When I Was a Loser and Another Random Ten

And now for something a little less serious and gloomy.

I just finished reading John McNally's essay anthology When I Was a Loser, which-- in some places-- was really, really good. Basically, 25 young (judging by most of the essays' references to late 70s, 80s, and early 90s cultures) essayist were asked to write essays about their adolescent experiences based around the prompt "Write about a time when you were a loser." Since, I suspect, we've all felt like a loser at some point, people had a lot of different ideas about what the word means and how it applies to them.

As I said, in places the book is brilliant-- I had no idea that Stephen King's son Owen was such a funny, insightful essayist, but here he is-- and in other places... not so inspired. But what do you expect? It's 25 different voices-- they probably won't all be your cup of tea.

So my idea for some weekend fun is to ask the people who contribute to and read this blog to, briefly, write your own response to McNally's prompt. Write about a time when you were a loser-- however you understand the word. And don't feel limited to just high school, either-- if you were a bigger dork in middle school, by all means, write about it. I'll go first:

You might be surprised to learn that I was not always the cool, confident person who stands in the front of the classroom, smirking knowingly and dispensing wisdom like Pez. In fact, I was the kind of fat kid with bad skin who could tell you the difference between a mutant (like Cyclops or the Beast) and an altered human (like Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk). Furthermore, I could tell you that Wolverine-- with his healing factor and his metallic skeleton and claws-- was an example of both.

Most of my friends were like me-- into comic books, role playing games, Star Wars. And though we formed our own tight-knit circle of friends, we were not, as you can imagine, particularly popular with the ladies throughout the middle school.

Things began to change in high school, though, when we met a girl who I'll call... The Girl. The Girl started hanging out with us-- I couldn't tell you why she'd want to hang out with us, but we were glad to have her, not just to have a girl around but because she was smart and funnier than the rest of us and introduced us to all sorts of cool music that we might otherwise have missed out on-- or at least not discovered until much later. In a word, she was genuinely cool. Furthermore, with her inclusion, our group now had a member who was not a virgin-- she'd actually, really done it, and could tell us all sorts of things about sex-- real sex, not the stuff we'd read in letters to the Penthouse magazines we'd stolen from our dads. And what's more, she started dating one of us, a guy I'll call... The First Guy. I don't think they had sex, but they certainly fooled around a bit and he got to experience things he'd never experienced before. Sadly, though, she broke up with him at a dance, and wound up having sex with someone else that very same night.

You might expect that the group would have rallied around The First Guy and expelled The Girl from our midst. You'd be mistaken. In fact, we enjoyed having her around-- as I said, we felt grateful to have such an intelligent and enlightened presence in our midst-- and I think even The First Guy eventually admitted to himself that he'd been damn lucky to have the weeks with her that he did have-- she was clearly out of his league. They were able to become friends again pretty quickly, as I recall.

So The Girl moved on to another member of our group, a guy who shall be known as... The Second Guy. Again, they fooled around a bit-- maybe even had sex (I can't really recall at this point), and then, of course broke up-- with a stunning lack of hard feelings. Again, we all went back to being really close friends.

Shortly after the break-up, The Girl and I began talking on the phone. A lot. And, of course, we saw each other a lot, whenever the group was together. But one day, while my parents were out playing golf and wouldn't be home for hours, the Girl called.

"What are you up to?" she asked.

"Nothing," I replied.

"Mind if I come over?"

This, my 15-year-old lizard brain realized, was my chance. I knew how things were going to go down-- the pattern was simple:

1) Become The Girl's Really Good Friend
2) Have The Girl come over when your parents aren't home
3) Have an awesome sexual experience-- maybe even lose your virginity!
4) Walk away friends

It would be perfect! I was practically shaking as her mother's car pulled into the driveway, dropping her off. I met her at the door.

"Hey," I greeted.

"Hey," she replied.

She came in. We stood, facing each other. And that's when I realized my folly: There had to be a step between steps 2 and 3... and I had no idea what that step entailed.

Years later, in college, of course, I learned the crucial step that leads to losing one's virginity: Get drunk (I'm sure other people have a different step, maybe involving talking or candlelight or holding hands or something. I only know what worked for me). But if I knew then what I know now...

Well, I probably wouldn't have sat down on the opposite end of the couch when she sat down, stared at my hands and asked, "You wanna watch When Harry Met Sally?"

So that's what we did. About halfway through, I think the girl realized her mistake. She thought she was used to fooling around with absolute dorks, but she hadn't really met King Dork of Loser Castle until that afternoon. About halfway through the movie, she called her mom to come pick her up and take her home, leaving me perplexed as to how I could have failed to have finally had sex. Or touched a breast. Or at least French-kissed.

The good news is, we remained friends (as you probably would have expected, knowing my circle of friends), and I still felt that she was the coolest person in our group. I mean, how awesome was that, to have almost come close to having some type of sexual encounter?

That's my loser story. Here's a Random Ten:

John Cale-- "I Keep A Close Watch"
Elvis Presley-- "Blue Christmas"
Bob Dylan-- "Girl of the North Country"
Isaac Hayes-- "Theme from Shaft"
Macy Gray-- "Ghetto Love"
Reel Big Fish-- "Where Have You Been?"
Elvis Costello-- "Rocking Horse Road"
Sam Cooke-- "Twisting the Night Away"
REM-- "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight"
Reel Big Fish (again?!)-- "Unity"

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