|This is me on Fred's lap back in the day. Yep. It was the '80's.|
Oh, embarrassment... a teen's first enemy. There are so many cringe-worthy moments, like the time I got a zit on my already-oversized nose...or the time I walked right up and INTO a car that wasn't my parents' but belonged to some random person stopped at a stop sign by my school...or the time in high school when I was the first person to arrive in class, took my seat all way by the window, didn't notice that all the people filing in were strangers. Nope, it wasn't until the bell rang that I noticed I was in the wrong room and had to endure laughter from 30 strangers as I high-tailed it out of there.
All worthy contenders and all worthy of a few grins. But no, the one story that chases me, that I will never live down, happened when I was 16 years old.
First, the set-up: I wore braces until I was 19. Second, Fred, the boy in this story, is now my husband.
Okay, here's the story. My boyfriend and I went out to dinner with a large group of friends. I believe there were 6 or 8 of us there that night, a restaurant with a notoriously long wait called Cooky's Steak Pub. Cooky's was famous for its soup, salad, and dessert bar, included in the price of your meal.
After a long wait, we are seated at a large round booth and our orders taken. The line for the soup and salad bar is long but eventually, we're all back at the table, sipping soup and nibbling on salad and bread. We're enjoying ourselves and hardly no time passed before our meals arrived.
It was a Saturday night and I suppose the restaurant was doing its best to turnover tables quickly. As soon as our meals were cleared, we noticed that the line for the dessert bar was wrapped around the dining room. It was as if everyone present finished their meals at the same time.
So...we came up with a plan. Half of us would endure the line and bring back enough dessert for the whole table. Each person would load a plate with ONE item. One person would grab several scoops of ice cream, another would grab toppings, another would take several slices of cake, etc.
It took nearly 20 minutes, but soon, everyone was digging into the little mini-bar we'd created back at our table. I'd made the most incredible sundae ever constructed. Chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles/jimmies, nuts, a cherry ... it was worthy of a food magazine centerfold.
Those who know me well know how much I adore all things chocolate.
There I was, floating on a delicious chocolate haze, when one of the girls began to cough. "I have Tom's sprinkles caught in my throat," she managed to croak out.
Without missing a beat, I chimed in. "I have Fred's nuts caught in my braces."
The entire table exploded into belly laughs. Fred, my poor boyfriend, gaped at me. A passing waiter, who'd heard my unfortunately phrased remark, had to put his tray down to avoid dropping it all on us while he laughed. People at nearby tables laughed.
But me? I didn't laugh. I didn't laugh because I didn't understand why this was hilarious. There were nuts on my sundae, they were caught in my braces, Fred was the one who'd brought the dish of nuts to the table... They had to EXPLAIN it to me. It took a solid minute for me to finally catch on, which only made everyone laugh that much harder.
A lot of decades have passed since that night. I can laugh about this now. Cooky's Steak Pub is long since shut down. I married Fred but we're no longer in touch with anybody else at dinner that night. But every once in a while, we run into someone and the first question they ask is, "How are Fred's nuts?"
People will tell this story at my funeral, I have no doubt. I wish I could tell you that was the last time I was ever so mortified, but nope... just a few years ago, I almost knocked myself unconscious when my hand slipped while trying to squish myself into a sports bra. That moment ended up in an author friend's manuscript.
I remember the awkward way I laughed and the way my face burned. I remember wishing a hole would open up and swallow me alive. Though none of my characters have ever had their boyfriends' nuts caught in their braces, I think the emotions that surround such profound embarrassment are universal and I often use this to infuse my writing.