me to call my mom, and let me sit at her desk as she left the room for a few minutes. I looked at the phone but didn't have any idea what to do next. You see, it was a rotary phone, and this was the first time in my life I'd ever seen one.
I pushed the numbers, right inside the metal holes... nothing happened. Hung up, picked up the phone again... got a dial tone, that's good. Pushed the numbers. Nothing happened.
Soon the VP came back and asked about my mom. I said she wasn't home. The VP said I could try again in a few minutes, and she left the room again. This cycle continued three or four times, with me insisting my mom wasn't home, even though I hadn't yet figured out how to dial a single digit on the ancient contraption.
Finally, it dawned on me how to work the thing. Call it delayed intuition, angelic assistance, or a "duh" moment. All I know is that it was so sweet to finally figure it out. And nobody ever found out about 7-year-old Michael's dilemma of ignorance. Until now, I guess.
Show me the money
Sixth grade. Mr. Adams' class. It was my first year, literally my first month, in a new state after we moved from Arkansas to Kansas. I had discovered that our Arkansas schools had been about five years behind the times compared to Kansas' suburban school society.
Music, clothing, language... everything that was "cool" at our old school was suddenly lame. That was proving to be a tough transition at first, but I was good at sports so that always helps break the ice for a young guy. Sure enough, after a few recess sessions on the basketball court, I was making some friends and having fun.
One thing eluded me, though. The lunch money mystery. Every Monday, Mr. Adams would call roll, and as he said your name, he would ask how many lunches you would eat in the cafeteria that week. The price was $2 per lunch, I believe. My parents gave me the $10 for lunch every week, and I told Mr. Adams that my number was "five" every Monday, for all five lunches, but I never figured out how or when to pay!
People who know me well know that I am a pretty good observer. I can see things most people don't see, when I watch closely enough. I decided to watch my classmates extreeeemmmely closely, to see when they paid Mr. Adams, or paid the lunchlady, or whomever the heck we were supposed to be giving our money to. Unfortunately, this didn't work.
A few weeks went by, maybe a month. Apparently nobody paid anybody around here. It's just free lunches all around! I wish. Eventually Mr. Adams (or maybe even the principal, I don't remember who) called me to a private discussion to see about the lunch money. They probably thought I had been taking my parents' money and doing other, nefarious things with it. Sixth grade was a pretty innocent time back then, so it's not like I was buying crack or spending it on ho's. At worst maybe they thought I was paying to have my homework done.
But I wasn't. When asked about the lunch money, I broke down in embarassment and relief and opened my backpack to reveal wads of cash -- every cent I owed for lunch. The mystery was solved, my bill was paid, and I could go back to swishing 3-pointers and grossing out the girls.
Red shirt freshman
The next two stories both happened on my first day at a new job, years apart. Lesson learned: don't get any more new jobs. Just stay where I am.
This story is about my first day as an intern at a nursing temp agency, owned by my dad's boss. It was a great company, and after finishing my sophomore year of college I was pumped to finally be doing something other than manual labor. I would be doing accounts receivable, with a desk and air conditioning and everything. Big upgrade from my previous summer jobs, trust me.
I got a late start to this summer job because my tonsils were removed right after the college year ended and I came home for summer break. If I remember right, I had the surgery the first or second day I was home so that I could get to work as soon as possible.
What I didn't expect was how looooong it would take to heal. I recall being wheeled out of the hospital, unable to speak and barely able to move. I looked over at a five-year-old girl who'd just had her tonsils out too, same time as me. She smiled at her parents and said sweetly, "Mommy, can I have that ice cream now?" She talked! Fresh from a tonsillectomy! I didn't care how cute she was... she must die. It's only fair. I didn't talk for several days, due to my non-toddler healing ability, my severely infected tonsils and my being a redhead (we have a reputation for being "bleeders" who take long to heal, which even the anesthesiologist noted as I entered the operating room).
Anyway, eventually I was able to go to work. This was after losing a week of my life in a codeine blur (I'm not joking, I don't remember a thing. People who talked to me during those days said I was an... interesting conversation partner).
On the way to the office for my first day, I was rear-ended by another car at a red light. Just sitting there, and this guy rams into me. I hit my turn signal, point over to the side of the road, and pull into a parking lot to assess the damage and exchange information with the brake-pedal-challenged driver. When the light turned green, he instead gunned it and left me standing in the parking lot. Nice. I didn't get his license number.
Got back in the car, fuming and frustrated. Then a sneezing fit hits me. Wonderful, now I'll go to my new job with a dented bumper and red eyes. Yay me!
Eventually get to the office, fill out the usual first-day paperwork, and get started meeting the new people I'll be spending the summer with. Everything goes pretty well, although some of them were a little standoffish to me. I just figure it's because my dad runs a sister company of this one, and maybe I'm getting the cold shoulder due to nepotism. Whatever, I'll win 'em over with hard work, personality and a cannon arm (they have a softball team).
The day ends, I get in my car and start it up. That's when I look down and see blood all over the front of my shirt. My white shirt. Evidently my early morning sneezing fit dislodged a bit of throat scab (that's perhaps the grossest sentence in the history of this blog... yes!) and I sneezed the blood all over my shirt without noticing in all the chaos of fender benders and new jobs. All day long, meeting new people, meeting the entire freakin' company! Eating lunch with them! Ahhh, I ate lunch covered in blood, and they had to look at me as they ate!
16 hours later I went back to work for my second day. Nobody mentioned anything about my bloody shirt from the day before. I sure as heck didn't mention it either.
And I dominated in softball that summer, too.
The final story takes place less than two years ago, on my first day at my current company. It was early afternoon, and I made my first trip to the bathroom. Beautiful bathroom, black slate floors and walls, black marble sinks. Top notch.
There are two urinals and a stall in the bathroom, and this visit called for a stall. I walk in and try to close the door, but... no door? I don't see a door anywhere. That's odd. From my seat on the toilet, I would be facing directly at the sink, with nothing blocking the view. Weird, but I had to go.
I'm sitting there doin' my thang, when someone else enters the bathroom. Crap. He hits the urinal for a minute, and the whole time I'm thinking, for the first time in my life, "Please don't wash your hands, please don't wash your hands, please don't wash your hands...". He goes to wash his hands.
He's standing at the sink, and there I am, six feet behind him and sitting atop all the fecally regal glory of the white throne. He spots me in the mirror but doesn't say anything, simply washes his hands quickly and leaves.
One of the weirdest bathroom moments of my life.
It was even weirder the next day, when I went to the bathroom again and the stall door was halfway open. It exists. The door's always been there. The door is solid black, just like the floors, walls and sinks. Somehow, the day before, the door was opened flat against the wall and I just didn't see it.
And Mr. longtime employee went to wash his hands to see the new guy sitting there with the stall door open.
Welcome to my world. I'm ignorant, not stupid. Stupid people don't learn, but I'm an excellent learner. So I generally only do dumb stuff once before adapting. But oh boy, when I do my one-time dumb stuff... I get my money's worth from that one time.