Elements of Cringe


On the cringe scale, about a 1.2 out of 10.

When I began this site many years ago, I thought it would be a cinch to fill it up with pure cringe. Surely, embarrassing incidents are all over the place, lying on the ground waiting to be picked up?

In theory that might be true. However, embarrassment is usually a private emotion, and very few horrifying memories can be articulated in a way comprehensible to the reader. I suppose it’s terrible to discover as a child that your parents are adulterers, just as it may be a deep-dark secret within your family that your mother has been in and out of the booby bin. But when told years later, these traumas don’t impress adults of any sophistication.

For a really embarrassing anecdote, an incident has to have been risky and humiliating at the time, and still unnerving years later, yet capable of being told clearly and succinctly. Few stories pass that test.

I can think of only two real-life incidents here that score the bullseye. One is my friend Eric’s story, herein entitled “The Manhasset Babysitter.” The other one is the old Jeffrey Bernard anecdote about the boy who got drunk, shat in his drawers, and by mistake bought a V-neck pullover instead of trousers (“Sans-culottes in Sevenoaks”). Even these rattle on a bit, like shaggy-dog stories.

My imaginary staff and I have tried making up other ones, but they’re mainly silly and absurdist.

Alas, the lameness of the genuine anecdotes one picks up off the ground is usually on a par with these pointless old contributions from Calling All Girls.