Copyright Christopher Slater
It didn't take a fashion genius to know that Norman
was not born to wear a cowboy hat. No matter what angle he viewed
it from, the black felt hat just didn't work. He returned it to
the rack and looked at a few more. The white straw Stetson didn't
look too bad. He tried it on and smiled. That one would work.
For one of the first times in his life, Norman was
going out on a date. It was as much a shock to him as it was to
everyone else that knew him. It wasn't that Norman was bad
looking…well, that wasn't the entire reason. He didn't go out on
dates for two reasons: style and safety. Norman had never really
found a style that suited him. He wasn't a headbanger. The music
gave him migraines. He wasn't a big hip-hop fan. He had the
rhythm of an animal with mad-cow disease. He wasn't a country
boy, either, but the lady he was going out with was, so he
decided to at least dress the part.
The safety issue was something else altogether. Any
lady that had ever considered asking Norman out changed their
mind after five minutes with him. He was the clumsiest, most
unfortunate, most unlucky individual you could possibly imagine.
It was never anything that he did on purpose, but if there was a
cord to trip over, a mirror to break, a drink to spill, or an
injury to cause, it always seemed to happen around Norman. He had
learned to live with the curse, but very few people other than
his parents could deal with it.
Norman decided on the Stetson hat and a nice pair of
boots. He figured that his jeans and a plaid shirt he had at home
would complete the outfit nicely. He took the boots and hat up to
the counter and the clerk gave him his total. The sticker shock
sent Norman into an asthma attack. He finally got it under
control just before the clerk was going to call for an ambulance.
Norman did some mental math and decided that he would have to
skip lunch for about a month to afford the clothes. But then he
thought about the date and decided it would be worth it.
Norman got back home and started getting ready. He
went to the sink and shaved, then instantly regretted it. Shaving
made his skin break-out. He splashed some aftershave on to try
and sooth his skin, then screamed bloody murder when the alcohol
in the aftershave burned his sensitive skin. After he regained
his senses, Norman looked down and noticed that the bottle of
aftershave had spilled on him. He had no other clean clothes to
change into and no time to shower, so he decided to live with the
smell. He took great care in fixing his hair to make it look just
right. Then he looked in the mirror and put his hat on, instantly
ruining his hair. After fruitlessly trying to re-fix his hair,
Norman decided just to leave his hat on all night long.
Norman took one last look in the mirror before
heading out of the house. He said goodbye to his mother, who was
crying about how quickly her little boy was growing up. Norman's
mother had always been overprotective and refused to realize that
Norman was 18, not 8. He said goodnight to his dad, who sniffed
the air, then told Norman in a conspiratorial whisper "Son,
you're supposed to splash it on, not bathe in it." Norman mumbled
a thank you and got out as quickly as he could.
Glancing at his watch on the way out of the door,
Norman realized that he had roughly three minutes to make a
twenty minute drive. He was already in his car when he noticed
that he had left his coat in the house on one of the coldest
nights of the year. "Too late now," he muttered. For once his car
started on the first try. He pulled out of his driveway, almost
sideswiped a mailbox, and began driving to his date's house.
News reports of the event vary, but one thing was for
certain- Norman set a new land speed record driving to pick up
his date. He lost two hubcaps in sharp turns, hit one squirrel,
narrowly missed a deer, and blew through one speed trap so
quickly that the cop didn't chase him, thinking it was all in his
imagination. After it was all over, three drivers swore that they
would ride the subway and never get on the road again, one "low
flying UFO sighting" was called in, and Norman arrived only five
Norman walked up to the door and knocked on it
lightly, prepared to apologize for being late. When his date
opened the door, the apology got caught in his throat. The hat,
the boots, the jeans all looked so natural and wonderful on her.
"Uh…hello, Vanessa…" he stammered.
"Hello, Norman," Vanessa responded with a killer
Mentally cursing his parents for giving him such a
featureless name, Norman managed to babble, "I'm…uh…sorry I'm
late. I kinda got caught in traffic." Norman quickly prayed for
forgiveness for the lie.
"That's okay, Norm. No harm done." Norman offered
Vanessa his arm and began walking her to his car. He kept
stealing glances at Vanessa out of the corner of his eye. She was
easily the most lovely lady to ever stand this close to him. She
was well known and liked on campus and had more than her fair
share of boys interested in her. Norman truly expected for a
camera crew to jump on of the bushes at any time to tell him it
was all some televised practical joke.
Norman concentrated so much on looking at Vanessa
that he wasn't paying attention to where he was going. There was
one small patch of ice on the sidewalk. Typical of Norman's luck,
he found the patch of ice. His feet flew out in front of him as
the rest of his body fell backwards. Vanessa let go of his arm
just in time to keep from being pulled down with him. After
hitting the concrete with an unhealthy smack Norman
stood back up and brushed himself off. That's when he realized
that the fall had crushed his hat. Norman took it off, forgetting
about the horrible mop of hair underneath. "There's $100 down the
drain," he thought.
"Oh, Norman, are you all right?" Vanessa asked. "That
was a really nice hat, too. Wait! You wear a 7 ¼, right? So does
my brother! I'll be right back!"
Norman straightened himself up as Vanessa rushed back
into her house. "Really smooth," he said aloud to himself. "Show
the lady how well you can bust your butt."
"What did you say, Norm?" Vanessa was already walking
back outside, carrying a new hat for him.
Norman turned red at having been caught talking to
himself. "I…uh…said I wondered why someone like you is going out
with such a mutt." Norman silently prayed for forgiveness again.
Vanessa seemed very interested in the question. She
thought about it for a few seconds before responding, "I'll tell
you at the end of the night. Here, my brother lent this hat to
you." Norman took a quick look at the hat. It was the exact one
that he thought had looked so horrible on him. He almost turned
her down, but then remembered how horrible his hair looked. He
took the hat and walked Vanessa the rest of the way to the car.
He made a conscious effort to avoid the ice this time.
Many would consider the resulting date a disaster.
Norman had never tried line dancing before. He figured he could
muddle his way through by thinking of it as a game of
follow-the-leader. He was sadly mistaken. While Vanessa danced
with grace and ease, Norman looked like he had two left feet,
both of which were missing all of their toes. He almost wound up
in two fights when he accidentally kicked people while trying to
dance. For the first time in the dance club's history, Norman
became the first person to fall onto a stage, and when
he tried to two-step with Vanessa, he stomped her toes so hard
that he was sure he heard something crack.
Through it all, Vanessa never laughed at him.
Whenever he screwed up, which was often, she just smiled and
showed him again. With the patience of a saint, she eventually
got him to make it through an entire dance without falling. When
the music ended, the entire dance club gave him an ovation. He
blushed, waving awkwardly as they left for the evening.
Norman managed to get Vanessa back to the car without
incident. She had been in a very good mood the entire night. She
was somewhat quiet in the car until she finally asked "Norman, I
noticed something when we got in the car. There's a smell. It's
not unpleasant, but it is kind of strong."
Norman remembered spilling the aftershave earlier
that evening. The car's confined space made it much more
noticeable. "I….was kinda hoping you wouldn't notice. I… a bottle
of aftershave broke in the back seat when the bag boy put a
really heavy bag on top of it." With as many lies as he had told
today, Norman knew he needed to go to confession this Sunday!
After a quick and, luckily, uneventful stop for a
snack at McDonalds, Norman drove Vanessa home. He walked her to
the front porch, making an effort once again to avoid the patch
of ice. They reached the door, and Norman stood there, uncertain
what to say. He finally said "Thanks for putting up with me
tonight, Vanessa. I hope the doctor says your toe isn't broke. I
imagine he'll say a second date is out of the question."
Vanessa looked at him with a slight smile on her
face. "You know, Norm, I never did answer your question earlier."
Norman searched his memory, but couldn't recall what question she
was talking about. "You asked me earlier why I was going out with
such a mutt." Norman nodded. Vanessa stepped closer to Norman.
"Smell, Norman." Norman tried to smell, but the cold weather had
stuffed up his nose. After ten agonizing and noisy seconds, he
managed to clear his nose enough to sniff the air. He picked up a
very strong sense of perfume. He looked at her in surprise. She
smiled back. "Now take a really good look at me." Norman looked
at her for several long moments. At first, he was simply
mesmerized by her. Eventually he noticed that she was shivering.
He reached instinctively to offer her his coat before he
remembered that he had left it at home. It occurred to her that
she had left hers as well. "You asked why I am going out with
such a mutt. It's because I am just as much of a mutt. The
difference is that no one expects it of me. Since they don't
expect it, they don't see it. You, on the other hand, expect to
be clumsy, so that is all that you see."
Norman shifted nervously. "That's all that I see
because that is all that I do."
"Really? You are the first man to ever offer me his
arm to walk me somewhere. You are the first to hold the door for
me. You are the first to look me in the eye when they talk to me.
You're the first to offer to make a splint for my toe when they
thought they broke it!" Norman laughed in spite of himself.
"Those are the things that I see. Come dancing with me next
Friday. Soon you may be just as clumsy as I am."
Vanessa leaned forward and kissed Norman warmly on
the cheek. "Thank you for overlooking my flaws," she whispered to
Norman couldn't think of what to say at first.
Finally, he replied somewhat softly, "Have a good evening,
ma'am." He said it in a perfect southern accent. Norman was from
New Jersey! He got in his car and started backing out of the
driveway. Vanessa was waving to him, so he paid no attention
where he was going until he hit the mailbox. Vanessa ran down to
check on the mailbox and slipped on the infamous patch of ice.
Vanessa's father could be heard cursing in the house about the
damaged mailbox. Vanessa sheepishly stood up and waved to Norman
to let him know she was alright. As he pulled away, she couldn't
help thinking how happy she was the Norm had gone country.