I think I’m addicted to cringe catharsis. You know that feeling after something unspeakably embarrassing takes place, when your body is trying to make itself as small as possible and a hurricane of shame is blowing up the synapses in your brain? I relish the triumphant aftermath. It’s a habit, I guess. Remember when I had that crush on A., misinterpreted his generic friendliness for a love that transcended the ages, and decided to ask him to the senior prom in front of his friends? He was all, “Um, no!” as if I’d just questioned whether he enjoyed the last episode of Gilmore Girls as much as I did, and then took that super-hot blonde on his fencing team to the dance. When word got around, everyone was like, WTF is Sharon’s deal, and I had to hide in the bathroom during 6th period. Once I was done with the uncontrollable weeping, harrowing self-analysis, and begging every deity in heaven to stop raining the awkward on my life, I felt great. I survived. I can even smile about it today, right through those poppy seeds from the bagel I ate for lunch sprinkled between my teeth. I’m totally okay with myself, swear to God!
I also take a perverse joy in by-proxy cringe catharsis—cringe sympathy pains, if you will. Second-hand humiliation through the comic tragedies of others can be so energizing. Plus, you get that overwhelming rush of gratitude that that shit didn’t happen to you. Which is why last Wednesday night, L. and I decided to check out Mortified at the Paradise Lounge. Mortified bills itself as a celebration of teen angst: a noble pursuit of “personal redemption through public humiliation” that is “ripped from the pages of real life.” Its rotating cast of performers—obviously people suffering from a temporary psychotic break—convinced themselves it would be fucking hilarious if they dusted off their old Hello Kitty journals, their misspelled love letters and lyrics, their Sylvia Plath tribute poems, and read them out loud to complete strangers. Hey, you know what, Diary? During most of the show, L. and I were so hysterical that we nearly fell off the bar stool we were sharing. We almost scored a table, except these hip girls with cool haircuts did the whole vulture-swoop-sit thing before we knew what was happening. Sigh.
Anyway, the adorable Giulia Rozzi (she co-produces the show with fellow performer Elena Pellegrino) started off the night’s festivity of anguish with a series of diary excerpts agonizing over a boy named Jimmy. When they finally kissed, “It was weird and gross. He smelled like chicken and cheese,” her twelve-year-old self reported. Heather O’Neil, a conservatively dressed mother of three from Hingham, told us about getting “shitfaced to the max” at raging high school parties, and one special 3:30 after-school kegger. “I have a Yale interview at 7:30 pm, and man, I’m sort of buzzed!” Six others read, though the absolute best performance of the night was by Karen Corday, a librarian who, at 11, viewed teenagedom as her personal mecca. She envisioned it in explicit detail. Her world revolved around a “make-pretend” boyfriend Michael, an older man of fourteen who took her ice-skating and choreographed hand-held spins to ’80s music, interspersed with passionate make-out sessions.