The following is an excerpt from my second book, Stories I Tell On Dates, which the Chicago Tribune calls “charming,” Forbes calls “excellent,” and New York Times-bestselling author Jeff Pearlman says is “the most honest and engrossing memoir” he’s ever read.
You can buy a copy here.
A Saturday night
I’m standing at the only sink in the cramped bathroom that’s upstairs at my favorite bar in Kansas City, a place where the staff wears black ties with silver clips, the bar is rimmed with brass, and no one ever asks me how tall I am. Downstairs, at one of the dark wooden tables where I’ve spent too many nights trying to keep out the cold, there’s a girl I think I might like. And whom I think might like me.
But I need to get her alone to find out.
Problem is, she’s with two guys from her band and they’re talking about going back to the hotel, and if that happens I can’t imagine she’ll be able to get away from them even if she wanted to. They aren’t her older brothers, but they sure act like it.
Then an idea hits me.
My hand shakes as I pull my phone out of my pocket. You could say there’s no rush, but you’d be wrong. It’s midnight and they’ll be back in Brooklyn tomorrow. Plus I’ve already been in the bathroom for a couple of minutes and there’s nothing less romantic than her thinking I’ve been up here pooping.
Do you want to get a drink with me — just me — now?
I press Send and put the phone in my pocket, turning to the mirror. As I wash my hands, I blow out my cheeks and grin, not sure how I got here and even less sure what I’ll do when I get downstairs. Because what if I get down there and she hasn’t read the message? I’ll have to ask her if she got it and, Jesus, that’ll be awkward.
I feel the vibration all down my right leg.
I reach for a paper towel, pretending to be nonchalant for as long as it takes to dry my hands. Then I dig for my phone like it’s the gold flake that’s going to pay for this winter’s coal.
I close one eye as I open it, wincing.
My shoulders slump in relief and I smile for the benefit of the mirror.
Downstairs, she has to break the news to her bandmates.
“Uh, yeah, guys,” she says, jerking a thumb at me. “I’m gonna go with him.”
“Oh, OK,” one of them says.
They’re appraising me differently now. I’ve just changed from potential friend to potential Yoko. But we’re all adults here and anyway, one of the benefits of being 6’9” is that people think you’re intimidating.
I shake their hands and she and I push through the bar’s stubborn door and we go next door, to a different bar that’s no longer called what it was then. There, we sit for two hours in front of the array of colorful bottles on the wall, drinking beer and mining away until we hit a vein.
“Yes!” she exclaims. “I know exactly what you mean!”
I’ve been telling her how difficult my life is to explain to people who haven’t been part of that life for very long. She understands, she says, because being in a rock band is a lot like being a professional basketball player. It seems a lot more glamorous than it is, especially to outsiders who can’t understand that yes, traveling is illuminative and formative, but getting up at 3:45 to catch a bus to the airport is not. Especially when you can’t remember what city you’re in.
We dig deeper, and it seems like we’re on sufficiently solid rock that I can admit that I’m a little mixed-up now that basketball is over. I tell her I’ve been seeing a therapist in order to deal with the end of the only profession I’ve known. My psychologist says it’s like I’ve been through a divorce, or like I’m a 65-year-old man who’s been put out to pasture at State Farm.
Either way, it’s going to take a while.
She nods as she looks at the mirror.
“I get it. Because, for us, it’s hard to do this sort of thing without it becoming your entire life.”
I want to hug her, because this is what I’m discovering about myself in my therapist’s office: that I screwed up somewhere along the way. While everyone else was learning that they were worthwhile whether they were good at their jobs or not, I kept attaching my self-worth to my ability to a play a game that was bound to let me down, physiologically and chronologically.
We stare into our drinks and I wonder if she has a boyfriend. I haven’t asked, because I am trying my best to stay in the moment — something I’m learning about thanks to meditation and a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn.
But moments add up whether we like it or not and pretty soon, the bar is closing and we’re on the street in the dark.
Her hotel isn’t far, so I tell her I’ll walk her.
I’m wondering if she’ll invite me up, but when we get to the parking lot it becomes clear that this will be no wild, sex-fueled first night. Her band’s appearance in Kansas City isn’t exactly Zeppelin at Shea Stadium. They’re two to a room at a hotel that straddles the line dividing boutique and Super 8, leaving us in the parking lot hemming and hawing like one of us is trying to buy a used car.
It’s such a stereotype, too: end of the night, standing outside her hotel, not drunk, but a few drinks in. It’s too obvious, too predictable. Plus, my brain says. You might see her again. It’d be cool to have her as a friend.
But then my brain says something else.
I bend down. I lean toward her. I kiss her.
She kisses me back.
It is lovely, our kiss. Not because it is a great kiss because what first kiss is?
No, it is lovely because it is unexpected; because when we got up today neither of us had an inkling that this is how our day would end. Or at least, not much inkling. I’d be a liar if the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
When we are done, we have that little hug that post-kiss humans do.
Then she says, “How did you know to do that?”
A middle school crush is like the Wave at a baseball game. You can tell the direction it’s headed. You might even be able to guess how long it’ll last. But who knows what combination of factors caused some guy in Section 29 to put down his beer, throw up his hands, and get the thing going.
My Wave started in seventh grade, around the time I was assigned a desk behind Lisa Zerr in Language Arts. Lisa was eminently crushable thanks to her shiny brown hair, her rapidly developing breasts, and her palpable disdain for authority, which manifested in the names of rock bands she’d scrawled on her plain, blue notebook — a far cry from the Trapper Keepers the rest of us conformists toted through the halls.
But what I most liked about Lisa was simpler than any of that. I liked her face. Just looking at it made me feel like everything I was worried about — which consisted chiefly of the Kansas City Royals’ playoff drought, what had happened at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, and the occasional prepubescent existential crisis — would work out OK.
I was desperate for a way to get Lisa to turn that face my way more often. But everything I thought of seemed bogus, the sort of question that would mark me a king-sized dweeb. I couldn’t ask her who the bands were; everybody else probably knew who Warrant was. And it didn’t seem like a great idea to bring up how rad I thought Lisa looked in her red-and-black cheerleading outfit; that seemed a little creepy.
Then, one Thursday, Max Phalen and I were singing the praises of a certain sitcom about a certain kid doctor.
Lisa whirled in her desk.
“You like Doogie Howser?”
As I basked in the full force of Lisa’s smile, I mentally apologized to Max. I’d just found a new Ebert.
Pretty soon, Lisa got into the habit of turning around to talk to me every day before Language Arts, even on non-Thursdays. I was getting used to the routine, the banter, the way I felt when she looked at me (like I’d just doubled down the line in Little League).
And then it happened.
She touched my arm.
My Wave had just made a full circuit of the stadium.
There was one problem: I didn’t know how to keep it going. Then, along came a middle school dance and I thought I was saved.
It was never clear who put up the posters for our middle school dances. The secretaries? The cheerleaders? Overzealous parents? It was a mystery that confounded me as thoroughly as any conversation with Lisa Zerr that didn’t involve Doogie Howser.
What was not a mystery was how the music would be supplied.
BRING YOUR TAPES! the posters said.
There was no specific set of guidelines regarding what was allowed and what was not. While anything by Eazy-E was frowned upon, our principal Mr. Neilsen (who doubled as the DJ) took a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward the playlists. The Eighties had just ended, so there were plenty of tunes by the likes of Madonna, George Michael, and Prince. Plus “hair metal” and its ubiquitous power ballads. Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Mötley Crüe’s “Without You” and White Lion’s “When the Children Cry” — these all figured heavily in the mix.
I didn’t own any cassettes; my exposure to music consisted of whatever I could hear out of the clock radio I’d gotten for Christmas two years before. (Which, thanks to Clint Byrd, was exactly two years after I should have had a clock radio.) So my preparation for my first-ever dance consisted of putting on the navy blue chamois shirt my mother had bought on sale at JC Penney, tucking it into my tan Dockers, and riding to Ozawkie where, after we parked in the drop-off circle in front of the school, my father turned to me in the Grand Voyager and asked me who I wanted to dance with.
My response was something between a murmur and a mumble. I wasn’t used to my father asking me about my personal life. Mostly, I knew my father as someone who yelled at me about buckets — not stepping in them when I was swinging a baseball bat, and trying to look like a man when they were full of water and I was transporting them to our chickens.
“OK,” he said. “Whoever it is, just ask.”
I took a breath while I tried to process this new side of my father.
“But what if she says no?”
He smiled then, his graying mustache straightening over his lip.
“Who cares? In a hundred years, it isn’t going to matter anyway.”
I nodded as I thought about the wisdom he’d just dispensed.
It made a lot of sense, when you thought about it. In a hundred years, I was going to be dead, Lisa was going to be dead, even Nikki Sixx was going to be dead. So what did it matter if Lisa shut me down harder than Public Enemy?
“OK,” I said, flashing my dad what I hoped was a confident smile. “I’ll try.”
Inside the darkened music room where my classmates were milling around, I immediately regretted my entire wardrobe. It was clear that my friends’ ensembles were far cooler than mine. I mean, Darin Densmore had a shirt made of silk!
Darin brought another asset to the dance floor: he wasn’t terrified of our female counterparts. This didn’t make Darin unique. Oliver Bledsoe had hit puberty around the same time as Darin (about three years before me). The difference between the two was that Darin didn’t make fun of me about this hormonal discrepancy, which was why Darin had become my new Best Friend of Record. Also, Darin played trombone, like I did. But this fact — that Darin and I were rapidly becoming so close that when he left for college in August after our senior year I would break down and cry — did not mean he was going to be at my side throughout this middle school dance.
He had rugs to cut.
I took one of the chairs that ringed the room. It wasn’t long before my fellow wallflowers joined me. Max Phalen, wearing a rugby shirt with horizontal stripes in green, yellow, and red, as if he was supporting the soccer team from Ghana. Then Clint Byrd, his clothes lined up with mine on the cool spectrum. (We’d made up since the baseball card trade, Clint and me. Tramps like us needed as many allies as we could get.)
Meanwhile, Lisa Zerr was a thousand miles away, sitting and laughing with her friends on the other side of the dance floor. And I couldn’t imagine how I would close the gap — how I could get that Wave going again.
But then, after three songs that left the dance floor looking like a hand grenade had just gone off, I caught a break: the “Snowball” dance. Whenever Mr. Neilsen paused the song and said, “Snowball!” into the microphone inside his makeshift DJ booth, everyone had to switch partners. If there were still kids on the sidelines, you had to ask one of them. This meant it was inevitable that A) someone would ask me and that B) I would subsequently have to ask someone else.
It was almost too easy.
Because, even after being armed with this godsend, I still couldn’t muster the chutzpah to ask Lisa Zerr to dance — couldn’t remember my father’s surprising wisdom about how, in a hundred years, it wasn’t going to matter anyway.
So instead, I relegated myself to the second and third tier of my female classmates: your Erin Turkelsons, your Hannah Smyths, your Sheila Joneses. Then I went back and sat down with Max and Clint, ignored by everyone.
Well, almost everyone.
When I was seven, in one of my mother’s many efforts to make sure I became Well-Rounded, she’d enrolled me in a square-dancing club. The other boys and I wore Western suits; the girls wore poufy dresses in sky blue or marigold yellow. We practiced in the Methodist church basement, learning our round-your-pardners and our do-si-dos to a level of proficiency that, in high school, when our forward-thinking gym teacher organized a unit on dancing, I had to make an effort to actively forget half of what I knew to avoid running the risk of being marked as the dork who knew how to square dance.
We were assigned partners at one of the first square dance meetings-slash-practice sessions. Mine had been Nancy Smolinski.
It was probably this sense of shared connection that caused Nancy to feel possessive anytime music started playing and bodies started moving. Either that or the fact that, truth be told, I’d been a damn good square-dancer.
Somewhere near the punch bowl, ‘round about the time Mr. Neilsen was cuing up a slow Steve Winwood song, Nancy threw her arms around me.
“It’s my turn,” she whispered into my ear, as if people were waiting in line for the honor. I probably would have gone for it, except for the look in her jet-black eyes. That look was terrifying — it promised a dance now, a blowjob in two years. (Not that I knew exactly what a blowjob was; I just had a feeling.)
Nancy lived with her mother in a trailer that was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks that ran to Meriden’s grain Co-op. And while at Jefferson West this was hardly enough to make anyone think twice — half my friends lived in trailers or might as well have — it was just enough to make her seem like trouble to me.
So I told her I had to go to the bathroom.
On my way out of the music room I noted a strange combination of exhilaration and relief. The former because someone liked me. The latter because I’d gotten away!
I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, of course, and this wouldn’t have been a problem if the middle school bathroom had been a normal bathroom: urinal, wall, urinal, a few stalls with toilets. But our middle school bathroom wasn’t a normal bathroom. I mean, it got off to a reasonable start: the urinals were floor-length models, the sort that should be de rigueur in every men’s room in the world. But after that, things took an unacceptable turn: the toilets in the main bathroom at Jefferson West Middle weren’t enclosed by doors. And even that would have been mildly excusable, if those toilets had at least been separated by walls. But that element of design had eluded whomever had erected this particular pair of shitters, and so those toilets sat like griffons overlooking a mid-city plaza, daring someone to use them. And what was incomprehensible to shy little ol’ me — someone who hadn’t done real business in a school bathroom since an emergency clean-up in second grade, necessary when he’d accidentally pooped his pants while trying to fart when his bus had bounced over the one speed bump in the Greater Meriden Metropolitan Area — was that someone sat astride one of those steeds, raining assaults both physical and olfactory on the water below.
Specifically, Justin Bridges, sitting there with a grin like a watermelon.
“You watch that tape of your mom and dad lately?”
In other words, the bathroom wasn’t the safe haven it might have been, and I did a lot of standing extremely close to that glorious floor-length urinal, pretending to pee before zipping up with a mock-satisfied sigh. I didn’t need Justin Bridges knowing I was too scared to pee in front of him.
I didn’t say anything as I moved to the sink, where I was going to continue my subterfuge with a thorough hand-washing.
As I turned off the faucet, Justin Bridges said, “Good luck with the ladies, PMS.”
The irony in this sneering bit of faux-encouragement was that the first person I’d told my middle name was Lisa Zerr.
We’d been standing in the lunch line when she’d asked.
I’d been thrilled because middle names: that was, like, intimate!
“Oh,” she said when I told her. “Murphy, that’s cool. Irish, I guess.”
My belly had gotten warm, then, because she was right. Murphy was Irish, which was a fact I thought only I’d known.
“Wait a second,” said Oliver Bledsoe. “That means your initials are-”
And the rest was history. The news spread up and down the line like a prairie fire, explosions of laughter popping up every so often.
Had I known, by then, how to laugh at myself, I probably could have survived the fire. But I did not know, by then, how to laugh at myself. Plus, my initials’ potential as a punch line had never occurred to me. I didn’t completely understand what was so funny about PMS. I mean, I knew some of the girls in our classes were getting their periods. And I understood what a period was, conceptually. (Of course I did, with the mother I had.)
But pre-menstrual syndrome? That was well beyond my understanding of the English language and the acronyms it sprouts.
So I did the only thing I could do: I stood there with a wrinkled brow for several beats too long, right before I whipped out the only weapon I had in my arsenal: “Shut up, guys!”
That night, I asked my mother how she — a nurse! — could have made such an egregious nomenclatural oversight.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “When you were born, they hadn’t even coined the term!”
This, it turns out, was wildly inaccurate. The term “premenstrual syndrome” first appeared in medical literature in 1953, long before my birth in the late 1970s. But, I didn’t have Wikipedia dot org at my disposal, so my mother’s explanation was enough to leave me feeling sufficiently reassured that I came to my own defense the next day, back in the lunch line.
“Guys! Remember how my initials stand for pre-menstrual syndrome? Well, they hadn’t even made up that term when I was born, hahaha.”
Oliver Bledsoe erupted in laughter.
“We don’t care when they came up with the term! It’s hilarious either way. And thanks for reminding us!”
So, instead of enduring one day of initials-based ridicule in the lunch line, I endured two. Plus whatever auxiliary opportunities presented themselves, like with Justin Bridges in the bathroom.
I gave Justin a half wave over my shoulder. And then it was back into the maw of the dance, to dodge Nancy Smolinski once more, and to hope Lisa Zerr stumbled into my arms.
But alas, at that first dance, I got no closer to Lisa Zerr than a glance from somewhere near the shelves that stored the tubas.
No matter, though. Before long, other social outlets were blooming like the heads on a hydra. There were garage birthday parties, which turned into dances. There were church parties, which also turned into dances. There was more dancing going on in Meriden, Kansas, in 1990 than there was in Elmore City, Oklahoma, in 1978.
The point, though, is this: I still had a chance to make my father proud — to make my move on Lisa Zerr.
Church-sponsored dances were usually held on Friday nights after high school football games. Theoretically this was a good idea; it gave us somewhere to go on a Friday. As long as we were inside the church, it didn’t matter if half of us had tiny boners in our slacks. At least we were IN the church and, therefore, closer to God. (And away from the brake fluid fumes we could have been sniffing, which is a thing people in rural towns in Kansas sometimes did. Still do, I’d wager.)
But in reality, the combination of the end of the school week, the nighttime, and the unreleased testosterone provoked by watching our high school heroes try to smash opposing high school heroes made for a Wild West atmosphere that, inevitably, resulted in some dramatic arc or another: a breakup, threats of a fight, a handsy makeout during Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses.”
I spent the week before our first-ever church dance trying to figure out how I could get Lisa Zerr to dance with me. I had thoroughly buddied up to Lisa by then, engaging naturally a pathetic methodology that almost every male will recognize: I was trying to use the Friend Shortcut. I brought up Doogie Howser whenever I could. I pretended I didn’t like Language Arts. I calculated ways to bring the conversation back around to middle names because now that she knew mine, that was basically like she’d seen me naked.
But while I was getting good at finding common conversational ground for three minutes before Language Arts started, I didn’t know how I might aim the discourse toward anything romantic, i.e., Lisa and me dancing together. This wasn’t true just because I was a coward.
It was also true because of Layne Bayer.
Layne Bayer was Lisa Zerr’s boyfriend. He was also — damn him — an all-around good guy. His family was one of the pillars of the Jefferson West community. His brother, one year older, was, like Layne, a better-than-average athlete and a better-than-average student and better-than-average-looking. Their parents were young and hip and had money, at least by Jefferson County standards.
Also, I thought Layne Bayer was the bee’s knees. I didn’t dare get between him and his girl.
Still, though, Lisa was so tan.
So, you going to the dance tonight? <- This was my opener, couched fastidiously for the previous fifteen minutes of Language Arts.
She smiled. <- This meant yes.
…. < — This is where I was nervous.
I think you should save a dance for me. <- This is what she said that nearly caused me to enter atrial fibrillation.
I think that’s a great idea. <- This is what I said before I almost collapsed.
I’d been afraid the Wave was gone for good, dead somewhere in left field. But it looked like someone was thinking about starting it up again.
I went to the football game, which our high school heroes lost, continuing a trend that would last until Darin Densmore took over as quarterback a few years later. Afterward, my mother dropped me off at the Methodist Church with a promise to see me in a couple of hours, not unlike when she’d dropped me off for those square-dancing lessons. But just because it was my mother dropping off didn’t mean I’d forgotten my dad’s words — words I was finally ready to act on.
In a hundred years, it isn’t going to matter anyway.
I nearly skipped down the steps I usually trod on Wednesday nights for Boy Scout meetings, ready for my reward.
Tonight was the night: I was going to dance with Lisa Zerr.
I did a quick circuit of the church basement which, thanks to a few streamers and a carefully chosen lighting scheme (they’d turned off most of them), looked far different than I was used to. Notably: there was no Boy Scout flag present.
I found Max and Clint and we got punch that we took to the chairs we’d commandeered. We made a tiny circle and set about making it look like we didn’t care if we ever danced with anyone. At other dances, this would have been entirely a façade on my part. But this time the apathy I was attempting to exude was an accurate representation of my true feelings.
I didn’t want to dance with Anyone.
I wanted to make sure I was available whenever Lisa offered delivery on her promise.
I sat for a song (“In the Air Tonight”), got up for more punch during another song (“You’re the Inspiration”), sat for another song (“Livin’ on a Prayer”), went to the bathroom during another (“Straight Up”).
After an hour, I was worried. Lisa and Layne hadn’t left each other’s sides, showed no signs of doing so, and Lisa hadn’t even looked my way. How was I going to get her away from Layne?
I’d danced with Erin Turkelson once, but that was very obviously JUST AS FRIENDS, so there was no way Lisa could be mad at me, was there? No, no, she just hadn’t gotten to me yet.
Mike + the Mechanics.
More Bon Jovi.
I looked down at the Timex — not an Ironman, because my parents couldn’t quite afford that — and got the bad news.
It was 10:30. We had only half an hour left.
Bell Biv Devoe.
I looked at my watch.
Then I heard it.
First, the opening strains of a piano, before:
Look into my eyes
And you will see
What. You. Mean. To. Me
Search your heart
Search your soul
Every dance needs a last song. By our sophomore year in high school, it was almost always Boyz II Men’s “The End of The Road.” By the time I was a senior, reflecting the change in attitudes of both my classmates and country music at the time, it was “The Dance” by Garth Brooks.
But in seventh grade, it was this one: from the soundtrack to the Kevin Costner semi-classic, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Bryan Adams’s “Everything I Do (I Do It For You).”
I stood, ready for the Wave to hit my section, ready to throw my arms up…and around Lisa. She’d tell Layne that, look, she had to go right now. Then her eyes would find mine, and we’d have the dance that had been promised not just earlier today, but from the moment we’d ever started chatting before Language Arts.
It would be the first of many dances, the first step of many steps toward…who knew, who cared?!
What mattered was that we were going to start, tonight!
I looked at Lisa. But Lisa wasn’t looking at me. In fact, Lisa’s eyes were shut tight, because Lisa and Layne Bayer were MAKING OUT.
Full-on FRENCH KISSING.
Lisa, seriously, you don’t seem to understand.
I would fight for you,
I’d lie for you,
Walk the wire for you,
Well, OK, I probably wouldn’t die for you; we’re 13, after all.
The rest of our comrades made their way to the dance floor, preparing to “hold” (stand eight inches away from) their favorite partners. Darin Densmore and Keri Donald. Erin Turkelson and Oliver Bledsoe.
Even Nancy Smolinski was out there.
But not Lisa and Layne, sitting on orange plastic chairs approximately 15 feet away from me, still Hoovering away at one another’s faces.
The Wave was done, finished off just a couple of sections over.
I looked down at the floor, squeezing my eyes shut so tightly that little golden stars formed.
How could I have been such an idiot? Of course Lisa Zerr didn’t want to dance with me, not when she had Layne Bayer on her arm.
When I opened my eyes, I was still hunched over my knees, which gave me a good view of the watch on my wrist — the watch that had been reminding me of my failure all night — and I hit upon an idea.
While not an Ironman, my watch did have an alarm function AND a stopwatch function. I turned to Max Phalen, who’d also been passed over for a last dance, and looked down at my left hand, where my right hand was poised and ready.
He chuckled, so when Lisa and Layne leaned in for another makeout session, I hit Start. And so, Max and Clint and I spent all six minutes and thirty-four seconds of Bryan Adams’s second-most-famous song timing the kisses between Lisa Zerr and Layne Bayer.
By Monday, I’d pretty much forgotten about Friday night. I mean, I hadn’t forgotten about the ruination of my crush on Lisa Zerr. I’d just banished it to the part of my mind reserved for painful memories of cleaning out the chicken house and that time I shit my pants on the bus in Meriden.
I went to Language Arts assuming it would be like most Mondays. Lisa and I would laugh about our weekends and I would stare longingly at her notebook, wondering what it would be like to be trusted with the knowledge of who in the hell those devilish-looking bands were.
But this Monday was different. Today, she was ignoring me, busying herself with vocab work she usually put off until the last possible second. Could she have found out about my timekeeping?
No way; we’d been pretty surreptitious. And who would have told her?
Then, finally, at a break, she leaned over my desk, her breasts straining at the Jane’s Addiction T-shirt she was wearing.
How was your Friday night? <- This was her opener.
I shrugged. <- This is what I did instead of admitting the truth, which was: Terrible! I mean, come on, Lisa, a dance with you would have meant everything to me. Was it so much to ask for you to make good on the one promise you made me?
What was our best time? <- This is when my blood turned to ice.
What do you mean? <- This is what I said, even though I knew exactly what she meant. And even though she knew I knew exactly what she meant.
If I’d been someone else — someone who knew, well, ANYTHING about girls — I might have nonchalantly reported the truth, which was 54 seconds. But I was not that person. And even though I felt in my heart that what I’d done to Lisa was far less damaging than what she’d done to me, I was the one who felt guilty.
I was scared because I was still a little boy and Lisa Zerr was very nearly a woman, and now I’d made her mad.
Lisa shook her head, her brain already racing out in front of mine, just like it would do a few years later when she accelerated her progress through high school so she could go off to college a year early.
Then, saying nothing, she turned around and went back to her work.
We never went out or “went out” or dated, Lisa Zerr and me. We certainly never FRENCH KISSED. This wasn’t true because I timed Lisa Zerr making out with Layne Bayer in the Meriden United Methodist Church basement.
It was true because I never did anything about my crush on Lisa Zerr.
Nancy Smolinski understood what my dad was trying to tell me when he dropped me off at that first middle school dance, deploying the best advice he’d ever given that didn’t involve buckets or backboards.
It isn’t enough to have the crush. You also have to do something about it. You have to take the plunge, make the leap, go for broke.
You have to ask the girl to dance.
Or, if it happens to be the case that you are a very slow learner and it takes a really long time for fatherly advice to sink in: you have to ask the girl from the band if she wants to get a drink, just the two of you, and you have to endure the awkward departure of the girl’s band, and then you have to kiss the glamorous girl from the band in the unglamorous parking lot of her mid-glamorous hotel.
Well, because it is possible that the kiss in the parking lot will lead to the girl from the band becoming your girlfriend, despite the fact that she lives in Brooklyn and you live in Kansas City.
But mostly because:
In a hundred years, it isn’t going to matter anyway.
Paul Shirley is the author of two books. He’s also written for Slate, Esquire, and The Wall Street Journal.
Buy a copy of Stories I Tell On Dates here.