Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Sitting at Starbuck’s yesterday, I overheard some 20-something girls sharing stories of their most embarrassing moments. They didn’t seem to reveal anything too earth-shattering from where I was sitting. You walked in on your father-in-law in the bathroom? Yawn. Is that really the best you can do? I went back to enjoying my iced decaf grande skim latte with Splenda when I started thinking: just what exactly would I claim as my most embarrassing moment?

Life is filled with so many little gaffes and fumbles along the way, that it’s hard to choose just one. I guess there was the time I tried to give myself a bikini wax and almost blacked out from pain. Close, but probably not one for the record books. Locking myself out of the house? Too mundane. Wearing my shirt to school inside out? Who hasn’t?

No, when I look deep inside myself, in the dark, tiny corner where I cram all my painful memories, I’d have to say it was The Great Dirty Joke Incident of 1979.

Here’s how it went down: Lincoln Elementary School playground, 3rd Grade, Spring 1979. I was tired of playing four-square, and the tether ball was occupied, so I decided to see what all the boys were talking about by the drinking fountains. Turns out, they were telling jokes. Dirty jokes. The kind 3rd graders learned from 4th graders, who learned from 5th graders, and so on. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care. I wanted in.

There were two particular jokes going around that day. One kind of rhymed and was peppered with swears, the other was full of dirty sex stuff. I, of course, chose the dirty sexy one as my own. I’m not sure I really even understood it, but it felt so empowering to say the words. It was such a rush to see the shock mixed with delight on the other girls’ faces as I told them the joke.

I wasn’t indiscriminate about who I shared my joke with – I selected my audience carefully. Or so I thought. After recess was over, I saw our janitor, Mr. Bruce, stop my teacher in the hall. Hmm… that’s odd, did someone throw up? Does Miss Labrador need him to fix the sink in our classroom? Oh well.

“Jenny, can you come out into the hall please?”

“M-me? You want me to come out there? Umm… okay.”

Ohmigod, what’s going on? I’m Jenny the Straight-A Student. I get to do special smart projects while the other kids are reading about some dumb girl and a horse. Teachers write that I’m a pleasure to have in class on my report card. I get to grade everyone’s spelling tests! I don’t get called out into the hall!

“Jenny, Mr. Bruce informed me that you were telling a joke during recess. A very bad joke.”

It was at this point that I started to feel a little dizzy, and my stomach tightened in on itself.

“Jenny, Sara B. told Mr. Bruce the joke, and said that you were the one telling it to all the girls outside. Is that true?”

Et tu, Sara B.? Et tu?

“Uhh. I… well, I umm, there were some people saying some things, and umm. Well, I just told a joke that I heard.”

“Tell me the joke, Jenny. I need you to tell me what the joke was.”

My eyes started to glaze over, and my tongue suddenly felt very dry and thick. My palms were dripping. Am I breathing? I can’t breathe. My mind was racing frantically, playing the joke out over and over in my head. How could I change it? Make it not so dirty? Quick – replace all swear words with innocent ones: shit becomes poo, piss becomes pee. Oh god, what word can I possibly use to replace that horrible four-letter one for the male member? The real word is worse than the swear!

Think, Jenny, THINK! Act like you don’t remember it all! Pretend you didn’t get it! Make it shorter, forget the punch line! For the love of god, Jenny, make yourself faint! MAKE YOURSELF FAINT!!

While fighting back tears, and desperately trying to catch my breath, I did it. I told the teacher a dirty joke. It was without a doubt, the most humiliating moment of my entire life. When I opened my teary eyes, I was amazed to see that this unprecedented shame hadn’t turned my body to dust.

Miss Labrador quietly led me back into class, and never said another word about it. Clearly, she understood that having to tell her this joke was worse than any punishment known to mankind.

I’m sure some of you are wondering if I still remember the joke. Yes, in fact, I do. Not the whole joke, really. Mainly just the punch line – sometimes it haunts me on quiet, stormy nights. So, no, you won’t hear the joke from me. I’ve learned my lesson – you’ll have to talk to Sara B.