In all the talk about Wikipedia’s effects on academia, how people consume information, and the internet at large, I feel like one point gets consistently left out: it makes weird people weirder. I have obsessions I could never have imagined without Wikipedia. I wouldn’t have read a book about the Burgess Shale, and if you asked me what it was I would have said, “oh, wasn’t Burgess Shale a fixture on the Borscht Belt? Why, did he just die?” Actually, it’s a Canadian fossil bed that preserved what are politely referred to as “the weirdest fossils hell-damn-ass ever.” I could talk about how fascinating I find this for hours – which would be a mistake, since no one would be listening, largely because they’d want to tell me about the Nestorian Schism or myxomatosis, which they had just learned about on Wikipedia.
One of my favorite obsessions – and what previous generation even had the capacity to have enough obsessions to pick favorites? – is the Schmitt Sting Pain Index. An entomologist named Justin Schmidt had dozens of venomous insects sting him, ranked and ordered the level of pain on a scale, and added zesty descriptions. The sweat bee, at 1.0, has a sting that is “light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.” The yellowjacket, doubling down at 2.0, is described as “hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” The tarantula hawk is doubly disturbing, since not only does it eat tarantulas but has a sting that is “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.” I can’t find the full index online, sadly. I don’t have the words for why I think it’s wonderful. It just is. It’s so aggressively weird and one of the most genuinely creative things I’ve ever seen.
So, of course, I decided to ape it, tailored for my area of expertise.
The Turner-Neal Awkwardness Index
0.0 – You are alone at home, with the door locked, asleep, fully clothed, in a dignified position on the bed.
0.5 – You can’t open a jar of pickles manually and have to pry open the edge with a butter knife that’s already bent from doing this yesterday on the jam. The cat sees everything.
1.0 – During a visit home, you’re watching a Very Special Episode of Roseanne and start to cry. Your father makes an excuse to leave the room, and your mother leans over to you and stage-whispers, “Are you still sad about Todd? You’ll find someone!”
1.5 – You trip and fall in front of several strangers who do nothing to help.
2.0 – You trip and fall in front of several strangers, all of whom rush over to help pick you up and dust you off, and one of whom insists that you take some ointment and a Life Saver from her purse.
2.5 – You forget to wear deodorant to a job interview and spend the whole time with your upper arms rigidly locked to your sides. The heat and pressure exacerbate the problem, so at the end, instead of shaking the interviewer’s hand, you wink.
3.0 – The same wave that tore off the ironic loose neon Jams you wore to the beach flings you several feet ashore. The next wave delivers a dead gull onto your head. As you hop about trying to get all the dead bird parts off, you overhear a discussion of why your pubic hair distribution is so markedly asymmetrical.
3.5 – Midway down the aisle, your body gives the signal, and you have to about-face and RUN to the ladies’ room. A bridesmaid and a washroom attendant have to hold your dress up as your wedding-jitters Taco Bell binge exits gracelessly. Since your dress has no pockets, you cannot tip the attendant. As you reenter the sanctuary, you realize that the odd marriage between the Lutheran Synod and particle-board construction means that everyone heard.
4.0 – Having mistimed the contractions, you give birth in a subway. Fortunately, your husband is by your side; unfortunately, the child is very apparently not his. Everyone on the subway feels free to comment on this, and two debating sides emerge as you try to rescue the situation by delivering the placenta into your purse. Too late, you remember your passport and keys are in there.
I thought of writing a 4+ to match the bullet and (“Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel”), but awkwardness is finite. Eventually it either develops into a genuine crisis or you die, although at that point you may not care which.