On Feeling Embarrassed at Workon October 15, 2020 at 7:10 pm

On Feeling Embarrassed at Work

I submit that we are never more keenly aware of our own physical state than when we are embarrassed. Other emotions make themselves felt in the body, of course; the soft, spreading warmth of love, the acute pops and pains of joints as fear inspires flight. To be chased by a tiger is to be gripped by terror and also remember that bad knee of yours. Embarrassment works a little differently; it makes our person its accomplice. Embarrassment is an ampersand, tacking on an emphatic “and like so” to your flubbed expense report. I’m embarrassed and rain-soaked. I’m embarrassed and without pants! Perhaps because I’m without pants, but most definitely embarrassed and without them. Many of our embarrassments these days are private, hidden behind so many masks and closed front doors. But some of us are not so lucky. Some of us are made fools at work, even now, and with everyone watching.

For instance, sometimes you’re a member of the Atlanta Braves. You’re a member of the Atlanta Braves and you’re on the mound, down a run. That’s ok! It’s just a run, and there are two outs. You’ve only thrown nine pitches. And you’re you, Kyle Wright, and your seven strikeouts and six innings of scoreless NLDS baseball are on the mound with you.

Only now it’s two runs…

… and then 17 pitches. And also, you’ve walked Cody Bellinger.

Your stomach lurches. You’re suddenly very aware of an itch on your face. Also of your lungs. Blowwww.

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Your bodily experience is one of tension, terrified anticipation. But that’s about to change. You’re about to give up one dinger…

… and then another.

You’re no longer a coil of anxiety. You’re embarrassed.

Not only that, you’re embarrassed and a little sweaty. Not everywhere, mind you, but along your hairline and in the pores of your cheekbones and under that little mustache. Why do you have this mustache? Is it good? Why isn’t it fuller? You’re a little embarrassed about that, too, now.

As you prepare to walk Chris Taylor, those six scoreless frames against the Marlins fade further. All you can think about now is your embarrassment. That, and the little bit of hair that won’t stay tucked behind your ear no matter how hard you try. Embarrassed and irritatingly tickled.

The walk ends your outing, but the tickle remains, and the little bits of sweat, and of course, your embarrassment.

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You leave a wipe of your brow on the field and a swear, but the sick feeling trudges back to the dugout with you. Embarrassed and pulled.

You aren’t the only one. Grant Dayton will take his turn. After he gives up a grand slam to Max Muncy, he’ll be embarrassed and have to spit, his mouth flush with saliva and an awareness that we’re watching him.

And being embarrassed at work isn’t purely a pitcher’s proposition. Yesterday, it made its way to the outfield, where it tripped up Austin Riley on a Corey Seager double…

…and twisted him about after he misjudged a Muncy fly ball.

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Later in his life (read: his 30s) that sequence will be enough to make Riley wake up the next day with a painful little tweak in his back; for now, though, he’s just embarrassed and flat on his front, as well as whirled around.

Of course, the thing we really worry about when we find ourselves so abashed isn’t that we’re embarrassed and sweaty or on the ground now, but that we might be forever. That our gaffes — and the “ands” they smuggle in with them — might come to define us. That this moment will smudge out the fullness of our lives until we’re The Doofus Who Didn’t Catch That or The Infielder Who Fell Down or The Team That Gave Up 15 Runs. That metamorphosis from person to punchline has precedent — we still won’t leave Steve Bartman alone — so I understand why players are on the watch for it. Indeed, I think a not-small amount of the bluster over unwritten rules come from the fear that we won’t remember the bats triumphantly sent into space but rather the failures that came pre-launch, the spit and twisted torsos and embarrassments at work as everyone watches.

Still, I think players can let themselves off the hook a bit, even in the face of a record-setting postseason inning. Some embarrassments and their “ands” streak through the decades, but most don’t. The Braves had a terrible first in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS against the Cardinals, but I didn’t remember that until this latest debacle called it to mind. Atlanta lost 15-3 yesterday, but took the two games before. The Dodgers have had their own sweaty moments on the mound. We do ourselves and others the kindness of forgetting.

And even when we don’t forget, we move on, sometimes while we’re still in the midst of our embarrassment. Yesterday, Cristian Pache hit his first major league home run in the bottom of the third, and just like that, the Braves were embarrassed but on the board.

Atlanta would tack on two more late; the Dodgers’ bats would finally quiet. Everyone gets to try again this evening.

We feel embarrassment down into our toes and tingling behind our eyes and in so many drops of sweat. We feel it keenly, but eventually, the moment passes. We remember tomorrow. We get up and play again, and our “and” shifts. A run scores. Embarrassed and, eventually, free.

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