In the days before blogs, teenagers recorded their lives in journals. Since 2002, David Nadelberg has captured this adolescent anguish in the stage show “Mortified,” in which grown men and women confront their past with firsthand tales of their first kiss, first puff, worst prom, fights with mom, and more. Following the same formula, Nadelberg collected their entries in his new book, “Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic.” He was invited on “Today” to discuss his show and his new book. Read an excerpt:
Adam Gropman Growing up in a suburb close to Boston, I was a real city kid — a homebody. I mean, I left the house to ride my bike around or hang out with my friends, but I preferred to stay within like a one-mile radius if I could help it. There was nowhere else I wanted to be.
When I turned ten, my parents decided to toughen me up. They sent me to a rustic summer camp in Vermont for two months. The place had no electricity, no running water. The cabins had only three walls. And campers were strongly encouraged to swim naked, as the native Indians had. It was like a POW camp for kids whose only crime was growing up in the liberal suburbs.
The following is some correspondence from that summer between myself and my parents.
July 1, 1976 (First Day)Dear Mom & Dad,
I am fine. Today I tried the swimming test. I only made it across the docks two times. Dinner is great here!
P.S. I made a lot of friends and one especially named Peter.
July 5, 1976 Dear Mom and Dad camp is good!
And the food is great! Also, when I said I only did two laps between docks, I did four . . . and I practiced to do six!
P.S. I'm kind of homesick so please visit as soon as you can.
July 10, 1976Dear Adam:
Boy did we love your letter!! We read it to everybody!! I am proud of your swimming improvement. It sounds like you must be a dock swimmer by now. We are having a feud with the squirrels because they are eating the peaches.
Love and kisses, Mom.
ADULT ME SAYS
My dad then added a little drawing and wrote, "Have you seen Irving the Duck?"
July 11, 1976 Mom + Dad,
I have a very bad cold and I feel very sick. This is what's wrong. I have a bad sore throat. My nose and sinus are very stuffy. I have awful headaches. I feel very weak. Everybody, except for two people in this cabin, are assholes. Right at this moment, while I'm writing this letter, someone's teasing me and saying I'm faking to be sick.
I also lost my knife and my flashlight still doesn't work.
Later That Night
Dear Mom + Dad,
I can't hack camp any longer. I'm going to have a screaming mental fit. By the way, what I mean by "take me out of this camp" is come up here in the car and take me HOME! I hate this goddamn cabin. I want to see our house and sleep in my nice, comfortable bed and sleep till 10:30 instead of waking up at 7:00!
July 13, 1976
I guess you have gone through some sad and difficult days. I think it would be better for you NOT to worry about your clothes and flashlight and things. As Alfred E Neuman says: "Why worry?"
Maybe when you are really angry at the world, you could go to some private place in the woods . . . and cry about it (that's good) or yell at the trees (they won't mind). And when you come back from hollering and hitting the ground with a stick, you won't feel angry.
July 16, 1976Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is shitty and boring. Everything's been going wrong. Such as:
Jason borrowed my red short-sleeved shirt and lost it.
My flashlight (still) isn't working.
I got a cut on my penis when I flunked my canoe test.
I'm very homesick. I wish you could arrange so I can only stay 1 month instead of 2.
ADULT ME SAYS
What I left out from that list was that Eddie, the kid in the bunk bed over me, had accidentally dropped toothpaste down on me and then dropped a candle, which lit my blanket on fire.
July 14, 1976Dear Adam,
I'm sorry that you hurt your penis. Does it still bother you?
July 19, 1976Dear Mom + Dad,
I fuckin' can't stand this bastard camp! You better goddamn listen to this letter or I'm going to scream! And as a matter of fact, I already screamed my ass off at everybody in this cabin today. I don't goddamn understand why you don't believe that I'm having a conniption! Now I know you hate my guts, because if you liked me, you wouldn't torture me. Come up here on Saturday the 24th. If you send me one more of those crap letters, I'll rip it up and burn it.
July 21, 1976Dear Adam:
Did you get the comics? Things around here are pretty boring.
July 26, 1976Dear Mom and Dad,
I can't stand it anymore!!! All the kids in my cabin hate me! They steal and wreck up my things! I can't escape it! I want . . . to go . . . KILL MYSELF!!!!
July 28, 1976Dear Adam,
Yesterday Garth, Willie and Peter said "glub glub" when I added water to their tank. Chi Chi and Bianco are fine. The red efts are doing well. That's all for now.
July 29, 1976Dear Mom,
I'm . . . going . . . CRAZY. Camp is shitty and everybody in the whole camp hates me! How can I take 29 more days?
Aug 1, 1976Dear Adam,
Think about something . . . you feel really good about. And then before you know it, you won't feel like a Gloomy Gus anymore!
ADULT ME SAYS
Less than a week after my parents finally came and pulled me out nearly a month early, we received a letter from the camp owners. It was dated the day after I left the camp. The letter informed all parents that due to an accident wherein a camper was playing with matches, a fire quickly spread and burned two cabins to the ground. One of those cabins was mine. And that kid? It was Eddie, my bunkmate from before. The letter went on to explain that campers were now sleeping in the dining room and that any and all donations would be gladly accepted during this unfortunate and challenging time.
So you tell me: sheltered, elementary school cry-baby pussy, or sensitive ten-year-old prophet?
Excerpted from “Mortified: Real Words. Real People. Real Pathetic.” by David Nadelberg. Copyright © 2006 by David Nadelberg.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from