I am planning to paint my office sometime in the coming weeks. I have yet to choose a colour – I can’t decide between blue or aqua or purple – but I am sure that will turn out to be the smallest of the challenges involved with painting this particular room. I have a large desk that needs to come apart, and various frames littering the walls, and three bookcases that are filled from top to bottom with my favourite books. I have many, many favourite books, and within those books I tend to have favourite passages, pieces of the book that I can read over and over and each time newly feel the same rush of emotions I felt when I first encountered those paragraphs. The scene from the end of “Anne of the Island” where Anne is informed that Gilbert is dying and realizes too late (or so she believes) that she is desperately in love with him. The end of “Love Story” where (spoiler alert!) Jenny dies, and Ollie weeps brokenly in his estranged father’s arms. When the snow first starts to melt in “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”.
And, of course, when Ramona Quimby tosses her cookies at school. It’s not great literature, and its status as a classic children’s novel would likely be disputed by many, but each and every time I pass a copy of “Ramona Quimby, Age 8” in a store (which happens with remarkable frequency) I participate – as if on auto-pilot – in the same ritual: I pick it up, flip to the same chapter (“Supernuisance”), read the same passage, and feel the same sense of overwhelming ickiness. Smack dab in the middle of that chapter, Beverly Cleary painted an awful, dread-filled, feel-it-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach picture of poor beleaguered little Ramona throwing up in class, a description horrifyingly accurate and nauseatingly familiar to anyone who has ever suffered the humiliation of hurling in public.
I was in Chapters the other day and passed a display table with two tall stacks of that book. I stood there with two Starbucks cups in my hand, thumbing through the pages to get to the right chapter, read those few awful paragraphs, and wondered how many other people have re-read that same paragraph over and over, even into adulthood. It may be crazy behaviour on my part, but I really can’t help it. The writing is so vivid and the description is so gross that every time I can’t help but feel awful for Ramona as she sits at her desk, waiting for the inevitable and still praying desperately it won’t happen.
If you’ve never personally experienced being on the giving end of a public yaking, please thank your lucky stars. It’s bad enough to be that sick, and it’s just about a million times worse to have it happen in a public place (hypothetically speaking, of course). The only saving grace – if it can be considered one – of such an event is that for the rest of your life, you never have sit quietly to rack your brain when you’re asked to share your most embarrassing moment – a story that can rival the bad dates and clumsy playground accidents of your coworkers, friends, and dinner party guests is always on the tip of your tongue (disgusting pun not intended). Better still, if your story involves a very bumpy, very people-filled train at the African Lion Safari, you usually win the humiliation contest.
Or, you know, so I’ve heard.