Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not sparing myself the humiliation

Is it not normal that I love embarrassing moments? Regardless, I do. I love them especially if they happen to me. That’s not jinxing myself, I hope, because I don’t need a ton of them. What I’m saying is that I just really value the collection I have. I love having those memories because they make me laugh at myself. I think there is something wonderfully freeing about re-envisioning yourself doing something ridiculous. And I love laughing. Give me a good and funny story, and I will laugh about it for weeks.

Today my friend La Belette Rouge posted a hilarious account of a recent embarrassing moment, and so I’m taking her cue and posting an account of one of my own moments of humiliation. I have quite a few, but this one is near the top of my list. It happened in 1993, and it has been worth years of laughter for me:

A little background first. I did not grow up a sporty kid. I wasn’t completely a klutz, but I have never been on a team sport; I don’t have that natural grace of someone who is a practiced athlete. But I do love trying new things, so over the years I’ve enjoyed a few attempts at more or less adventurous activities like rock climbing, or kayaking, or skiing. It bears mentioning that I didn’t try any of these until I was into my 20s, when any hopes of being a “natural” had long dried up…

Anyway, I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Olympic sites in Norway in late 1993, just weeks before the opening ceremonies. My parents took us to Oslo with them, and then, in the interest of skiing, my brother and I made a trip to a town just north of Oslo, a place called Oyer, in Lillehammer, Norway.

In preparation for the trip, I had gotten an adorable little ski jacket and snowpants, great goggles, ski-cap, etc. I was prepared to be cute if not good at skiing. I danced around in my little size 4 outfit and dreamed big--who knew? Maybe I would be good at this sport!

We stayed in a strange little hotel that had giant keys for doorknobs and a stagnant pool that felt like the set to the horror film. I couldn’t help but conjure images of trolls with big hands turning those key-shaped handles and languishing in the scummy pool. But I digress.
Bizarreness aside, there was an air of magic to the whole trip, and I felt like I was about to discover something special on my first skiing experience. Yes, that’s right. My first skiing experience was to be on the same hill where there would soon be Olympians competing….what an honor! What a thrill!

The grand plan was for me to get a lesson from an expert Norwegian and learn the right way from the beginning. Ah, plans. The first problem was that we arrived an hour early for the lesson. I figured I would play around on the bunny hill, just getting used to the feeling of skis on my feet. My brother, of course, was an excellent skier already. He had been on the high school ski team for years, and he didn’t want to waste any time waiting for my lesson. So off he went.

I put on my skis in the warm little ski hut, shuffled outside, and found out that skis are HEAVY. Or these skis were. I had been expecting to “shhh” across the perfect snow, but I felt myself fighting just to move forward. I really needed some practice, so I headed over to the tow-rope that went up the bunny hill.

The bunny hill here was actually a bunny hill. It was small, and seemed accessible, and it was populated by at least 20 little kids who flew down the hill effortlessly. Some of them had to have been younger than 3 years old, and most of them had no poles at all. These were clearly the future ski instructors of the area. I was intimidated, but I pressed on to the tow-rope.

This tow-rope was a pretty simple contraption—a continuous rope that was punctuated by little buoy-shaped pieces that you were supposed to grab, slip between your knees, and rest on. The strong motor in the wheel-house did the rest.

The little skiers grabbed the rope as easily as they cruised down the hill. I watched them for a few minutes to see their technique, and then I made my first attempt.

I got in line, grabbed the rope, sat, and ….tipped over to the right. No go. Maybe I didn’t have that buoy-seat right. Try again. And again. Same thing.

By the fourth time, I was getting some good advice from a few of the kids. "Let your skis pull you.” “Keep hanging on.”

All good advice. No go for tries 5, 6, and 7. Now a little crowd gathered. The wheel house guy made a point to stop the rope completely when it was my turn now, and made it go very, very slowly. Still, I fell off. Great. My cheeks may have already been red from the 10 degree temperature, but I can assure you they were warm with my blushing by that time.

Mr. Wheelhouse stopped the rope, came over to me, and explained, in very slow and deliberate English, the method the kids had shown me a few attempts earlier. He went back to the wheelhouse, turned on the rope, et voila: I fell off.

At this point, a weird American guy I had met earlier at our hotel showed up and tried to rescue me. He had registered very high on my creep-o-meter when I’d spoken to him before, that feeling just increased as I saw him him charging up the hill with a here-I-come-to-save-the-day grin on his face. My stomach curdled a bit.

Creepyguy had taken off his skis to get to me all the faster, and he was running. Before I knew it, he was standing next to me in line. When the time came for me to try yet again to get on that cursed tow rope, Creepyguy stepped up behind me and, without even asking, sort of bent down, leaned into my back, and tried to push me up the hill. (If he had asked, what would that have sounded like anyway--I cringe just to think of it.) Despite his best efforts to shove me, I didn't budge one inch up the hill.

I had been laughing and smiling, and even waving a few times to the growing group of gawkers, in that sort of self-effacing “got it under control” kind of palm salute. But I swear, this time I was close to tears-- you know the kind, the ones that start as a laugh but end in big sobs. So, with Creepyguy still at my backside, and with the rope tugging mightily at my knees, I started the big laugh-cry. Then I lost control again, and tipped, but this time, I fell onto my back and into the center ditch between the up-rope and the down-rope.

I lay there like a overturned beetle, my arms and ski-heavy legs flailing above me. That was it, I decided. I think there was pointing, and I know there was laughing. I was going to be done with this and I planned to beat a hasty retreat to the spooky hotel.
The only upside was that at least Creepyguy had stepped to the side. So I lay there, planning my escape for what felt like a long time like a sad ski-beetle, laughing those big tears down my face until Mr. Wheelhouse came to help me up. As he reached to grab for my arm, he got a good look at the bottom of my skis, and he smiled a big smile that showed all those lovely Norwegian teeth.

“Miss, it is your skis! They are iced.”

I had no clue what that meant, but within a minute or two, I had a ski instructor at my side, removing the skis to show me that the bottoms were indeed coated with a good inch or two of clumpy ice. Instructor Arne (to be pronounced AR-Nuh), was to be my very own instructor, and he quickly fixed me up with a freshly waxed pair of skis that were not warm enough to gather an icy coating, and what do you know?

I got up the tow-rope.

I put my humiliation out of mind for my hour-long lesson. During my lesson, I managed to get down the hill several times, too, without injury or incident. Arne, poleless as the two-year-olds whizzing around, skied in front of me, going backwards at high speeds, and insisted I grab for him if I felt myself falling. Arne, wherever you are, you were nice, but that is just not a position I want to get into, ever. I think the thought of plummeting down the hill in his embrace was enough to keep me upright.

The lesson ended in time for the sun to set at 3:30 pm, and my brother met me at the ski house as I was returning my skis. “How was it?” he asked.

On the scale of embarrassing moments? I give it a 10. And worth 16 years of laughs, at least.

Now your turn: What is one of your best embarrassing moments?

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Lisa said...

You poor thing! You handled it so well! And you didn't give up.

I took inspiration from LBR's post, too. I guess embarrassment is a universal thing.

La Belette Rouge said...

I am tickled to have inspired both you and Lisa to share one of your embarrassing moments.

Hilarious! It wasn't then. Now the image of you on the ground like a beetle is enough to make me snort. I am sure if you took to the slopes now you would glide like a butterfly!!! Your swimsuit moment that you shared over at my blog was equally horrible and, with time, funny.

Kirie said...


Ah, yes, humiliation. But I laughed the whole time I wrote this post, so that's saying something...

And your post yesterday. OH MY GOD. I cannot believe how well you handled that. That is the stuff of my nightmares, and I do not think I would managed. You are a hero in "keeping on." Your boss, too, being nonplussed. Wow.


Kirie said...

I really do mean it when I say I like the collection I have. I'm glad you were able to get a laugh out of the stories, too.

You know, I did eventually learn to ski, but not before an incident that had me going down an entire closed run with a crazy Frenchman in a blizzard. Closed run as in--rocks and snow. I removed my skis to go down the entire damn thing on my bum, like a little kid. The skis sort of tumbled along with me.

It the whole of my two hour ski time to do this, and by the time we reached the end and met up with the real skiiers (my husband among them), I was well in need of the hot mulled wine and saucissons. That and the stress led me to a migraine. And then a nap. But after all that, I was able to laugh about it.

No, for real, I can ski now, I swear. And I love it!


WendyB said...

I took a half-hour ski lesson once and that was IT. It was supposed to be an hour but I only lasted half the time. This made me laugh out loud, sympathetically, of course: "sad ski-beetle"

Hilary said...

Ok, I'll give you mine. I'm late to this party, but what the heck.

I was working as a reporter at an ABC affiliate right out of college. They did those little newsbrief dealies that they taped right in the newsroom. I had been doing on-air stuff for a long time and had even anchored my college news station, so I wasn't new to this stuff. But for some reason, as a reporter was about to do a newsbrief with me in the immediate background at a computer writing a story, I kind of panicked. I don't know why, but it's like when you're on stage and you don't know what to do wtih your hands. I jsut didn't know what to do with myself. I felt immediately conspicuous, like everyone was going to be looking at me, and what the heck was she doing sitting there? I didn't have time to get up and leave, the taping was in process, and I needed a purpose and I needed it NOW. So, I went into actor mode, the camera went on for the 20 second taping, and I picked up a phone and pretended to have a silent conversation. I then hung up from my "conversation" just as the taping completed, and I looked up just in time to see a nearby off-camera reporter (who is still on air here in Chicago that shall remain nameless) glaring at me with a look that clearly said, "what the hell are you doing, you complete idiot?" I *still* think about it sometimes. I kind of looked up to this person, but unfortunately, from that point on, it kind of went downhill from there. I have no explanation for the panic. It is what it is, I suppose.

So, there ya go.

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