On the Camelot BBS I came to sorta know a girl who went by the name Whirlwind. I was a poor friend to her brother and a good fake son to her mother. For some reason (I can think of a few), she just didn’t like me (even in that brotherly way I had come to fear and expect). Without much choice, I chose not to like her, either. She dated my friend Clint for a spell as well as another friend whose online name was Cladger. Cladger was one of those guys that I always wanted to be friends with because he was a great guy on paper but he was a little too much of a sycophant in reality.

Cladger called me up one day and said that there was something that I had to get in on. What? He wouldn’t say. He needed a ride to Southfield Mall, though. Oh, and he’d be bringing a couple other guys, Kermit (whom I knew) and Nathan (whose handle, “Nathan”, I’d seen online, but whom I’d never talked to). I picked up Cladger first so that he could guide me to Kermit’s house, where Kermit and Nathan would be. As I drove, I quizzed him on what exactly was going on. He said that Whirlwind and Nathan had struck up a little online romance and that they were going to meet.

Seeing as how everyone seemed to be having better romantic luck than I was, I didn’t know why in the world he thought this would be something that I would want to see. “You brought me here to chaperon Whirlwind meeting some guy?”

“No, I brought you a front row seat. You’re going to want to see this.”

The second that I saw Nathan, I said three words to Cladger: Oh, wow, and thanks.

It wasn’t just that Nathan was obese – I’d seen heavier. It was the slimy, repellent nature of his obesity that was truly astonishing. His skin looked like it was struggling to keep the fat inside of it like a pillowcase holding four pillows and about to burst at the seam. His elbows were hidden under a rag of peachy fat. He had no neck, which you almost didn’t notice except that when he looked down what he had of a chin immediately became buried in fat. Had his face been covered end-to-end in acne, it wouldn’t have looked any worse than the pin-sized pores on his face barely visible through a waterfall of sweat.

Whirlwind had declared herself too good for Cladger. She had declared herself too good for my best friend. She had declared herself too good to be even the most casual of friends with me. I cannot presently recall where I was on my weight rollercoaster at this time, but I am pretty sure that I was significantly below my peak and, while perhaps not desirable to most, not repellant. Not like Nathan. How in the world was she going to respond to this guy meeting her at a mall?!

After the girls were running half an hour or so late, we decided that maybe we hadn’t communicated where it was that we were supposed to meet, so we started walking around the mall. And walking, and walking. After about half an hour we did stumble upon them. They politely waved and said hello, but never stopped walking. They acted as though it was a coincidence that we happened to see each other. As though there hadn’t been plans. As though she hadn’t spent the previous week spilling her guts to a guy that had hooked a ride to the mall to meet her. It was enough that I began to wonder if Cladger had misrepresented the nature of the meeting.

“That’s weird,” Nathan said, “I thought we were supposed to hang out.” It was only when he said that when the obvious occurred to me. Of course they were here to meet him. Upon seeing him, meeting him was the last thing that they wanted to do. It was a real let down compared to the show that I was hoping to see, but the idea of all the icks she must have been feeling over the span of weeks would have to be reward enough.

“Maybe they didn’t recognize us, Nathan,” Cladger said, ignoring the fact that he and Whirlwind had dated. “How did you describe yourself?”

“5’8, brown hair. Glasses. Kind of overweight, but I work out.”

I found that hard to believe.

Nathan was ultimately unphased, even when she hid from him immediately after the meeting. He made his way to a couple of Camelot parties afterwards and almost singlehandedly ruined them due to his very unpleasant odor and appearance. The smell was easy enough to avoid in the mall because it was a very open atmosphere. It was much harder at Excalibur’s house and so when he entered a room, people would find a reason to disperse until we eventually all ended up outside in the insane Gulf Coast summer heat because it was so much easier to spread out and shift as the winds carrying the odors requested.

Though he may have never knew how badly he smelled, he must have known that there was something putting everybody off. He tried to make up for it by talking as though he hadn’t been the reject all of his life that Tom confirmed he was. He spoke vaguely of an ex-girlfriend, described himself as “bi-curious” as it was considered cool and edgy to be at the time. Over and over again he tried to present himself as alternative. As many of our peers reasoned, if you can’t be better, try to be different. Really, though, it had the equivalent effect of putting on heavy cologne to cover up the smell of cigarettes: even it wasn’t quite as odious, it was twice as strong and even more unpleasant, on the whole.


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15 Responses to Twisting In The Whirlwind

  1. ? says:

    I have to say, as guiltily as anyone else, that we guys must be better at providing, and asking for, honest feedback to each other about our turn-offs.

    Bad breath is an obvious one: it’s literally impossible to smell your own, so somebody’s got to tell you.

  2. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    This is a tragic story, “tragic” in the classical meaning of the word — the protagonist initially seems to be overwhelmed by external forces, but upon examination we can see that his own flaws and imperfections had doomed him all along.

    I was more or less rooting for Nathan, and against Whirlwind, despite the sense that the story was doomed to end badly. Then I got to the point in the story where Nathan described himself; then, things reversed rather quickly. The information about him that came afterwards confirmed my change of sympathies.

    Whirlwind may have been snobby and shallow but it’s hard to condemn her for despising Nathan. He a) had not been reasonably honest with her about himself, b) who couldn’t be bothered to commit to a regimen of grooming and personal hygiene, and c) subsequently compounded his repellent qualities by distributing pretentious dishonesties upon them.

    In the meantime, Whirlwind was willing to meet up with a guy who had described himself as kind of overweight, so that meant that in principle she was at least willing to give him a chance knowing that he was heavy. But Nathan’s low self-esteem swamped whatever willingness to look deeper than his appearance Whirlwind might have been willing to do. Now, from what you describe of her, I doubt Whirlwind would have been willing to look for those good qualities in Nathan very hard or for very long. But it doesn’t matter – the guy couldn’t be bothered to conceal his odor, would have spouted off while meeting her that he was curious about guys or done some other similar nonsense, and most of all had failed to take the admittedly awkward but ultimately necessary step of providing a photograph before meeting.

    I can understand Nathan’s awkwardness about admitting this about himself and maybe downplaying it in some online conversation while he and Whirlwind were flirting blind. I’ve been there myself. But the frustration of having her reject him online based on a picture surely paled in comparison to what he actually went through.

    Will, was inducing this turn of sympathies the emotional intent of your storytelling here? If so, you did it very effectively. Maybe you thought the point was to demonstrate that Nathan never really had any chance with Whirlwind in the first place, which is almost certainly right — but it seems to me that Nathan allowed his poor self-esteem to ensure that indeed his chances were really zero. My verdict at the end of the day was “A pox on both their houses.”

  3. trumwill says:

    Yeah, I set her up as the villain at the start, but I more-or-less give Whirlwind a pass on this. What, precisely, was she supposed to do? The guy was so toxic that I didn’t like to be seen with him, and I wasn’t that particular. Yeah, she was shallow and superficial but she was also young and pretty. It was quite frustrating to be on the other side of what she found socially acceptable, but like Nathan, I too dug my own grave in retrospect.

    In fact, some time after this Whirlwind would and me such a harrowing diss that I would be left no choice but to take stock of what I was doing that was turning people off. It was something of a turning point for me.

    I’m also disinclined to be too hard on Nathan insofar as the poor guy suffered enough. If I cared about him, I might actively try to help him shed himself of the lowest-hanging fruit (his smell and at least some of the sweat). But even aside from the social toxicity, his pretensions made even the prospect of breaking through seem pretty daunting.

    Regarding the photograph, it was a different time and place then. Scanners were scarce and we had a limited number of pictures to give away. These days this whole thing would have been sidestepped by picture-swapping online. If a guy claims not to have a picture of himself, she knows the chance she’s taking.

  4. Barry says:

    I wonder if it’s really so hard (and if so, why) to look at ourselves and at least have a general idea of why we may be less than attractive to the opposite sex.

    For Nathan, my first thought was how can it not be so blisteringly obvious that a) you are grossly obese (with double-meaning emphasis on the word “gross”, b) sweaty, and c) smelly. We’re not that oblivious to our own odors (I can certainly tell when I have morning breath or need to apply deodorant after a workout) but I would imagine we can grow used to them over time. But becoming used to an odor is much different than becoming inured to an obviously inferior body image compared to everybody else.

    I guess it comes down to the same mindset that allows one to become like that in the first place – their brain doesn’t allow them to see their own flaws. They deny they look bad, so they continue getting fatter and grosser while all the while believe they look OK (I’m “working out”). I hesitate to say it’s a mental illness, especially when it comes in such varying degrees, but it’s a mental roadblock that is being unsuccessfully dealt with.

    You’d hope the guy’s parents would’ve helped the guy out but one or both was likely the same way. Denial can pass down the family line…

    Women go through similar thought processes when anorexic – they simply look at themselves in the mirror at their emaciated bodies and actually see themselves as too fat. And continue to not eat, or binge and purge, or whatever. I guess when totally obese people look at themselves they see themselves as maybe a little bit big, and keep right on staying the way they are. And believing certain people who don’t find them attractive are simply blind, stuck-up or bigoted against people who simply have a weight problem.

  5. trumwill says:

    I think that we typically have a general idea but can completely under-evaluate the scope of the hindrance. A guy may know that he’s overweight and that it’s a mark against him, but may (a) not realize how overweight he is, (b) think he can get by paying an insufficient price for it*, and (c) the right person won’t care**.

    Smell is a funny thing. I needed someone to point it out to me. I was never as bad as Nathan (at least I don’t think!) and I have a notably poor sense of smell, but I needed someone to overhear a couple girls talking about me to turn around and tell Clint to tell me that I needed to shower more often and wear deodorant.

    * – An example I like to use, which I saw a lot of growing up, a very overweight guy thinking that he can get a much less overweight girl and that she won’t care about his extra 50lb because she’s carrying an extra 20lb or her own. Another common example is people that think that being “nice” will or should put them on even footing with a hot guy that is not very nice.

    ** – Reminding me a bit of Tracey, who was told over and over again that any guy that had a problem with her weight was not worth her time anyway.

  6. stone says:

    How old were you guys at the time? It seems weird that all three, including the would-be-date, needed a ride from you.

    Interesting that Nathan was able to engage her online in a way that none of you others were able to. I wonder what he had “on paper.”

  7. Peter says:

    Back in the mid-1990’s I was talking on the phone with a woman who’d responded to a personals ad, trying to set up an in-person meeting, when she asked me what celebrity I most closely resembled. I told her that I honstly didn’t know.* She became quite insistent, though she eventually backed down. It puzzled me at the time, but later on I figured that she might have been trying to avoid a Nathan-type situation. Asking me my height and weight would’ve been too pushy, as I hadn’t volunteered that information in my ad, so by asking for a celebrity resemblance chances are good that she was trying by backdoor means to see if I was very fat or otherwise weird-looking.

    We ended up meeting for drinks. She wasn’t bad-looking, though obviously several years older than the age she had stated, however we didn’t hit it off well and there were no further dates.

    One more thing: Nathan’s description of himself as bi-curious because he thought it was cool and edgy is a sign of his cluelessness. It may be cool for a woman to describe herself in that way, emphasis on “may,” but it’s definitely not cool for a man.

    * = in recent years a couple of people have said I resemble Jon Favreau (I don’t see it myself), but this was just before Swingers came out and he wasn’t well known.

  8. trumwill says:

    How old were you guys at the time?

    Goodness gracious, I left out that crucial bit of information.

    I was 17, the gang I was chauffeuring (Cladger, Kermit, and Nathan) were sophomores in high school, and Whirlwind was a 13 year old who greatly enjoyed attention from 16 year olds.

    Interesting that Nathan was able to engage her online in a way that none of you others were able to.

    That’s a very good question. Cladger and Clint were able to do well enough to go on “dates” with her, but she tended to get bored quite easily and had a lot of suitors so neither lasted long. I was sort of the odd man out as far as that went. I never pursued her romantically, would have been thoroughly rejected if I had, and guys that didn’t pursue her were – at best – invisible to her.

  9. trumwill says:

    Peter,

    Yeah, we did that on the BBS, too. The problem for me is that while I do bear a passing resemblance to a couple of celebrities, neither were as overweight as I was. But I didn’t look like any overweight celebrities. So I never knew what to do.

  10. Barry says:

    I keep forgetting how much younger you are than I am. When I was 13-16, Compuserve was still a future innovation and the Macintosh was brand new… Nobody had ever heard of a BBS as far as I know.

    Was Camelot BBS a national BBS, or was it “franchised” out around the country? I remember when I was on BBS’s after college there was one called Camelot BBS with a local number that I got on occasionally, though I went to BBS’s mainly to see what interesting shareware games had been uploaded and to play VGA Planets. I assumed it was local but maybe not…

    Will, did you ever MUD/MUSH/MUSE/MUCK?

  11. trumwill says:

    On Hit Coffee, even BBSes have pseudonyms 🙂

    I never did the MUD thing. I hated it, actually, because once people I talked to got involved with that, I wouldn’t get to talk to them anymore!

  12. Transplanted Lawyer says:

    She was 13? The guys were 16-17? I’d had the impression this was a teenage saga from details in the story, but even for teenagers, the gap between 13 and 17 seems pretty significant.

    Anyway, let me double-down on my earlier remarks about immaturity for all concerned based on this new information. And I’ll shift the emphasis of my criticism of Nathan a smidge — his initial mistake in dealing with Whirlwind might be partially credited to his youth, especially if he hadn’t had a lot of real-life interaction with girls. But his subsequent actions demonstrate a failure to have learned from this unpleasant experience. Which is admittedly not the easiest thing for a teenager to do.

  13. trumwill says:

    The guys were 15 or 16. I want to say 15 because they didn’t have driver’s licenses, but Cladger and Kermit came from families where paying the insurance on a young male driver could pose a challenge.

    That being said, a four year age difference in Camelot wasn’t nearly as big a deal as it would be in other environments. Once you got to four or five years you might start getting dirty looks, but it was a very tolerant atmosphere (for good and for ill).

  14. trumwill says:

    Interestingly enough, I was originally going to take an excerpt from my novel and make it a post simply because that excerpt was based on a true story. Reading it over, though, it was too different. So I used that as a boilerplate and corrected the fictionalizations.

    Tolerance of sexual behavior (and lack thereof) is actually one of the backdrops of the book.

    Further, I have a planned novel somewhere down the road that focuses on Nathan’s fictional variant. It involves Nathan at 30 having lost the weight and becoming extremely health-conscious… and yet being unable to integrate himself into a society that so thoroughly rejected him, about which he still feels incredibly bitter, and in which he has almost no practical experience.

  15. stone says:

    Hey Will, don’t be so sure Nathan is alone. Sometimes those *really* weird types are good at finding other oddballs to hook up with. It’s the ones who keep trying to “pass” that have trouble.

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