The Legend of Nicky Poot

Each year at the Automattic Grand Meetup, everyone gives a four-minute “flash talk” on any subject. Here’s the talk I gave this year.

nbradbury-flash-talk-2016
Yours truly delivering this talk.

I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: you’re sitting around with a group of people when suddenly there’s a lull in the conversation. Everyone ran out of things to say, and now you’re all just sitting there awkwardly.

When this happens to me, I break the lull by suggesting we share embarrassing moments. Everyone tells a story about something embarrassing that happened to them. It’s a great ice breaker, and it’s especially good when the people don’t know each other very well. You all admit to something stupid you did, and suddenly you’re the best of friends.

This is exactly what I did a few years back at a mobile meetup when a bunch of us were sitting at a table staring at our phones to avoid eye contact. To break the lull, I said we should each share an embarrassing story, and I volunteered to go first.

The story I told was from age 16. Despite being an atheist, I was a member of a Presbyterian church youth group. Because there were girls there.

There was one girl in particular I had my eyes on, and one night at the youth group I was able to sit on the floor next to her while the pastor talked about something. I really wanted to impress her, so I leaned over to cooly whisper something in her ear.

And suddenly let out an enormous, completely unexpected fart.

I was shocked – I had no idea that was in there!

I hoped that nobody knew it was me, but that plan was foiled by the pastor. Right before my outburst the pastor said something like, “And Jesus said…,” and then when he heard my outburst he pointed at me and said, “But not like that!”

So everyone knew I was the guilty party.

From that point on, the girl I wanted to impress started calling me “Nicky Poot.” Twenty-five years later, I ran into her on Facebook. One of the first things she said was, “Hey, do you remember Nicky Poot?”

Who knew a single fart would have such a long shelf life.

So, there you have an example of an embarrassing story. If you’re with a group of people and there’s an awkward lull, just ask everyone to share something like that, and suddenly everyone is having a good time.

But take my advice: when you tell your story, don’t lean over. You never know what might come out.

Monty Python and the Holy Roller

french-taunterIt’s only Sunday, but I can honestly claim to have had the highlight of my week already.

There’s a local rock radio station whose weak signal sometimes gets overlapped with that of a religious station. This has led to delightful moments such as a Primus song morphing into a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.

This morning, for some reason the rock station was broadcasting parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As I drove out of my neighborhood the scene with the French taunters was playing. I heard John Cleese utter, “You tiny-brained wipers of other people’s bottoms!” and then it suddenly changed into a hymnal.

Maybe it was a “you had to be there” moment – but I was there, and I found it so hysterical I almost had to pull over.

Fake Gifts for Christmas

Speaking of Christmas and practical jokes, something all three of the Bradbury boys enjoy is giving fake gifts.

One year there was a present under the tree from one of my brothers to my parents. My mother unwrapped it and was speechless to discover a DVD containing exotic dancing lessons.

My brother was also speechless, because he didn’t know anything about the gift. That’s because I had bought it and labeled it as coming from him.

Every year since then there has been a similar fake gift under the tree. It has become part of our family tradition, and I look forward to handing it down to my children.

Another Hairy Practical Joke

Some time after the first incident, my now-beardless oldest brother decided to host Christmas. My other brother would be there, and I had long given him grief about his unkempt nostril hair (what are brothers for?), so I bought him a nose hair trimmer as a gift.

I thought he’d love it, so I was disappointed when he left it behind. That’s when I decided it was his turn for a practical joke.

I bought a second trimmer and arranged for the first one to be given to him a few weeks later. In the meantime, I took the second trimmer with me on a Carribean vacation.

After my brother had been using the first trimmer for a month or two, I showed him pictures of my vacation – which featured the second trimmer.

In one, the nose hair trimmer was lounging by the pool. In another it was dancing with my wife by the beach. The final picture showed it taking a swim – in the hotel restroom. Yes, I took a picture of a nose hair trimmer floating in a toilet.

My brother, of course, was disgusted by that last picture since he thought it was the nose hair trimmer he’d been using for several weeks. I enjoyed his reaction so much that I waited several days before telling him the truth.

A Hairy Practical Joke

Many years ago my oldest brother lived in an apartment complex that had tiny mailboxes. Any mail that wouldn’t fit would be left out in the open – for everyone to see.

So I thought it’d be funny to mail him a package labeled “Infectious Disease Center: Test Results Enclosed” when he was out of town for a few days.

He got me back for that in a big way.

It was around that time that I developed a hernia. The surgery required being shaved “down there,” which my brother thought was pretty funny.

A few days after surgery I received a letter from him. Thinking it was a get-well card, I opened it without concern for its contents – and suddenly found myself covered in hair.

There was a note inside. It said, “I’m sorry they had to shave your naughty bits. I shaved my beard this morning and figured you could put it to good use.”

He wasn’t kidding. He actually shaved off his beard and mailed it to me.

Joe Meets the Confederacy

Soon after I entered college in 1986, a few fraternities asked me to consider joining them. I wasn’t the frat type so I politely declined, but one fraternity didn’t want to take no for an answer.

I don’t recall their name now, but they aligned themselves with the Old South – right down to a confederate flag outside their house. I was from Tennessee and they wanted a “real” southerner to join them (never mind the fact that I was born in England, which made them all Yankees to me).

They considered themselves southern gentlemen, which apparently required being Caucasian. Despite the diversity of those attending the school, the fraternity was completely white.

One day I was asked to attend some event they were having to recruit new members. Rather than turn them down again, I said sure and asked if I could bring my friend Joe. They thought it was a swell idea.

I’m not sure they thought it was so swell once we showed up, though, because Joe was black.

I figured bringing him would get them off my back and let me thumb my nose at them at the same time. Joe cracked up when I proposed my scheme to him and quickly agreed to do it.

We spent the evening eating their food and consuming their drinks, having ourselves a good old time. Joe, of course, stood out like a sore thumb in that sea of white folk, and tried his best not to burst out laughing.

After that night, I was never invited to another event at that fraternity.

Teased by Dolphins

The day before my latest kayak misadventure, I had a much more enjoyable kayaking experience.

A school of dolphins were feeding not too far offshore, so I decided to kayak out to see them. As I got close they suddenly dove under, then a second later reappeared about 100 yards away.

I paddled to where they moved to and once again they disappeared, this time resurfacing where I had first seen them.

So I paddled back to their original spot, only to see them resurface 100 yards away again.

I did this a few more times before it occurred to me they might be toying with me – that making me paddle back-and-forth was how they played a game of “stupid human.”

Dolphins have always seemed playful to me, but this was the first time I thought about them as pranksters. I’ll see them that way from now on, though.