I am often asked, “Tim, were you always so popular and beloved by all who know you?” Admittedly this question is usually posed during a recurring dream in which Scarlett Johansson presents me with the Pulitzer Prize for Bad Humor Writing. You may find this hard to imagine, but in my younger days, I was not nearly so popular with the girls or envied by the guys; nor was I as comfortable making verifiably false claims as I am today.
The truth is, before college, where I assumed a totally new identity and back story, I was rather shy and nervous – especially around the fairer sex. I blame this on attending the Albany Academy, an all-boys’ school, for twelve years and being a late bloomer (I expect to start blooming any day now).
In addition to these impediments, I was one of the lucky teens who wore braces, was afflicted by acne, and was slightly overweight. I also lived nowhere near any of the other kids in my school, so getting together with them was a no go. Then sprinkle in a large dollop of parental disapproval from an extremely strict father who perpetually described me as “a disappointment,” and you have the perfect recipe for an awkward young man not exactly brimming with self-confidence.
At the Academy, a private military school, there were the usual cliques – the cool kids, jocks, theater guys, and stoners. I belonged to a very small and eclectic group consisting of one member: me. I was the pleasant enough but somewhat serious “straight arrow” who was considered too much of a bookworm to invite to parties. On most Saturday nights, while the majority of my class was getting drunk at Woody’s house or Hayward’s or Robb’s, I was typically at home, falling asleep watching Mannix at 10:00 on CBS.
Truth be told, I didn’t really care that I missed all the parties, in part because I did not drink (still don’t), and also, I just was not into that scene. I found meaning in studying – all the time. There’s a word for someone like me who routinely got good grades and devoutly completed all homework before allowing himself to play: A Nerd.
I guess, if I’m being honest with myself (something I try to avoid as much as possible), I was a little behind the curve in a few areas – like what to say on a date… or what to wear on a date… or how to get a date.
My idea of fashion was to wear as many clashing colors and patterns as possible. I went through my corduroy phase from 1967 to 1972. On my very first date, in tenth grade, I thought I’d crushed it with my lime green Nehru jacket, which really made a powerful statement paired with my lavender corduroy bell-bottoms. Unfortunately, the statement apparently was, “this dude is a fashion train wreck.” Astoundingly, that turned out to be the only date I had the entire year. Go figure.
Apparently, I made a few small tactical errors on my virgin flight into the dating scene, starting with asking someone out. I crashed and burned when I put my arm around her – a move that always works in the movies – but not necessarily at the movies. She recoiled like she’d seen a spider. Two excruciating hours later, my brother arrived to drive us home. In one last ditch effort to redeem the evening, I gallantly opened the car door for my date. As I prepared to join her in the back seat, she actually whispered “Would you mind sitting in the front seat?” No young man’s ego has ever suffered such a blow as mine did in that moment.
I got over that disappointment just in time for my senior prom, which my school called the Officer’s Ball. I invited a girl from church. Once again – and stop me if you’re noticing a trend here – this was our first and only date. I had more chemistry with my microscope than I was able to muster with this damsel, who was evidently in distress by my presence.
Our evening went further downhill when the car chose that instant to die in her parents’ driveway. She made a fast getaway into her house, while I languished and anguished in my dad’s immobilized 1969 Volvo. I had to walk home in the pouring rain. When I finally arrived, my father pounced on the opportunity to lecture me on my deliberately reckless driving that clearly was the cause of his car’s transmission’s demise.
Because I was shy, I accepted that social gatherings were not my destiny. So, on weekends I would often stay home and play with myself. In retrospect, I see now that the previous sentence was crafted poorly. Let me rephrase that. I would create games in which I would rotate between being one competitor and then the other. Like one-on-one basketball games where I played both sides – and still would lose.
I started to come out of my shell just in time for college. That’s when things started looking up. In October of my freshman year, I asked out a young woman named Jocelyn. While technically she was unable to accept my enticing invitation because, in her exact words, “I’m going to be pretty busy until April,” I’m confident that had I asked her out again the following May, she would have said, “I’ll think about it.”
Okay, so I never was Mr. Popularity back in my youth. But from my awkwardness and countless formative dating disasters, I’d like to think that I learned a few valuable life lessons. Like when you start life as a lemon, make yourself into lemonade. Set up a lemonade stand and see what happens.
Today, when it comes to having a plethora of good, caring, rock solid friends, I’m the richest man I know. I eventually met my soulmate Michele – a talented, creative woman who for reasons still unclear puts up with me and my sophomoric humor. And I have had the privilege of being Dad to two amazing daughters who no longer think I’m the lamest parent on the planet.
Oh, and I totally overcame my shyness. Perhaps a little too much so, according to my kids. And if I were still single, I’m pretty sure I could make a comeback with the ladies – just as soon as I lost a few more pounds, so I could fit into my Nehru jacket and lavender pants.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2019