It’s always a drag when you do something embarrassing in public. Though once upon a time, you would suffer said humiliation for maybe a few minutes before life returned to normal. Nowadays, everyone and their mother (literally!) have an iPhone in hand 24/7, and hence the moment can be recorded and replayed ad nauseam on YouTube for all future generations to enjoy. Yet even when you’re with just a few friends or family, nobody enjoys falling over the coffee table or forgetting the “l” when explaining that the clock is slow. (True story.)

But at least your friends and family know you and hopefully realize you’re not an idiot all the time. They can contextualize your faux pas among the many other non-mortifying things you’ve done over the years. Though if that trip or Freudian slip occurs in front of a stranger, they have nothing else by which to judge you. As far as they can tell, you always walk around with a bat in the cave or your fly down. Head & Shoulders was right; you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That said, not too long ago I was visiting my cousin in Michigan. It was lovely. The weather was perfect; the company was great; I was having a blast. To top it off, my cousin surprised me with a kayaking trip for a little bonding time, river style. I’d never been kayaking, but figured how hard could it be? I wasn’t worried.

Cindy, the very nice and cool owner of Rogue River Rentals, drove us to our starting point. Once there, she unloaded the gear while my cousin, who casually mentioned having kayaked “maybe once or twice” before, looked like a total pro. Without any guidance or prompting, she got in her kayak and pushed off from shore. That’s when I began to get a little nervous. How did she do that? Though in the spirit of not wanting to look like a moron, I remained silent. Cindy dragged my kayak to the water’s edge and told me to get in. Easy enough.

Then she told me to adjust the pedals. I had no idea what Cindy was talking about. “The foot pedals. You want to get your knees lower.” I couldn’t figure out how to shift them farther back into the kayak. This was not starting out well; cue the sweating. As both women silently stared at me for what seemed an eternity, I finally unlocked the damn pedals and the only thing left to do was shove off… Cindy gently pushed the kayak into the water. It all went downhill from there.

Sidenote: I’m one of those people who would never survive a natural disaster or zombie attack. Sounds morbid, but it’s true. The reason being that I don’t do anything when the unexpected happens. A few years back, we had a mild earthquake in the middle of the day while I was at work. I happened to be in one of the back offices when the tremors began. I remember staring at the walls, which seemed to be oscillating. It was fascinating to me. At one point, I though to myself, “Should I exit the building?” but I never moved a muscle. Apparently I lack both the fight and flight response.

Anyway, back to the kayak. I felt the push. I attempted to aid that push with some half-assed paddling. Then I felt the kayak tilting right. Instead of compensating left, I went right, too. Right into the river. I tipped over thirty seconds into our trip.

I was chin-high in water before I even understood what was happening. However, I knew enough to realize that I should be completely mortified. And I was. Not only was I soaked to the bone, but also my kayak was now sinking to the bottom of the riverbed. As one of my flip-flops was also floating down the river, I was too distracted to help Cindy wrangle the kayak. Poor Cindy. Even empty a kayak is heavy; filled with water, it was like dragging a dead body back to shore. Humiliated, I just watched as she struggled and finally got the thing on dry land.

All the while, both she and my cousin were asking if I was okay. Minus a few bruises, I was fine. Really it was my ego that was hurting. Normally I consider myself decent at the athletic stuff. I’ve never won a gold medal or anything, but I also was never the last picked for kickball in grade school. What the hell was my problem?

I didn’t care so much that my cousin had witnessed my mishap; she’s known me her whole life and has seen better and some worse. It was Cindy who concerned me. I met her all of ten minutes ago, and now I had just fallen into the river. Not because of some hidden rock under the waterline. Not because of some giant anaconda trying to squeeze the life out of me. I was just that bad at kayaking.

While Cindy drained the kayak, I tried to make light of the situation and joked that I was a huge klutz who did this kind of thing all the time. Not sure if that was the right tactic. I think I only worried her more that only one kayaker would be alive at the end of this trip. Odds are good she was comforted by the fact that both my cousin and me had signed liability releases back at her office.

Alas, the trip was a success, and I accrued zero more falls into the river. Though my suspicion that Cindy might have been nervous about me was confirmed upon our return to dry land. Still more than a hundred yards from shore, I could see a figure patiently watching and waiting for us. It was Cindy. Don’t know how long she had been there, but can’t say I really blamed her. “Yep, she thinks I’m an idiot,” I mused. She wouldn’t be the first.

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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