Despite my sometimes crippling anxiety in public situations, I feel like I’m a pretty socially-adjusted human being. But interacting with other people doesn’t always go right for me. What follows are my Top 5 most awkward moments.
5 – Don’t Fence Me In
I had a very suburban upbringing: cub scouts, little league, youth group on Sundays. In the summer, the cul de sac kids would run from yard to yard, pool hopping and causing the type of good-natured mischief that belongs in an uplifting Nicholas Sparks novel.
But I happened to grow up on a rural road that was less developed than the rest of my town. One of the things my particular neighborhood lacked was fences. Each yard just kind of blended into the next, with no need for property lines to be delineated by chain link. As such, I never had much practice with scaling fences.
It’s normal to have certain gaps in your skills, and given my inclination to be a rule follower (“the gate is locked, you guys. I don’t think we should go in.”), my inability to jump a fence didn’t really come up during my childhood.
I was 19 when I finally had to meet this disability head on.
My friends Scott, Dom and I were at my girlfriend Kara’s high school graduation (I had already graduated; see more about this in Awkward Situation #1). The ceremony was on the football field, and the three of us watched it from the fence at the edge of the track.
When the graduates threw their caps in the air and the stands cheered and clapped, we wanted to go onto the field to congratulate Kara.
The only problem was that the gate was all the way on the other side of the field, and between it and us were 800 parents also trying to find their grad.
Keep in mind, this was a chain link fence around a football field, not some towering barrier covered in razor wire. It couldn’t have been more than four feet high.
Scott and Dom didn’t think twice. They both hooked their toes in one of the chains and boosted themselves over in one clean motion.
I started to sweat, because I knew there was no way I could clear the fence without a struggle.
I tentatively climbed and managed to get one leg swung over the top, but I had no idea how to get the other one over. So I froze, straddling the fence like I was riding a hobby horse.
“Come on,” Scott said. “What’s the matter?”
I fumbled for a second, trying to find footing.
“Do you not know how to jump a fence?” Dom said.
“No, I do, I just…”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Haven’t you ever run from the cops before?”
I shot him a look.
“Just get down. You look ridiculous.”
Acutely aware of how absurd it was for a 19-year-old adult in reasonable shape to be frozen at the top of a four-foot fence, I collected my pride and swung my other leg over the top.
I lost my balance and fell headfirst to the ground.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that, in an attempt to recover any possible dignity, on the way to the ground, I yelled “just kidding.”
Just kidding. Like me careening off of a fence was a joke, a Three Stooges pratfall.
Scott and Dom didn’t buy it, and they never let me live it down.
When I introduced Scott to my wife (then fiancée) for the first time, he shook her hand and said:
“Nice to meet you. Did you know your fiancé can’t jump a fence?”
4 – On With The Show
I wrote a little about this one in my essay, Walk It Off.
The fact is, I’m not very athletic. I played baseball and football when I was little, but with the exception of my fifth grade year when I hit three home runs, I sucked pretty bad. I just don’t have as much control over my body as other people do.
As I got older and more into music, this became less of an issue. I could write and play the songs, and other people could move to them.
Except when you play in a punk band, you’re expected to have lots of energy. You can’t be in a punk band and stand there like you’re Cat Stevens. Punk dudes throw themselves around on the stage while they play.
I used to practice these moves in my bedroom, timing jumps with my guitar to the songs’ impactful moments. I wasn’t going to get a gig with Cirque Soleil, but my stage moves were passable for a high school band.
On the night of my band’s record release show, I wanted to give it everything I had. I spent the whole set flailing and jumping and diving, my body screaming the whole time.
During the last song, I climbed onto the drum riser, which was a wooden platform about three feet high. I jumped as high as I could, tucking my knees to my chest in the perfect punk pogo.
I landed awkwardly. My body went one way, my left knee went the other. I felt it slip out of joint, and what followed was the worst, hot flash of pain I’d ever felt in my entire life.
I went down to the ground, and my friend Todd jumped onto the stage and pulled me up by the armpits.
“Are you ok?” He yelled.
No, not okay, never okay. I think I’m dying. But I knew I had a couple hundred people watching me, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot.
I finished the song, testing my knee once in awhile to see if it still hurt. Every time I put weight on it, it buckled.
Well, that’s not good.
I had to more or less be carried out of the show and put into the back of my mom’s car. After dismissing it as a sprain and walking on it for six months, an orthopedist informed me I had a torn ACL and meniscus.
My band put out three albums and played dozens of shows to hundreds of kids, but almost 20 years later, that’s the only show anyone ever brings up.
“Hey, remember that show when you tore your ACL? Dude, I was there!”
3 – It Was A Joke?
I didn’t drink in college, which often ostracized me at social gatherings. To compensate, I spent a lot of time at parties being a raging dick. (See: House Destruction Party)
My senior year, I had just started dating this girl, and she invited me to a party at her apartment. I was nervous because it was one of the first times I’d hung out with her friend group.
To cut the tension, I fell into my default party mode: asshole.
Every conversation I had was riddled with snarky, sarcastic criticism. I thought I was being witty, but it didn’t play that way.
“Are you okay?” my girlfriend asked. “My friend said you were being pretty mean to her.”
“Oh come on,” I said. “I was just breaking balls!”
“Relax and don’t be such a jerk,” was her advice.
The party wore on, and I started talking to one of my girlfriend’s roommates, a dorky but sweet girl named Jessica.
I have no recollection of the conversation’s contents, but what I do remember is that in the middle of Jessica’s story, I decided it would be funny to slap her drink out of her hand.
So I did. While keeping eye contact and a straight face, I wound up and spiked her cup of beer.
It spilled all over the front of her shirt and puddled on the carpet.
I laughed and pointed like I was the first person to discover comedy.
Jessica stood there, dripping with beer.
“Why, why would you do that?” she said.
“I got you good!” I yelled.
By this point, the entire party had taken notice of poor, sweet Jessica and her bullying tormenter. People looked at me like I had just shit on the floor.
My girlfriend grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me into the bedroom. “What is the matter with you?” She hissed.
“Don’t be so uptight, it’s just a joke,” I said.
“In what world is punching someone’s drink out of their hand a joke?”
She had me there. “I guess I didn’t really think that one through, huh?”
“You should probably leave,” she said.
And I did, under the baleful glares of my girlfriend and her friends.
I’m happy to say I later apologized to Jessica and we cleared the air. It only took me another 10 years to realize that being a dick to people at parties isn’t as funny as I think.
2 – Shower Snafu
My sophomore year of college, I lived with five other dudes in an on-campus apartment. The bathroom of this place belonged in a locker room: it had two standup showers, a toilet stall, and a row of sinks in front of a long wall-length mirror.
In general, I think all bathrooms have an aura about them that fosters privacy. In most phases of my life, the bathroom was the only place I could be by myself: on tour, in the DC studio apartment I shared with my girlfriend, in my current house with my kids. Once that bathroom door closes, you can drop your public persona and truly be yourself.
Needless to say, the frat bathroom, as we called it, didn’t provide much solitude. I learned this the hard way.
One afternoon, I jumped in the shower and began about my routine, thinking about whatever it is 19-year-olds think about in the shower. I was happy, relaxed, and for whatever reason decided I wanted to see myself showering in the mirror.
Look, I’m not proud of this. It’s weird, I get it. But fuck off, you do weird shit in the bathroom too.
So I open the curtain and start soaping and posing for the mirror, flexing and talking to myself. I wasn’t jerking off or anything, but honestly, that would’ve been less weird.
I didn’t hear the door open. Suddenly, there was my roommate Travis, in his boxers, holding a towel.
“Hey guy, I want to shower too,” he said.
I ripped the curtain closed and hyperventilated under the running water.
“No problem,” I yelled. “Sorry.”
We haven’t spoken about it to this day.
1 – Surprise Gone Awry
I dated my high school girlfriend for my first three years of college. It was long distance, and I spent a buttload of hours driving to visit her. I don’t regret us dating for that long, but suffice it to say I’d probably be in a very different place if we had broken up earlier.
Kara was a year behind me in school, which meant while I was a freshman at Maryland, she was finishing up her senior year. We were in love, and she didn’t yet know I couldn’t jump a fence.
High schoolers and college kids lead very different lives, and it was difficult for us to make it work. But, like the stubborn star-cross’d lovers we were, we clawed and bit our way through the tough times.
In April, Kara went to Disney World on her senior trip. She was gone for five days, and we agreed to suspend our daily phone appointment so she could enjoy herself. She was scheduled to come home on a Thursday night around 10, and after not talking to her for a week, I decided it would be a grand and romantic gesture if I was there waiting when she got off the bus.
So after dinner, I drove the two hours home and waited in the school parking lot for her bus to arrive.
When it did, I stood with the parents, trying to hide in the crowd so Kara wouldn’t see me.
The bus door opened and the kids shuffled off. I saw Kara’s ponytail through the window and stood in front of the bus door. I couldn’t wait to see the look on her face when she saw me. She’d probably rush into my arms and shower me with affection. Man, what a good long-distance boyfriend I was.
She descended the steps and our eyes met, and the violins swelled and her face changed.
Into a look of sheer terror.
Behind Kara was a guy named Alex. He followed her closely because they were holding hands. Not in the “hey buddy, could you give me a hand down the stairs,” hold. Their fingers were treasonly interlaced.
Alex saw what was about to go down and got the hell out of Dodge, slipping through the crowd before I could even process the scene.
Kara and I stood there staring at each other, both too paralyzed to move. What made it worse was the looks the rest of the senior class shot us as they filed by. They must’ve known about Kara’s innocent tryst. This was thankfully before the age of social media, or I’m sure our staring contest would’ve been broadcast to the world via Snapchat.
Turns out that while under the narcotic influence of the Magic Kingdom, Kara had a friendly little fling with Alex. I don’t know what happened, and at this point who cares. But I sure felt like a dumb shit for driving two hours to surprise her.
It turned out fine. Through a combination of her smooth talking and my inability to let go of my past, we made up and dated for three more years. When it was time for us to move on, we did and both lived happily ever after.