18 entries categorized "Awkward"

Million-Dollar Awkward

I found what I think qualifies as the most awkward moment in the history of time.

You can read the background info in this article or this one, but here is the gist of what happened to casino magnate and millionaire Steve Wynn and the Picasso painting he had just agreed to sell:

Wynn had just finalized a $139 million sale to another collector of his painting, called "Le Reve" (The Dream), when he poked a finger-sized hole in the artwork while showing it to friends at his Las Vegas office a couple of weeks ago. (MSNBC)

Can I just say that $139 million is about the amount I would pay (if I had it) to ensure that I would never, ever, ever, for the rest of my life have to be in a situation as awkward as how it must have been for the friends Wynn was showing the picture too when that happened?  Nora Ephron was there and blogged her account of the moment for good old Huffpo, and it was excruciating just to read it.  A selection:

The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying -- he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting -- and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.

There was a terrible noise.

Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter's plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar - or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn's elbow -- with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.

"Oh shit," he said.  "Look what I've done."

The rest of us were speechless . . . I felt that I was in a room where something very private had happened that I had no right to be at. I felt absolutely terrible.

Good lord.  Anyway, by all accounts the situation appears to have been resolved about as nicely as could have been hoped, but if I had been there when it happened I never would have lived to find that out.  I would have died of sheer awkwardness.  Multi-million dollar awkwardness.

As a mental exercise, I've been trying to decide what I would have said/done had I really been there.  Obviously, the best plan would have been to stay quiet and wait for the moment to pass, but if there is one thing I know about myself it is that I cannot handle long silences. Any time my brain senses a conversational lull of more than three seconds, it reflexively spits something out without my conscious consent.  I think this is because somewhere in my mental chain of command, the "JUST SAY SOMETHING, ANYTHING" synapse is fatally and erroneously wired to fire seconds before the "MAYBE TRY BEING APPROPRIATE JUST THIS ONCE" synapse.  It is the perfect formula for creating stiflingly awkward moments, like this recent exchange:

Perfectly friendly and nice person sitting across from me at a happy hour: So, how come you've never been to one of our happy hours before?

Me: Because I don't really like meeting new people.

Nice, huh?  Way to keep up the conversational vibe.  I felt so bad for the poor soul who had tried to strike up a conversation with me and was now doomed to try and spend the rest of the happy hour looking in every other direction than at the psycho girl directly across from him, the one who apparently goes to happy hours in the hopes of not meeting any new friends.

Anyway, back to the $139 million painting.  I tried to recreate the scene in my head as if I were there, and I decided that what would have probably happened is that I would have nervously started to make a joke, realized how innappropriate I was being, and stopped dead in the middle of my sentence to make the situation even more awkward then ever.  Like, "[Nervous laugh] Well hey, I'm sure it's nothing a little Scotch tape won't . . . [Clears throat.  Looks down] I'm so sorry."

I can't even tell you how uncomfortable I am to even imagine that.

AITNF (Awkward Is the New Funny) Bulletin

Check out this US Weekly blog post/poll and tell me I'm not on to something here.  Excerpts (with my emphasis added):

The Emmy Awards began on an awkward note on the day of the deadliest American air flight in recent years, which killed 49 in Kentucky. Host Conan O’Brien’s opening skit found the host visiting the sets of several highly rated shows, including 24, House and Lost.

The prerecorded opening skit began with O’Brien boarding a private plane to Los Angeles. Asked by a stewardess if he was nervous about hosting the show, O’Brien answered, “Nervous? What could possibly go wrong?” The plane then crashed, with O’Brien later washing up on the set of Lost.

Us followed up with a poll asking, "You tell Us. Was Conan’s opening skit in poor taste or was it funny?"  The results thus far?  66% of those surveyed have ruled that unintentionally cringeworthy plane crash jokes are . . . FUNNY

Now, perhaps I shouldn't go around taking US Weekly poll results as Gospel quite yet, but I do feel justified in pointing out that this information aligns well with my new theory that Awkward Is the New Funny.  I mean, don't they say that three times officially makes it a trend?  We could be on the edge of something very big here, people.

Awkward is the New Funny?

Now, it could just be coincidence, and it might just be that I am too deliriously tired from the week from hell, and, yeah, it may just be that I want to drag everyone down into my pit of awkwardness with me, but I'm starting to wonder if awkward could be turning into the new funny.

I'm not saying this is a great thing (in fact, it makes me a bit uncomfortable), but it's definitely an emerging trend.  It all started with Stephen Colbert's now-infamous speech at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner--he received a lot of praise for this, but frankly it was one of the most awkward things I have ever seen and I could barely watch it. 

Now, just days ago, Dane Cook created some similarly awkward moments when hosting the Teen Choice Awards.  It started to bring back suppressed Colbert memories that had I had almost finally forgotten.  In all, it's not nearly as uncomfortable to watch as the White House speech, but Dane's interaction with Mischa Barton 55 seconds in is right up there with Stephen Colbert looking at Bush and saying they both live in a "no-fact zone."

Watch, cringe, comment: are jokes designed to make your audience uncomfortable a great new trend, or does it make a mockery of those of us out here who don't have the luxury of channeling our own awkwardness into profit and fame?   Because let's face it: we've all been in that situation before when someone sneezes and you say "Bless you," and then they sneeze again a full minute later and you wonder if you should say "Bless you" again, or if it's too soon and that will make you look too pressed, or if keeping quiet is actually rude and will make the person wonder what they did in the past minute to make you no longer empathize with his/her sneezing?  And when the awkward moment finally passed, there were no cult followers to adore us and blog about us; there was just a slightly uncomfortable person with an itch in the nose.  Isn't this the way it should be?  Or am I just an Awkwardness Purist who's going to get left in the dust by these brazen new kids on the block?

I May Have Overused Bold and Italics in This Article, But I'm Just Trying to Express in Some Small Way the Awkwardness I Experience Every Minute of My Life

The average American workplace is, reduced to its most basic elements, nothing more than just a bunch of potentially awkward situations swirling around in the air and waiting to be realized.  Basically, every single fixture in an office building is optimized for awkwardness.  Elevators are a great example of this, unsurprisingly (small space + 30 seconds of silence + two strangers = awkward situational equivalent of putting a roll of Mentos into a bottle of Coke: explosive and messy).

But if the awkwardness of the elevator is to be predicted, then that of the door is doubly cruel because doors are not supposed to be so bad.  In fact, in terms of popular symbolism, doors represent opportunity and possibility.  In my world, however, the only opportunities presented by doors are just more opportunities to engage in more awkward interpersonal dynamics.

Take, for example, this classic scenario: you're walking through a door.  Someone is coming up behind you.  Do you hold the door open for him/her?

On the surface, this may not seem challenging.  But view this diagram and stay focused while I try to explain how this seemingly mundane task causes me to break into a cold sweat:


Sometimes, the answer to the holding-the-door dilemma is clear: If the person is close behind you (Zone A above), stop and hold the door open for him.  If the person is far behind you (Zone C), you can let the door close behind you without feeling rude.  But what about that gigantic stretch of middleish distance from the door (Zone B)?!?!?!  If you just close the door, the trailing person may take it as an insult as it kind of shuts in his face; if you stand there and hold it, you may quickly realize the person is still a good 10 seconds from the door, so now you're just standing there looking dumb.  Also, to compound the tension, the person you're holding the door for will often feel obliged to break into a semi-jog to get to the door faster, which makes you feel even worse because you were trying to be polite and instead you ended up stressing the person out and forcing them to do a weird uncomfortable jog thing.

Perhaps what's most noteworthy about the scenarios I've described thus far is that they don't even directly involve talking.  That's a whole added dimension, one that can take a situation that was merely uncomfortable and turn it into one that is painful and humiliating.

Look: if I've got to work for the rest of my life, then fine.  I'll work.  I'd just prefer to do it in a place with absolutely no elevators, doors, or other people.

Celebrities: They're Just Like Us (Awkward)!

Everyone knows that "body language experts" are full of crap.  Any so-called expert who is quoted an average of seven times per year by US Weekly and, oh, zero times per lifespan in an actual scholarly journal is a member of a dubious profession.  In general--and there are rare exceptions, such as the photo of Uma Thurman and Andre Balzas that appeared in the tabs like a week before they broke up--you can't really make a solid inference about a couple's personal relationship based on their body language in a photo.

Except Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  When Tom is not in a manic upswing that allows him to forget that he is faking his affection for Katie, the photos of the two of them have sort of the same effect as awkward prom photos.  In high school, kids who go to school dances together as friends or as a first date or early on in a relationship are often really uncomfortable when all the parents with cameras try to egg them on to stand closer to one another.  This is comparable to how awkward things must be for Tom and Katie, except by creating this whole engaged scenario, they are actually the ones putting the pressure on themselves to look in love in photos.

To support my theory I have pulled some prom pictures off the Internet.  Take a look at these two kids, who are trying extremely hard to do the whole corsage thing without actually touching each other:


Then, compare it to these two kids.  Notice how, just like the prom guy, Tom is looking at the camera because it is less awkward than making eye contact with Katie; also, just like the prom girl, Katie is looking at her guy for guidance on how best to navigate these awkward waters. 


Another classic awkward pose is the one where someone is not comfortable with the prospect of hugging the person he is with, so his entire body stays turned completely forward.  In this picture below, this guy is a perfect example of this:


In this picture, Tom and Katie are both demonstrating the same  awkward positioning:


I may not have a degree in Behavioral Body Language Analysis for Weekly Gossip Periodical Dissemination, but I did minor in it, so you can trust that my analysis here is spot-on.  Just like you would with US Weekly, or In Touch on a good week.

Fade to Awkward: A Tableau

Sometimes when I get in the elevator with someone I don't know and we both just stare at the door, the silence seems really awkward.  I always wonder if I should say something. 

Today I learned what a horrible idea that is.  To be fair, I didn't start this conversation, but surely I could have done something to keep it from being so stupefyingly insipid:

Man: I just hate this cold weather.
Me: Yeah! It hasn't even been that bad this winter, but I still can't wait until the spring.
Man: Me either.
Me: The wet days are the worst of all.
Man: Yeah.
{Without irony]
Unless you're a duck.
Me: What? Oh. Yeah.
Well, I'm . . . not . . . a duck.
Man: Too bad.

[What? Too bad? Too bad I'm not a duck?  I'm not agreeing with that.  That would be ridiculous.  I'm not disagreeing with it either, though.  That would take more than the three seconds left of this elevator trip, and then there would be an even more awkward situation when my explanation of why I didn't want to be a duck got interrupted by the door opening, and then I had to finish up my thought really quickly as I got out, like ". . . . andsometimespeoplespitinyourpondinsteadofthrowingbreadandthat'sgross."]

[Three seconds of supremely awkward silence follow.]

[The elevator arrives at my floor and I limp out, crippled by the magnitude of the awkwardness I have just taken part in.]

Awkward is the Universal Language

I love getting updates from my friend who is in Namibia for the Peace Corps.  This latest excerpt proves something I have long suspected: awkwardness knows no geographical bounds.

"And.  This is worse.  One of our Namibian trainers asked me for my phone number, which I didn't think was strange since we've all been together for so long, very innocent.  Then he started sending me text messages.  The first one said, "please don't feel offended.  I really like the way u are and would like to know you better.  Sleep well, hope you will make it with your test next week.  U may respond."  In Namibia the thing to do is send "missed calls" or call someone, let it ring once so that the person knows you called and then hang up.  He's missed called me several times and sent me several other messages. 

I responded and told him I wasn't interested but things haven't really gotten much better.  The really strange thing is that I didn't really talk to him much before.  He told me he wanted things to go back to the way they were before but that doesn't make sense since I never talked to him before.  Just really weird.  Luckily I swear in on Friday and then move to Mariental in the South.  He will be going to Cape Town for school."

What an interesting piece of the nature vs. nurture puzzle.  Namibia is rather cut off from Western culture, and yet it has a thriving awkward stalker infrastructure complete with regional terminology and practices "e.g., missed calling".  That officially bumps them up to Code Orange on the Hierarchy of Stalkerization (see picture) and provides firm new evidence that awkardness is programmed into the human genome. (Click to see larger image.)

Remember this diagram, you will be seeing it in a textbook someday.