Awkward Things I Say To Girls


In this chapter, I flirt with our antiheroine using competitive vocabulary games

Part 1, Chapter 2

“I figured out the world jumble.”

“What? Already?”

Hot Copy Editor was standing behind my computer with a printout of what was to be the back page of the campus newspaper in her hand. She couldn’t give it to me yet, of course, because the Editor in Chief had to sign off on the thing, just to make sure none of us had managed to subversively slip porn (didn’t happen), curse words (he always caught them), or anything disrespectful to women (did happen, he didn’t catch it, we felt bad, we got letters, but we were honestly kind of pleased to get some letters to the editor for a change) into this week’s edition.

She just wanted me to know that she was smarter than me.

Girls showing off exactly how smart they are is a major turn on for me, up there with such esoteric things as “saying good morning cheerfully” and “not having pierced ears.” I don’t know what that says about me, but they sure don’t put that kind of thing into Cosmopolitan. “87 Ways To Turn On Your Man: #1 Be Polite. #2 Have an Excellent Vocabulary.” But you’ve got to know that if you’re solving my jumble quickly, that I’m going to raise my game up.

So, because, at 20, I was an ultracompetitive ass, the jumble got harder, just so I could beat the Hot Copy Editor at her game. People complained. Whatever, it’s a word jumble for the campus newspaper of a major research university. Come to play or don’t come at all.

That was really it: even though I was relentlessly attracted to the Hot Copy Editor, my only real method of flirting with her was by trying to jumble words that she couldn’t untangle. I still had a girlfriend who, while I was slowly realizing wasn’t the girl of my dreams, was still incredibly hot and sensationally fun, if fiery (and, remember, I’m still 20 and still an ass, which did not help in the relationship department). But as the year wore on I noticed some things: like an independent prosecutor with a partisan motive, this crush just wasn’t going away. I was making sure I showered before heading down to the newspaper office for the weekly evening of cold pizza and cursing at Macintoshes. I was paying attention to what I wore. And the word jumble was harder every week.

Occasionally there would be halting, awkward conversations that, now, I’m embarrassed to recount. Like, for example:

“I’m reading this book, but characters keep dying off.” I figure, if you’re going to start a conversation, go ahead and start it with a bang. I mean, girls love talking about literature, right?

“Well, what are you reading?”

“Oh, it’s just this fantasy book.” Hi, I’m glad we’re getting to know each other. I’m a massive nerd. “I don’t read them very often.” Oh, there’s no talking your way out of this at this point. It’s like saying you don’t play Magic: The Gathering very often. It’s time this conversation ended. “I have work to do now.”

In April of 2002, things started to change. My girlfriend decided she was transferring away to a different university, and though I would miss the crap out of her, it was definitely the right thing for her, education-wise. And I finally started having real conversations with Hot Copy Editor. It was then that I decided to pick up an economics minor, a course of action she enthusiastically evangelized by sending me an annotated fall economics course list. I’m not stupid, though. I thanked her, ignored the whole thing, and signed up for whatever classes she was taking.

But, despite all of that, we weren’t yet friends, until an extraordinarily mundane stroke of luck brought us together a few days before exams.

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