A Field Guide to Awkward Silences
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Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri shares her stories of awkwardness in this insightful and supremely funny debut.
Most twentysomethings avoid awkwardness.
Not Alexandra Petri.
She auditioned for America’s Next Top Model. She lost Jeopardy! by answering “Who is that dude?” One time, she let some cult members baptize her, just to be polite. Alexandra Petri is a connoisseur of the kind of awkwardness most people spend lifetimes avoiding. If John Hodgman and Amy Sedaris had a baby. . .they would never let Petri babysit it.
Here, the Washington Post columnist turns her satirical eye on her own life—with hilarious results. And she’s here to tell you that interesting things start to happen when you stop caring what people think.
strip) and the square root of 4 b squared (2 B, or Not (negative) 2 B). I was ahead at the commercial break. But then the dark times came. One of the categories was “Cars.” I had no idea how many car companies there were. For the better part of my childhood, my family drove a 1979 Chevy Zephyr with no air-conditioning and a broken speedometer, and I thought that this state of things was typical. One day, we got pulled over. “How fast were you going?” the cop asked. My father looked gravely at
come blasting out with snark. Don’t be too earnest. Don’t look like you care. Then you’re vulnerable. Life is full of opportunities for rejection, and if you start really trying, you’re going to start really failing. Hard. And it’ll hurt. So we put on dopey glasses and grimace so no one can tell us we’re not pretty. We drink lousy beer so no one can accuse us of having bad taste. We look stupid on purpose out of fear of looking stupid by accident. We don’t even try to dance. Anything to
Mountain Horror Show?” my mother asked. “Don’t worry,” Joan said. “It’s definitely wholesome.” We went to see RENT. “What’s this?” my mother asked. “It’s a musical,” I told her. “It’s based on La Bohème, by Puccini.” My friends tried not to snicker too loudly. Even by then we knew our function: We were there to Talk About It in the Car. Everything around us was ridiculous. But at least we were there to make eye contact with one another and say—“Yes. I notice it too.” We spent a lot of time
the longer it went. “My dad’s sick,” someone would say. “Oh no,” I’d say. “That’s AWFUL.” “Whoa, Zandra.” “Haven’t you noticed I’m NEVER sarcastic?” I would plead, looking desperately from one friend to another. “Guys, come on. You know me.” And fortunately they did. Joan shook her head and we moved on to what kind of ring Dave would probably get her. • • • And now we were standing in a David’s Bridal, shopping for dresses like Real People. Didn’t they know this was the gang? Didn’t
“Whew,” you say. “Fooled them again.” It always feels like a near thing, though. It’s the same furtive, panicked feeling I always get when somebody asks me for directions. I am a competent human being getting through my day and navigating my city just fine until the second someone asks me for directions. That is when I lose all spatial sense and everything I say becomes a horrible lie. “How would I get to the Cathedral?” someone asks. “Uh,” I say. I glance around in the desperate hope that