Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Further Adventuers With The Perpetual Loser

The perpetual loser is a sitcom, and in general, comedy, main stay. Watching someone fail is funny. We like it because we see a bit of ourselves in the loser, but we also see that the loser has the moment where he could turn comic failure into triumph. The fact we see exactly what Sam should say in this situation, and that we wait for him to stumble into it, gives us two good feelings. One, we get to see someone fail, and two, we get to know we would not have failed given that opportunity.

Comedies require a gentle sort of loser for the reader. Modern comedies have given us what I call the Jerkomedy. In this, we can't identify with the hero. The "hero" is a psychopath at worse, a deliberate jerk at best. He doesn't have a foible that makes him human: He is a raging man-child out to take revenge for petty slights, or simply because he can get away with it. We root for the jerk hero not because we want him to win, but because we want his victims to suffer. He might get some comeuppance during the story, but by the end, by virtue of being pitted against even viler people, we cheer for them because the situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part, and the hero is just the guy to do it.

You always want Urkel, Danny or Zach Morris to win because, at their hearts, they are decent people. I haven't seen a lot of modern sitcoms, but you can usually judge the quality of them by how often you're rooting for the heroes because you like them as opposed to because you want to one-up their antagonists. You can have non-heroic comic heroes and do it very well (Seinfeld is probably the best example), but there's something a lot different in that sort of set up.

The point of all this is that, that is sort of how I see Sam. They are relatively oblivious to each other's back stories and goals, but we want them to succeed on some level. Sam is a bit pathetic, but I feel like, once we get inside his head, we get a much clearer picture of who he is. This helps us identify with his goal. As we watch his self-inflicted wounds while trying to achieve it, I want to know if we're coming to root for him because we like him, or if we're just enjoying bad things happening to him. I don't know, but whatever. I'm just rambling now. Fiction below the fold. We're 12 pages in (if you total up the whole of the piece), so we're making good on a page-a-day.

Note: Lucy is not quite the perpetual loser; she fulfills a different role entirely.

For those just picking it up now, you may want to go to the start of the story, in the following links:

1. Start of Lucy's first chapter
2. Conclusion of the first Lucy chapter
3. Start of Sam's chapter

* * *

So, as I was saying. I’m not a stupid guy. I just happen to get nervous and spook easily. Like a horse, nay, a stallion. I envy Kenny’s raw courage, his ability to take rejection in stride. When I mess things up with a woman, I mope for days. I try and get Kenny to sit down and do an after-action report with me to see where I messed things up. What’s the point of failure if you can’t learn from it? Kenny, he never learns from his failures. He just keeps on keeping on.

Last month when we were both dateless, and I told him I was thinking about turning to the Internet. Maybe Match.com or something like that. The way his eyes quivered, you almost thought he was sad. “So, that’s it then? You’re giving up?”

“No, not giving up. Just, you know, trying something different,” I said.

“You mean getting robbed or accidentally dating a married woman? Cause, if so, you don’t even need the Web for that.”

That was the last that Kenny would even hear about it. If Cupid wouldn’t upgrade to a Glock, trawling the bars was the extent of his pick-up game. I did try to date online for about a week or so, but every time someone would send me a message, I would just stare at the screen trying to think of something to say. One of the benefits of the Web is that you’ve got all the time in the world to say something clever. The down side, of course, being that you better say something clever. I ended up at a depressing bar with Kenny. He left with the number of a blonde office worker, I left with an extra shift at the bowling alley so he could take her to dinner and a movie.

That night at the bowling alley a group of girls from maybe a college or something came in to bowl a few games. I tried not to stare, but one of them did catch my eye. When she came to get a pitcher of beer for her group, I tried to come up with some small talk.

“Nice night out,” I said.

“I know,” She said. “I wish we weren’t stuck in here wasting it.”

“Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it.”

“Not really,” She paid with cash, a bunch of ones and fives for their combined order.

“Well, if there’s anything I can do to make your night better, let me know. Cosmic bowling? I’ve even got the stereo system back here if you want to hear anything special.”

I think she was wearing contacts, because her eyes were sparkling. “No thank you.”

Either way, I knew what Kenny would’ve done. He’d have comped them a free game and given her a wink. Even if it didn’t turn into anything. I didn’t. I just manned my post and said good night when they left and cleaned out their shoes. When I closed that night, I didn’t even take a freebie beer with me. If you’re going to get rip-roaring drunk, I decided, you do it on your own dime. It’s only civil.

I found my way to something that would’ve been a dive if I cared. I sat at the bar, gave the bartender a $20 and told him to let me know when he needed another, then I gave him a $10 for a tip. My glass wasn’t empty the whole night. It was maybe an hour, going on eleven, I guess, when a woman sat next to me. She wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous; she wouldn’t turn any heads. She was cute, the sort of girl almost beautiful girls surrounded themselves with. She ordered something with too many syllables to be a real drink.

“Evening,” I said. “Name’s Sam.”

“I hope you’re not trying to pick me up Sam,” She said.

“Let me, guess? Married? A lesbian? Secretly a man? I’ve heard them all.”

“No,” She said sipping her drink through a straw. She was one of the few women I’ve seen who still wore a watch, on a delicate gold-looking bracelet around her wrist. It hung a little loose. “I’ve just given up on dating.”

“Don’t say that too loud, or every man in here will kill himself. In despair,” I said. She smiled.

“Don’t try to flatter your way into my pants, it won’t work.”

“I’d never dream of it,” I said. Which was true, because flattery never works. “You could see if there are any Russian mail-order husbands. Or brides, you know, if you want to make sure I don’t ask for your number.”

“I didn’t give you my name; you’re not getting my number.”

“Truth be told, I’ve decided to give up on women,” I said. “So, like I said, if you want a mail-order bride, I can give you my brochure.”

“I don’t want your brochure,” she said. “My name’s Amy. So, some girl break your heart?”

“I wish I could reach the point where my heart could break,” I said to her. “Some guy break your heart?”

She snorted, her little nose scrunching up as she tried to turn the snort into a giggle. I pretended not to notice as Mike at the bar gave me another drink. “No, not really. You don’t want to hear.”

“Hey, I told you about my Russian brochure.”

“Well, my roommate is on a date,” Amy said. “With a nice guy. Her third date this month with the third guy. She really should leave some for the rest of us.”

“If they were any good, I don’t think she’d be on her third one,” I said.

“That’s what my mom said! She said she was screening out all the creeps for me.” I think being like her mom was not a point in my favor. Her hair curled under her ears, a short cut, which I guess was coming back into style.

“I just can’t ever seem to get a girl to say yes,” I said.

“I can’t seem to get a guy to ever ask me," she said. "They're never so agreeable."

“Well,” I said. “Maybe if you weren’t so stand-offish. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with having high standards, but, you know.”

“I know, ok, I know. Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist,” she said. “But this is the longest conversation I’ve had with a guy in months.”

“This is the longest I’ve gone without offending a girl,” I said. “I’d even given up and tried online dating.”

“Oh, don’t get me started on that,” She said. “Every guy I’ve tried to meet online hasn’t even bothered to answer my messages.”

“Maybe they had a good reason not to respond,” I said, defensively. I mean, I had good reasons. Why should I just have to jump just because some pretty girl sends me an emoticon? Those aren’t even words! What goes through someone’s head when they spit out some bit of gibberish? Who knows, right?

“I know why: Because you need to be at least this hot to get a reply,” she said. She held her hand out way above her head for emphasis. I think she shrunk a little bit in her seat for extra emphasis.

“Look, I know what to say to you, and like you said—”

“What?” She glanced at me for a moment, her cheeks were slowly flushing into a gentle pink. I realized I was at the moment where the right word would mean I’d have plans for Friday night that didn’t involve disappointment. Well, immediate disappointment. I thought very carefully through our conversation. The moments ticked by, and I realized I had to say something. Now. Not in a few minutes. Not in the morning when it was convenient. Right here, right now. So, I decided to keep on doing what I had been doing: Be agreeable.

“Look, I’m not saying you’re ugly, just, you know, you’re right. There are prettier girls out there,” I said. “So, I guess, if you give them time, they’ll come up with the right thing to say.”

“What?” Amy’s voice was a bit less natural. The pretty blush and changed into an angry shade. Not a cute, mock angry either.

“I’m just saying that they had perfectly good reasons for not writing back,” I said. She got up and grabbed her purse.

“No, wait! I just mean it’s hard to say the right thing! I mean, hell, look at me, right now. Just saying anything that comes to mind. I mean, so what if you’re only this hot,” I said, holding my hand a bit below where she had had hers a few minutes ago. “People make exceptions for roller coasters all the time. Well, except for pregnant women. Not that you look like you’re pregnant. I mean, Amy, you kind of are — I mean, you are hot, not pregnant looking — unless you are then you’re radiant with pregnant hotness.”

She walked out of the bar, her tiny shoulders squarely set against every man in the world, or at least me. And that’s really all that mattered to me. I pulled another $20 out for Mike. When I got home, I reopened my Match.com account.

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