Monday, May 19, 2008


Mark Twain pointed out that Man is the only animal that blushes…or needs to. Being embarrassed is one of Man’s odd little traits, and usually results from our being placed in a situation that challenges our self confidence. Therefore, those of us who don’t have much self confidence to begin with are particularly vulnerable to it. I find myself being embarrassed far more than anyone could possibly be comfortable with.

There are, of course, many degrees of embarrassment, from mild to severe. Mine sometimes surpass severe to excruciating. And I have the annoying tendency not to be satisfied with being embarrassed over the things I do, but for others.

Our beloved President regularly does things…other than putting his foot in his mouth with astoundingly stupid remarks…that make my skin crawl with embarrassment: his insistence on doing little dance numbers to show he’s “cool” and “with it” is a frequently-repeated example.
But sometimes my embarrassment on the part of others is considerably more benign.

I think I”ve told the story of how when my parents and I were in Hawaii, we took a boat trip up Hawaii’s only navigable river, heading for the famous Fern Grotto. Now, my mom and I were very much alike in many ways, one of which was the intense dislike of doing things simply because we are told to do them, but go along with it rather than stand out as being a party pooper.
Anyway, the gratingly effervescent guide (I think being effervescent is a job requirement), as we were gliding up the river, declared that it would be great fun for all the women on the boat to learn the hula.

Mom loved to dance, but she did not want to learn the hula. Still, she stood up with all the other women and followed the guide’s extended-arm, hip-swinging motions. I could see on Mom’s face that she hated it, and I was embarrassed for her.

I am frequently embarrassed for various performers who really are not very good at what they are doing, or for people who are, like Mom was, called upon to do something they really, really would prefer not doing.

A primary source of embarrassment for me, other than my total refusal to think before I say or do something I never would have said or done had I thought first, is in doing things I would truly love to do but can’t—such as anything requiring physical dexterity or grace. Probably the primary example of this is dancing. As I’ve said often, there is nothing more beautiful that watching someone who knows how to dance. But I simply cannot and will not do it (well, a slow dance with a good partner may be an exception).

At least I know the source for this particular problem. When I was about eight, I went to a birthday party of a girl in my neighborhood, and her mother announced that we would all now dance. Dance? I had never danced in my life! I was horrified. And when she started pairing up all the guests…all the worse, it was boy-girl…I was well-past embarrassed, and several stages beyond mortified. It was a truly horrific experience, and I’m sure it affected the rest of my life.
Like my character Dick Hardesty, I often have little voices in my head (no, no, not that kind of voices). One just chimed in: “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Roger, get over it!” I wish I could.

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