My husband and I were at Denny’s the other day, and this group of young men came in and approached the podium to put their name on the waiting list. The three of them looked 18 or so, definitely freshman. The woman behind the counter said, “Three?” They nodded. “Name?” she asked.
They shuffled their feet and scratched the back of their heads and glanced at one another, all signs of embarrassment. The hostess glanced at all three, finally settling on one who mumbled, “Um, Blake or whatever.” When the hostess said, “Pardon?” he had to repeat his name, and I swear he even got a little red.
I watched all this with great interest of course, partly because there was nothing else to do, but also because behavior interests me. These guys were embarrassed! All three of them and for what? The hostess looked to be in her mid-forties, so I don’t think it was pretty-girl-syndrome. There wasn’t a gaggle of teenage girls in the vicinity. I suddenly had the impression that none of them had to do this sort of thing before, put their name on the list at a restaurant. Their parents had probably done it in the past, and now they were embarrassed to be doing it themselves.
Speaking up in public hasn’t embarrassed me in years, so I tried to think of what still does, and that led me to think of when I write an embarrassed character. I’m embarrassed if people drop by and my house is a mess. Since my husband and my dogs don’t really care, I’m a sporadic housekeeper at best. Never had to write that.
But all those little childish things like talking to strangers or to a member of the opposite sex or being seen in public with my parents, those are all gone. I’ve written teenage characters who get embarrassed with pretty-girl/boy-syndrome before, but I’ve forgotten all the rest of that stuff like the potential petrification that comes with simply telling the hostess your name is Blake…or whatever.
I admire all of you who can truly capture the voice of a generation other than yours. I don’t have children and don’t hang around people that much younger than myself, so I’d forgotten how potentially embarrassing life could be to a teen or a child, especially a child, now that I think of it. Since other children will laugh at anything, mercilessly, just falling over on the playground was a incident humiliating enough to make one want to change schools. If I tripped and fell among my peers, I think all I’d get would be a chorus of, “Are you all right?” and hands helping me up, waiting for me to make a joke before they laughed slightly and we all went about our day. I guess I’m lucky the children in my stories are mostly in the background.
What about you? Do you still sweat the small stuff? Do you find that nothing embarrasses you? Are you amused when kids think they’ll absolutely DIE if something embarrassing happens? Do you use any of this in your writing?