Last night, Seattle-founded institution Salon of Shame had its second big digital event on Zoom, Zoom of Shame 2: Shame Across America. The Salon brings readers onstage—or, in this case, online—to read their embarrassing journal entries, stories, and songs from the past. We've been writing about them for years—Jen Graves wrote about them in 2006. The event continues to be self-indulgent, cathartic, and increasingly national in its scope, with chapters now reaching New Orleans and Jacksonville. You might've seen Mortified Nation on Netflix, it's basically that.
For last night's digital event, chapters from around the country joined to share their regretful relics. But the unique moment from the show—which isn't any shade to the readers, they were all sweet and awkward and honest—was something that happened during intermission.
During a brief seven-minute intermission, the hosts encouraged the viewers to turn on their cameras and mics so we could chat with each other. Some people participated, most stayed dark, and a few had technical difficulties and asked to be unmuted by the moderator. Accidentally, the moderator unmuted all 100+ participants.
It sounded like this: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'd never thought about how a crowd sounds, or what color that sound might be—there's white noise and pink noise and "Brownian" noise, and grey, blue, violet, etc. noise—but this unexpected cacophony, like a marching band of small talk roaring out of the Floo Network, was genuinely astonishing.
All at once, toddlers were gurgling, someone was talking about rocks, another about crocodiles, an "AWWW!" sounded out, and a, "He's so tall / this is interesting." Someone yelled, "It sounds like a real intermission." And: "We're fucked up." "Roses." "Shoulder-length." We smiled into the face of chaos. A hot, soft dad with a beard fed a baby. "How's your mom?" "Wine." "This feels really good."
And then silence. The moderator put everyone on mute, except for the hosts.
"It was really nice to hear that many voices," a host said, jaw literally dropped. "That was just magical."
"That felt like going to the mall," said another host.
It did! I then wanted to be in a mall, something I hadn't felt since l was 14 and desperate to flirt with strangers in Abercrombie & Fitch. I usually get crowd anxiety, but there I was dreaming about sitting in a crowded lobby and hearing randoms talk about nothing of importance. It was pleasurable to hear boring chatter broadcast all at once.
What other aspects of being a person among people have I not thought about? I anticipate those experiences slowly, very slowly, coming back.