Copyright 2010 by Jason Brooks
The following story is true. The details are a little exaggerated, but that's just for comedy's sake. The actual event, participants, and overall flow of the evening are all as true as my memory allows.
You might find this hard to believe, but I was a bit of dork when I was in school. Actually, calling me a bit of a dork is like saying the U.S.A. has a slight deficit. I was a total goober - and the peak of my gooberishness was my 7th grade year.
Barely five feet tall and weighing less than a malnourished chihuahua, I was able to be somewhat socially redeemed by the obnoxious aviator-style windshield-sized glasses that I wore, which complimented my braces and acne quite nicely. I was such a mess, I was lucky that mirrors reflected me.
In short, I was a complete loser.
But I was nice. I was always a polite child, and I treated everyone with the respect and gentility the South is known for (it wasn't until I became an angry, angst-ridden high school student that I became a sarcastic jerk-wad). This niceness was as overwhelming attribute to my female peers, the kind of thing desirable in a boyfriend. Unlike high school and college, in the world of 7th grade romance, nice goes a long way.
Truthfully, though I was nice, the real reason I seemed so different was the fact that girls scared the bejeezus out of me. I was too afraid to act macho around them, which only heightened the perception that I was a nice guy, which in turn made me a commodity amongst the ladies.
As in all good stories, the time came when fate smiled upon me, and a particular young woman - a vision of radiance and beauty - somehow became gravely mentally ill and decided that she found me attractive. Her name was Ali.
I remember the evening quite well. I was sitting in my room when my mother announced that there was someone on the phone for me. It was Ali's friend, Lisa.
"Ali thinks you're cute and sweet."
I was stunned. Couldn't breathe. I think I slightly wet my pants.
A girl called me to tell me I'm cute?
I looked out the window to see if the Apocalypse had begun - nope. This was really happening.
What do I say? How do I respond? Should I be cool? What's the right thing to do here?
Naturally, being as suave as I am, I responded with a, "Huh-huh."
Long story short, we ended up "going out”, which is sort of like being engaged, only there's more drama. Notes are exchanged, names are written on folders, people come up to you with M.A.S.H. games to play, there's the whole awkward first-hand hold…just lots of stuff, you know?
Now, despite the term “going out”, most 7th graders actually never go anywhere - they just sort of hang out a lot at school, and if they're particularly chatty, they talk a lot on the phone. Actually, in my case, it was like a divorce in reverse. My friend Pete would call Ali’s friend Lisa, and they would talk. Pete and Lisa became our relationship attorneys and we became their clients. The entire relationship seemed to occur third-party.
In reality, Ali and I were good friends. She was funny, and pretty, and very sweet. I was just happy to be noticed. After our second day anniversary (and if you remember 7th grade, that's a long term relationship), empowered by confidence and blinded by stupidity, I asked Ali to go to the movies with me.
A date. An honest-to-God, real, live, in public date.
And she said, "Yes."
One of the more historic Yeses I've received in my life - it was truly life changing. I was going on a date. Other kids had been on dates before - the good looking, popular, well-liked kids that I knew simply because we were in Boy Scouts together. I began to scout for advice.
"Wear jeans, 'cause that's rad."
"Dude, be sure and wear you're best button-up white shirt. You'll look like Crockett."
"If you want to get kissed, Bass shoes with the curly-cue laces. Girls can't resist."
(In case you haven't figured it out, this was way back in the 80's. Deal.)
Anyway, the big night came and my mother graciously agreed to drive not only me and my date, but my friend Davin and his long-time girlfriend Jennifer to the movies. Ali was cool with the double-date, and I needed it to happen so I could watch Davin and know what to do. So there I was, standing in my room, my outfit all set for my first date: Jeans. White button-up. Bass shoes with curly-cue laces.
I was pumped. I was excited. I was certain that this would be my first step out of loserdom and into something far, far better. I got dressed, and I felt a surge of masculinity within me. My dork days were about to be over.
That's when my mother opened the door and said, "You're not wearing that. It's too hot out."
I would like to say that a discussion followed, but that would be a lie. I was an obedient kid; if mom said no, then no it was. I was in her hands. She opened my dresser and rummaged for a moment, then produced an outfit so heinous, so indescribably awful, that I actually defied my mother.
"I'm not wearing that," I bellowed.
"You will, or you won't go on this date," she replied.
Decisions; some change your life, you know? I pondered not going on the date and salvaging my dignity - I could pretend that I had caught a cold, or been diagnosed with a rare tropical disease, and that Ali and I would have to wait until the temperature was below 65 degrees before we went to the movies. But in the end, the dork couldn't resist the pull of being seen in public with a real, live, good looking girl. I acquiesced.
I agreed to my mother's costume design, and ended up wearing a matching shirt and shorts combo. But not just any combo, this one was powder blue, tie-dyed, and had a large frowning face on the shirt above the words, "Worry - don't be happy." The same graphic was on the right leg of my shorts. Mom also pulled out knee-high socks with matching powder blue rings, and my best pair of Chuck Taylor low-cuts, white with powder blue laces.
Don't ask about the powder blue thing, it was just an "In" color at the time.
Fast forward an hour - we'd picked up Davin, Jennifer and Ali (all of whom were wearing white button-up shirts, jeans and Bass shoes) and we'd arrived at the movie theater, where we were set to take in Jim Belushi's stunning, "K-9." Ever the gentleman, I approached the window to pay for mine and Ali's tickets. The cashier, who was about 16 and snickered when I approached, said, "That'll be $10 dollars."
The words came out of my mouth before I realized I’d event thought them.
"Ten dollars! That's outrageous! I can't believe you're ripping people off like that!"
Just a tip for you kids out there: screaming near-obscenities about prices while on a first date is not a good idea..
Anyway, after turning into an old man at the ticket window, I proceeded inside. I bought myself a large Coke, some popcorn, Milk Duds, some Juju Bees, a small nacho, an Icee and the family-sized bottle of Maalox.
I didn't offer to buy Ali anything—just walked into the theater to find some good make-out seats.
When the others finally joined me, I had secured the perfect row - middle of the theater, left hand side, not beneath any sort of lighting. There were four chairs on the row, so no one else would bother us during the movie. We filed in: Davin, then Jennifer, then Ali, then me.
The girls immediately begin talking, paying absolutely no attention to Davin and I whatsoever. Just as the theater lights started to dim, I casually turned around to scout out the rest of the theater.
Lo and behold, there was my mother - with my little brother and cousin in tow.
Mom waved at me.
My brother shot me the bird.
Once the movie started, anxiety took over: do I try and kiss her? Will she try and kiss me? What do I do?
I decided to play against type, so I turned to say something to Ali. She completely ignored me as she was still deep in conversation with Jennifer. Staggered by the rejection, I leaned back and try to grab Davin's attention and get some advice.
After a few moments of frantic but subtle gestures, he finally looked my way and mouthed: "What's up?"
I mouthed back: "What do I do?"
He mouths back: "Nothing, you look like a homo."
I slumped into my chair. My first date was going down in flames. I looked back at my family, and my brother gives me the finger again. I begged God for an earthquake. I prayed for Jesus to return. Nothing happened.
Suddenly Davin leaned forward, holding a box of candy for me to see: Goobers.
The rest of the movie was a blur. By the time we finished, Ali hadn't spoken three words to me and my brother had launched a semi-melted Milk Dud at my head. I trudged to the car in an awkward Bataan death march. The ride to Davin and Jennifer's houses was completely silent.
When my mom pulled into Ali's driveway, my heart began racing. This is it. This is the walk to the front door. In my heart I knew things were bleak, but maybe there was still a chance that Ali might take pity on me. Maybe I might still get that first kiss. My hands started to sweat. My pulse pounded in my head.
As soon as the van pulled to a stop, I got out. I turned and offered Ali my hand, which she accepted, and I escorted her to the front door. An awkward, silent eternity passed. Still holding my hand, Ali glanced at the front door and then back at me. Sensing the moment was right, I closed my eyes, puckered up, and leaned towards her.
Ali opened the door and stepped inside. Smiling, she said, "Thanks for the movie. It was funny."
And then the door closed in my face. Date over.
The next day or the next week, Ali broke up with me. I'm not entirely sure because I started abusing Pixie Stix pretty hard after that night. She never said it was because of the date, but I'm pretty sure it was. Regardless, I went into hiding.
That awful night haunted me like a specter, leaving me restless and stretched to my limits. It took me years to go on another date. I tried everything to exorcise it from my mind, and thought I had done just that, but it reared its ugly head on my first date with my wife, which went equally as bad.
But I did get to wear what I wanted, so that was a step up.
What can I say?
Once a Goober, always a Goober.
Jason Brooks (http://jasonbrooks.wordpress.com)
is a free-lance author living in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of the
University of Georgia, he has written everything from international
radio programs to award-winning short films to humorous essays. His
non-fiction works have been published in Atlanta Parent magazine and
New Man Online magazine. His essay “Waffle House: A Scattered,
Smothered and Covered Story” won Honorable Mention in the 2009
Storyhouse.org Nonfiction Competition. His short story “Homecoming”,
set in Athens, Georgia, was published in three parts by The Cynic
Online Magazine (www.cynicmag.com) in spring of 2010.
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