I'm not talking about unforeseeable accidents, well-intended blunders, silly fads from youth, or standard everyday regrets (e.g., "I shouldn't have ordered the pork"). I'm talking about incredibly dumb, I-can't-believe-anybody-could-be-so-moronic acts. I did all these things. And I was sober every time. Here goes:
- At the gas station. One day in 1995 I was on my way to work and I stopped to get gasoline. I put the nozzle in my car's gas tank, got the pump going, then started washing my windows. After I finished the windows, I got into my car and drove off – forgetting to take the nozzle out of my tank and put it back in the pump. My car yanked the fuel hose right out of the pump and dragged it along for a few yards before the gas station attendant ran out of her little booth screaming, as if this happened all the time, "YOU HAVE TO PAY! YOU HAVE TO PAY!" (I plugged the hose back into the pump and did not have to pay.)
- Boiling water, part 1. When I was 16 or 17, I was home after school and started boiling some water on the stove to make Top Ramen (a staple snack of my teenage years). Then my phone rang. It was in a different part of the house. It was my buddy Kevin, and I settled down for a long chat with him. An hour later, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten about the boiling water. I rushed into the kitchen and discovered that not only had the water boiled away, but the pot had gotten so hot that all the metal at the bottom had burned off and all the plastic spice containers sitting around the stove had melted in the intense heat. 5 minutes longer and I might have burned the house down. I did not eat Top Ramen that afternoon.
- Boiling water, part 2. This happened in 1996. I was living alone and I had run out of bottled water. Tap water in Los Angeles does not taste good, so I thought it was smart to simply boil the bad taste out, put the water in the fridge, and drink cool, clean-tasting water a few hours later. A bad idea on its own. But even stupider that one Saturday afternoon, when I had the water boiling, then left to go see a matinee. Over two hours later, while walking home, I suddenly realized what I had done. I sprinted the last two blocks, expecting to see cinders where my house had been, but instead found only another ruined pot and a noxious chemical stench that stayed in my kitchen for the rest of the day.
- My favorite faux pas. At my five-year high school reunion, I ran into a girl I'd had a major crush on in fifth grade. She got chubby in high school, though, and after graduation that's how I would picture her. At the five-year reunion, however, she looked fantastic. And so, trying to compliment her, I fed her this smooth line: "You look much better than you did in high school!" She said, "Uh, thanks," and that was more or less the end of the conversation. The power one word can wield: if I had said, "You look even better than you did in high school," she and I might be married right now.
- The London charley horse. It was 1994. I was visiting the UK for the first time. While trying to find Westminster Abbey, I got lost in a small maze of underground walkways. I passed a sign that indicated that the Abbey was directly behind me. Did I stop in my tracks and turn around? Of course not – I wanted to play it cool in front of all these passing strangers, who didn't know me and would never see me again. So I kept on walking, figuring that I would stop "for a real reason" somewhere, then do a discreet 180°. I spied a men's room. I didn't have to use the toilet, but I decided to go in so I could "wash my hands" then backtrack towards the Abbey. When I got to the turnstile to enter the men's room, I had forgotten that in England, turnstiles are like roads and escalators: you enter on the left, not the right. So first I tried to go in through the "out" turnstile. Wasn't happening. Then I went to the turnstile on the left, and as I pushed the three-pronged metal bar that I wasn't accustomed to, one prong whacked me hard on my leg, giving me an intense charley horse. I spent the rest of my 3 days in London limping around painfully, all because I didn't want to turn around in the middle of a crowded walkway.
- Giving myself a haircut. In 1993, I had graduated college but was still acting in my friend Rob's thesis film. The shoot took place off and on over several months, so my hair had to stay the same length during this period. One day before a shoot, my 'do was looking a bit shaggy, so I gave myself a little trim. I wound up cutting several huge chunks out of the back of my hair. It was only thanks to some expert combing that my self-butchery was not preserved forever on film.
- More fun with scissors. Puberty came to me late, so at 16 I didn't have to shave yet. Still, I had some downy sprouts of hair on my face, so I occasionally took an enormous pair of scissors and tried to cut the longer hairs while looking in a mirror. Have you ever tried this? Don't. One morning I gave the skin above my lip a nice bloody cut, and to this day I wear the scar as a testament to my teenage idiocy.
- Getting some sun. In 1994, my roommate Chris and I were complaining about how pale our skin was. So we decided to tan ourselves on the roof of our apartment building. Sunscreen? Who needs sunscreen? We'd only be out there for an hour, and besides, we wanted a tan. But after an hour under the hot LA sun, it became clear that in these globally-warmed times, an hour is now too much. I got such a vicious burn on my legs that I walked with great pain for the next week. Which was especially torturous when Chris and I went to a concert a few days later, and I had to stand up in a crowded club for over three hours. I nearly passed out. Kids, wear sunscreen.
- Various childhood antics. Squeezing a bee to see if it would sting (it did); eating a tiny piece of chocolate I found, then realizing it was a dead ant; pulling an entire stage curtain down on top of me in front of a roomful of startled Norwegians (I wanted to see what would happen if I pulled); pulling an entire chest of drawers down on top of me in front of another roomful of startled Norwegians (same reason); finding a dirty "toy soldier" on the street and bringing it home only to be told by my mother that it was a dead, shriveled frog. Ah, youth.