1. Making eye contact while on the toilet, or with someone who’s on the toilet
Someone I know, let’s call him my “uncle,” once scored a hot date, and took her to the Red Lobster. He, ever the gentleman, reverently removed his Lidz baseball cap, tucking it in his back pocket for safekeeping. The cheese biscuits basket and the conversation floweth over, and it was a franchised Eden up in there, until he took a sip of free ice water, which is, to some, a “trigger beverage.” Trying to appear unfazed, he politely excused himself to the restroom, did his business, and stood up, eager to rejoin his Eve in paradise. And then came The Fall: He reached for his back pocket, grasping for a hat that was no longer there. Whereas he’d assumed that ours was an ideal world in which shit always landed in the toilet bowl, this was no such world. Not anymore. In this hash new reality, his shit had instead landed in his forty-dollar hat, which had fallen into the toilet bowl. And so, surrounded on all sides by “call Gary for a gay time” graffiti, my brave “uncle” (okay, it really was my uncle) faced an age-old dilemma: Abandon ship and risk a rogue diner, a truth-seeker a la Sherlock Holmes or Jenny McCarthy, barreling through the white-clothed tables and endless shrimp, shouting with uncontainable urgency, “Which one of you shat in this hat?” or reach in and remove/clean the shit hat, avoiding the wrath of any such amateur Ed Snowden, but significantly increasing the risk of contracting salmonella (which, I might add, is always a risk at the Red Lobster).
In the style of Goosebumps: Choose Your Own Adventure, I’ll leave you there, but whichever path you choose for my uncle and wherever it may lead you two, I think we can all agree that only way things could’ve been made worse was if my uncle had, while taking this life-altering shit, made eye contact through the crack in the stall with someone; perhaps with a man dressed in head-to-toe khaki, a man with the eyebrows of Clint Eastwood and the beard of Jesus of Nazareth, a man not using these precious moments of near-solitude to wash his hands because what’s the point, but instead to gaze in the mirror past his own reflection and at the row of beige stall doors with an unsettling mix of disapproval and emptiness lurking behind his tired eyes—the eyes of a man who perhaps once had a soul, but who now does not.
2. Making a Holiday Mistake
Like the time I forgot it was Halloween and offered my precious subway seat to the dapper young fellow with a pimp cane. Like the time I then remembered it was Halloween and didn’t give any money to the legless beggar on the subway because my brain just assumed: costume.
3. Tripping in public
This isn’t about drugs, or being involved in slang-laden exchanges of the, “fool, you be trippin’” variety. You aren’t that cool; not by a baker’s dozen. What you are is a loser not in control of your own life, much less your ability to walk. What’s next, Knock Knees? Are you going to pull a tampon out of your purse when you meant to pull out a pen, as though all those years of reading Seventeen taught you nothing? Are you going to give said tampon to your writing-utensil-less crush anyway, insisting he keep it for “later use,” and then, some weeks later, in a miserable attempt at charming self-deprecation, post a poorly-drawn comic to your Tumblr creepily speculating as to what “later use” might entail? Are you going to finally meet the President and while you’re shaking his supernaturally soft hand accidentally let it slip that you cast a write-in for Mr. Clean in the last election because your vote wasn’t going to count in your state anyway and Mr. Clean looks like a socialist and therefore the kind of candidate who’d surely pass laws forgiving student loan debt and who’d set up an oppressive regime under which you feel certain you could write great, Kundera-esque novels? Are you going to henceforth avoid tampons, Air Force One landings, and ever going back to the place where you tripped (Subway Sandwiches) and also avoid, in both real life and social media, all of the people who saw you commit this unforgivable, sinful act, including the Sandwich Artist you went to high school with (why were you following him on Twitter anyway?), that old man you’d never seen before in your life, four grubby children of indeterminate genders, a mildewy cardboard cut-out of Jared Fogle, and also your own mother? Because you would do that, Wobbly-Legs-No-Control-Deserves-All-the-Bad-Things McGee. You would.
4. Accidentally clicking something you didn’t mean to click on Facebook
These days, with a little help from your old pals Mark Zuckerberg and the NSA, you can steal a peek at most anyone’s book of secrets and also photos of what they had for lunch (not naming names, but if you’re reading this, I hope your guts are okay because that’s seriously not how nachos are supposed to look). But unintentionally “Like” a photo of your ex-boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s late, weirdly hot father snapped on an ill-fated Seniors Singles Cruise to Italy? And don’t realize what you’ve done until the next day when a friend sends a concerned text message asking if you’ve been “crassterbating” again (which is, of course, simultaneously crying and masturbating)? Okay, sure, and now who’s going down on a sinking ship of shame?
5. Having your entire worldview threatened
I was once “working” at an ESL summer camp, and for that day’s lesson, I distributed print-outs of a food pyramid, hastily located on Google Images, in which seafood and dairy were grouped together. As I stood before a blank whiteboard, orally pontificating about whole grains and trying to mentally will the new “food plate” out of existence because I couldn’t be bothered to learn a new system, I noticed that one child wasn’t exhibiting the same signs of boredom as the others. This child did not yawn, did not flick his Angry Birds eraser at the T.A.’s head, did not interrupt every two minutes with “Teacher, I need pee-pee.” Instead, he sat, grimacing at the handout, his eyes watering, his face scrunching up, appearing to desire to swallow itself. Appearing familiar. Appearing the way I must appear when I think about dysentery and starvation and AIDS and rape and oppressive regimes and legless beggars who can’t walk, much less trip, and all the truly terrible things that are truly happening in any given second to real people all around the world. And so I, ever the concerned teacher and human being, placed a figurative bookmark in my rousing lesson and asked this child what was wrong. After many agonizing seconds of waiting, me silently praying he wasn’t going to bring up, say, existentialism or war or a pervading fog of meaninglessness, all of these Important Questions to which I could provide no comforting answer—and praying too that he wasn’t going to vomit on/cry on/otherwise soil these handouts, as I really needed them for the next class—this poor, innocent child finally worked up the courage, despite an obvious fear of what the truth may be, to ask me if shrimp were made of milk.