by Michael Niewodowski
#104 The Graduate by Charles Webb (#428 on The List).
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.” This is one of the most famous and memorable lines in the history of film. The popularity of the film version has made Charles Webb’s The Graduate very familiar. The 1963 novel and the 1967 film are both light satire of early 1960’s Americana. Despite my mother’s description of the material as “pure pornography”, the content is not all that shocking- far less than what is found in any given Shakespeare play. Both novel and film versions are amusing, but I found the novel to be much, much funnier. Faced with dozens of extremely awkward moments, the main character, Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate, must find a way to graduate to adulthood.
Growing up is difficult and awkward. Adolescence can be especially trying, as children learn to become adults. After working with teenagers for eight years, I learned a lot about this topic. Like an anthropologist, I studied their habits and activities. One popular activity is to relate humorous anecdotes of awkward situations. On Facebook, a teenager will update his status to: ‘That awkward moment when….’ For example: ‘That awkward moment when you say hi to your crush’ or ‘That awkward moment when everyone is serious and you start laughing’. Usually, these moments are displayed as a source of humor and solidarity; those who relate click ‘like’ on the status update. I would have loved to have seen Benjamin Braddock’s Facebook status updates: ‘That awkward moment when your father’s business partner’s wife tries to seduce you….and she’s naked’ or ‘That awkward moment when you have to tell the girl that you have been dating that you have had an affair with her mother.’ I don’t imagine too many teenagers or young adults would completely relate to Braddock’s situation; I imagine he would have still gotten a lot of ‘likes’.
I was a very, very awkward teenager. I am very tall (six feet, nine inches), and my body grew very fast; I was 6’7” in seventh grade, just as I was entering my teenage years. Far from intimidating, I was as skinny as a rail and extremely uncoordinated. I didn’t ‘fill out’ until I was in my twenties, and it took even longer for my coordination and mental capabilities to catch up. After I graduated college, I attended culinary school; learning culinary arts did wonders for my coordination and motor skills. Yet, after years of dealing with awkwardness, I still had mental blocks in certain areas.
In my mid-twenties, I was a journeyman chef living in Cincinnati, Ohio. One night, my friends and I went to a club. I couldn’t dance, and I stood out like a sore thumb; for years, I had avoided clubs and dances. That night, some girls saw me floundering and laughed at me. That was the last straw. In true Niewodowski fashion, I completely over-compensated: I signed up for year long, twice weekly ballroom dance lessons. The dance lessons at Arthur Murray turned out to be a wonderful experience! For a year, I waltzed, mambo-ed, fox-trotted, swinged (swung?), hustled, cha-cha-ed, and rumba-ed with the prettiest girls in town. However, for the first few weeks of lessons, I had to force myself to overcome a serious mental block; before each lesson my hands would shake, I would sweat, and I would stutter with fear. My dance instructor must have thought I was a basket case upon first getting to know me. Emotions have never been accused of being rational.
Although I had graduated college and culinary school, I don’t feel like I matriculated into adulthood until I learned to dance. All of us face trials and tribulations as we grow from teenagers to adults. Fortunately, most of us graduate into adulthood without having to face ‘that awkward moment when you and your ex-mistress’ husband confrontationally discuss her sexual techniques’ like Benjamin Braddock.