Friday, September 5, 2014

All Jokes Aside

Image by Traci Hall via Wikimedia Commons

Dan hadn’t been listening much to Sara and Teri’s discussion, but he took an interest when Teri blurted, “I’m so horny.”

“Oh, you can have Dan.” Sara replied. “I’m done with him for now.”

Both girls began laughing. Dan raised his eyebrows and looked up over his textbook. They stopped laughing for a split second, and then began laughing even harder. He looked from one girl to the next, then his eyebrows shot back down. Dan gently put down his textbook and mid-term notes, then got up from the ratty couch he had been studying on. He held out his hand to Teri. “Well, you heard her, let’s go.”

The girls launched into a new round of laughs, and tears formed at the corners of Teri’s eyes. “Sure thing,” Teri said as she grabbed his hand. She looked back over her shoulder, at Sara. “Don’t worry, I’ll have him back by dinner time.”

Sara rocked with soundless laughter, wrapping both arms around her and nodding. Finally, she managed “Teri, as long as he’s coming back from your room anyway, could you have him bring the sweater you borrowed last week?”

Teri shrieked, and stomped her feet as Dan led her from his girlfirend’s dorm room. He closed the door and jerked the hysterical Teri by the arm through the hall to the stairs. Her laughter echoed sharply in the stairwell as they made their way down.

“We’re joking, you know.” Teri said. Her voice dropped to husky whisper. “Besides, my room is three floors up.” Whatever effect she was going for was ruined by half-laugh, half-snort a moment later.

“I know,” Dan said. “We’re going to Pop’s.”

Pop’s Cafeteria was the University’s attempt at serving industrial-scale meals in a small diner environment. The prints on the wall depicted greasy-spoon diners in their heyday:  black and white photos where all the men wore hats, and all the women wore dresses. Dan and Teri plopped down into a booth that featured a picture of a 50’s-era waitress who was giving the camera a sassy wink as she poured coffee.

“So what are we doing here?” Teri asked.

Dan shrugged as he stirred his soda with a straw. “Just needed a break.”

“It’s more than that. You haven’t said a word since we left the dorm.”

Dan removed the straw from his glass and took a drink. He ground the ice cubes individually with his teeth, the muscles in his jaw straining until the cubes shattered. His eyes looked everywhere except at Teri. She sighed, and leaned back against the wall, propping her feet up on the bench.

“You’re not disappointed about not going to my room, are you?” She asked.

Dan’s eyes met hers as he ground the last of the cubes in his mouth. “No, nothing like that.”

“Well, you should be,” she said, smiling.

Dan frowned. Was she serious? Was he? Yes! No. Maybe in some alternate universe, he would grab Teri by the hand and they’d run to her room to fumble in the dark and knock furniture around, but then what? A huge freaking mess, that’s what.  

“You know, I really don’t know how she can be like that,” he said.

“Sara? She’s always been like that.”

“Yeah, as long as I’ve known her,” he said. “It’s what made her stand out from other girls, you know? It just gets old being the butt of the joke every single time.”

Teri rolled her eyes. “Oh you’re such a baby! You know she loves you.”

Dan rapped his glass against the table. “That’s what makes it worse! It’s the easiest thing for her to make jokes at my expense because we’re dating and I’m the safest target.” He started waving his hands around and put a sarcastic edge in his voice “But can I complain? Oh no, that would be over-reacting! ‘Man up, Dan, she’s just kidding!’”

Teri shook her head and looked at Dan with an arched eyebrow. “And you’re not overreacting now? Dra-ma!”

Dan slapped the table. “No.” He pointed at Teri. “No, because you know what lies at the kernel of every joke she tells? Truth. Just enough reality to make it believable. When she says that she doesn’t mind loaning me out to her friends, and ‘oh by the way,’ have me carry her crap back to her when you’ve finished with me – on some level, there’s something that rings true, or else it’s not funny. On some level, I’m just some possession of hers.”

Teri folded her arms and shook her head. “You’re delusional. You know that? It’s just a freaking joke, Dan! Nobody would think of this stuff except you.”

Dan looked away and took another swig of his drink. Just then, pulsing buzzing sounds started coming from under the table. He stopped chewing the ice as he dug into his pocket, and brought out his phone. He pursed his lips as he read the faceplate, and put the phone back, still buzzing for attention.

“That Sara?” Teri asked. “You gonna answer her?”

Dan shook his head. “Let her stew. I hope she thinks we’re researching the next chapter of the Kama Sutra.”

“Well, real mature, Dan,” Teri said. “You’re a paragon of the ideal man.”

“Screw you.”

“Yeah, you had your chance, but you brought me here instead.” Teri pushed herself out of the booth and walked out, not looking back. The phone in Dan’s pocket began buzzing again.

“Hell with it,” he said, and eased further back into the booth


Dan knocked on the door and steeled himself. A bushy-bearded man with golden dreadlocks, beach muscles, and eye-watering body odor answered. It was said that everyone came to see Junky Jafar at least once in their college career, from the lowliest undergrad to the dean herself. Jafar was somewhere in his thirties, and had majored in every degree program at one semester or another. Rumor had it that he lived off of a trust fund, and that the university only tolerated him because he could legitimately claim to be Innuit, African-American, Latino, and a member of the Mayflower Society.

“Dan, right? Dan the Man, come on in,” Junky Jafar said. He gestured to a sagging hammock chair surrounded by stacks of textbooks and piles of empty salad containers from Pop’s. Dan eased himself into the hammock’s netting while Jafar sat on a floor cushion that looked suspiciously like one that had gone missing from the floor’s den at the beginning of the year.

“So,” Jafar said, turning down music that sounded like Middle-Eastern hip-hop.

Dan swung his chair in little circles, mindful of the books and trash. He told Junky Jafar about the night’s events, slowly at first, then all out in a tumble of thoughts that didn’t even make sense to him as he said them out loud. Jafar nodded along until Dan was finished. They sat without talking for minutes, Dan swinging and Jafar nodding to the beat of the music.

“Junky?” Dan said when he could take it no longer.

“Hm. You blew a chance with that Teri girl, but that’s okay.”

“What? That’s all?”

“You don’t really want to be a teacher either. Education is just not your thing. You should be Life Sciences, Agriculture research maybe.” He nodded and smiled. “Yeah, you’re a farmer at heart.”

Dan wondered how many of Junky Jafar’s brain cells had gone up in smoke over the years. “But am I right?” he asked, “About Sara I mean.”

Junky Jafar squinted. “You don’t think she owes you anything, do you? You’re not going to be like that kid in California that went psycho because he thought he was entitled to a date?”

“What? No.”

“Good, Dan, that’s good. I’d hate to roll you to the campus jack-boots. Smoothie?” Junky Jafar shook a tumbler filled with a green puree that smelled like garlic. Dan shook his head.

“This is one of those take it or leave it kind of situations, man.,” Jafar said. “You aren’t going to win this fight, because it’s how the girl just is. Can’t change that. So either you put up with it, or walk. Is she worth it?”

“I don’t know! This sucks.”

“Yeah, sucks to have a woman love you and feel comfortable enough around you to make jokes, and trust you enough to not actually go screw her best friend. Sucks that you care enough about her to give a damn what she thinks about you, enough that you’re thinking about her when you should be thinking about becoming an art historian.”

Dan kicked at the floor, sending him swinging into a pile of astronomy books.

“So you going to walk?” Jafar asked.


“Then a word of advice:  when you go back, make it all a joke. Then come back and see me about changing your major. I can put in a good word with the Latin department head.”

Dan shook his head. “I got a mid-term in Grunwald’s Chem 204 tomorrow.”

“Grunwald? He’s a lazy bastard. All his exam questions are taken from the textbook problems he didn’t assign. Work those problems tonight and you’ll be fine.”

“You’re finally back,” Sara said. “How was Teri?”

Dan shrugged. “Fine, I guess. She recorded the whole thing and put it online under ‘phone hacked’ for extra publicity.”

Sara grinned. “Good. Now go get yourself cleaned up. I promised my friend Shorna you’d be up in a half hour.”

Dan snorted and picked up his class notes. “She’ll have to wait her turn with the rest of the fifth floor, I’m busy.”

“Well forget the whole thing then; all I really wanted was my sweater back.”

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