I was in fifth or sixth grade and I had this girl over to my house. She was blonde with a perm and her parents were Christian and ran a bookstore.
I didn't really have any friends in elementary school; kids generally accept invitations even if they don't like you. I think it's a curiosity thing. I don't know for sure.
So I asked her why I didn't have any friends -- what I was doing wrong. We're running around my backyard; it's been a pretty good time, actually. She says, "I don't know. You seem all right to me."
It's a while later, months, long enough for me to forget the initial question, when she comes up to me with a group of friends. The girl has done research. She tells me exactly why each and every member of our class doesn't like me.
What's surprising is that they all had reasons. I would list them, but they still make me cringe.
The worst part is I had no idea that those things would make people dislike me. None of the things she reeled off for me had crossed my mind as bad things to do.
Mostly, I guess, it's funny in retrospect. They walked away; I stood there cringing in the corner of the playground, my mind spinning. Imagine the end of the Usual Suspects: flashes of anecdotes coming back to me charged with new force and meaning.
I don't raise this just to invite pity for the young Cap'n, although pity is always welcome. I raise it because of the tension it illuminates in my own thinking about embarrassment.
My view, generally, is that you make choices about how to behave, what's acceptable and not as far as you're concerned, and then you refuse to be embarrassed by those choices. Or, at least, the ability to make your choices unfazed, which I pretty much lack, seems like a good thing to have. A kind of Cool Hand Luke quality: this is what I'm going to do for my own reasons and the rest of you can shove it.
But my fifth grade self didn't know that choices were being made, was acting not out of defiance but out of ignorance, and somehow that seems the essence of embarrassment
One example. It was the era of leggings and bike shorts, and I had worn a pair (lime green, Benneton), and you could apparently see a panty line.
I hadn't even heard of the concept.
It's a minefield out there.