Once a Dork

February 12, 2020 by Somebody Else

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After a long and stressful day at the office, where he worked as an accounts manager, John returned to his one-bedroom apartment and promptly flopped down on the living room couch, too tired and uninspired to even bother reaching for the remote control. It was a Friday, but that didn't mean much to him. Weekends could sometimes be even more depressing than weekdays, since on the job the constant activity kept his mind off nagging existential matters. Saturdays and Sundays were usually spent halfheartedly trying to find some kind of diversion or another to blot out as much as possible a persistent, nebulous feeling of unease that often overwhelmed him when he was alone and unoccupied. He'd watch a DVD or two, flip around through the TV channels, get a book to read, challenge himself to prepare a new recipe in his kitchen, take a walk through the park, go down to the local bar and have a few drinks, call up an old friend and share a cup of coffee at a local shop, hear some live music, etc. He thought about getting a girlfriend from time to time, but as he'd gotten older, the cons of such an endeavor had come to definitively outweigh the pros, at least as he saw it, with unsatisfactory past experiences as his guide. For the last several years, he'd not had a date, and found himself curiously content with that state of affairs.

Lying on the couch at five-thirty in the afternoon on Friday was only appealing for about ten minutes. He suddenly sat up, dreading the prospect of falling asleep early and then waking up in the wee hours of the morning unable to return to slumber. No, he'd have to do something, anything. So, he fired up his laptop computer and checked out his Facebook account, where he had around five hundred friends, of which maybe two or three were real bona fide pals. Not much going on there. People on the right ranting about this, and people on the left ranting about that. Pictures of kids, can't relate to that. Guess they're kind of cute, whatever. His eyes started to glaze over a bit and wandered to the right side of the page, where they put up suggested friends for you. One name caught his eye. Toni Baylor. There was no picture with it, but there were two common friends associated with the account. These were people John remembered from high school. So, it had to be her.

girl's face on a book

Thirty-two years earlier, John was in tenth grade at Brighton High School, and he had to carpool with some dude who was a senior. The guy had a cool sixties Mustang, wore a chocolate-milk mustache, regularly collected car fare on Fridays, would immediately drive off if you weren't waiting outside when he came by in the mornings, and occasionally talked about how he couldn't wait to graduate from high school. Besides John, he picked up three other students each day before school. One of them was Toni, who was in ninth grade, and dressed and styled her hair as if she could be part of the pop star Prince's female entourage. That was the year of Purple Rain, and Prince was hot, at his peak.

Toni not only emulated Prince's unorthodox visual style, but also his unrelenting sass, hypersexualized self-confidence, and titillating come-ons. At the time, John had no style or self-image except for awkward and insecure, and Toni took cruel and perverse pleasure in calling him "dork," refusing to carry on any meaningful conversation with him, and sitting in the middle back seat right up against him with her hand resting casually upon one of his thighs. To increase the torment and confusion, she would smile wickedly at him from time to time, and burst into enigmatic laughter that told him nothing whatsoever. John quickly realized that she only felt contempt for him, and that the mixed signals were just a mean-spirited effort to make him look like an idiot. Nevertheless, he took the bait in spite of himself, and ended up with a crush on her, even though he knew that deep down inside she was just a bunch of rottenness and emptiness.

With that in mind, he thought, what the hell, and sent out a Facebook friend request. He wondered what she'd come to over the last thirty-two years. Maybe she was all fat and ugly. He checked out his own Facebook picture, taken recently. He looked pretty good in that picture, all things considered. He was doing pretty well in life, had finished college, had been steadily employed since graduation, and had a decent job now. Well, not a great job, not a six-figure job, but hey, a good, solid, middle-class job. He was doing alright. He was minimizing his expenses and saving up a lot of money for an early retirement. He was a pretty desirable guy. Any unmarried woman his age would at least give him a serious look, wouldn't she?

His Facebook friend request was accepted within a few seconds. He jumped right to her home page and saw Toni's profile photo, which seemed current. She had two teenage kids, and listed her marriage status as divorced. In the photo, she still had very long hair, with no hint of gray, and was wearing a solid black outfit with a low cut blouse. John felt a hitch in his throat again as he looked at her. There was still the same mesmerizing beauty, the same icy yet seductive stare, the same projection of sadistic and unyielding egocentricity, almost reptilian, really. The same hopeless feelings of thirty-two years ago came up again.

At the top right of the page, he could see that he'd received a message. He checked, it was from Toni, and simply read: Dork!

He felt a surge of irritation and anger, but gathered his thoughts. Who cares, he mused. What the hell. He shot back a responding message: Do you like what you see?

Might as well respond to sass with sass, finally, after all these years. There was a delay. Finally, the reply: Wouldn't you like to know.

He decided to go with it: What's your cell? There was no delay this time as she sent him the phone number.

He called her. She had nothing to say.

How's your life been?
It sucks, it's been great, whatever, dork.
You got two kids?
Yeah.
What are their names?
Are you a perv? Why do you want to know?
Sorry. Just making conversation.

There was a moment of silence.

You want to meet up somewhere?
With a dork like you? Convince me.
I'm not a dork.
That's what you think, dork. Once a dork, always a dork. You just failed, like you always fail.
You still like Prince?
What do you care?
Aren't you going to ask me what music I like?
No, because I don't care what you like, dork. You're just some guy I used to ride with to school who found me on Facebook.
So, I never meant anything to you?
Hah! You can answer that yourself, dork. Hey, you've been carry a torch for me all these years, haven't you?

For a moment he thought about being really ugly with her, but then realized she'd just hang up in his face, and that'd be the end of that. His mind raced, trying to figure out how best to play her vicious game. Finally, he decided to go for the direct approach.

Want to meet up for coffee at the Waffle House downtown?
Now?
Yeah, sure.

There was an extended pause.

Okay.
But don't stand me up, alright.

She hung up on him.

So, of course, he ran over to Waffle House, and of course he was there waiting for an hour, and of course he called her cell and she didn't answer, and of course he went home and got on Facebook, and sent her another message.

You stood me up, he wrote.
I always stand up dorks, she responded immediately.

For a brief moment, he felt a hot flash of humiliation and despondency, but it vanished as quickly as it came. After a few seconds went by and his thoughts cleared, it occurred to him that he didn't want to have anything to do with her teenage kids. That could really screw up the satisfying simplicity of his life. With that in mind, he unfriended her, drank a beer, watched some TV, and then crawled into bed.

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"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...