When I was a kid, one of my weirder hobbies was ventriloquism. I don’t remember why I got started, but I do remember that some people thought I was pretty good at it. In the short time that I was a ventriloquist, I won several local talent shows, and one time I even got to appear on live TV.
The TV appearance started off badly.
The crew sat me and my dummy in a chair in front of the camera, and soon afterwards the cameraman made some sort of hand motion at me. I had no idea what the hand motion meant, so I just sat there, assuming it was nothing I needed to be concerned about.
Then he did it again, and this time it was clear that I was supposed to do something. But I didn’t know what to do, so I simply looked at the camera and said, “what?” He did it one more time, this time more forcefully, and again I said, “what?”
The cameraman, obviously displeased that I didn’t grok his secret language, leaned forward and said, “YOU’RE ON!”
Oops. I’d just screwed up on live TV.
I nervously launched into my routine, which began with a joke involving three pieces of candy. I was supposed to hold up three fingers when I mentioned the candy, but I was so distressed with how things started that I forgot to hold up two of them.
The one finger I held up was the middle one.
In slow motion, my eyes moved to the upheld digit, and a look of sheer terror crossed my face when I realized that I’d flipped off everyone watching. Doing that as an adult would’ve been bad enough, but it’s infinitely worse doing it as a kid. The middle finger held a mystical quality back then, and raising it – even accidentally – was a very bad thing. I was pretty sure that raising it on live TV would mean a lump of coal come Christmas morning, and possibly even eternal torment in the place with the guy with the horns.
To my surprise, nobody mentioned my one-fingered salute after the show, and I never got in trouble for it. But somewhere deep down, in the same place I store my guilt over setting off those stink bombs in third grade, I just know I’ll eventually pay for flipping off my home town.