The Confident Roll-Neck

You know that part in Dirty Dancing where Baby awkwardly tells Johnny that she has accompanied his cousin to the Den of Iniquity that is the dancer’s hangout, where she clearly doesn’t belong or feel comfortable, because she ‘carried a watermelon’? Baby then recoils at her own inelegance and gawks with embarrassment at the levels of cringe she has lowered herself into. Well…I deem this highly squirm worthy type of thing a ‘Watermelon Moment’ as an ode to lovely, little Baby as I have a certain level of empathy towards that Jewish 16 year old; I have lots of Watermelon Moments which will come as no surprise to anyone. There are some parallels that can be drawn between Baby and I; she’s socially awkward for a start and that is definitely me! She also has a weft of inexplicably frizzy hair atop her little head – again, I’ve got that going on. And she makes really stupid, embarrassing comments around men she finds attractive…ditto!
Helen, Kat and I were on a night out a few years back now. Actually…a lot of years back now considering neither Helen or Kat had been impregnated at this point and were therefore resplendent in their raucous, drunken behaviour. It has to be said; Helen was always the raucous drunken one whereas I was very awkward and serious and Kat peaked early on the inebriation scale but went the distance regardless.
We were ‘Under the Arches’ in Windsor (if you know, you know) and the night was young. Helen’s sheet of long, dark hair could be seen flicking and flitting around, frequenting the bar buying yet more drinks and generally being a flirtatious social butterfly who knew every person in the place while Kat hung back with me. The entire night my internal monologue reflected on the ease with which Helen was able to converse with everyone and anyone who looked her way. The drunker she got the more confident and wild she became as she swung her bum toward the ground in the midst of her infamous terrible dance moves. But she always looked great, so she kind of pulled off ‘white girl wasted.’ Kat, on the other hand, was tall and lean and had a bit of a fashionista alternative thing going on. Her peroxide blonde hair matched Helen’s in both length and style us it hung down her back in luxurious white tendrils. She was somewhere between Helen and I in terms of behaviour. You could never call her disorderly but she was loud and confident in a less domineering way than Helen. Between the two of them, they knew lots of people there while I knew barely anyone and even less people knew me.
Eternally a ghost, my sense of awkwardness and panic that someone might talk to me deepened as the night aged. Despite working to protect my anonymity now, I highly doubt anyone of any importance would actually know who I am anyway outside of my own school year and friendship group. I slid through the community unnoticed for the most part and this was welcomed by me. Helen and Kat religiously introduced me to everyone who approached but I kept my conversation to an absolute minimum. ‘Hi, how are you?’ ‘Hello, nice to meet you!’ ‘Yes, please, I’ll have an Archers and Lemonade’ (this was cool at the time, I swear!) were my spoken limitations and I felt comfortable staying there. You see, Kat and Helen knew me and knew my dry sense of humour…they knew when I was joking but the same can’t be said for the general masses of Windsor. It takes a certain amount of time or a certain level of intellect to really ‘get me’ and I just couldn’t trust that these sweaty, gesticulating, drinking reprobates slotted into either category. Keeping my mouth shut and my awkward jokes to my girl gang was the best way to proceed.
Except…that emits a sort of ‘Fuck Off’ aura and makes you totally unapproachable. Which is fine in theory…but when you’re simultaneously wishing people would talk to you so you can take the edge off the anxiety of making a damn fool of yourself while also dreading the thought of opening your mouth to find a well-constructed sentence mirroring Oscar Wilde levels of insult slides out it can be quite the predicament and this was written all over my little, urchin face. Silence truly was golden.
The wipe-down leather seated area became vacant and the three of us therefore took the opportunity to gravitate over. My behaviour was now bordering precariously close to miserable and boring. The alcohol I was consuming was doing nothing to boost my confidence levels; in fact it was making me stammer and stutter when I spoke which merely added fuel to the fire that I sounded like an absolute prick whenever I opened my mouth. Helen was grabbing the necks of the people around us so she could drag their ears closer to her mouth to ensure they heard, full blast, the robust serving of whatever opinion she was spouting at them. Kat, meanwhile, was talking to someone she knew from school. I stood, awkwardly dying and envying both Helen and Kat for their levels of comfort. I made eye contact with people in the group with Kat as if I was part of the conversation but, in truth, I was in some dreamy, transient place where I couldn’t give less of a fuck what these people were talking about. I decided the only way to salvage the situation lest I look like the rude and boring tag-along I was, was to go to the bar and buy us another drink. Thrilled with my cunning, I got up and motioned to Kat that I was going to the bar and left her there, socialising like a normal human being.
The perk of being tiny is that you can wedge and squeeze yourself into teeny-weeny gaps and spaces by the bar, thus being served quickly is a bonus. I slipped between two very tall men and waited to catch the eye of the barman. My mind wandered as I waited, pensively considering how much longer I could keep this pretence up before I gave in and went home. I looked at my reflection in the mirror opposite, checking that my straightened hair had not betrayed me in this humid environment when I spotted, to my left…
Sweet Baby Jesus!
The most beautiful young man I’ve ever laid eyes upon. He was sculpted from pure testosterone and manliness. If you were to cut him, steam and fire would erupt from the excision. My hazel eyes roved over his tall, dark, handsome reflection, taking in the fashionably coiffed hairstyle, the Greek-God physique enshrined in a dark roll-neck and the pearliest pegs of white making up a sociable, Hollywood smile. For the briefest of moments our eyes met in the mirror. Obviously, the natural thing to have done would be to hold the eye contact to ensure he knew I was checking him out. But the natural thing for a socially awkward person to do was to look away swiftly and then style that out, making it seem as though you are looking at EVERYTHING. I probably reminded him of David Plunkett with my eyes unfocussed and swinging left and right out of control. I waited for a while before I chanced another glance at the striking outsider’s reflection; firstly because I didn’t want him to think I was perving on him (which I absolutely was) and secondly because he was that hot I thought I maybe needed sunglasses to protect my cornea from the sheer heat exuding from his face. I could feel his muscly arms jostling me lightly, the wool of his roll-neck unknowingly stroking my left arm.
When I hazarded a secondary look directly into the refection of the eyes of the man at my side I was horrified to note that he was looking at my reflection too. Had he been looking this whole time? Had he just looked at me again at the exact moment I looked at him? I couldn’t be sure…but I could feel the nerves and discomfort of the situation pressing down on my rectum. Could this get any worse? TWICE…TWICE the scorching gentleman had caught me staring at him and then looking away like a really terrible spy. It was safest now to just stare downward and pretend I was reading the cocktail menu until this hellish ordeal was over. I feigned interest in the Peach Bellini and prayed the barman would serve him quickly, putting me out of my misery.
The barman walked over to us, black T-shirt welded to his pale flesh with sweat and the exertion of the night. ‘What can I get you?’ I heard him ask this muscly male force to my left. Thank God! I looked upwards at last, no longer needing to use the menu as my prop in the strobe lighting.
And that’s when the horror of the situation unfolded…the barman had asked me what I wanted, not the attractive chap. Blood rushed to my cheeks as both the barman and the hottie stared down at my tiny, pathetic form. I froze. What could he get me? What was I here for? I spent so much time considering my answer I felt certain my onlookers thought there was something very wrong with my mental state.
In my haste to answer now, I nodded left and upward at my bar neighbour. ‘He was first,’ I muttered.
‘Pardon?’ The barman was getting impatient now and leaned closer to me across the bar.
‘He was before me!’ I insisted. This came out rudely and aggressively as embarrassment consumed me.
‘Thanks, babe!’ The demi-God acknowledged, using the right arm that had been rubbing me mere moments before to lightly touch the small of my spine in gratitude.
I smiled back awkwardly, not meeting his eye and turning my lips in on themselves to make my smile seem small and self-conscious. He made his drink order while I thanked every divine entity I could think of that it was dark and he could therefore not see my cheeks burning to such an extent I was certain they were blistering under my Dream-Matte Mousse. I needed to make sure my make-up hadn’t spontaneously slid away from my face in shame at my ludicrous discomfort in this low moment. Relief washed over me as I confirmed my visage was as I had intended it to be and also in some semblance of passive ambivalence. You would never guess from my expression that I was seconds away from a mental breakdown brought on by the pressures of society’s expectations to be a fucking normal conversationalist.
‘He’s taking his time isn’t he!?’ hot breath melted into my left ear as the voice bellowed into my eardrums.
He surely wasn’t trying to speak to me? Please, no! Why on earth would the guy open dialogue between himself and the little freak who had taken an age to offer her place in the drinks queue to him? I looked into the mirror to see the left side profile of the hot guy staring down at me. All my fears of making a fool of myself and saying something weird flooded into my already frenzied mind.
‘Play it cool!’ I told myself. ‘Just don’t say too much. Keep answers to a minimum!’ I could totally get out of this situation without making myself look like a tit as long as I didn’t try to be funny.
‘Yeah…’ I answered…my voice booming out enthusiastically but then left it as a half formed sentence hanging in the air. Just leave it at that, girl…totally acceptable.
‘Are you from round here?’ The dark stranger persisted.
Free me from the clutches of your ominous beauty I begged him with my eyes! Let me go and save us both the humiliation and the awkwardness. ‘Yes, I live here.’ I told him with a smile I hoped made me seem warm and endearing but probably made me look more like a psychotic freak.
‘Me too! Whereabouts you from?’ he continued, his white teeth glowing ultra-violet as the strobe lights lit him from the dancefloor. Also, since when did we start missing out key vocabulary from questions, I mused? It’s ‘where are you from!?’ But I did this intellectual snobbery thing sometimes as a way of making myself feel like a worthy human being. It came across as stuck-up and I needed to stop. Mustering all my courage to turn my body to his and open up full dialogue, I began to move into his space.
The conversation that ensued was polite and friendly and I wondered for the briefest of moments whether he might actually be flirting with me. The barman came with his drinks and he handed the glass tumblers to his friends who waited on the outskirts of the queue and then returned to the bar area to wait with me while I was served.
My anxiety over making a conversational blunder waned as I melted willingly into a natural back-and-forth of chat. It actually felt pleasant…normal even! Perhaps I had turned over a new leaf? Could I now control what came out of my mouth, considering how weird and nonsensical it may come across to the listener before I gave voice to my thoughts? I became confident in my linguistic abilities…and that’s when it happened.
I was enjoying the verbal jousting, albeit for the briefest of moments, when the barman returned with my drinks and gave me the charge. I reached into my handbag to pull out my purse and the attractive new arrival deigned to compliment my bag. I’ve never been skilled at taking a compliment and I will usually make a joke at my own expense to brush it off with as much grace as I can. However, and I must prelude this by saying I cannot fathom what possessed me to say what I did, my reply fell out of my mouth so instantaneously it was as if I had not even thought about it before I engaged the response.

‘Thanks. It takes a confident man to wear a roll-neck.’

The rejoinder hung between us gauchely. I could almost see the mental cogs in his brain whirring alarmingly as he questioned ‘did she actually just fucking say that to me!?’ Meanwhile I stood, realising I had just made the situation really uncomfortable, shrinking back within myself.
‘Yeah…errr…thanks,’ the Windsorian Prince retorted.
I beamed at him as if to reassure him this had been my idea of a funny quip, which it was…but it looked more like I was smirking, for sure.
There was nothing else for it! ‘Well, have a good night!’ It was time to wrap this bitch up. I grabbed our drinks, turned and slunk back through the crowd to my awaiting team. He watched me walk away with a quizzical brow raised and then returned to his friends without a second glance.
For what it’s worth, Kat and Helen howled with laughter at my misdemeanour and I felt relieved for a small portion of time that it had actually been a funny thing to say and he was a beautiful simpleton not to have laughed. But in years gone by, as I laugh and cringe at that story, I wonder if I am an infamous tale amongst him and his friends. The weird, short girl who complimented him on his roll-neck confidence.
So here’s the moral of this story: If you can’t trust your brain to engage with your mouth before you have a ‘Watermelon Moment’ you have two choices. Firstly, you can become a hermit and a mute – never trust yourself to speak in public or even leave the house for fear that something foolish will pop out when you least, or most, expect it. Or…you can embrace it. You can feel uncomfortable and out of place and revel in this, acknowledge it, live through the awkward moments where you stand there like a total dickhead in a circle of people not trusting yourself to open your mouth because you know, deep down, that when those fateful words do emerge they will be comedy gold…just a certain calibre of gold that only specific, special people will want to buy! Everyone else will genuinely just think you’re a weirdo…and that’s OK, because the ones who ‘get you’ are the lucky ones!

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