This happened to me the other day, in my shop of all places. And it was not pleasant.
In walks this guy who, for as long as I have known him, has always thought that he was so freaking cool. Everything he said was funny. Everything he did was awesome. Everything he thought was brilliant. And every girl he wanted, he got.
In his mind, anyway.
This is precisely the type of guy you hope grows up to be fat, frumpy, and alone, at some worthless, dead-end job. Hating every aspect of his life. I know it sounds mean, but trust me, if you knew this guy, he deserves it. He deserves it, and then some.
So he’s in my shop, and at first he pretends he doesn’t recognize me. And then he does that feigned super-casual double-take of recognition: “Two, is that you? I don’t believe it. How have you been, man?”
First of all, I’m not his “man.” I hate this dude with a deep passion, and he knows it. Second, we both know he couldn’t care less about how I have been. We view each other with the same level of seething anymosity. Always have. Always will.
“No way, man, do you work here?” he asks, and I know what he means, cheerful on the outside, but clearly even more tickled, in an evil way, that this is where I have landed, sweeping the aisles at some candy shop in the same town we grew up in.
“Actually…” I start to say, wanting to tell him that I own the place, but I can’t get a word in edge-wise, because he is one of those chronic talkers that never let you say anything.
He was telling me how there is no shame in working hard and getting your hands dirty and starting at the ground floor. He tells me that’s how he started out too, and that a good work ethic is a dying trait, and blah, blah, blah…
“Actually…” I attempt again, but there is really no shutting this guy up.
“Actually…” a little bit louder. No break in the talking.
“ACTUALLY!!!” I scream, just as he, unexpectedly, does shut up, and my maniacal shout reverberates around the walls of the shop.
I have his attention now. “What, man? he asks in a way that suggests that this better be important.
And then I realize that I am making a scene. And I also realize that simply owning this shop is not going to be enough. I need to have something big. Something good. Something to justify the scene.
“Actually, I don’t just work here. I do some other very, very important stuff,” I say.
“Stuff?” he asks.
“Yeah, stuff,” I say.
“What kind of stuff?” he asks.
I start to squirm. All I can think of is the book I have been working on. “Um, book stuff,” I offer pathetically.
“Oh really? Are you a writer?” he asks, openly mocking me now.
“Not exactly,” I say, not wanting to reveal my fantastic idea for a Spanish inquisition coloring book for kids to this swine.
“So what do you do?”
I panicked. In these situations, I get flustered, and sometimes start blabbering. The most important sounding word I could think of at the time was “prcoessing.” “It’s more like processing,” I offer pathetically, having no idea what job that would even be. Book processing?
“Oh really?” he asked, calling me on it. “What exactly does a book processor do?”
“Oh, you know. Book processor stuff. I’m kind of like a book processor processor.”
“A book processor processor?” he asked.
“Well, it’s really more like a book book processor.”
“A book book processor? You’re a book book processor? Just book book processing away?” he asks, with a smile that I would love to wipe off his face.
This was getting ugly. I had to turn the tables.
“Oh yeah? What do you do?” I asked.
“Oh, you know,” he said. “This and that.”
This and that? That’s even worse than “stuff” in terms of ambiguity. Who was he to make fun of me? He’s probably a used car salesman. And definitely fatter than he was in high school. A lot.
But I let it go. We chat a little bit more, play the “have you seen so-and-so” game, and then go about our business. He even took some chocolote for the road.
I wonder if we ever fully grow out of high school. Ever get over it. It’s almost like what happens to you then, who you are then, haunts you for the rest of your life. dorks are dorks. Jocks are jocks. Smarties are smart. And jerks are jerks. For better or worse. I wonder if we ever really change. I wonder if we ever feel anything other than 18 on the inside. I wonder if we ever stop caring what other people think.