Painful Exercises in Adolescent Social Awkwardness

The above video is a segment from the British series “The Inbetweeners” brought to America thanks to BBC America. Beware: there is some strong language in parts and you should not watch it if this will offend you. However, I am posting this because never before has any television show describing adolescence so clearly crystalized a moment from my own adolescence. The applicable moment to which I am referring can be seen in the above clip at around minute 7:00. William, the new kid at school, is trying to purchase a few pints for the friends he so desparately wants but is being firmly turned down by the bartender. In a moment of frustration, he starts screaming about how everyone else in the pub is underage, but they are being served (it is more hilarious than that). The result is that the bartender kicks everyone out of the pub at the exact moment a school official enters the pub to see all of the students that had been drinking. The result of that is, of course, that William now is even more disliked at school than he was before as a direct result of his effort to make friends.

When I was a freshman in high school, I was painfully shy. If one thinks I am shy now, then imagine my present shyness raised by the power of 10. My only ally in making friends at a high school where the only person who knew my name was my older sister (and everyone else simply knew me as Sarah’s sister) was a backpack full of chewing gum and Lemonheads candy. Every day, I would stock my backpack in the hopes that people would ask me to share and that would be my pathway to friendship. My tactic wasn’t that successful in encouraging deep friendships, but by the time early April rolled around, I had made a few friends and had emerged from oblivion on the school’s debate team where even a few upperclassmen had noticed me enough to have a very noteworthy and self-esteem raising conversation about how “cute I was.” (Of course, that discussion came prior to one of those unfortunate haircuts that I mentioned in a previous blog entry. Nope, after my haircut, one of the dreamy upperclassmen who had been involved in the cute Leslie conversation came up and asked me why on earth I would cut my hair. Cue: end of Leslie’s “cuteness”). Nonetheless, in early April, when the State Debate competition and its accompanying trip to Tampa rolled around, I felt that I had somewhat emerged from social Siberia.

The particular moment that once again returned me to social oblivion started small, as those things do. I was hanging out with my friend Drew, when we noticed that the boys he shared his hotel room with were lighting pizza boxes on fire on the balcony. They then started experimenting with cans of hairspray as lighter fluid. Next, they moved on to setting bottles full of rubbing alcohol on fire. They were teenage boys, and it didn’t strike me as an important question to ask why they were all experimenting with arson. I had a camera handy and snapped a few pictures of the shenanigans before Drew and I decided to go to my room and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While we were enjoying the film, the boys upstairs were being apprehended by a security guard and turned over to our disapproving debate coach, Ms. Hess. The legend of the Pensacola High School debate team was that you were never really officially on the debate team until you had been kicked off at least once. These boys were summarily kicked off, but during their interrogation, my name and Drew’s name emerged and we were called up to Ms. Hess’s room. My camera and its evidence of the pyrotechnics were immediately conviscated (my first lesson about how to be a poor criminal was this episode). During my interrogation, I countered with one innocent defense after another (I failed to plead the 5th, as I should have done). Finally, overwhelmed with being in serious trouble for the first time in my life I cracked, “I don’t see why I am in trouble, EVERYONE KNEW WHAT WAS GOING ON. EVERYONE KNEW ABOUT THE FIRES.” Ms. Hess stood there, incredulous for a moment or two. After that, the reaction was swift. She and her henchmen (the other parental chaperones) did a door to door sweep of the debate team hotel rooms, telling all of the debate team members that I had told her that everyone was involved in this nefarious activity. Suffice it to say, there were no “cute Leslie” comments from the seniors after that. No, they instantly hated me because I had ruined their plans of getting drunk with the vodka that they had carefully smuggled on the trip, concealed in shampoo bottles. Everyone was now in trouble. My presumed friends (aside from Drew, who was the person that I was actually trying to protect) turned on me in an instant and wanted nothing further to do with me. In one moment, I had alienated pretty much everyone around me out of sheer frustration. But like poor William in the above clip, I had failed to realize just what damage I had done. Fortunately, I wasn’t threatened by the school nutcase with a stabbing, because the debate team was far more subdued than that. However, social isolation once again became the rule with me.

Sadly, I never really fully recovered from this episode. I made superficial friends in high school, but no one there (apart from Drew) ever really trusted me again. And high school was one sad exercise of social awkwardness followed by another.

Poor William. I understand. Believe me, I do.

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