Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 10byrpsuch©
I gave him the ride. It figured to be more fun than driving home by myself. We got along perfectly until he got in the car and heard Metallica on the radio.
"How about we listen to NPR? Talk of the Nation should be on. It's not Science Friday, but they have a lot of really informative shows," he said.
"I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you. It just struck me so funny the enthusiasm you showed when you said 'Science Friday.' You said it like that's what everybody's waiting to listen to. It's goofy but it's endearing. No offense intended."
I touched his leg because I felt like doing it. It was not a ploy but I think it was a signal. I wondered if he had recognized it.
"None taken. I know I'm in another world sometimes. Why don't we just talk? We can get to know each other better."
"Okay. Fine by me. Let's start with your whole name. I don't even know your last name."
"William Jefferson Goldberg."
This time I didn't have to explain the laughter.
"How the hell did they come up with that?"
"It would have been no big deal if it hadn't been for Clinton. My great grandfather was William. As for Jefferson, he's my mom's favorite president. My other great grandfather was Jerome so they needed a 'J'." "That's too funny."
"Yeah, well, my Mom teaches history at Penn, and she focuses on American History, so there was going to be a president in my name somehow. It was just a matter of bad timing."
"Wow, a history prof. So why didn't you go there?" I asked.
"My mom teaches history at Penn. Plus I wanted to get away from home anyway."
"I can understand that. What does your Dad do?"
"Electrical engineer," he said.
"So nerdiness is genetic?" He gave me a look.
I smiled. "I mean that in the nicest way."
"So what did you inherit? What does your Dad do?" he asked.
"He runs a bank."
"He's a bank manager?"
"No. He runs a bank. President, like his father and his father. He owns the bank."
"I have a checking account in a bank. Your Mom?" he asked.
"Not at the bank."
"So what did you inherit? Not money, but temperament, personality, skills."
"I don't think they have anything to do with who I am."
"Congratulations. You're the first," he said.
"Maybe they do. Are you sure you don't want to listen to Metallica?"
We talked politics. He was a tree hugger, big surprise; he even composted their grass clippings.
He was appalled that I wasn't even registered to vote. All those people fought and died so he could vote. So many women struggled so I could vote. Wasn't I betraying all that effort and sacrifice?
I suppose I was. It was something that required no sacrifice and practically no effort from me and I guess I didn't appreciate what I had.
One of the things that really annoyed me about him was that he was almost always right.
He talked about history, which he seemed to love as much as his Mother did. The best thing about history, he said, was that if we understood it, we could avoid making the mistakes of the past. The problem was in the understanding.
Did we learn from Vietnam that we shouldn't meddle in Iraq? Or did we learn from World War II that we must be involved because it posed a more general threat? Or did neither provide a sufficient parallel to guide our behavior?
Who wants to think about this stuff all the time?
Apparently, Jeff does.
He was passionate about politics. He was passionate about history. He was passionate about bridge.
I thought it was a game designed to fill huge chunks of interminable time for old ladies. But he said it was an intense game fought in local, national and international competition.
He had a passion for baseball. I considered it a cure for insomnia, but Jeff said it was a vibrant test of skill, intelligence and courage.
Most of all, he had passion. He devoured life in huge gulps.
I asked him what he did when he was bored. He asked how it was possible to be bored. There was not enough time to do everything, learn everything, read everything. When was there time available for boredom?
Jeff wanted to talk about what made me passionate, but I couldn't think of anything.
I was envious. I wanted some of that myself.
He said, "Don't want it, go get it. There are things out there that can excite you. Find them. It's all in your control."
He was probably right again. For this ride it was exciting just to see his passion.
With all we talked about, this was the quickest ride home I ever had. I hated for it to end. It seemed that he did too.
"Come on in and meet my family."
"No, I have to get home."
"That can wait a little longer. Come on, I know you'll like them. I promise we won't lock the door. You can get out whenever you need to."
I was a little scared to meet them, but it didn't take too much convincing for me to spend a little more time with him.
"Is that you Jeff?" I heard as we entered through the front door.
She walked into the foyer. She was a little shorter than I, with brown hair, brown eyes, a thin face and a warm smile that dominated it. She took him in her arms.
"I'm so glad you're home." She released him and turned to me.
"Mom, this is my friend Ashley."
"The same …" she had a quizzical look on her face. "So nice to meet you. If Jeff says you're his friend, I'm sure you're a lovely girl. Come on in and meet everyone."
I tried to protest, but she put her arm around me and led me to the kitchen.
"It's nice to meet you too, Mrs. —"
"Sunny" she said.
"You should know why she uses that," Jeff said.
"Jeff," Sunny admonished.
"Petal Sunshine Goldberg. What would you call yourself? Mom was born on a commune." He said it with obvious affection.
We reached the kitchen.
"Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet Jeff's friend Ashley," said Sunny.
Her mother got that same quizzical look but it didn't last long. She greeted me warmly. So did Sonny's father.
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. …"
"Sam and Harri," interrupted Jeff.
She must have seen the confused look in my eyes. "I'm Harri, short for Harriet. And this is my husband Sam," she said, graciously resolving my confusion.
Harri was wearing a colorful, tie-died blouse and a peasant skirt. She had an exquisite necklace that appeared to contain turquoise. It was very unusual. She saw me looking.
"Do you like it? It's an original Harri."
"Harri makes jewelry," said Jeff. "She learned it on the commune and found out she was a natural. She gets orders from all over the country."
I could hear the love and admiration in his voice. It must be nice.
They asked about me. I couldn't give them a wrong answer.
Whatever I said was "wonderful" to them.
Where I lived was "so nice." Majoring in business was "so important." I was "so sweet" to take Jeff home with me. But they made it sound sincere so it wasn't sickening. Being with this family was a constant dose of self esteem. I wish…
"Oh my God, I've been here almost two hours. I have to get home. They'll be wondering where I am."
Since it was the day before Thanksgiving, Dad might be home for dinner. If Mom was home I wouldn't see her until dinner was ready unless I went looking for her. They would have no idea I was missing. The contrast between these people and my family was starting to depress me.
Sam said, "Why don't you give them a call and stay for dinner? I made Steak Diane."
"Sam's a chef," said Jeff.
"I, I can't. I have to get home. Thanks for the invitation, though."
Sunny hugged me. "You come back any time, Honey. You're always welcome here."
Harri hugged me. "I hope we see you again, Buttercup."
Petal, Buttercup, I guess she had a thing for flowers.
Sam hugged me. "You're a sweet girl. You're welcome in our family anytime."
"It was so nice to meet all of you."
It was one of the highlights of my year. It was one of the highlights of my life.
Jeff walked me to the door and he hugged me. "I'm glad you came in."
I lost it. I buried myself in his arms and started to sob.
I had no true friends. My family was cordial but I couldn't tell if they really loved me or I was just their responsibility and an appropriate reflection of their status.
I treated people according to what I thought they could do for me. How did I turn out such a mess? It was all Jeff's fault. I couldn't remember the last time I had an unguarded moment before I met him.
"Be my friend," I asked.
He held on until I settled down.
He wrote down his number and said to call if I needed to talk.
I told him I'd call to make arrangements to drive back to school. Then I left.
I composed myself and by the time I was home, I was the ice queen again. I couldn't decide if my visit with his family had been enriching or traumatic.
Jeff had told me on the ride home what Thanksgiving would be like at his house. Everybody would say what they were thankful for.
Sam and Harri would take the most time. In a holdover from their hippie days they would give thanks for everybody and everything.
They would give thanks for the cycle of nature that refreshes the soil. They would give thanks for the rain which gives life to the plants and cleans out toxins from the air. They would remember old friends and be thankful for having known them. The whole family would be thankful for each other.
My family would say, "Let's eat," after they told me how beautiful I was.
That seemed to be the only way I was recognized. It had never bothered me before. That was the way it was and that was the way I had come to view myself.
With all we had, why bother to take the time to appreciate it? Now it gnawed at me.
I may have been disappointed when I got home, but I was not surprised: I look beautiful.
Did they know I had come back from school? Did they know I had some kind of life there? Did they notice how distracted I was?
I'm questioning my life, my choices, and they're making small talk, the few times anybody says anything other than, "Please pass the" whatever.
Thanksgiving dinner was worse. Actually it was the same but that made it worse. Did they think as little about each other as they thought about me?
It was a pretty busy weekend. Friday night I was to meet with my high school entourage. They would undoubtedly want to know what I was doing, who I was seeing.
I would keep the information sparse and pry that same information from them to better maintain my aura of invincibility.
Saturday night was the "A" party at the country club. My parents were throwing a party in the afternoon and I would be displayed to all the eligible sons of their friends. I had gotten quite a bit of fodder from these events in the past. A proper girl can't just take out a personal ad.
Rest up Sunday morning and then back to school with Jeff.
I had a few hours free Friday afternoon and I heard the Sirens' call. It might be fun to hang out there.
I still wasn't sure why I was there when I rang the bell. The door opened and I saw a thin girl in her mid-teens. She had inherited the family proclivity for not drawing any flattering attention to herself by the way she dressed.
From her face it was obvious that she was Sunny's daughter. She wore no makeup.
"Ooooh, you're Ashley."
I saw nothing that suggested that she knew about my checkered history with her brother.
"Hi. Is Jeff in?"
"Jeff," she shouted.
"In the kitchen," came his voice.
"I'll show you."
She seemed in awe. Finally a response I recognized from someone in the family. Something was cooking, but I couln't identify the aroma. It was nice. I followed her to the kitchen.
"Ashley, nice to see you, sweetie." Sam approached with his arms wide.
I accepted the hug. "Nice to see you, too, Sam."
Jeff was at the stove, his left hand holding the handle of a frying pan, his right stirring whatever was in the pan with some kind of ribbed metal thing.
"Sorry I can't leave here. If I stop stirring with the whisk for as little as three or four seconds the roux could start to burn and I'd have to start all over."
"And he's doing it right this time," said Sam. "Sometimes he puts the flame too high because he's so impatient and wants to get done rather than taking the time to do it right."
"That's not my experience," I said.
Jeff's face turned red. It pleased me.
"I like a nice dark chocolate roux so it takes a while," he said.
"What are you making?"
"Turkey gumbo. When the roux finishes, I'll pour it over the trinity and it will start to cook it. Then I add the stock as it loses its intense heat. I learned it from Sam."
"What's the trinity?"
"Onions, green peppers and celery, Chile'" said Sam in a Creole patois.
Little sister continued to gape at me.
The roux turned brown and grew darker and darker. The aroma grew richer. Finally, Jeff turned off the light under the pan and poured the roux over the trinity. It sizzled for a while.
Doesn't it sound just like you know what you're talking about when you learn the lingo?
He stirred the trinity for about half a minute, then poured the hot stock into the large pot that contained the trinity, the turkey and some other stuff I couldn't identify. On went the lid and the flame.
"I take it you met Sandy." He gestured towards his sister.
"Not by name. Hi, Sandy."
She giggled, "Hi," and then she ran from the room.
Jeff invited me up to his room.
"Are you going to show me your etchings?"
"See. That's the Ashley I like."
"See you, Sam."
I took Jeff's hand as he went up the stairs. Why the hell did I do that? It just felt right. I was beginning to wonder if I was a multiple personality.
It wasn't what I thought of as a typical guy's room. No posters of scantily clad women. No sports stars on the wall. Lots of books and a shelf of debate trophies. I had no idea he was on the team. Actually, I had no idea there was a team.
Something had me curious. "You're so smart. How come you didn't skip any grades? I mean, you seem to have practically skipped a couple of years of college."
"Mom skipped three years. She was increasingly younger than everyone in her classes. She's convinced that being with older kids messed her up socially so she absolutely refused to let me skip. She said I could finish college as fast as I wanted, but in high school I was staying with my grade."
"And she was right," I said. "Look at how smooth you turned out."
He pushed me. "See, I even like you when you're nicely mean."
We exchanged details of our Thanksgivings. I didn't have much to say because not much happened at my house.
Sam and Harri took longer than a Passover Seder. Both of them mentioned the blessing of me as Jeff's friend. Hearing that gave me chills. His dad mentioned the blessing of having a day he wasn't called in for some emergency.
Sunny stopped in.
"Hi, Ashley. I heard you were here." She gave me a big hug. "How was your Thanksgiving?"
"It was okay."
She got a sad, almost pitying look on her face for an instant, but the smile returned quickly. She ran her hand over my hair.
"Well, it's really nice to see you. I'll leave you two alone." It sounded awfully suggestive.
Jeff rolled his eyes.
I wandered around his room, picking up things, moving things, snooping.
I went to his closet and opened the door.
"Now I know why you dress like that. It's all you have."
"I have a suit and a couple of jackets."
"Nerdwear. I should take you shopping."
"You know, I think my sister needs it more than I do."
He hit the nail on the head with that one. I had some time free on Saturday morning. Maybe I could take her shopping.
What the hell was I thinking? Was I trying to be the me he seemed to like so much? Did I like her? I really didn't know.
"Do you think she'd like me to take her shopping tomorrow? We could pick up a couple things. I could give her some tips."
"She'd be in heaven. I knew I was right about you."
"Don't get all sappy on me."
I had Sunny's credit card with me and I bought Sandy a few things. She started out in awe but she loosened up a bit as we spent time together. I don't have a little sister and it surprised the hell out of me that how much I enjoyed it.
I spent some of my own money to get her some makeup. When we got back to her house, I showed her how to use it.
If I'd had a little more time I would have taken her for a haircut. She was on cloud nine and I felt pretty good about that. Nobody else was home when I left her and I was kind of disappointed to miss them.