A Chronological History of My Earliest Embarrassments

My ego has been crushed hundreds of times over the years. Somehow, these three instances stuck out. One even gave me a heart attack.

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1995

It was an intense year.

I was becoming aware of my individuality. The fact that I was capable of developing feelings and desires separate from those of my parents was mind-blowing. At school, teachers and students began to recognize that I had unique talents.

“Daniel, you’re such a good writer.”

My identity further solidified around the things others thought of me. I knew that what others thought of me affected how I felt, but since I’d never experienced rejection, I thought that my relationship with the opinions of others would always be one of positivity and praise.

Ha.

That winter, I auditioned for my first Broadway play: Beauty and the Beast.

I was gunning for the role of Chip, the adorable signing teacup.

The audition was short and sweet.

A dark auditorium with blue curtains pulled back on either side. A row of three casting directors barely illuminated by a few amber desk lamps.

The man in the middle studied me for a second, looked down to his notes, then back up at me and simply said, “Can you sing ‘Happy Birthday’ for us, please?”

“This must be a trick,” I thought.

“If this is the audition, they might as well just take my measurements for the costume now,” I mused.

I proceeded to belt out the most warbly, Whitney Houston-esque version of “Happy Birthday” ever recreated on human vocal chords, complete with trills, throaty baritone and an improvised extended chorus.

They didn’t stop me, so I sang all the way through. When I was done, I beamed with pride and expectation.

“Thanks, that will be all.”

I waited and waited for the call. It never came.

My mom told me that they probably wanted somebody a little older. That seemed to make me feel better.

Later that year, we went to go see the play on stage.

The boy who played Chip was younger than me.

1999

In fifth grade, I won a public speaking competition. The entire school voted and they gave me a medal.

I’m told that my talk was riveting — the elementary school equivalent of a TEDx detailing how Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights Movement. I practiced in the mirror for days on end.

Every inflection, emphatic gesture and quiver of my voice was perfectly timed and choreographed. I was confident that given the gravity of the topic, my eloquent delivery would set the crowd ablaze, bring the judges to their feet and confetti would rain from the ceiling.

Later that week, I lost in the regional finals to a kid whose speech was titled, “Why I Love Playing With Hot Wheels.”

His parents must have been so proud.

2001

There was a small golden envelope sitting on my chair when I checked into in Ms. Santini’s seventh grade class.

It read: “Congratulations, Daniel! You have been cordially invited to the Louis Benito Student Excellence Awards!”

My heart raced with pride.

They’ve finally noticed me!

I mean, I was good. I got good grades. I was well-liked. I knew I was excellent. But I wasn’t sure if they knew it, too.

Come to think of it, I didn’t even know exactly who they were. But they said I was excellent.

I was already making room in my mental trophy case.

Later that week, parents and students met in a cafeteria that looked very much like the one I ate lunch in every day, save for a few dozen streamers hanging from the ceiling and some snazzy sinage. The smell of day-old pizza and chicken sandwiches lingered.

Award Show Tonight!

They began to call up students from each grade for all sorts of achievements.

Most Improved Test Scores

Best Math Student

Most Likely To Expose His Genitals on Television

There was a category for everything, and everybody seemed to be getting something.

As we drew to the last few recipients, the crowd began to thin. I was the only one left who hadn’t been called to accept an award. I was starting to panic.

Then, it dawned on me…

I was about to win the Louis Benito Cup.

Ho-ly-shit.

This was the Big Daddy. The Oscar. The Tony. The “I’m The Best In The School” award. I could feel the elation already swelling inside of me. This was going to change my life.

The vice principal gingerly opened the envelope. Looked down, then into the crowd.

The Louis Benito Cup goes to…GRACE JONES!

RAGE!

From behind me, Grace appeared. She had been sitting there the entire time and I was so wrapped up in the certainty of my victory that I hadn’t even noticed her.

Sure, she was the best looking, most athletic, tri-lingual, sassiest, smartest person at the school.

But what the fuck?

“What am I, chop liver?”

I was indignant.

Not only had I not received the Louis Benito Cup — but I’d wasted my valuable off-school time to be there. At that age, life is counted in minutes away from school.

As the clapping for Grace died down, I approached the stage to see if there’d been some type of mistake. A typo, perhaps. Surely there was some award up there for me. Another trophy? I’d even take a certificate.

The vice principal scanned her notes, then back up at me. Nothing.

“Sorry dear, must have been a mistake. I don’t have your name here.”

She turned to the crowd and made an announcement to the now half-empty cafeteria.

Her: “Folks, it looks like there’s been a little hiccup here. This young man…hold on…what’s your name honey?”

She looked down:

Me: “Daniel. DiPiazza. Dee-Pee-Ahh-Zah.”

Turning back to the crowd:

“This young man Daniel ‘Diep-Piel-ahzzam’ was given an award letter by mistake. We don’t actually have an award for him. So let’s give him a round of applause anyway.”

I think I know what it feels like to have a heart attack.

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