We were all in the bathroom when she said it. Each passive-aggressively vying for mirror time as we adjusted our matching neon green beanies and re-applied our Dr. Pepper Lipsmackers.
“Ha ha ha, Shannan … you are so funny! I think that’s why I’m so skinny! You make me laugh so much. Ha ha ha! Do you know laughing burns calories? That’s why I’m SO skinny!”
I relinquished my mirror space to the other vultures and peered down at my 13-year-old C cups desperately trying to escape the confines of my Limited Too top. My boat-feet, shoved into under-sized Mary Jane platforms, glowered back at me like black suns setting over my lady mountains. As I peeled apart the portions of my thighs left exposed over the sagging crotch of my 5, 7, 9 pantyhose, I realized that the only thing more ridiculous than what the third Kate in our group of future mean girls had just said was the fact that I had spent years pretending to be a better singer than weightlifter, brownie-baker than hot-dog-eating contestant, Spice Girls dance choreographer than Punisher. I had spent the majority of middle school feeling like I was wandering around a room full of Precious Moments, wearing rollerblades and a camping backpack. Yet there I was, an accomplice, a sister to the Slaves of the Comb and Mirror.
I finished blow-drying my pits, and silently made my exit.
That night, I deviated from my televisual diet of any show where a 15 year-old endures a pregnancy scare and a pool party in the same week, and stumbled upon a routine by a comedian named Lewis Black. He resembled a sort of aging Jewish Godzilla, trudging angrily about the stage, roaring and spitting about some woman who never would’ve gone to college if it hadn’t been for that horse. What a loser, I thought, as he rambled on about the ludicracy of a Starbucks across from a Starbucks. What a brilliant, discerning, hilarious loser!
Like Ru Paul on her fateful day of recognition, it suddenly dawned on me why I’d been so uncomfortable all those years. Dear God, I realized, I am undeniably, innately, irreparably uncool. And what’s worse is … I loved it.
And I’m not talking about the hold-the-ice-in-my-water-I’m-on-a-diet uncool that lands a sassy and pseudo-ugly fringe-humper on the pages of American Apparel, or the type of uncool that makes you use the phrase “avant-guard” in public. The house I grew up in elevated Jesus to the status of covert CIA agent: “He is the unseen guest at every meal,” reads a sign hanging above my dinner table, “The silent listener in every conversation.” For a good portion of a decade, if I heard a click or crackle on the phone, I’d ask my friend to quiet down to see if Jesus had tapped the line.
I burned if I left the nightlight on; at 13, I had the lat-size-to-height ratio of a Slavian gymnast, and I was five foot ten; I didn’t distinguish the word condo from condom until high school. My awkward growth was in no way benign.
So, starting freshman year, I sought categorical refuge in the teenage outliers. But even the fringe kids seemed to have some standard of rad that I couldn’t live up to. I hadn’t slept with a teacher, so the poets were out; basketball interfered with my potential drug habit; my calves, thighs and waist are approximately the same size, barring me from the skinny-jeaned salvation of the emo crowd; and, despite being part Viking, I never could muster enough “Bro’s” to fit in with the athletes. I was AC Slater on the outside, Screech on the inside and Peewee Herman everywhere else.
Cornell should’ve been my salvation: A city of over-talented, under-socialized nerds, pansies, Gameboy fans and eerily intelligent jocks. In this mecca for dorks, the bar of social aptitude would lower, and we’d all live in a peaceful, open commune of admitted lack of cool.
I don’t know what I expected from my first frat party — maybe hundreds of happy nerds dancing around a keg of Zima to Hanson’s “MmmBop” while someone invited everyone to their tree house for after-hours. But what I found was sunglasses. Hundreds of sunglasses at night.
At first I thought, hoped even, that everyone had just left a poker tournament, or were all born blind, or I had stumbled upon a Cyclops fan convention. Why, in God’s name, would anyone where sunglasses in the dark?
I walked up to a group of shaded eyes, looking for the toilet. No one responded, but continued to text furiously, while facing each other in a circle. Finally, a lone brunette pointed up the stairs. “But you can’t go up,” she decreed, “unless you know a brother.”
One afternoon my sophomore year, after a particularly gruesome night of sitting in a fraternity attic, wondering how many more head-butts and same-sex ass slaps I could endure, I found myself staring at a flyer that read, “Want to be the next Vonnegut?” Yes.
So, I’ll let you in on my big secret. Throughout all my ramblings, my meandering columns and paper-thin pop culture references, I’ve actually had a motive — a message, if you will.
If you’ve ever farted in public and proudly owned up to it, you already know it. If the majority of your humor is self-deprecating, you probably breathe it. I’m talking about the freedom that comes with acknowledging, coming to terms with and eventually falling in love with your own personal lack of cool. Drop the pretension, and loll around in your gleeks, your queefs and your Special Olympic-worthy game. Laugh at yourself, and everyone laughing will be laughing with you.
I like to think that the majority of my readers have been laughing with me, nervously, like they peed a little and are trying to think of a way to cover it up. I’ve received wonderfully positive responses from characters from engineering professors to drunk frat boys to a small terrifying female who informed me that I was a “funny bitch” and walked away while I tried to shake her hand. So thanks to my texting, Facebooking and overall creeping readers who encourage my public misbehavior.
Please read my further thank yous to a hip-hop beat:
Gracias to Carlos, who provided me a forum to make the maximum number of camel toe references possible in two and a half years. To Olivia, Dave and Sammy for interpreting and translating my columns, effectively submitted in braille. To PerBear, the first to call me self-aware — the adult euphamism for self-conscious. And to generations of Sports section lovers who let me dabble my crazy in your part of The Sun.
Spanx to my fam, who politely pretends not to have read my columns — especially the mam, my oft-referenced heroine and matriarch of my humor and misplaced pride. To my team, my test-readers, who laugh even when they don’t know why. To Jo-face, Redhead-Idol, MalPal, Rob-is-home, Clyde and anyone else who let me pick their brains and steal their jokes. You are each and all too weird to live, too rare to die.
Catch you on the flip flop.