For the most part, my life has been a steady stream of roses and champagne (or, actually, Diet Coke), but occasionally a big old humiliation will hit me in the face like a vaudeville pie. I’m talking truly mortifying stuff that not only humbles you — it makes you want to crawl under a rock and never look out again. Here are the 12 most heinous of all (so far):
When I was a kid, I crapped my pants during class once. It came out of nowhere, and I had no idea what to do about it. Strangely, I just sat there, hoping no one would notice. It was horrifying when the other kids raised their hands to say they smelled something funny. The teacher said it must have been the construction coming from the street, but the kids knew better and ultimately figured out the source. I was sent home, where my mother was very sweet about it, making me feel less humiliated. But still.
I won the Best Actor trophy for playing both an Arabian merchant and a henpecked husband in my Senior SING! in high school. (SING! is an annual event whereby each grade puts on a lavish musical show to compete for prizes.) But that wasn’t the humiliation. The humiliation was floating with my trophy into the gym afterwards, where everyone was getting their stuff so they could go home, and being greeted by blank stares from all my castmates instead of the unmitigated cheers and bravos I confidently expected. What a mood killer! If you’ve ever been on a flight that hit an air pocket and dropped 500 feet, you know the feeling. It’s such an intense contest and all year everyone focuses on wanting to win as many prizes as possible, so this non-reaction totally floored me. Were they jealous? Did they feel I didn’t deserve it? My only consolation came years later when I realized that I’d made it, but they didn’t.
In the early ’80s, a photographer I’d met through a friend had come on to me several times. He’d flattered me, invited me to his apartment, oozed suggestive comments and made various other seductive moves. I didn’t bite, but finally one night, we were hanging out at a party together, so I figured “What the hell?” I put my arm around the guy, and he promptly grabbed my hand and lifted it off of him like an angry schoolmarm. I’ll never figure it out, as God is my witness.
I had a lesbian roommate who was perfectly nice, if remote and a bit bland. Well, one night when I assumed she wasn’t home, a boisterously fun friend of mine came over, and we went to town ragging on the woman, dishing about how sad and friendless she was and how she’d never amount to anything on the social scene. We didn’t even mean it — we were just having a silly bitchfest to entertain ourselves. Well, after about 30 minutes of this, my roommate’s bedroom door squeaked open. She’d been there the whole time. She wasn’t my roommate much longer.
In the mid-’80s, a friend would bitch out a certain magazine editor to me on the phone all the time. He’d call her all kinds of four-letter names and claim she was the devil, going off on fiery monologues about her alleged evilness. I’d just say, “Uh huh,” and not respond because I actually thought she was fine and had no idea where his rage was coming from. Besides, I wrote for her magazine and loved that job a lot. Well, all of a sudden, I stopped getting assignments from that publication, and the editor weirdly started giving me the cold shoulder. And guess who now had a column in that very mag, plus was very visibly seen on the editor’s arm all the time? My “friend!” Can you imagine how he’d twisted the truth in order to poison her against me? Humiliating!
In the late ’80s, another editor of mine wanted to share a night on the town with me and some friends of hers, and I was thrilled at the opportunity, knowing this would be a chance to show off my super-VIP status. I mean, I went to the club Limelight several times a week, and every time, they not only swept me in like royalty, but the security guy actually walkie-talkied up to the VIP library what me and my entourage wanted to drink so it’d be ready when we hit the top of the stairs! But this night, the VIP handler wasn’t there, for some reason. I was stunned, since he’d never missed a night before. We did get into the club, but upstairs, I had a hard time convincing anyone that I was wildly famous and was entitled to comp beverages. The sub who gave me a hard time called the next day to apologize, but by then it was too late. My big chance to show off to my boss had turned into a moment of utter mortification — and coming at the height of ’80s entitlement, I probably deserved it.
I was asked to present an honor at the Lambda Literary Awards. My category didn’t happen until the very end of the extremely long evening. After waiting hours to get up there while trying to prop my eyes open, I finally made it to the podium and said, “Hi, guys.” I got booed. Stupid me didn’t know “guys” was exclusionary.
Similarly, I interviewed Patty McCormack, the little star of the camp movie classic “The Bad Seed,” all grown up onstage at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco in 1999. Before a teeming crowd, I asked her about the plight of child stars and mentioned what might be learned from the fate of JonBenet Ramsey, whose horrid death was still on everyone’s minds. I had asked Patty about this topic the night before over dinner, and she was perfectly OK about discussing it onstage. But no one had warned me that Frisco is the PC capital of the globe. The crowd starting booing and heckling me for being insensitive enough to bring up something so allegedly tacky. And these were the same folks who’d dressed in drag to come and laugh at a movie about a psychotic child who kills a schoolmate and a grownup witness, then is felled in a thunderstorm. Oy.
I was sent to Los Angeles to interview the cast of “That ’70s Show” at the height of the sitcom’s popularity. The magazine thought it would be a hilarious idea to do the interview at a fondue restaurant because that’s just so ’70s, right? The problem is, fondue is messy and hardly satisfying as a meal, plus the cast had no idea what it was or what to do about it. What’s worse, all my prepared questions were about what these young actors thought of the decade their hit show was set in, but right off the bat, Mila Kunis stated, “We weren’t around in the ’70s, so we don’t comment on that at all.” End of story. I fumbled around for other conversational gambits as we stumbled around the fondue bowls, and when Ashton Kutcher excused himself halfway through the interview and left, I truly wanted to die.
In 2013, a female figurehead of the paper I gave my soul to swept into town to axe me and two other longtime writers. This had already been rumored about, but I’d been told they were going to keep me as web-only. (If I agreed to that, of course.) Well, the woman called me in to the conference room, where the lawyer went right into the termination proceedings. I was glad we’d skipped the small talk, but I kept waiting for the condolence, the appreciation, the gratitude — you know, the bedside manner. Bizarrely, the woman was all business, offering nothing on the order of “Sorry to do this” or “Thanks for 29 years of service.” Nada! In fact, when I said, “I heard you might want me as web-only,” she sternly replied, “No. Complete termination as of Tuesday.” It was humiliating — except that two new columns had already been offered me the week before.
An imposing-looking guy chased me down the street thinking I was Al Franken. He wouldn’t listen to my assurances that the real Al Franken barely comes up to my nipples. The guy wanted an autograph and was furious that I wouldn’t give it. “First I couldn’t call in on your radio show and now this!” he shrieked, smoke billowing through his nostrils. This was humiliating because I’d rather not be recognized at all than be recognized as someone else.
In the early aughts, I was the regular cohost of a local TV show. After one of our tapings, my cohost was gloating that she thought she’d done really well. I whimsically asked, “And how was I?” only to swivel around and see a producer making a vomiting gesture to my cohost! Ever since that incident, whenever I think of him — which is infrequently — I smell chunks.