Marginally ironic

1999: I was living in a shoebox-sized apartment in Olympia with an oversized childhood friend named Dan. I was not fortunate enough to land a mate, but Dan was dating an Olympian named Melissa for about a month. It was relatively clear that their relationship was based primarily on regional convenience — a warm body to help cope with the cold Northwestern nights and to bolster against the lonely malaise associated with the months of rain.

The three of us were lounging in our sparsely furnished, yet cramped, living room basking in the warm glow of the purpley-iridescent reefer that the region is famous for, and listening to one of our ten or so CDs — probably Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. The time was good — mellow, and the afternoon light was giving way to the long night.

Melissa shared with Dan and me that she had just finished the new Steve Martin book, Pure Drivel, telling us that it was good but not great. Dan and I concurred that Martin had peaked with his freshman effort Cruel Shoes. Nonetheless, Dan asked Melissa if he could borrow the comedian’s latest book. Without a second of hesitation, Melissa blurted, “No.” The response — its curtness — sent Dan back on his heels, his mellow clearly harshed.

Before pressing on, I should explain that Dan is a naturally dynamic individual, and his marijuana use is his preferred mode of self-medication against the peaks and troughs that have periodically left him friendless, jobless and homeless throughout his then twenty-six years. I love him, but the man can be kind overly intense.

“WHHAAATTT?!” Dan demanded. I was unhealthily used to his brand of social un-grace, and didn’t find it as jarring as I might otherwise have. “What kind of person doesn’t lend a book to a friend — let alone a boyfriend?”

Okay, I was getting a little uncomfortable. In the short time I knew Melissa, it became increasingly evident that she was intellectually insecure, and the poor woman’s face was turning red in a mixture of anger and embarrassment. She clearly didn’t want to proceed, but Dan’s venom acted like a truth serum coursing through her veins. Her shoulders fell, leading to her posture’s further collapse. I wanted to leave the room, but the apartment was small enough that it wouldn’t have made a difference. I would’ve gone for a walk if it hadn’t been pouring outside.

In an attempt to recapture her dignity, Melissa drew a deep sigh, inflating her spine as she explained, “I don’t lend books because I write in the margins, and I’m always afraid that people will laugh at what I write.” To which she added, “Can you drive me home now?” Though she may not have realized it at the time, Melissa won. Dan felt like an ass, which was no small accomplishment. They left.

Dan returned an hour or so later — I assumed that they were fighting or having sex, or both — and to my astonishment, the Steve Martin book was under his arm. As casually as ever, he walked past me and shut himself in his room — few words exchanged between us. I internally shrugged and continued working on my painting or whatever.

A couple more hours passed. The rain fell steadily, plunking against our metal awning and perfectly accompanying the Palace Brothers’ lyrical depression — a song about drinking the salty blood of a freshly killed deer. I was comfortably enveloped in my pallid, artistic coma.

Without warning, Dan’s bedroom door exploded open and the two-hundred-plus-pound man flung himself into the living room, the Steve Martin book open in his left hand. He was gasping with laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks, right index finger pressed against the margin. Melissa’s fear was well founded.

Below Dan’s finger written in blue ink rested the single notation, a question regarding Mr. Martin’s life’s work, which Melissa hoped to further explore: “Irony?”

17 responses to “Marginally ironic”

  1. Beth W says:

    Poor Melissa. Her worst nightmare realized.

    Great story Scott.

  2. brooke says:

    Brutal. How much longer did they date after that, and did Dave ever tease Melissa about her margin scribbling? I like people who write in the margins. I’ve never had the motivation.

    I rarely lend books either, though. Mostly because after I’ve read them, I like to keep them around. I’m kind of mean to my paperback books – I break the spine and dog ear the pages, and I like having these busted up books rotting around me for some reason. I’ve been known to decline girlfriends’ requests to borrow books. But now I’m a bit better. I let people borrow them, but they *have* to give them back.

  3. Marleyfan says:

    I think Dave changed his name, moved to Wenatchee, and works with me.

  4. Jeremy says:

    This is a super-enjoyable post, but it makes me feel a little guilty.

    And, yeah, I’m wondering what Dave said to Melissa when he returned the book…

  5. Tim says:

    Ouch. Poor Melissa is right.

    The details of this story are what make it for me — the rain beating down on the awning, the quality of the light, the songs, etc.

    I’ve never really understood why people write in the margins of books, outside of studying them for a class or research project. Did she use her marginalia as a measure of her former selves, returning to them like you would a snapshot?

  6. MarleyFan's Co-worker says:

    Oh my god, Marleyfan, am I that transparent? When you see Melissa, my now-wife, at the company picnic, please don’t tell her that you know about this. It would just be too . . . ironic.

  7. opinionated lurker says:

    This is by far the second most fucking awesome post of ’08!

  8. irony-challenged says:

    I don’t get why he found that notation so funny. Is he just insane in addition to being cruel, or is there something I’m missing? Tears streaming down his cheeks? Really.

  9. ssw says:

    I think his behavior was mostly just immature, but also cruel, because he knew that she was sensitive about it, and then, just because she wasn’t there (?) provided the exact judgment she was fearful of. I hope she broke it off with him– he was probably consistent enough for her to figure this out. Personally, I tend to write in the margins and engage with the text personally and in the moment. It’s improved my ability to draw connections, track a layer of my thinking, and to process a text. Of course it may be weird to read later, but who cares? It could also be insightful about where you were as a person–much worse in my opinion is not to feel confident engaging at all.

  10. ruben mancillas says:

    for as good as the story got i couldn’t get past that second sentence wondering what olympic athletes from olympia call themselves.

    in the interests of tgw fellowship and/or adding more checks to your “i’ve met this many people in the whatsit” list, adriean and i will be in arriving in brooklyn over the next couple of days and would love to get together with those available and interested. i’ll check in with my social secretary, j. zitter, who i think will be in nyc over the weekend and see if we can scare something up.

  11. ruben mancillas says:

    let me do a quick superstitious edit: we’re arriving only once and in one piece, with any luck, tomorrow morning.

    and i’m going to try and finish pride and prejudice on the plane!

  12. lane says:

    I have an autographed edition of Cruel Shoes.

  13. J-Man says:

    Scotty, you had me at “Olympian”.
    But I only half-feel sorry for Melissa – I don’t write in the margins for the same reason I don’t keep a diary. Somebody’s bound to find it and laugh their ass off at what I’ve written, and most likely it would be myself.
    Love this post! (And I don’t mean that ironically).

  14. Scotty says:

    To you all: this is a story that I’ve held onto for a long time (duh, since 1999). I am really happy to share it with you all (not sure why).

    J-Man: thanks for the kind words.

    Lane: I am terribly envious. I love Cruel Shoes.

    Mr/Ms. Challenged: I think that Dave’s tickling was a result of (at least in his earlier years) Steve Martin’s career was pretty much entirely based on irony, and what happened was that Dave was initially tickled by Melissa’s ill knowledge of his Milieu, which made him further tickled at the fact that he was laughing — something Melissa was obviously concerned about. This is what really sent him over the edge.

    To those who think this story is a little mean spirited: I agree, but funny, to me, is funny.

    Brooke: as you might’ve expected, the relationship lasted not much longer.

    Ruben: I hope to see you sweet ass in NYC.

  15. julie the pingpongqueen says:

    I am leaving to new york on saturday til thursday will you let me into the party?

  16. cynthia says:

    Great post, And everybody who is in New York have fun!!

  17. Miller says:

    I’ve been out of the loop for a little bit here and feel the need to comment on almost every single post. TGW really ended the new year with a bang last month. Since I wasn’t around to engage in the comments, I will begin here again, since your post, Scott, made me lol. (I know how to use that one). I especially love the image of Melissa “inflating her spine,” but that last line kills me.