Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unzipping the Loser

(Warning: wretched stereotyping ahead.)

Last week, while I was away, I subjected myself to watching a couple of "un-DVR-ed" movies on television. This means I also subjected myself to watching quite a few commercials. The most hideous of these (a category that was very difficult to discern, I might add) was an ad for one of Connecticut’s equally hideous casinos. The characters in this commercial arrive at the casino as bedraggled and exhausted rubes, looking as though they can’t take one more step. But then, with the help of a few computer graphics, they “unzip” themselves from head-to-toe, their tired-and-bedraggled-rube costumes falling around their ankles, where they quickly step out of them, having revealed their true selves: fun-loving sophisticates, ready to gamble away their children’s college funds at the roulette wheel.

Maybe the reason this commercial so irritates me isn’t really the concept or its obnoxious actors. Maybe it isn't even the fact I abhor the idea of anyone enticing people with no money to gamble, which is what those ads are all about. Perhaps, instead, it’s because I’m the one wearing the costume. Unzip me, and underneath what I like to think is a truly fun-loving, fairly successful, bright, and charming sophisticate is a loser. Do you doubt me? Well, let’s take a look at what else happened while I was away. My college roommate Tina and her husband stopped by to join us for a night on their way back from a vacation in Maine.

Tina and I, as we are wont to do, were doing a little bit of reminiscing late Saturday night, while Bob and Eric were talking about I don’t know what, since I wasn’t paying attention, but I’ll take a really wild guess here and pretend it was baseball. After about half an hour of this, Tina reminding me of all sorts of incidents that have been buried way down in the dirt-floored cellar of my memory, it was pretty hard to deny my loser tendencies, especially once two guys we called Mutt and Jeff came climbing up the cellar stairs.

We met Mutt and Jeff at a fraternity party during one of the first weekends we were at school. You have to understand that the fact we were both at a fraternity party is pretty amazing in and of itself. You see, our very first night at school, the night in which most of our fellow dorm mates (we went to a school in which all first-year students are singled out into dorms of their own) were getting a taste of what it was like to have the sort of freedom that allowed them to party all night, we were both in bed around 10:30. Oh yeah, we’d gone to check out one of the big parties, a party at which grain alcohol was being served, spying in from the doorway, but we’d quickly surmised it wasn’t for us. I can sort of understand two shy young women being intimidated by a roomful of people drunk on grain alcohol, but going to bed?? I mean, we didn’t even stay up talking or playing Backgammon or anything. We went to bed: Loser with a capital “L.”

Anyway, we obviously had come a long way from that first night (things happen rapidly during that first week of college) when we ventured out to this fraternity party where we met Mutt and Jeff. Jeff, who was all of about 5’5” (still taller than either one of us), took a shine to Tina, and Mutt, who was probably about 6’2," seemed more interested in me. All females in our dorm had already received the “don’t-walk-anywhere-alone-at-night-even-in-pairs” speech driven into them, accompanied by stories straight out of The Big Book of Urban Legends, featuring just about everything except a man's hook attached to a car door, meant to scare the bejeezus out of all of us. Thus, we’d asked these two gentlemen we barely knew to escort us back to our dorm when we were ready to leave the party, because, of course, two young men claiming to be members of a fraternity couldn’t possibly be the sorts who would force us into a car; drive us off to a secluded spot; rape, kill, and bury us; and bring our muddy shoes back to the dorm to leave posed mysteriously in front of our door as a message to our hall mates. We made it safely back and, giving credit where credit is due, Mutt and Jeff did nothing more than deliver us to our dorm room door. We, becoming ever-more adventuresome, probably stayed up all the way past midnight that night.

A week later, here’s what this Loser was doing on a Friday night: studying. Actually, I wasn’t studying. I was doing calculus problems. On a Friday night. Of course, I didn’t feel like a Loser, because I was rooming with someone who was doing much the same thing (although I think hers were French exercises as she wasn’t taking calculus). The whole weekend ahead of us, and there we were, sitting at our dark brown, institutional desks in our hard, dark brown, institutional straight-backed, matching chairs (in the days before repetitive stress syndrome), doing what I guess we thought we’d come to college to do: schoolwork. A knock at the door interrupted us. Who should it be but Mutt and Jeff? Their sole purpose for coming seemed to be to ask in astonishment,

“Girls, what are you doing studying on a Friday night? No one studies on a Friday night.”

They encouraged us to go out with them (I can’t remember where), but I’m sure it was a pity mission at that point. Needless to say, Mutt and Jeff didn’t pursue us much after that. This Loser had managed even to drive away Mutt and Jeff. I can imagine an entire fraternity house joking about those “girls,” the only two in the entire place doing homework on a Friday night. As a matter of fact, Mutt turned up in a class of mine the following year and acted as though he’d never laid eyes on me.

Now, you would think, fast-forwarding three years to our last year in school that I’d begun to shed some of my Loser status. Everyone knows we all learn much more in college about things other than what’s between the pages of our textbooks, and I certainly had. Tina and I were both far more sophisticated. We’d escaped from dorm living. We’d learned how to cook (sort of) and pay bills. We were now renting rooms in a house with male and female roommates. We knew how to hold our alcohol (or rather, knew that we couldn’t really hold more than three drinks). We’d both had our fair share of heartbreaking relationships. So, what do we do? We go out dancing together. I meet a very cute guy on the dance floor who can really dance.

Funny thing about loud dance clubs. It’s pretty difficult to single out the deaf people. Turns out Mr. Fabulous Dancer was deaf, which I discovered when we sat down with his buddy, and the two of them began signing. This didn’t deter me, though. I actually thought it was very, very cool. Maybe we’d go out again, and he’d teach me to sign. I’d learn a whole new language. We’d easily be able to communicate while on the dance floor without having to yell at each other.

As a matter of fact, we did go out again, to do what else? Dance. Then, I invited him to a party we were having at my house, a party to which my friend Scott had been invited. Scott, who was in the know about everything and everybody, took one look at Mr. Fabulous Dancer and said,

“Ohmigod, Emily. You haven’t done anything with him, have you? He’s so gay. He’s been out with just about every gay guy in town. If anyone has AIDS, he does.”

Of course he was gay. Why hadn’t I figured that out? No straight guy dances like that, especially no straight, deaf guy who would probably relish his disability as a perfect excuse not to have to ever step out on a dance floor. Leave it to the Loser to have found the only deaf, gay, most-likely-to-have-AIDS candidate in town to date. Tina, on the other hand, after three years, had definitely unzipped her “Loser” costume and was busy pursuing a relationship with a straight, non-AIDS-infected guy. It wouldn’t last, as most didn’t in those days, but it lasted longer than so many others had, and at least it was more normal. It would take me a while longer to find one of those.

Loser is very well hidden these days, though. As a matter of fact, the zipper’s broken. You’re going to need to find a talented seamstress if you want a look at her. Yes, you may think you saw her the other day walking around with an unnoticed, huge blueberry stain on her white capris, or sitting down in front of a TV, her nose buried in a book about the Amish, everyone sitting around laughing, her attention only grabbed long enough to ask “Who’s Stephen Corbert [sic]?” But that was someone else (maybe the other Emily Barton).


Unknown said...

aha! Blame it on the other Emily Barton - we HATE her. Seriously though, I spent the first few months in college writing on weekend nights instead of going out, but I slowly found my way to fraternity parties and house parties and...well, let's just say my college experience was quite well-rounded :-)

Anonymous said...

Heh, that was me, studying on Friday nights. If it weren't for a string of more sociable roommates who would drag me out with them from time to time I probably wouldn't have gotten out much at all.

Rebecca H. said...

Oh, we're all a bunch of losers here, aren't we! Yes, my roommate and I spent our Friday nights the same way ...

Anonymous said...

I remember halfway through my first term at university finally having a conversation with the quiet guy from downstairs. We both confided to each that some afternoons we napped because we didn't know what else to do. Then we started dating and he dumped me.

mandarine said...

I was in a boarding school for two years after graduating from the French equivalent of a high school. Classes from Monday 8AM to Saturday 6PM, work from 6PM to 10PM every evening, curfew (rigidly enforced) at 10:30. It felt I had finally found a world that was tailored for me. I am so happy the concept of loser does not really exist here.

litlove said...

Well personally I think all those self-destructive types making themselves sick on drink and snogging boys they didn't like to try to improve their self-esteem were the losers. They could have been in with a really good book having a wonderful time!

Emily Barton said...

Court, yes, when in doubt, blame it on the other Emily Barton. I slowly found my way around, too, but I always much preferred the nights spent with a few friends pondering all the world's problems until dawn (still my favorite pastime) over those spent partying till dawn.

Stef, yes, I think it was our more-sociable hall mates who'd gotten Tina and me out to that fraternity party.

Dorr, too bad we weren't all at the same school at the same time. We could have made it the trendy thing to do.

Linser, well, he, quite obviously, was the worst kind of Loser.

Mandarine, that sounds like a wonderful place to me. In America, there would have been some horrible, mandatory sport thrown in there to ruin it all.

Litlove, too bad they all looked so cool and beautiful to me at the time. Amazing how true it is that wisdom really does come with age.

Marissa Dupont said...

I have no zipper (and I HATE that commercial too! :D), I let my geek flag fly high and proudly (probably because me trying to act cool is pathetic to say the least). :)

Emily Barton said...

Marissa, glad I'm not the only one who hates that commercial. Must be a geek thing :-). Or maybe we just both have extraordinarily fine taste.