I’m not exactly sure why – possibly for entertainment’s sake, maybe for shock value, perhaps out of morbid curiosity – but whatever the reason, my friends and I tend to bat around a lot of “what if” scenarios when we get together.
You know, things like:
What if I walked up to the karaoke mic and just started sobbing?
What if I jumped onto that ladder on the train, just as it was pulling away?
What if I got a neck tattoo of Mr. Peabody from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show?
So it didn’t really faze me when, a few weeks ago at a birthday dinner for a friend of ours, Seamus asked, “What if I made myself faint right now?”
There was a group of about twelve of us sitting at a long table in Buffalo Wild Wings, the place for gourmet chicken wings (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one). Being of delicate gastrointestinal constitution, I opted to gnaw on a few celery sticks while my friends all transformed into grunting savages, constructing greasy catacombs of chicken bones on either side of me. No one even made eye contact for the first thirty minutes we were there. At one point, I reached for the bleu cheese dip and heard someone hiss.
I peered over the mountain of coagulated cheese fries and crumpled lemon scented handi-wipes, and asked Seamus, “Why would you want to make yourself faint?”
“I don’t know – because I can. I’ve done it before, you know.”
I didn’t buy it.
“When? Tell me when you made yourself faint.”
Seamus licked his fingers, shrugged his shoulders and said, “In high school.”
“That’s disturbing. I think there was an Oprah special on that. It’s some weird sex thing, isn’t it? Wait – don’t answer that. I seriously don’t want to know.”
“No, no, no. It’s just to make yourself faint. It’s kind of fun.”
“You, my friend, are a freak.”
“But really, what if I made myself faint right now?”
“I’d laugh. Then steal your wallet.”
“Okay, I’m gonna try.”
“Dude! We’re in Buffalo Wild Wings! That’s embarrassing enough. Please do not make yourself pass out in a plate of boneless garlic mustard wings. Please?”
An evil grin crossed Seamus’ lips as he got a far away look in his eyes and gently pressed his hands against his neck.
I became increasingly nervous as I watched Seamus’ face become a blotchy shade of crimson. “Seamus! I’m not kidding! Stop it! Seriously – stop it! What the hell is wrong with you?!”
I kicked his shin hard underneath the table, at which point he let out a burst of laughter. Seamus wiped his watery eyes and said, “Dammit, Jenny! I was almost there!”
“Note to self: find sane friends,” I muttered, as I checked to see who was calling on my cell phone.
Later that evening, Lazlo and I met up with Natasha and Farnsworth at a punk bar. The next day, I made a point of telling people that it was a punk bar because I wanted them to know exactly how cool I am. How hip. How down with the punk scene. I mean, I know who The Ramones are. I know, because my friend Deirdre accidentally dressed up as Joey Ramone one Halloween. Her intent was to be Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction, but when people kept saying, “Hey! Awesome Joey Ramone costume,” she just kind of went with it.
Fortunately for me, we had found the only punk bar in town that served food until midnight, so I ordered a cheeseburger to complement the two dozen celery sticks that had sustained me earlier in the evening.
Anyway, as it often does, the topic of conversation switched to my romantic fascination with twins (which, FYI, I am so over now).
Natasha asked, “Okay, what if someone set you up on a blind date with a twin, but didn’t tell you they were conjoined twins?”
“Do you know conjoined twins?”
I thought about it for a second and replied, “As long as they were nice, and career oriented, I’d be fine with it.”
“I’m the liar? I’m the liar? So – somehow in the ten years I’ve known you, you just never mentioned that you were best friends with some conjoined twins?”
“I never said best friends. And you don’t own me! My life is full of mystery!”
Lazlo piped in, “Okay, what about conjoined twins who didn’t know they were twins?”
“You know, like vestigial twins.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Natasha jumped in, “You know – when the second twin doesn’t fully form, so the main twin just has like, a tuft of hair, or a foot, or teeth growing out of a part of his body.”
“Guys! Geez – I’m not done eating! No wait… bile rising… throat closing… and… I’m done. Thanks. Thanks a lot.” I said, shoving my plate aside and tossing my napkin atop the half-eaten burger.
Farnsworth, who up until this point seemed completely oblivious to our conversation, suddenly chimed in, “Come on – that would really bother you?”
“Uh, yeah. Please! Do not even try to tell me that you wouldn’t be freaked out by that! Natasha, back me up on this one!”
Nat tried her best to look angry and said, “Nice, Jenny. You know that my mom has a twin head in her back. Really nice. Aunt Kate is totally sweet, if you’d ever take the time to get to know her.”
“Shut up! Why are you trying to give me another ulcer?”
Lazlo was all too intrigued by the topic. He finished the last of his beer, leaned in and asked, “Wait – so, what if I told you I had a vestigial twin in my arm that was just an upper set of teeth and one non-functioning eyeball?”
“I would vomit and ask you to never again wear short sleeves in my presence.”
“Are you serious?”
“That would really bother you?”
“It would repulse me.”
“God, you’re shallow.”
“Like a kiddie pool in a drought.”
I’m not exactly sure why – possibly for entertainment’s sake, maybe for shock value, perhaps out of morbid curiosity – but whatever the reason, my friends and I tend to bat around a lot of “what if” scenarios when we get together.
Stop judging me.
Just because I ended yet another evening with a few too many drinks and my pants mysteriously unbuttoning doesn’t give you the right to pass judgment on me.
I’m not ashamed, you know. I know it may seem like I am, because I don’t talk about it a lot, but I’m not. Really. I do this almost once a month, and I like it better every time. I never get tired of it. In fact, I did it again this past weekend. With my parents.
That’s right. We went to Olive Garden.
Yes, I am Italian. And you know what? It’s just like they show in those commercials – real Italians do eat at Olive Garden. And we like it. Sometimes we bring our Uncle Nino with us when he visits from Palermo. And he likes it, too, especially when we all link arms and belt out Volare while waiting for our heaping bowl of salad to arrive.
I just wish the rest of the world could be as open and loving as Olive Garden. If we could all just set aside our differences for one minute and try the new Garlic Shrimp Limoné with angel hair pasta, I think we’d all be better for it. It’s available for a limited time only.
Oh, hello Adam. I’m so pleased you’ll be our waiter this evening. Your warm smile and ready basket of breadsticks are exactly what I needed tonight. Why yes, that raspberry lemonade does sound quite refreshing on such a hot day, but I believe I would prefer a nice glass of your house red, instead.
See, Adam doesn’t give me a sideways glance when I ask for more salad. He doesn’t look at me with self-righteous indignation when I request another glass of red wine, even though I am only halfway done with my first one. Adam understands that I just like to be prepared, and that I respect his time as our waiter.
Well, let’s see. Do I go with the reliably delectable eggplant parmigiana for $10.95, or pull out my passport and choose the Tour of Italy for $14.95 – fettuccine Alfredo, homemade lasagna, and chicken parmigiana all on one plate? Can you even imagine such joy?! Just like Mama makes it!
Oh, my. If only I had saved room for the seasonal Berries and Zabaione, or the Italian classic, Tiramisu. But alas, I couldn’t leave a morsel of your scrumptious pasta with marinara sauce on my plate, so I am afraid I am too full. But perhaps next time?
And yes, there will most definitely be a next time. Because aside from making me feel like I can be myself, like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, Olive Garden also knows how to keep me coming back. As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to hop on www.olivegarden.com to fill out my satisfaction survey – good for one $3 coupon for future use!
Now that’s how you treat a lady.
“Hey, Natasha – it’s Jen. Just wanted to see what you were up to tonight. I’m just hanging out, watching Season 3 of Six Feet Under. Give me a call. Talk to you later – bye!”
“Hey Jen – just got your message. What up, dog? You’ll love Season 3! So what’d you do this weekend?”
“Ohmigod – I went to see Charlie & the Chocolate Factory! It’s so totally my new favorite movie! You seriously have to see it ASAP. It was awesome. Johnny Depp was hilarious! Tim Burton did such a good job with the-”
“Shhh! Stop! Don’t tell me about it! I want to go see it next weekend.”
“But I was just gonna say that it was really cool because they-“
“Jenny! I’m serious! I don’t want you to spoil it for me!”
“Okay, Nat. You’ve seen the original movie what? Like fifteen times? I think you’re pretty familiar with the story.”
“Well… how do I know how they changed it?”
”No, no. You’re right. I don’t want to spoil it. Especially that part where Veruca Salt kills Willy Wonka and enslaves the Oompa Loompas. I so did not see that coming.”
“Dammit, Jenny! See – now because you said that, I know it didn’t happen. Just stop talking about it!”
“Nat – killing Willy Wonka? You’ve read the book. Do you honestly think that they kill off Willy Wonka?”
“Look – it’s Tim Burton. He’s crazy. How do I know what liberties he took with the script?”
“Okay, whatever. I’m sorry. The movie sucked. You shouldn’t see it. Everyone dies. The chocolate river is really made of poo. Willy Wonka is a serial killer. Rosebud is a wagon. Aliens pop out of Charlie’s stomach. The cops are all in on it.”
“SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!”
See, what Natasha didn’t let me explain is that the reason I loved Charlie & the Chocolate Factory so much is because it’s a great story of the little guy winning out over the rich and powerful. Charlie was poor! He only got one candy bar a year! But he found that golden ticket, by golly – he found it! And he had a good heart, too! He wasn’t greedy, or mean, or competitive. His kindness wins out in the end.
Man, I love a good underdog tale. I love rooting for the kid everyone else thinks is a loser, the kid who has no business being here, the kid with all the odds stacked against him. My money’s on that kid!
Which leads me to this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll!
Question: What is your favorite “underdog” movie? (as always, write-ins happily accepted):
A) Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (or Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)
D) The Bad News Bears
F) My Bodyguard
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A butterfly in Chicago flaps its wings, sparking a hurricane on the other side of the world. Each decision we make impacts our lives in some way, whether or not we ever realize it. In my case, it wasn’t a butterfly, but a dragonfly that might have altered my destiny.
This realization came to me during my recent business trip to Washington, DC. I hadn’t been to DC since I was eleven years old, on a school field trip, so I was really excited to go back. But as much as I was looking forward to seeing our nation’s Capitol, I knew I wasn’t looking forward to the flight. I just do not particularly enjoy traveling. I love visiting new places, meeting new people, experiencing new… experiences, but I just don’t like the process of getting there. This is partly because whenever I get on a plane, at least once during the trip, I think of dying.
It’s not that I’m afraid to fly – I’m really not – but at the first rumble of turbulence or chorus of synchronized crying babies, I find my mind flashing to the image of an engine falling off, and the plane plummeting into some body of water. (There is always water, probably because I do have a fear of drowning.) Perhaps it’s the melodrama of it all, maybe it’s just to fill the mental void, but these are the pictures that run through my mind at some point during every flight.
So even more than usual, whenever I change travel plans at the last minute, I feel particularly vulnerable to tragedy. I can’t really explain why, but I often see my life in headlines, and these eleventh hour changes make me think even more about dying:
Woman takes earlier flight, hit by bus on way to airport.
Traveler gleeful until realizing she boarded faulty plane.
So Tuesday, when I got out of my conference ahead of schedule, my boss and I decided to head to the airport immediately to see if we could get on the earlier flight. Ours was scheduled to depart at 8:00pm, but there was a 5:38pm flight that we could easily make, provided there were still seats available.
We are re-booked on the earlier flight without a problem, quickly buzz through security, and have enough time left over to grab bagel sandwiches at the deli by our gate. This should have been my first clue that something wicked was about to come my way.
After boarding the plane on time, we sit at the gate for about 45 minutes without explanation, and then begin taxiing down the runway for a bit. Suddenly, the pilot comes on with some disconcerting news:
Uh, folks, this is your Captain speaking. We were about to take off for Chicago when a light that shouldn’t be on came on.
But now that light has gone off again, so we’re going to head back toward the runway and get you all to Chicago.
Apparently, the pilot shares my philosophy about warning lights and mysterious body aches – if they last less than a week, disregard them entirely. However, while this strategy works fine for the “Door Ajar” light on my Honda Civic, I’m not so sure I want someone applying the same logic to a Boeing 757.
About five minutes later, the Captain comes on again.
Uh, folks, the light has come back on again, so we’re gonna have to head back to the gate and have the mechanics check this out. Then we’ll be on our way to Chicago as soon as possible.
As we sit on the plane waiting for the mechanics to check things out, the air conditioning shuts off. Although I left my travel thermometer at home, I am quite certain that the cabin temperature is rapidly approaching 85˚. As uncomfortable passengers grumble to one another and fan themselves with the emergency landing instruction cards, I think about the shorts and tank tops sitting neatly folded in my checked luggage. We sit at the gate for another 45 minutes while the mechanics inspect what turns out to be a problem with the hydraulic fluid gauge. A voice comes on again:
Uh, folks, this is your Captain speaking. The mechanical crew has fixed the light problem, however, now we need to refuel after sitting here. So it’ll be just another few minutes and we’ll be on our way to Chicago.
As I sit there, listening to people hopping on their cell phones and calling loved ones to tell them of our delay, I see the headlines again:
Woman ecstatic at making earlier flight, dies in fiery plane crash.
The cruel, bitter irony.
I roll my eyes and smile a bit as I look at the man sitting next to me. He is quiet, bald, thin, mid fifties. I hear him speak to the flight attendant, who has kept herself quite hidden during these first few hours of what was to be a 90 minute flight, and I detect that he has an Irish accent.
He takes out his cell phone and calls a woman named Sheila. Instead of complaining to her about our delay and the oppressive heat, his voice becomes soft and sweet, and he asks her what she had for lunch.
“Eat well to be well,” he says with genuine affection, and I gather that Sheila is ill.
The Irishman says goodbye, and resumes reading the enormous book he brought with him. As he reaches for the book, I notice a jagged scar stretched across the back of his left hand and wonder how he got it.
I think, so this is it? This is my destiny? I will die next to a gentle Irishman who is quietly reading The Short History of Nearly Everything. I suppose there are much worse fates, but somehow I had imagined there would be more fanfare. Will I at least clutch his hand when the plane starts to go down? Will he offer me a tender kiss? Will he tell me about Sheila before we plummet to the ground?
I think we will do none of these things. I think that in those final moments, we will sit politely next to each other, perhaps share a knowing and sympathetic glance, and I will turn toward the window to wipe away a stray tear or two. I don’t want to make a scene.
After taxiing once again toward the runway and waiting in line for another 30 minutes, the plane suddenly pulls to the side and we hear:
Uh, folks, this is your Captain speaking. We are all fueled up and ready to head to Chicago, however, we have just been informed that due to weather in Chicago, no flights are being allowed in. We’ll have to sit here and wait a bit until we get clearance.
The frustration is palpable. I accidentally let slip the “f” word while futilely adjusting the air vent for the tenth time, hoping perhaps that I had turned it the wrong way the previous nine times. I feel sweat begin to trickle down my chest, and wish that I had made time to change into a T-shirt and comfortable pants instead of eating that bagel.
A heavyset woman in the aisle next to me presses the call button for the flight attendant. Her eyes are half-closed and she is feebly fanning herself. I hear her tell the blond flight attendant with the southern accent that she has multiple sclerosis, and is unable to walk to get to the bathroom. She is feeling faint from the heat.
The flight attendant tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, leans in a bit closer to the woman and says, “You can’t walk at all?”
“No. I have MS. I need a wheelchair.”
“Okay. Okay. Let me… I’m going to talk to the pilot. I don’t have a wheelchair on board, so I think we’ll have to bring you back to the gate. You’re not gonna pass out on me, are you, ma’am?”
The flight attendant brings her a cup of ice chips and some cold towels to put on her neck and forehead. A man behind me is a paramedic, and stands up to get his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff from the overhead bin. He attempts to take the woman’s blood pressure, when the flight attendant returns and starts arguing with him.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to stop that! I need to see some sort of identification or something! I can’t just have random people working on passengers!”
I shake my head, turn toward the Irishman and say, “What’s the big deal? He’s just trying to take her blood pressure. It’s not like he’s giving her an emergency tracheotomy.”
He laughs a little, nods, then turns back to his book.
The pilot comes on one more time:
Uh, folks, this is the Captain again. We’re going to have to return back to the gate. We’ve got a medical emergency on board, and we still don’t have clearance to leave for Chicago due to the weather.
A collective groan washes over the plane, and I feel uncomfortable for the woman with MS. She just wants to go to the bathroom.
I look toward the gate, and can see the blue silhouettes of people inside the airport, running to and from their flights. The pilot tells us that we can deplane now if we want to make other travel arrangements. He can offer us no idea of when this Chicago flight might actually leave.
I look outside and see a dragonfly buzz by and softly bump into the window of the plane. It seems so out of place here. For a moment, I imagine it is a bird, which is sucked into the engine, causing us to wait another hour while the mechanical crew hoses off feathers and beak.
The dragonfly flits past my window again, and I think of William Shatner in the classic Twilight Zone episode. I see that dragonfly staring at me with iridescent eyes and smiling with dragonfly fangs as he tears out the left engine with his strong dragonfly legs.
I look over at the Irishman and think, No one will believe me.
The dragonfly comes back a third time and hovers near my window, and this time, I wonder if perhaps I misinterpreted his intentions. In his persistence, I think that maybe he is not trying to torment me, but rather to warn me.
Get off the plane.
Get off now.
I think hard about the choice the pilot has presented me. I can deplane now if I want to. I have been given the opportunity to alter history, to reverse an earlier decision. But which decision is the right one? What if I get off, rebook to the flight I was originally on, and that turns out to be the doomed one? Will the headline read:
Woman killed by own indecisiveness.
I think about why I am here, on this flight. I think about all the decisions we make during the course of a day that impact our lives in ways we cannot predict. What factors led me to seat 8A on American Airlines Flight 2353? Who will I blame when I hear the metallic scraping of the engine falling off?
1. I wanted to get home early, so I switched to the 5:38pm flight.
2. I requested a United Airlines flight, but was told by our corporate travel department that my company uses American.
3. I chose this trade show as one we should exhibit at.
4. I turned down another job offer to work for this company.
5. I quit my previous job because it was insufferable.
6. I decided to move to Chicago.
7. I was an accounting major in college, but later switched to marketing.
8. I was captain of the crossing guard in elementary school, earning me a trip to Washington, DC.
9. I was supposed to be named Lydia, but in the groggy haze of childbirth, and at the incessant hounding of the nun/nurses, my mother blurted out, “Jennifer.”
I have to wonder, would Lydia be on this plane right now? Would Lydia work in marketing? Might Lydia already live in DC?
Lydia would not be me, nor I her. She would not be sitting in seat 8A on Flight 2353 next to a calm Irishman reading an interesting book. She would be anywhere but here. She would not be flipping through Us Weekly, nor rationing her White Cheddar Cheez-Its. Lydia would not be wearing too-tight khakis and wishing she could unbutton them.
Lydia would have known better.
So perhaps that is it. That is the decision that made all the difference. It wasn’t some butterfly flapping its wings. It wasn’t an urgent desire to sleep in my own bed. It wasn’t a faulty hydraulic gauge.
It was nuns that killed me.
I think about that dragonfly, and imagine he has flown far away by now. Or maybe he’s still hovering around this plane, urging me to get off. I can’t tell – after five hours on this plane, it’s too dark now to see.
I listen to everyone calling friends and family who will certainly be wondering when they will arrive home. I live alone, I took a cab to the airport, and my cats cannot tell time. No one will know that I got home late.
I call my answering machine at home and listen to a message from a friend from high school. She is stuck in traffic. She wants to do lunch yesterday.
I dial my voicemail and listen again to the old messages I haven’t deleted from my cell phone.
• He is eating French fries while leaving me a message.
• She asks if I am still going to karaoke.
• They invite me to gamble at the riverboats.
• She informs me that I am due for a dental checkup.
Fries. Karaoke. Gambling. Gingivitis.
This is what I will remember. These will be my final thoughts, as I clutch the scarred hand of an Irishman whose name I don’t know, wishing I had listened to the dragonfly.
Driver – 50-ish heavyset Greek woman with thick accent
Me – 30-ish road-weary traveler, desperate for her own bed after arriving home almost six hours later than scheduled
Driver: You’re not going to suburbs, right? No, suburbs. Chicago, right?
Me: Huh? Yeah. Chicago.
Driver: Last guy want me to take him to Deerfield, but he don’t wanna pay price. I say, I’m not taking you to Deerfield for nothing, you know. Told him to get in other cab.
Me: Nope. Just going to Chicago. Please.
[Me notices Driver getting off at the wrong exit to take Me home]
Me: Uh, which way are you going?
Driver: There’s construction up there. Sign says to take alternate route. Exit is closed. You didn’t read sign. I’m reading sign. I know where I’m going.
Me: Uh, okay.
Driver: You know, I pick up lots of famous people in this cab. You know Stephanopoulos? Secretary of State? I give ride to him one time.
Me: Wow. Did you know it was him right away?
Driver: Of course I don’t know it was him. I say to him, Why are there state police cars driving in front of my cab? He tell me, You don’t know who I am? I say, Who you are? You are passenger to me. I’m driving cab. What do I know?
Driver: But Stephanopoulos very nice guy. His parents from Athens. I tell you, he speak very good Greek. His Greek very good.
Me: He’s nice looking, too.
Driver: Hmph. Oh, and you know the actor – Kojak?
Me: You mean Telly Savalas?
Driver: Telly…? Whatever – you know, Kojak. Well, one day I pick up Kojak in car. I look at him and say, You Kojak, but how you can be Kojak? He dead!
Me: Oh, that’s right.
Driver: He tell me he Kojak nephew! I tell you, he look just like picture of Kojak. Every part of face, just like Kojak.
Me: Was he bald?
Driver: Yes! What I tell you? He look just like Kojak. How he gonna look like Kojak if he’s not bald?
Me: Funny. Kojak is Greek, right?
Driver: Kojak? Yeah, of course he Greek. But Kojak nephew not speak good Greek. He tell me he don’t understand my Greek too much.
Me: Hmph. Guess you meet all kinds of people driving a cab.
Driver: You for sure. All kinds of crazy people. Like that guy. Want me to take him to Deerfield for $20. Hmph.
In keeping with last week’s fashion-themed poll, I wanted to talk about a serious problem that I feel has become epidemic in our nation. One of the main reasons I left the rolling hills of the Wisconsin countryside was to escape this frightening clothing trend begun by savages, but little did I know that in the bustling metropolis of Chicago, I would be exposed to this horror on a daily basis. I am, of course, referring to the wearing of flip-flops to work.
Every day, since May 1st, I have been unwillingly exposed to the near-nude feet of commuters and colleagues, strangers and friends. I take a deep breath as I step off the elevator each morning, knowing that it is only a matter of seconds before I will hear the dreaded slap slap slap of plastic on bare heel.
I just don’t understand when flip-flops crossed over from pre-teen beach attire to acceptable professional office wear. Where was I, and why didn’t I start a petition? I will readily admit that part of my issue is due to the fact that I have a slightly neurotic dislike of feet. I don’t like my own feet. I don’t like anyone’s feet. Sure, they serve a purpose, but so does my bladder. It doesn’t mean I’m going to put a glass bubble in my stomach so you can all witness its unrivaled capacity for urine storage.
At what point is enough enough? When will people feel their feet are sufficiently exposed? Oh wait – I’ve got an idea! Maybe I think that the little flip-flop strap in between my toes is too restricting, so how about I just cut out some footprint shaped pieces of duct tape and slap them onto the bottom of my feet? What? These are my new shoes now. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Jenny’s feet gotta be nude.
And now that you mention it, sometimes shirts really bother me, too. They don’t let my body breathe enough, so I think from now on I’m just going to wear pasties to work. Something tasteful, like a nice corporate navy blue. I won’t go crazy and wear tassels, except on casual Fridays.
But I don’t want to discriminate – you men should have these same rights. In fact, I can certainly imagine that those Dockers start to really chafe after wearing them all day, so I’m going to propose that men start wearing loincloths to work. God, everyone seems so much happier here now!
Shortly thereafter, we will all lose the ability to speak, and monkeys will once again rule the earth.
So let this serve as a cautionary tale to all you flip-flop wearing corporate job people. Unless you want to be called Bright Eyes by a bunch of machine-gun toting gorillas while they lead you around on a leash and force you to mate with each other, put on some damn shoes!
And without further ado, I give you this week’s Weekly Opinion Poll:
Question: What fashion trend do you find the most annoying (write-ins accepted)?
A. Flip-flops to work
B. Men wearing no socks and boat shoes
D. Livestrong bracelets (or any knock-off variation thereof)
E. Top ‘o the butt crack tattoo
F. White shoes after Labor Day
PS – I’m heading off to Washington DC for work this weekend, so I won’t see you until next Wednesday. Please be good!
The room fell silent.
My head snapped in Natasha’s direction, and I felt sick when I saw the look of fear wash over her suddenly pallid face.
I was in total shock. “Natasha, no! Oh, god. Please tell me it’s not true!”
“I… I… my parents brought us there once or twice. I was young, I couldn’t drive yet!”
Seamus’ eyes glowed steel blue. “Once or twice… A YEAR, you mean! ADMIT IT!”
My jaw hung open as I watched Natasha squirm in her chair, perspiring and fidgeting with her earrings. “Okay. Okay! So I’ve been to the Renaissance Faire a few dozen times. But I never dressed up! I never played the wench! I swear – we just liked to eat the turkey legs!”
After my initial shock wore off, I was struck by a bout of uncontrollable laughter. My eyes welled up and my side cramped as I hugged my knees and said, “Ohmigod Nat! You totally bought unicorn sand candles at Ye Olde Renaissance Faire! Oh… oh… you were such a nerd!”
Sadly, my hysterics were short lived. I had spoken too soon, for Seamus had only just begun his attack: “And you, Ms. Amadeo. It’s all real funny, isn’t it? Well, I happen to have it on good authority that, not only do you own Sims II, but you once played The Sims for six hours straight. Didn’t you?!”
Suddenly, I stopped laughing. I wiped my eyes and said, “Huh? Sims? Look, you’ve got it all… see, I… no, I was cat-sitting for Kim and…”
“ANSWER THE QUESTION!”
I looked around the room, and saw the mix of disappointment, disbelief, and disgust. I had no choice but to confess. “Fine! Yes! Yes, I played The Sims for six hours! But you don’t understand! You don’t know me! The Jenster Family was nothing before they met me! When I first took over, they were peeing on themselves and starting fires and missing work! I made them doctors and movie producers! Do you have any idea how much patience and time management skill it takes to get them to that level? I… I bought them a Jacuzzi!”
Lazlo pulled himself up off the floor, laughed a wicked laugh, and said, “Oh my god! Jenny’s the biggest geek of us all! I mean, I was sixteen when I played D&D – she’s still playing computer games at 34! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
“Oh, I’m the biggest geek, am I? Well, what about Seamus, huh? Ask him about his obsession with movie trivia! He knows every director of every film ever made, and where it was made, and what the budget was! He’s like Rainman! Tell me that’s not geeky!”
Seamus jumped on the defensive, “Hey! Movies are cool! Everybody watches movies! That has nothing to do with creating pretend computer families and buying them pretend computer furniture!”
“Look, my point is that you and Lazlo and Natasha and I are all geeks in our own right. Heck, all our friends are – I mean, so you’re a movie dork, right? Now look at TuBlog – he owns almost 10,000 CD’s!”
Nat and Lazlo cried out in unison, “MUSIC DWEEB!”
“Exactly! And how about Vivian? I know for a fact that she played the lead in her high school production of Annie Get Your Gun!”
Again, the chorus cried out, “THEATRE GEEK!”
I nodded in agreement, “Right! So who’s left?”
Seamus volunteered another name, “What about Dr. Greene? What’s his story?”
This one was too easy. “Oh come on, Seamus! He’s a doctor, for god’s sake. He studies DNA and gene splicing for a living. He wrote his thesis on the sexual behavior of fruit flies!”
Natasha raised her hand and said, “Ooh – I know! I know! SCIENCE NERD!”
“Correct again! Thou art getting quite good, Lady Natasha.”
She continued, “Oh, and what about Farnsworth? He’s in, like, twelve different bands.”
We all rang out, “BAND DORK!”
Suddenly, we were all laughing and embracing our newly-confessed geekdom. It was no longer the D&D’s versus the Renaissance Faires, the theatre geeks versus the band dorks. We were all part of the same community of misfits. And somehow, in our collective otherness, we all just… fit.
We realized that there was no longer a need for labels – geek, dork, nerd, dweeb. It didn’t matter, because we had each other. After this emotional breakthrough we experienced, I really hated to draw an end to the evening, but I had to bid farewell to the group.
“Sorry gang, but I’ve got to get home. I have to post a new entry on the blog, and I’ve barely written half of it. See you all next week!”
I walked toward the door and noticed Natasha snickering. I turned to see what was so funny, and heard her whisper to Seamus and Lazlo, “INTERNET SPAZ!”
It’s funny, but no matter how hard we try to outgrow the awkwardness that marked our teen years, occasionally we let slip some vital clue that speaks to a less than popular past. Take the game night my friend Seamus hosted a few weeks ago, for example. After our Monopoly debacle, Lazlo mentioned that he wished he had brought a game from home for us to play that would have been less controversial.
“Like what?” I inquired, still bitter from my painful defeat.
“Oh, I don’t know. Like maybe Battleship.”
Since I only recalled Battleship being a two-player game, I needed more options. “Mmmm, Battleship’s okay, but what other games do you have?”
Lazlo’s face lit up a bit, and he said, “Oh! I do have one other game – it’s called Vampire Hunter.”
Natasha jumped in immediately, “Wait a minute? Vampire Hunter? You have a game called Vampire Hunter? How’s it played?”
Lazlo looked a bit nervous as he realized all eyes were now on him. “Uh, I don’t really know. I only played it the one time. I think I remember that you have to go around the board and collect stuff like garlic, and holy water. And there’s a tower. Something like that.” His voice trailed off. “It’s kind of dumb, I guess.”
Before we could probe deeper, it was time to head home, but the memory of this curious revelation stuck with me. It apparently stuck with Natasha as well, because she brought it up the next week when we were having lunch.
As we looked up at the menu at the sandwich shop, Natasha leaned toward me and said, “So… Lazlo has a vampire game. Hmmm. You know what that means, don’t you?”
I fumbled in my wallet, looking for the ten dollar bill I knew I had seen earlier. “Huh? What are you talking about?”
“If he’s into vampires, he probably played D&D as a kid.”
“Dungeons & Dragons? So what if he did?”
Nat raised her eyebrows, shrugged her shoulders a bit, and said, “I’m just saying. We may not know Lazlo as well as we think we do. What if he’s a Dungeon Master?”
“Okay, the fact that you just said Dungeon Master makes you a bit suspect as well. Maybe you played D&D. Didn’t you wear berets a lot in high school?”
“Look, Jenny. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’m just saying that it’s something we should know about our friends. It’s like if I suddenly found out you were Jewish.”
“Wait – did you just compare D&D to Judaism?”
“Don’t twist my words. You need to ask him.”
“I’m not gonna ask him! Why don’t you ask him!?”
Natasha and I exchanged a few more rounds of, “No you do it,” before ultimately concocting a clever ploy that would casually draw the information out of Lazlo. The next time we were all together at Seamus’ house for poker night, I waited until the perfect moment, and then set out the bait.
“So… I just realized that I missed my 15th high school reunion last summer. Boy. Hard to believe it was over 15 years ago that I was treasurer for the yearbook committee. What about you, Nat? Were you in any clubs in high school?”
“Oh, gosh, yeah. I was involved in all sorts of things. Swim team. Student Congress. You name it. Yup, I sure did love extra-curricular activities.” Natasha flashed me a devilish smile as she continued, “So… how about you Lazlo? What types of things were you involved in when you were a kid?”
“Me? Uh, I was on the soccer team. And I was into debate for a while, but kind of got tired of that after my junior year.”
Natasha started to lay her delicate trap, “Really? See, I would have pegged you for a theater guy. You seem like you could play some good roles.” She watched Lazlo’s face carefully for any signs of fear. “So – did you?”
“Did I what?”
I could see Lazlo’s mind spinning as he tried to process Natasha’s question. “Role-playing? Uh, what do you mean?”
“You know – pretending to be someone you’re not. Fantasy stuff.”
Tiny beads of sweat began to form along Lazlo’s upper lip. He quickly wiped them off, and said, “I… I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”
Seeing that her prey had now stepped into the cage, Natasha went in for the kill, “Okay, let’s just cut the crap. Does the phrase 4th Level Dwarf mean anything to you?”
“Huh? What do you… dwarf? Is that a movie?”
“Look, Lazlo. We can make this easy, or we can make this hard. We know you played D&D – it’s written all over your face. So do you, or do you not, own a pewter dragon with green crystal eyes?”
“NO! I don’t own any dragons!”
“What about pewter warlocks holding crystal orbs? Any of those?”
“I SAID NO! Stop badgering me!”
Lazlo jumped up from the couch and made a move for his backpack. Since she wasn’t done questioning him yet, Natasha grabbed the strap of his backpack just as he was heading toward the door. She tried to get him to stay, “Look, Lazlo. Don’t be so sensitive. We’re just trying to get to know you better – what are you so upset about?”
Without saying a word, he yanked his backpack from her grasp, but he pulled so hard that it flew to the ground. Just as it landed, something fell out and bounced across the floor.
A collective gasp crossed the room as we realized that what had flown out of Lazlo’s backpack was the smoking gun a prosecutor only dreams of – it was a keychain made out of a twenty-sided die, used by only the most skilled and devoted Dungeons & Dragon’s players.
Lazlo’s eyes widened and mouth gaped as he shot across the room to retrieve the die. I felt a disturbing combination of victory and guilt as I watched him desperately grasp at the bouncing die, trying in vain to conceal the symbol of his sordid past.
Broken by Natasha’s relentless cross-examination, Lazlo lay curled up in a ball on the floor, twirling the die in his hand, and muttering something about hydras and orcs. It was at this point that Seamus leapt to Lazlo’s defense. “Back off, ladies! Because if you’re going to start pointing the geek finger, remember that I know a thing or two about you. Both of you!”
Natasha was on such an emotional high from grilling Lazlo that she wasn’t thinking clearly. She should have just backed down, but instead, she egged Seamus on more. “Ooh! Seamus knows ‘a thing or two’ about us! Go ahead and spill it, Deep Throat!”
Seamus took a deep breath and said, “Fine. You want to play it that way? Does the phrase, Renaissance Faire ring a bell, Natasha?”
[TO BE CONTINUED]