Watching the Academy Awards Sunday night brought back an embarrassing memory (one of many) from my past – back when I once had a severe lack of common sense and agreed to be one of the presenters at the prestigious New Hampshire Internet Awards.
I was told I would be presenting the award for the weirdest website in NH, which I thought was a pretty appropriate choice for me (and probably more than just a coincidence). I also was told to think of a few witty things to say onstage before making the presentation.
So for two weeks, I walked around talking to myself, trying to come up with amusing anecdotes. Every time I pictured myself standing behind a microphone and actually saying them, however, my heart would start pounding and my palms would get all clammy.
The night of the awards ceremony, I left the house so late, I still was combing my hair as I rushed out to the car. I ended up arriving more than 15 minutes past the time I had been told to arrive at the event, which was held in a big banquet hall in a Manchester restaurant.
A woman greeted me and handed me a sheet of paper. “This is what you’ll be reading onstage tonight,” she informed me.
It was a list of finalists for the best municipal website in the state. My heartbeat immediately quickened. Municipal? Not only wasn’t I presenting the award for the weirdest website (after all the time I’d spent working on a “witty” presentation that emphasized weirdness), in my rush, I had forgotten to bring my reading glasses! The print on the sheet was so small, all I could see (aside from the bold, larger titles) was what looked like a blob of tiny black dust-particles.
“I can’t read this! It’s too small!” I complained out loud to no one in particular. “I’m going to make a fool of myself when I get up onstage!”
I stood there debating whether I should turn around and make a discreet escape, or call my husband and beg him to rush over with my glasses. The fact he was 18 miles away, however, and probably, with my luck, would get stuck driving behind a funeral procession, made me nix that idea. That was when I happened to notice a slightly ajar door that said “office” on it. A light was coming from inside.
In my desperation, I opened the door without even knocking first and walked right in. A woman seated at a desk in the office stared wide-eyed at me before hesitantly asking if she could help me. I asked her if she had a copy machine that could enlarge copies. When she said yes, I breathed a sigh of relief, and asked her if she could do a huge favor for me and enlarge the print on the paper I was holding.
I left the office feeling pretty proud of myself for having used my ingenuity. Thrilled that I finally could SEE what I had to say, I studied my speech until I began to feel less nervous about getting up in front of everyone ( a.k.a. over 100 people, the majority of whom were males in dark business-suits). Still, I’d be lying if I said my palms weren’t damp or my stomach didn’t feel as if it had an army of hornets practicing aerial maneuvers in it.
I figured food might help calm my stomach, so I headed over to the buffet table. I had a mouthful of some type of ham-croissant when I suddenly heard the emcee announce my category. I swallowed so fast, I nearly needed the Heimlich maneuver.
It was dark up onstage, and there was a big spotlight shining directly into my eyes. So even though the print on my sheet had been enlarged, I still ended up stumbling over most of the words (what kind of sadist would write words like “ubiquitous” for someone suffering from stage fright and vision problems to read anyway?).
I finally came to the part that said, “And the third-place winner is the town of Somersworth!” I announced it with what I hoped sounded more like breathless enthusiasm than quivering vocal cords.
The gentleman who came forward to accept the award smiled politely, then immediately corrected me. “Somersworth is a CITY,” he said, “not a town.”
I felt like saying, “Hey! Don’t shoot the messenger! I didn’t write this stuff! I had a great, witty speech about weirdness all prepared!”
But I just smiled and nodded.
I then announced the second-place winner, the town of Hudson. As I stood there, waiting for someone to accept the award, I silently prayed that Hudson hadn’t recently been named a city.
Finally, it was time to reveal the big winner. I read from my sheet, “And the first-place winner for New Hampshire’s best municipal website is…the envelope, please.”
Envelope! There was an envelope?! Why hadn't I noticed that part earlier?
I immediately was handed the envelope, which I fumbled to open, then smiled brightly and said, “And the winner is…”
The room fell silent as everyone waited in eager anticipation to hear my next words. The army of hornets in my stomach began to play tackle football as I realized that my ingenuity hadn’t paid off after all. The print on the card inside the envelope was the same small print that had been used on the original paper.
The audience continued to wait silently as I cast pleading, helpless glances in the direction of the emcee. He smiled and gestured for me to read the winner’s name.
“I can’t!” I silently mouthed the words to him. “I can’t see it!”
I overheard someone down front jokingly say, “Maybe she can write, but she sure can’t read!”
The emcee finally came to my rescue and read the card for me. The winner was the town of Peterborough. I just stood there, quietly imagining all of the painful tortures I wanted to inflict upon the person who’d typed the card (probably with a typewriter from the “Barbie Plays Secretary” collection).
To make matters even worse, a photographer was capturing every humiliating moment on film, shooting upward from where he was kneeling on the floor – at an angle that made me look as if someone had stuck my head on top of a pyramid…an angle that also provided a panoramic view of my nostrils.
I was relieved I’d at least had the good sense not to wear a short dress.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume I’ll never be asked to be a presenter at the Academy Awards.
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