Ellen and I were with friends, enjoying ourselves and engaged in a fun, fast moving conversation. And then, like a boulder falling from the sky, a portentous question came out of nowhere: “What’s the most embarrassing moment of your life?”
I immediately thought of the most embarrassing moment of my life. Citing the call of nature, I diplomatically excused myself from the table. They still might be at the restaurant.
It wasn’t until I started to write this column that the second most embarrassing moment of my life returned to precise, colourful, burning, flaming memory — like the premiere of a big movie — all the characters were there. Only the pressure of a looming deadline could have found a plunger heavy enough to suck that humiliating long ago evening from the depths where Freud would never dare to tread: the unconscious crank-tank of my mind where the shades and lepers play beyond the reach of dignity, the admiration of others or public office.
It all began on the green sward of the baseball field. Children playing, the evening drawing nigh, the quiet satisfaction of watching inconsequential little league baseball. This happened to be only one evening of many where a species of holistic enjoyment was virtually guaranteed – elements of drama, benign bias, rootin’ for the team, neighbourliness and a chance for a good, long sit down and chat with my sweetheart.
On the evening in question, the game had gone long. The evening was pretty well night time as Alex, maybe 11 at the time (he is now 30!) and I packed up the baseball gear and walked to the subway station. All was bliss.
Upon entering the subway station we found the ticket office closed and quiet. Nobody around. Hmmm…where do you put your money? Oh, look over here…here’s a place where you put your money! It must allow you then to enter that tall, floor to ceiling turnstile and then go down those stairs over there. OK. Wait a minute … I asked Alex: “What will I do with my bike? There’s no place to bring it through.” I looked all around — no entry point for the bike. Hmmm … pacing back and forth for a moment, inspecting things, I started looking closely at the floor to ceiling turnstile. A lightbulb went off in my mind unfortunately sending shards of illogic right across the brainpan. Every hemisphere of my brain was blinded to the truth by the brilliance of my insight.
I stayed trapped in the turnstile for roughly an hour — bicycle pinned to my chest and face flat against the spokes. Each new train disgorged a new parade of fascinated onlookers. Comments were made. I was offered a smoke. An argument threatened to break out as two folks vehemently disagreed on how best to liberate me.
The Metro dispatched a crew to disassemble the entire apparatus. They were very kind to me. As was Alex, who throughout the drama, stood a discrete distance away from the centre of attention.
Max Woolaver is Rector of St. Andrew’s Grimsby, and Archdeacon of Lincoln. He is gifted at making us see beyond the immediate, often by helping us laugh at ourselves.