During a high-school math class 13 years ago, one best friend confirmed to another in a note, "He told me today that he does have extra feelings for me. Please destroy this," before adding, "Why do Dana's Keds always look spotless?"
So many writings are not destroyed despite dire instructions, or never receive the dire instructions they cry out for. They live on. And at the Salon of Shame, a bimonthly event that is basically an amateur author reading gone terribly wrong, all manner of adolescent mortifications return, triumphal, in front of a crowd of howling sympathizers who've written the same things, or worse, themselves.
"By March, my hair should be the right length. By December, I'll have all the earring holes I've ever wanted. Ben is my goal now."
"Miranda took her top off. Her long hair covered her body like a suit. 'God, you are just so beautiful!' screamed Jack... Tentatively, they began humping each other."
Both of these were heard at this month's Salon, and so was an epic rhyming poem about an allegorical duel between a man and an ant published in a seventh-grade poetry journal. "Now here's a story, if you care to hear/A tale of men, and ants, and fear," it begins, moving into the immortal words, "There was a man who lived alone/For he lived by himself in that home." In the crucible of the Salon, awful diary entries, poems, song lyrics, stories, essays, and unsent letters are ritually cleansed and purified.
"Personal redemption through public humiliation" is the motto of Mortified, the mother of Salon of Shame–style events in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and soon, Chicago. Mortified began in Los Angeles in 2002. After it came the New York–based Cringe, which got the attention of Seattleite Ariel Meadow Stallings, a freelance writer, blogger, and author working on a guide for offbeat brides that comes out in December. "Clearly, the time is ripe for people to publicly shame themselves," Stallings says. She started the Salon in November. It takes place at the Rendezvous JewelBox Theater.
This month, she read first—from a journal entry she made when she was 13 and babysitting regularly. "I wish Cherie's baby was a girl," she announced to the packed room. "I hate baby dicks."
Anyone can sign up to read, in advance or at the door, though Stallings recommends attending first to understand the format. "I can tell a funny story about something embarrassing that happened to me in 1987!" does not constitute an understanding of the format: These are writings, revealed after a long, deserved hibernation. The authors are almost always people who didn't grow up to be writers, although at the last Salon, one exception was The Stranger's Cienna Madrid, who at 13 wrote a romance novel about Miranda, who communicates with animals mentally, and Captain Jack, who heroically rescues Miranda from a fire. It is Jack's Dalmatian who convinces Miranda that she can trust Jack, and take her clothes off. (The dog courteously leaves the room during the proceedings.)
Each reader goes by first name alone, in the spirit not so much of anonymity (they're right there, after all) as of universality. Phyllis carted two binders up to the mic that turned out to be diaries, and read the passage about the day in 1987 when a boy, a stranger, called and wanted to talk about how his penis was surprising him, and so was his sister's hand. Dawn described meeting Whitney, the hardcore Christian who would take her hardcore Christian virginity in a matter of days. "Whitney is the miracle I needed to put God back in my life," she wrote.
The Salon is home to full-fledged stories that seem to belong on This American Life, and equally sublime artifacts about the purchasing of peace-symbol earrings and the comparing of devotions between high-school couples and the lovers on Guiding Light. The American teenage flashback is a glorious place to be. Here, we have all noticed the enviable state of Dana's Keds.
The next Salon of Shame is set for July 12 at 7:30 pm at the Rendezvous JewelBox Theater.