Believe it or not, I wasn’t always as awkward as I am today.
I used to be worse.
There was a point in my life where I went through a phase called “the teenage years.” Those years were a hideously awkward time for me, especially the early portion. I was more of a reader than a doer, which was baffling to every other kid I knew. I grew up out in the country, where my closest neighbors were cows, so I was a little behind on the social preparedness curve (though I am still, to this day, excellent in bovine circles). I actually liked school, which made me something of a leper in other kids’ eyes. “Don’t get too close to Clayton. You’ll catch nerd.”
I was gangly, I was stumbly, and I was exactly zero percent good at talking to girls.
The early teenage years were a symphony of awkward.
But turning sixteen was going to change all that.
Getting my license was like a fish coming up out of the water, breathing in a giant gulp of air, and then realizing that he’s not a fish at all, but an air-breathing koala, and he’s just been doing it wrong all this time. Having a license meant not having to rely on two older sisters to cart me around all the time. It meant larger social interactions beyond the world of livestock. It meant that if I ever learned how to talk to a girl, I could pick her up and drive her to the soda fountain, or the sock hop, or wherever it was people who went on dates went when they went on dates. (So far, my understanding of the dating scene was pretty limited to what I’d read in Archie comics, but, oh, how my license was going to change that!)
One of my first victims—er, passengers—was my older cousin, Daun. During a family party, I suddenly demanded that we go get ice cream, because ice cream existed somewhere outside of the house, and that meant it needed to be driven to. Daun glanced nervously at my car and said, “Maybe I should drive?” “Nope!” I declared. “You’ve been driving for years, it’s my turn. Get in!”
Poor, brave Daun.
The trek to Lixx (which was the name of the ice cream shop, not a 16-and-over strip club, though I’m guessing they served a lot of frozen custard to severely disappointed divorced men) was pretty uneventful. There were no accidents, no tickets, and no rollovers that ended in the car exploding in a gigantic ball of flame. So I think Daun was relieved. With each mile that passed, I felt a little more of my awkwardness melt away. I leaned back in the seat. I drove with one hand on the wheel. I flashed confident smiles at cute girls in the other lane. By the time we reached our destination, I felt like Sam Malone.
Daun probably felt more like Clarice Starling.
I was feeling so confident and smooth that the universe felt it had no choice but to serve up a reward. And so it was that on our way home, a car carrying two adorable co-eds pulled up alongside my busted up Pontiac and waved.
Truth be told, I was so shocked, I almost ran us into a telephone pole. But being surprised by female attention was the old Clayton. This was the new Clayton, and he had an audience. I didn’t want Daun to know this wasn’t something that happened every twenty minutes of my life, so I kept my calm, gave her a knowing smile, and said, “Yeah. I figured this would happen.”
Daun looked as if her eyes might plop right out of their sockets.
With no small amount of glee, I realized the girls had moved on from a simple wave to the universal hand crank sign for Roll Down Your Window. This was almost too much for me to bear. The stars had aligned so exquisitely, and here I was, finally, finally, being hit on by attractive females, and I had an honest-to-goodness witness to corroborate my story when I told it thousands and thousands of times over the next three hours. It was all so perfect, I wanted to cry.
“This must be awkward for you,” I said, giving Daun a big smirk. “To see girls throwing themselves at your little cousin Sorry, I’ll just get their phone numbers and get rid of them. I checked my hair in the rearview mirror, lowered my window, set my arm up on the sill, smiled over at the girls, and said, “Well, hello.”
“Hey!” the girl in the passenger seat yelled. “Your blinker is on!” Then she rolled up the window, the driver hung a left, and they disappeared into the night.
Daun laughed so hard, it’s a miracle she didn’t rupture something. “Oh ho ho man!” she squeaked out between hysterics. “Pretty smooth, Blinker Boy!”
That name stuck for a few years.
The awkwardness, obviously, stuck around much longer than that.
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