You Don’t Start with a Home Run
“You don’t start with a home run,” Jeremy said.
“A what?” I replied.
“You don’t start off with some girl jumping in bed with you. You’ve got to run the bases, you know, the first kiss, the messing around . . . and then you get to home base.”
“Oh, home base,” I mumbled. A girl named Allison was walking by and had caught my eye. She did a little modelling around town, sometimes appearing in newspaper supplements dressed in revealing lingerie. Today she was dressed in baggy sweats, with no makeup and fly-away hair, but she was still gorgeous.
“And you don’t start with somebody like that,” Jeremy went on. We both watched Allison disappear in the distance.
“You’ve got to start with somebody in your league,” Jeremy told me.
“What league is that?”
“Like maybe peewee. Face it, Alan, you’re never going to make it with any of the hot girls around here.”
Jeremy and I were in the high-school cafeteria, looking around at the various groups nearby. There was a pattern to the way people sat at the tables. Rich kids sat with rich kids, eating the expensive pizza slices; poor kids sat with poor kids eating their brown-bag lunches; smart kids sat with smart kids, actually talking about math or history; the hot girls sat with the other hot girls; the losers with the losers; and I sat with Jeremy. We were beginning the Alan project–a systematic effort to find a girl for me.
Jeremy was my project manager. At the age of seventeen, I just decided it was time to move on from my dateless, romanceless adolescent life. I decided it was time to abandon my fantasy girls, dream dates and jpegs and actually go out with a real girl.
My friend Jeremy has been going out with girls since grade five, long before I knew him. He tells me that his sex appeal mystifies even himself, but Jeremy deals with it philosophically as a burden he has to carry. I can’t understand his success with girls either, since Jeremy isn’t particularly good looking and has an unusual amount of spit on his lips most of the time, a trait that gives the general impression that he’s drooling. But there’s no accounting for the choices of women, I tell myself. Look at André Agassi–and he doesn’t even have any hair.
“I think we have to start you at a lower level,” Jeremy told me as he scanned the cafeteria. “Maybe Jasmine, over there,” he said, pointing to a dark-haired girl sitting by the window. “She’s a butterface.”
“A butterface. She’s got a really hot body, but her face isn’t so good.”
“Oh, like everything’s good but her face,” I said. This project of improving my social life was coming with an expanded vocabulary.
“Or maybe Hannah the Honker would go out with you,” he said, grinning at me. “With a nose like that, I doubt that she’d have a lot of guys chasing after her.”
Hannah had been our classmate since grade seven. I wouldn’t have minded a date with Hannah, since at least it would be fun, but the moment didn’t seem right to tell this to Jeremy.
“Is that it–a choice of two?” I asked him.
“Okay, how about Maggie over there?” He pointed to a skinny red-haired girl wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans.
“She’s a bit of an ugger with those braces and the glasses and all, but probably about your level.”
“My level?” I repeated.
“Actually, she’s a cut above your level, but let’s ignore that for the moment. You already know her, right?”
I nodded. I had known Maggie McPherson for ten years or so, ever since we had been on the same soccer team when we were six or seven years old. Back then, she was skinny and well coordinated; I was chunky and more than likely to fall on my face while kicking the ball. Of course, that was a long time ago. These days Maggie is still skinny and she may or may not be coordinated. But she is about the smartest kid at Regis High School, destined for some glittering future if the scholarships come through.
“Maggie might even get off on a nerdy type like you,” Jeremy went on. “Besides, I hear she has no social life, so she’s probably pretty desperate.”
“Desperate is good,” I agreed.
“Desperate is essential in your case,” Jeremy said. “It’s your only chance. As your project manager, I’m advising you to make a play for Maggie. It might just work.”
I sighed. With friends like Jeremy, it’s possible that I don’t need any enemies.
“So what do I do?” I asked him.
“You go up and start with a little chat about something, anything, then you ask her to go to the dance. Pop the question, as it were.”
I gave him a look. Jeremy is inclined to use phrases like “as it were” in order to sound like a British lord rather than the pimply-faced high-school student he actually is. Or should I say, we actually are.
“Chat?” I repeated.
“About the weather, or school, or something. It used to be called small talk back in the black-and-white movie days.
You know how to talk, don’t you?”
At that moment, I wasn’t sure whether I remembered how to breathe. Maggie was sitting alone at one of the long tables, reading a book despite the noise and confusion of the cafeteria. She usually had lunch with a couple of other girls, but today she was by herself. It was a golden opportunity to make my move.
“Don’t lose your courage, Al,” Jeremy told me. “Go for it.”
“Right, go for it,” I repeated, mostly to myself.
I got up on shaky legs and started in Maggie’s direction. I could feel perspiration everywhere–on my forehead, dripping from my armpits, turning my shirt into a soggy mess. I suspect even my ears were dripping with nervous perspiration.
It wasn’t that Maggie looked all that intimidating. She sat there in her usual baggy-everything outfit and pink-grey running shoes from some no-name company. She had little round glasses balanced halfway down a button nose.
That nose, and most of her cheeks, were dotted with freckles. Her usually frizzy red-blonde hair was pulled back into some kind of half ponytail. And she had a ketchup smear just under her lip.
“Hey, Maggie,” I said when I got close. I managed to knock against a couple of empty chairs as I made my way between tables.
She looked up over her glasses and gave me a smile, or maybe it was a wince, I couldn’t be sure.
“Mind if I sit down?”
“It’s a free country, as the phrase goes,” she replied.
I chose to interpret that as a yes. Jeremy had said that I should think positive, think of myself as strong, masculine and desirable. He also told me to exude confidence, but right now all I was exuding was sweat.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Running the Bases by Paul Kropp. Copyright © 2005 by Paul Kropp. Excerpted by permission of Seal Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.