It’s time for Readers’ Revenge, the weekly feature in which we turn Grantland over to YOU, the unpredictable reader. This week’s topic was Your Most Cowardly Moment. After a slow beginning, the e-mails poured in later in the week, and this ended up being one of my favorite batches.
Below are the top seven e-mails, along with the Seth from Conway special. You can check out past installments in the box below. We’re off next Monday for the holiday, but the topic for two weeks from now is The Strangest Place You’ve Ever Woken Up (and the story of how you got there). Send your very best to email@example.com for a chance to make the cut. Stories can involve you or someone you know, and anonymity is allowed. Those with a high degree of hilarity and humiliation always do well. Enjoy!
Seth from Conway Special: When I was in ninth grade, my friends and I were avid supporters of our high school basketball team and regularly sat in the student section for games. It was understood that the older kids were entitled the best seats and therefore we were always stuck somewhere near the top of the bleachers. While we usually just followed the typical chants and school fight songs, every now and then we would come up with a clever chant or solid one-liner that impressed or amused the upperclassmen.
One night, we were playing our neighboring city rival and one of their starter’s last name was “Chubb.” After the starting lineup announcements, we immediately began harassing the guy usually just by using his name to create very thinly-veiled sexual innuendo. The older kids apparently felt it was too immature to make such remarks themselves but thought it was hilarious nonetheless.
Although I don’t know the official box score, Chubb had at minimum a double-double and a pretty solid game all around. However, he did miss a contested potential game-tying 3 at the buzzer which prompted a slew of jokes.
After the game it was normal for students to gather on the court and wait for the team to come out of the dressing room. While we were waiting, the visiting team came out first and headed for the exits in single file. I couldn’t resist one last jab and made a two-handed choke signal directed at Mr. Chubb. This prompted him to drop his gym bag and begin to walk directly across the court at me. I remember hearing one of my friends say “Oh shit dude here he comes!” as they all instantly took two very casual steps backward. He approached me and very bluntly asked “If you have something to say, say it to my face.” Now I, a scrawny 5-foot-5 14-year-old, am staring up at this 6-foot-7 fully bearded, sweaty, literal Ozark mountain man. I have no response. After a short time he then said: “That’s what I thought. Now go home, wash your face and pop those zits you scrub-faced little bitch.” I had a bit of an acne issue at the time, and again I provided no rebuttal. This all happened in front of everybody and it was so bad that my friends didn’t even make fun of me about it and instead consoled me as if my dog had just died.
— Seth, Conway, Arkansas
7. I was a senior in high school and played on the soccer team. I received a lot of public criticism from the meathead (not to be confused with Michael Stivic) gym teacher, as he preferred football to soccer. Nobody cared about Mia Hamm and soccer players received less fanfare and respect in the high school weight room than the football players back in 2003. Or maybe that was just my delusion that caused the following situation to transpire.
I was doing leg lifts on a machine that offers resistance to strengthen the quad muscles. An oversized ninth grader inadvertently walked into the exercise machine while I was in the middle of a rep. He was sincerely apologetic. My testosterone shot up my esophagus and worked my mouth like a puppet, “Stay the f%$! out of the way,” I said. There was no turning back. A verbal altercation ensued that concluded with an agreement to meet at the car wash after school. Word traveled fast through my small-town school. I spent the lunch period fielding questions from acquaintances and trying to figure out what it means to sound badass. The shoe didn’t fit, but I wore it to save face.
(Allow me to provide historical exposition: I have never been in a fist fight unless you count when my older sister beat me up when I was 11 or the timid fist fight with my best friend, Mitch, that prior summer.)
After the last bell rang, I briskly walked to my 1995 Dodge Caravan I’d like to say I sped off and lit up the tires, but c’mon, it was a Dodge Caravan. I came into school the next day and my friends were so ashamed of me that they didn’t even bother to rag on me for running away from an oversized ninth grader.
— Chris, Schuylerville, N.Y.
6. About three years ago, one of the host from the TV show Ghost Hunters came to our campus for a ghost hunting night of our own. The nights events started off in the student union, where he introduced himself (can’t remember his name) and he explained what he did, and what we would be doing that night. He had already heard of some of the ghost stories about our campus. These stories primarily dealt with the deaths of several students over time, and how they haunted campus.
After a couple of stops at various haunted buildings on campus, we came to a building that used to be a fraternity house, but was currently being used for campus leadership training. The story that went with the building was that a boy died in the house when it burned down 20 years ago. Some of the current fraternity members enhanced the story by claiming this guy despised cursing, and that anyone who cursed inside this building must apologize to this spirit immediately or risk a terrible fate. I didn’t believe the story, but what I did know was that besides the large ghost hunting group in the building, no one else was there.
As we were all waiting to go into an upstairs room to conduct a séance, I took the opportunity to have a seat in a chair next to an elevator. After sitting there for a couple minutes I started to hear the elevator come up from the lower floors, I assumed someone was too lazy to walk up the stairs and was taking the elevator. As soon as it got up to our floor the doors opened and to my surprise there was no one on it. I immediately yelled and hopped out of the chair, ran down the stairs, and out of the building yelling like a crazed lunatic. Expecting some others to be right behind me, I turned around only to see everyone looking down at me from the upstairs windows laughing their asses off. Apparently someone had thought it would be funny to push the elevator button and see if anyone that crammed together in the hallway would freak out. I just wish I had thought of it, because after that incident I couldn’t walk around campus without having someone try and scare the crap out of me.
— Ben, Springfield, Mo.
5. My buddy’s long-distance ex-girlfriend was in town from Wisconsin. Although they weren’t together for a couple months, they planned three months prior to see a Rebelution concert. Between him picking her up from the airport and the concert, she calls me from her hotel room asking me to come over. We drank and went up to her room. Hours later it’s concert time and we are still in the room. After several calls over the next hour and half that she ignored, a knock came to the hotel room door.
We were still trying to ignore him, I’m telling her to be quiet, it will pass, when my cell phone begins to ring — it’s my buddy calling me from outside the door. I quickly silence the phone hoping he wouldn’t hear it. Instead of opening the door, confronting my friend, I tell the girl to answer the door and tell him you need to get dressed, as I decide where to hide in case anything goes awry. My first thought was the shower, but that would be his first thought, so I pull an R. Kelly and hide in the closet.
She wasn’t in the mindset to think, either. As she walked out of the hotel room door with a long shirt making up for no clothing below her waste, she locked herself out of the room. Hotel security (and this was a hotel I previously worked for and was close with the staff) came up five minutes later to open the door, giving me enough time to get settled in my hiding spot.
I’m crouched in the closet holding my pants, shoes, and belt in my hand. Security ran the key and the door is unlocked, then my buddy barges into the hotel room. He turned to the bathroom and I heard the shower curtain being swung open. Bingo, I knew not to hide in the shower. Then he tries to open the sliding closet door but I’m forcing it shut, so he tries to other sliding door of the closet. Boom. I’m caught with my pants off in the hotel room of his ex, who caused him to miss the concert they planned three months ago to attend. I said the only thing a man could say at that time, “What’s up, man?”
“Hey, dude,” he responded. I turn to the hotel security guy, who was a friend, he had a smirk on his face and just shook his head like “Damn, dude is f’ing up.” The girl had the concert tickets, so we waited in silence for her to dig them out of her bag. I haven’t seen that buddy since.
4. I studied abroad my junior year of college in Australia. I had a pretty great time while I was there — a real educational experience — partying all the time and going to the beach.
After having about 14 beers too many, I decided it was a good idea to get a mohawk one night/early morning. As you might expect, I immediately regretted this decision the next day. I’m not really a mohawk type of guy. I kept the mohawk for a few days to be a good sport and let my friends have a few laughs.
We were going to rugby match Friday night and there was no way I was keeping the mohawk for this, so I had shaved my head.
We pregamed for the rugby match and I had a pretty good buzz going by the time we got on the bus. There was a woman sitting directly behind me and after a few minutes she couldn’t help but ask how much money I had raised.
I gave her kind of a confused look, to which she replied, “You did ‘Shave for a Cure’, didn’t you?”
I had no idea that on the same day I had shaved my head to get rid of an embarrassing drunken mohawk millions of people across Australia were shaving their heads to raise money for cancer research.
Instead of manning up and telling this woman that I had shaved my head because I was an idiot and kind of a lush, I told her that I had raised $1,000 for Shave for a Cure. To make matters worse, she continued to tell me all about how her husband and one of her sons also particpated in Shave for a Cure and what a great cause it was. The whole time I just sat there nodding in agreement.
To this point in my life, that is my most cowardly moment — here’s hoping it stays that way.
— Tom, Boston
3. It was in the finals of my elementary school spelling bee. I’d mowed throw the ranks of dweebies in my school and other schools in the district, in spite of the insults my dip-shit buds. My parents had recognized my prodigious spelling talents and bribed me with the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier if I won. For every male that grew up in the ’80s, it was a dollhouse for dudes.
The final spelling bee arrived. It was at the local mall in front of what seemed like thousands of people. This public forum had the stomach turning, the pea brain fried; and birth was given to my neurosis. I distinctly remember seeing the store from the back of the stage the aircraft carrier was in my reach — all I had to do was spell some words against some supposedly weaker opponents than those I’d already beaten “Ooh what I’m gonna do with you aircraft carrier, I’m gonna play with you so hard, the adventures we’ll have cap’n Keel Haul ”
My life would be complete.
The crowd quieted from mixed conversations to murmurs. Parents scrambled to their seats as the beginning was near; as signaled by a palm patting a microphone.
Silence Introduction. Palms sweaty, mom’s spaghetti, etc. I went blank and begin searching for a way out. I couldn’t even remember my name and had totally underestimated the scope of the event.
The next thing I know, I’m standing in the toy store staring longingly at the aircraft carrier; no doubt envious of whatever kid was portrayed on the box as having an amazing time.
Turns out I bolted from the line and just walked away before my turn came. My mom found me in the aisle and didn’t say anything — I guess she knew I wasn’t ready for the big time.
The worst part is, I could hear the other kids from afar spelling the words and I was mouthing them without sound while walking aimlessly through the store. It was down to the last two and a kid from another school that I knew from forced Sunday School interaction was on the clock The word was “ambulance.” What a joke. He took his time. Can you use the word in a sentence? Sure, “Ol Ralph pissed his diaper at the mall and had to be trucked away in an ambulance ”
He spelled it correctly. Victory.
When my parents asked, I told them I felt sick, and probably mustered up a few fake coughs to really make the story believable. The aircraft carrier would have to wait for the gutless wonder.
The next baseball season, I was promised the toy if I hit a home run. It was my last bat of the year — 1 ball, 2 strikes — I swung and made contact. It didn’t go over the fence, but I legged out an inside-the-park home run — complete with futile slide at home plate as the kids in the outfield struggled to commandeer the baseball. Because the parents didn’t specify the terms of the home run, I was finally awarded the aircraft carrier. It was everything I had dreamed of and I can assure you, I was never a coward in the adventures we had on the light blue carpet that doubled as the ocean.
— ‘Ol Ralph, Woodville, Alabama
2. A few years ago, I was in desperate need of work. The only job that presented itself was for the local cable company, as a salesman that went door to door trying to get people to buy cable and Internet that they most likely didn’t want. In my head a voice was screaming, “Get out now! This will end in disaster!” But my mouth coolly spoke, “When can I start?”
This was November in the Midwest, which is when it starts to get cold, so there really couldn’t have been a worse time for me to start doing a job outside. I was given a gigantic list of addresses in a suburb of our city, told to drive out there and sell some cable. After approximately one attempt at knocking on someone’s door while wearing a dorky baseball cap, getting that look of total annoyance and hatred from a person you disturbed in their own home, and then basically being told to get bent as they say, “Not interested!” and slam the door in your face, my go-getter spirit withered and died. Add to that being in the cold and having snot run like water out of your nose, and I knew this was a bad idea.
So when you cannot do what you’ve been hired to do, the honorable thing to do is quit, right? I probably would have done that if not for the fact that his job was set up in a way where we didn’t have to report daily to an office. Because of that, I was able to deflect calls from my boss by saying, “No, haven’t sold anything yet. It’s really tough out there, nobody’s buying!” My boss said he understood and told me to keep going out there and giving it my best. Except after about two days where I tried for an hour each day, I was no longer trying. I was sitting at home with my roommate playing Madden ’06. I would go in for a meeting once a week, receive another batch of addresses, and then go back home and lay down. It was awesome.
But I’m not a total coward, so after three weeks of this I confessed to my boss that I couldn’t do this job anymore (under the pretense that I had actually been doing it), and he said that was OK, because I could just come in to the office and make phone calls to prospective customers. I said sure, that sounded fine. I came in the following Monday, except my boss never showed up to get me started. I sat there for an hour and then left. I came in the next day to the exact same situation. Once again, I left. For another month, I didn’t hear from my boss but continued to receive paychecks. To be fair, I was searching for an actual job during this amazing period of employment/vacation/clusterfuck, but I was mostly just a lazy sack of crap.
Finally, one morning I got a terse voicemail from my boss’s boss, telling me to come to his office immediately. My heart sank, as I feared my days of scamming the cable company could be coming to an end. But I went in and faced the music, which involved a lot of this guy staring at me incredulously and saying things like, “Wait, so you haven’t sold ONE cable package to anyone in two months?” and “So what the hell have you been doing during this time??” Instead of manning up, I just deflected everything onto my boss, basically saying I was only doing what I was told and that it totally wasn’t my fault that I’d gotten two months of paychecks for nothing. The boss’s boss left the room, presumably to make me quiver for a few minutes, but there was never any doubt as to what was happening at the end of this session. He came back in and instructed me to get the hell out, as I would no longer be their employee. Fine, I pretty much never was in the first place.
I still see that guy at the gym sometimes, and it would be a kind gesture to apologize to him for screwing over his company so badly, but instead I just avoid eye contact and lift weights near him in a threatening manner.
— Elliot, Iowa
1. My freshman year of high school football, the varsity team played a very distant road game and the schools wouldn’t travel that far for the freshman and JV teams. For some reason the powers that be chose to combine our freshman and JV teams and go to a slightly smaller nearby town and play their varsity. We figured it would be a pretty good game since we were from a bigger school which also happened to be the more traditional football power in the area.
Absolutely wrongest. So happened they had a decent team that year and the added maturity of a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds allowed them to just strum us. Mainly they had this one guy playing linebacker that got a full ride to SW TX State (now Texas State) the next year. Not exactly Notre Dame I know, but for a 2A school (we were 3A) nothing to sneeze at, either. So this guy is absolutely trashing our JV team as I and most of my classmates watched from the sideline.
By the time we freshmen got in the game in the third quarter the game was well out of hand. After our first series ended with an eight-yard punt from my friend Jeff and a subsequent two-play touchdown drive for them, we got the ball back and somehow we started making a little progress running the ball right up the gut much to the irritation of Mr. Big Shot, who we interior linemen managed to contain for a few plays. So of course, the coach decides to change things up with a pass which is picked off.
It was on the far side of the field and by the time my friend and I got up around the 40-yard line the guy was past us and so we half-ass jog pursued from 20 yards back while watching our teammate bust ass trying to catch the speedy cornerback that had made the interception. He was never gonna catch him, but just then, “THWACKRUNCH!” the sound of a pure collision. To my utter horror, while my friend had been loping along about five yards ahead and to my right he was now planted on his left earhole with a — literally — snarling future Division 1-AA linebacker astraddle and looking up at me with every intention of stacking another 14-year-old concussed kid on top of the last one. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my teammate lay full out from the 10-yard line as the guy was high stepping into the end zone. This as I’m about to be eviscerated for nothing, so quick as a wink I raise my arms like Ed Hochuli and said, “Hey, look! Touchdown!” He just grinned and growled a little bit, so I grabbed my friend and we scurried to the sideline.
Crisis averted. Until we watched the film. Thankfully, our teammate’s tackle/belly flop caught most of the attention, but eventually everyone did notice that one of our players seemed to be celebrating with the opposition.
— Levi, San Antonio