Humiliation is generally something I try to avoid. It comes with the territory just being alive,and, like most, I have had my share.Not enough to really screw me up,but if it doesn't crush you, it probably builds character. Or sets you up for years of therapy, but either way,humiliation seems to lead to self awareness on one level or another.
My very first recollection of feeling humiliated was when I was four,and going to preschool in Manhattan. Our play yard was on the roof of a very tall building and surrounded by chain link fencing. I wore a plaid kilt to school that day, and it was a teensy bit short.When I got on the swings at recess,someone noticed my underwear on my upswing and felt the need to shout it out.I don't recall if it was an "I see London,I see France.." situation and it certainly wasn't like the bathroom scene in "Carrie" either. But I recall crying and feeling that deep scarlett colored shame coarsing through my veins and sitting heavily on my chest. It is such a specific kind of feeling and,for me, the same every time. There is actually a photograph of me on that day, with a little red nose. I am standing in front of the swing set with my hands clasped in front of me looking miserable.
Another moment that stands out was in highschool: I zoned out in math class and accidentally farted loud enough for most of the class to hear. I kind of farted myself awake in a sense and immediately realized that the noise I heard was me.Conveniently, our teacher had a habit of farting unintentionally while at the chalk board, and for a hopeful moment I thought it might be blamed on him.Well,I am no ventriloquist and it was clear that it was I who dealt it.Mercifully, it wasn't an odiferous offering, but the boys immediately seized upon it and there I was again, steeped in scarlett chest crushing shame. It didn't last once the class ended, but I certainly remember it like it was this morning. I always wished I'd been schooled in the Tallulah Bankhead technique: supposedly she was accused of farting in an elevator and, when someone rudely inquired "Did you fart?",she replied in her delicious drawl," Of course I farted, do you think I always smell that way?". Brilliant.....Makes you want to fart in an elevator just to be able to say it.
Another kind of humiliation is employment shame- the humiliation of a job that you know is beneath you. I have had a variety of awful jobs to facilitate my acting career over the past twenty years.The first that comes to mind was working at a mall in Monrovia in the cosmetics department hawking Elizabeth Taylor's Passion. I was a perfume girl and was provided an electric purple lame` knee length shift dress to wear with gigantic fake diamond buttons down the front. I looked like a tranny football player with a tiny head because the shoulders were padded so heavily, and we were asked to slick back our hair into a minimalist bun.I was to spritz people as they passed,hoping that the fragrance notes of "moss,woods and vanilla"would so captivate them, they would buy a box for everyone they knew.The only reaction I got,aside from people putting up their hands in self defense was a woman who wanted to know where to purchase the outfit I was wearing.I was tempted to remove the garment on the spot,dress her,hand her the perfume bottle and calmly walk away.I lasted a week or so.
Next there was selling auto care subscriptions door to door in Simi Valley,which entailed convincing people to leave the dinner table to answer the door, then part with forty five dollars in exchange for special discounts on services at their local gas station. That lasted one long torturous afternoon.We were dropped off around five thirty and told to return to the van when we had ten filled out subscription cards.In the two hours they gave us,I managed to convince one person,primarily because he was too polite to slam the door in my face and partly out of sheer pity, to buy the subscription.Once we got back to the office, I turned in my lone check and walked away,never to return.
I retreated to restaurants,the one thing I knew I was good at. I chose catering for its flexibility,but it was no less humiliating than the last job,just different.I was often required to serve people food while wearing a series of humiliating outfits.They ranged from a floor length Renaissance period wench gown,replete with corsets and the requisite eye popping cleavage to a floor length tan safari style skirt and pants with a matching pith helmet.Most of these were surprise costumes, mind you, and for no extra pay either,so,you showed up to work and if you forgot to shave that day, or wore mismatched socks or a fire engine red brassiere,or had a lewd tattoo, it became everyone's business.Once we were even individually fitted at Gucci for black suits and kitten heels and taken to a swanky salon to have our hair and makeup done.They wanted a uniform look and went so far as to ask one of the men to remove his rather large wedding ring.He said no.They pushed.He threatened to leave and they backed off but put him in the scullery. Another time I was given a black band of makeup ascross my eyes to emulate Pris from "Bladerunner".I was lucky since I was then unrecognizeable and happened to get assigned to the VIP room where the entire cast of the tv movie I had just starred in was partying.All of this grooming and wardrobe effort so we could prance around a party and make sure the fig wrapped bacon and fried risotto balls got to Kate Hudson's table, or that Lou Diamond Phillips got his wheat free entree at the same time everyone else did. Really important work.
There are other kinds of humiliation, like the kind where you allow yourself to be treated shabbily with full cooperation.I remember in six grade, I was the new girl, and I came to school in a pair of Sperry Topsiders. The resident bully,aptly named Paige Putz, demanded I show the soles of my shoes to her to prove their authenticity. It never occurred to me to tell her to go fuck herself or to point out that the faux label market was only an illegal sparkle in some counterfeiter's eye in 1984, and it would be years before a pair of fake Topsiders would be available to anyone, let alone a sixth grader in Santa Barbara. I reluctantly lifted up my shoe, and she peered at the bottom, looking, I suppose for the embossed logo on the sole. I wish now that I had kicked her in her fat Saint Bernard face,as she later went on to make so many people miserable. Clearly there were no Jews, or somone would have pointed out the opportunity to humble her with the well timed mentioning of her last name. We didn't use the word "putz" in our house.She did change it to Phillips, her middle name, is seventh grade, so something must have clicked for someone over the summer.Wish I had been there.
Much later I had occasion to be humiliated by someone who had no business trying to put me down.He was possibly the most insufferable human being I have ever encountered that I wasn't related to. He was an actor that frequented the diner where I was waitressing. The motto there was " where the waitress is queen and the customer is always wrong".We got to be bitchy but still had to give okay service, and people tipped a lot for an entertaining experience. I will call this loser Joe M.What began as some fairly interesting, if not a little ponderous,conversations about acting and writing turned into a series of platonic dates( he assured me he wasn't interested in me"like that" nor I in him, I assure you) where we went to dinner, or out to hear music.He was very self involved and also downright cheesy in an Italian sort of way,which is always such a winning combination. He possessed hawk like good looks and his eyes were just a little too close together.I normally don't make fun of what people look like, but he is deserving, trust me.He was also very into astrological signs, and had written an atrocious script that I actually read at some point but blocked out. I only remember that the first line of dialog was a guy asking a girl what her sign was.And he wasn't kidding.Long story short, during one one these platonic dates, appropos of my opener " I have to tell you something" ( I have no recollection of what I was going to say), he interrupted before I said anything and said snidely " Wait, you aren't going to tell me you used be really FAT or something,are you?". Uhhh....no,I wasn't, actually, going to say that, but I was entirely icked out. Who says that? And so what if I did used to be really fat?(I didn't, by the way, but if I had been,I certainly wasn't anymore...perhaps a little healthy but nothing worthy of mockery.) Then ,a few moments later, Joe M.leaned over, sincere as can be, looked into my eyes,pinched my cheek and said "well, aren't you just a chubby little redhead."
The person I am now would have known exactly what to say, though at this moment, I am still at a loss for words. He could have said many worse things, but this was almost impossible to respond to because it was just hateful really, mean diguised as a sweet nothing.I don't remember what I said, or how it ended, but it took me going home and telling my sister to turn it into rage. He called me a few days later and I actually told him that he was an asshole and that he was not welcome at the diner any more. He asked if the other girls would be on the roof with shotguns when he came to get breakfast,and I said that they absolutely would since one of them was way past healthy and bordering on morbidly obese. I saw him a few months later sporting a leopard head band and a pair of parachute pants (well into the 90's),so there was some vindication. And I also got to see him beaten to death on "The Sopranos", so that was gratifying as well.
The oddest and last moment I saw Joe M., I hope, occurred at least a decade later. I was standing with a friend on Melrose Avenue on my birthday and a goldenrod colored 198something mercedes cruised by and someone yelled " Happy Birthday!". Being older and a tad blind,I couldn't see who it was. I squinted and leaned in and, to my horror, realized it was Joe M. I started to feel that old familiar feeling but turned it around and pointed like one of the body snatchers at him and yelled "oh my god, it's that guy I told you about!" Without missing a beat he yelled back " It isn't healthy to hold a grudge!Typical Cancer..". It was unslettling for so many reasons, most notably that he remembered my sign. I was also secretly pleased to see he was driving the same car after all that time.
I do hold a grudge. Humilation sucks.Fuck you Joe M. and the goldenrod Mercedes you rode in on...and Paige Putz, no matter how many times you change your name, you will always be a Putz....as for the thousand plus customers I had occasion to serve and the thousands of casting directors who ate their lunch during my audition( which happened so many times that I need to address it in a separate post) or the people I tried to spray with Passion, most of you were decent people and your brief moment of passing through my life didn't make me want to hang myself,so thanks.