The Keebler Elf

Just before Myspace was going out of style and I still resided in Boca Raton, I received a message from a guy named Bryan. Apparently, we had a few mutual friends so he sent a quick message to say hi as he added me as a friend. Back in the day, I would add people just because I liked their shirt.

From browsing his profile and photo albums, I immediately fell in love. He was adorable. He was smart. He was a Southern gentleman. But, he lived in Georgia.

We spent a few nights that week talking on the phone, and I was instantly obsessed with his twang and country accent. Everyone I had met in South Florida barely spoke English, and if they did, they knew how to say three things: “Hello”, “My name is”, and “How short do you want the lawn Mister James?” It was definitely time for a change.

“Ugh!” I screamed repeatedly alone in my room until Cory, my roommate came barging in.

“What’s the matter?” he asked after my ninth exhale.

“This always happens!”

“Herpes?”

“No!” I screamed. “Well, I don’t think so! But that’s not what this is about!” I got off my bed and sat at the computer chair. “Whenever I meet someone online that is cute, smart, worthy of dating, AND that is interested in ME, they always live so far away. Remember that guy in Anchorage? Anyways, I met someone last week on Myspace and he is perfect.”

“So where does he live? Hopefully somewhere really pretty that you could go visit! Like the Caribbean. Or Denver.”

“Neither,” I said with a melancholy growl. “He lives in Camden, Georgia.”

Once again, I was being a bit dramatic, and Cory was in no mood to comfort me or give in to my pity cry. “Oh just get over it. You could easily go to Georgia! I believe there is a train that goes there at midnight.”

“This is no time for a Gladys and the Pips reference, Cory.” I laid back down on my bed and cuddled my pillow, wanting to change the subject. “So, how exactly do I know if I have herpes?”

Two weeks later, my phone rang as I was in the middle of my rigorous workout. “Hello!?” I yelped, interrupting my third sit-up.

It was one of my best friends from high school, Katie Kelly. I have always loved her name, and have always secretly wished her middle name was Kendall or Karen, just for the amusing initials.

Katie lived in Jacksonville, working on her Bachelors at the University of North Florida and living with her Navy Seal boyfriend of one year. She was going on and on about her sister getting married and that she needed a date for the wedding.

“What about your boyfriend?” I asked, while wiping the sweat off my forehead.

“He’s going to be on the ship for another four months. And everyone is bringing a date. Even my cousin, Lynn, has a date.”

“Wait. Isn’t she the one with one leg?”

“One foot” she corrected me. “I cannot show up to this thing alone. Please save me!”

I thought about my school schedule and my lack of monetary funds, but then quickly got excited to watch Lynn attempt to do the Hokey Pokey, so I agreed.

“Fine! I will go with you. We will match our outfits but I will not put out!”

I hung up the phone and decided that I had enough physical activity for one day. I didn’t want to pull a hamstring four weeks before the wedding and not be able to do the electric slide. I jumped into bed at 3 in the afternoon for my first nap of the day when I suddenly realized: Jacksonville is just below Georgia! When I go up for the wedding, I would be able to see my best friend AND meet Bryan. I sent him a quick message telling him my plan and asking how far away he was from where I would be staying and he replied “20 minutes, 30 minutes tops. We could totally arrange a meeting!”

I turned down my shades, pulled up my covers, and suddenly had Georgia on my mind.

The weekend of the wedding came before I knew it and I had to quickly throw one weekend worth of clothes into two suitcases. I called Bryan and told him of my whereabouts and that as soon as I could, I would ditch my friend and we could meet up.

I made it to Jacksonville just after 5pm and pulled into Katie’s apartment complex, where she was standing in the parking lot, jumping up and down like a six year old who just saw the tooth fairy fly away. The sight of her pathetic excitement almost made me turn my car around.

I rolled down the window as I pulled into a parking space. “Enough with the jumping jacks, I’m here!” I popped the trunk of my car and said, “Would you be a doll and grab those two suitcases? I’m beat from all this driving.”

As Katie pulled out my two Lacoste suitcases and hauled them up to her third floor apartment, I pulled out one of those miniature fans and exhaled, “Gaw it’s hot up here”. She turned to look back, giving me an evil snarl and almost ran right into the wall. “Whoa! Easy with that one. It has my shoes in it!”

Once inside, I took my spot on the couch, where I would be sleeping the next few nights. Katie then got me a glass of water. It was from the faucet, but I drank it anyways. “This weekend is going to be so much fun!” She exclaimed. “I hope you are ready to do some cha-cha-sliding”.

Katie knew how much I hated organized dancing and could probably tell with my lack of response that I would be sitting at the open bar all night ordering vodka tonics two at a time.

“I know. This seriously better be one hell of a wedding. I am missing the season finale of Survivor: All Stars for this.”

“Really? Survivor? That show is ridiculously gay. No offense. It is so staged. You know they are all sleeping at a Sheraton Hotel once the cameras turn off.”

I almost jumped off the couch in anger. “You know that’s not true!”

“And besides,” she continued, “Survivor comes on Sunday nights. You’ll probably be back home in time for it anyways, and you definitely won’t miss the tribal council meeting. You should have just tape recorded it.”

“Wow. For someone who hates the show, you sure do know quite a lot about its airtime and rituals, Katie.”

“TV Guide” she said and crossed her arms.

“And tape record it? I haven’t seen an actual working VCR since I was in diapers. Anyways, do I have time to take a short two hour nap?”

“No. Tonight is the rehearsal dinner and I figured we could go meet up with my girlfriends for a few cocktails before. They really want to meet you.”

(A little side note):

It seems that every time I go to visit a friend, I always have to go out and meet their other friends. Can’t you go out with your girlfriends every other day that I’m not there? I get it. I am not your only friend, so stop making me meet the rest of them. And then you throw in that bullshit of a story “They really want to meet you”. No they don’t. 9 times out of 10, they have never heard of me in their lives and suddenly I am just some random guy sitting at a table drinking something with an umbrella in it.

The conversation always goes like this:

GIRL FRIEND: Hey guys! This is James                                                                                                                                               FRIENDS OF SAID GIRL FRIEND: Who?                                                                                                                       GIRL FRIEND: James! The guy I was telling you about. We’ve been best friends since we were four.     FOSGF: Oh! The guy who got the baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt?                                                              GIRL FRIEND: No, that was my brother. James is my gay best friend, goes to college down South. Really funny…                                                                                                                                                                       FOSGF: Umm. Oh yeah, I remember him now. Nice to meet you, Jeff.

But I digress back to Katie’s couch. I didn’t know how to tell her that I made plans for the night already, so I just said, “I made plans for the night already.”

“What? You came up here to be my date to my sister’s wedding. How could you have made other plans? You’ve been here litchrally (I know that’s spelled incorrectly, but that is how she pronounces it) five minutes. I don’t want to go to the rehearsal dinner alone!”

“Katie, you were going to go to the wedding alone if it weren’t for me. I’m sorry. I met this guy a few weeks ago and he lives about thirty minutes away, and this is the only time that we would be able to meet. He’s already on his way from Georgia and…”

She cut me off and stood up, “Georgia?! How…I mean why…no, I mean how are you meeting guys from Georgia?! You live six hours away!”

“Online.” I added, “Do you want to see a picture of him? He’s so…”

“No.”

Katie started pacing back and forth through her eleven by eight foot living room, fuming from the ears and nose. “Well, I am sorry. You are just going to have to tell him you have previously made plans and that you didn’t come all the way up here to meet him.” She paused. “Wait a minute. Did you come all the way up here to meet him? And that the wedding was just a great excuse?”

I sat there in shock, mostly because it was true. “No! I came here to go to your sister’s wedding! I honestly just thought you would need me for tomorrow. And I really really really like him and wanted to see where things went.” Note to readers, if you want to get your point across, just keep repeating “really” a few times. Then they’ll know it’s important.

I was really hoping that she would be okay with me leaving for a little bit. I saw her start to weaken and sit back down. “Well, I mean tonight is just going to be my immediate family. It would be kind of boring for you, I guess.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I screamed. Aside from the ‘really rule’, saying ‘thank you’ three times shows just how thankful you really are. Only assholes say it once.

“Yeah. But because I am letting you go and ditch me tonight, you will do the cha-cha slide, the electric slide, and what other dances involve sliding. You hear me?”

I didn’t even have a chance to respond. I had already started trying on different outfits.

Not even twenty minutes since I was “allowed” to go on the date, Bryan called me and said he was getting off the highway and suggested that we meet up at a Starbucks a few miles down the road. “I like coffee” I agreed.

Now, as a serial online dater, I have met guys pretty much everywhere: bars, clubs, restaurants, the dumpster behind a Best Buy, etc. My least favorite is Starbucks. One, because it is inundated with people at all times, and they are all in just one tiny room, staring at you when you come in. You know you are meeting someone for a date and they certainly do too once they catch that awkward hello you’re about to do.

Oh, I guess it’s my least favorite for just one reason.

So, I made it to the Starbucks as directed and parked my car. I had already received the “I’m here” text a few minutes ago, so I decided to take my time and build up the anticipation. I got out of my car and headed straight for that door, knowing Bryan was inside, somewhere, waiting for me.

I slowly opened the glass door and looked around the coffee shop. To my right were these three guys studying for some sort of test. Why anyone was studying on a Friday night is beyond me. No one was in line for coffee except this old lady. I then peered to my left and saw two oversized purple velvet couches in the corner. One was vacant. The other held Bryan.

I walked over and he did not even look up from his BlackBerry. I tried to get a clear shot of what his face looked like so I wasn’t approaching the wrong guy. I hate to say it, but I cleared my throat to get his attention. He looked up from his phone and I quietly whispered, “Bryan?” He looked shocked that someone in a Jacksonville Starbucks would know his name and at first gave me a skittish look. Then I guess he realized he was going on a blind date. He smiled faintly and said, “James. It’s nice to meet you.”

I sat down on the purple couch next to his. “It’s nice to meet you too, Bryan.”

“Oh, please. Call me Keebs. It’s my nickname. Everyone I know calls me that.”

Keebs, I thought to myself. Hmm. I don’t like nicknames. Never have. I just don’t get them, I guess. I once met a guy named Steve, but his nickname was Gary. I can’t even connect the dots on that one. I swore that after we hooked up I wouldn’t speak to him again.

“Did you want to get something?” I asked.

“No, thanks.” He replied. “Don’t really like the taste of coffee. Plus, it stunts your growth.”

Since neither of us was actually drinking coffee, and a family of four was standing over me and Bryan waiting for us to get up, I suggested we leave for dinner. “I know just the place” he said.

I stood up from my chair with my right leg half asleep, went to the door and turned around to hold it for Bryan…I mean “Keebs”, and this is the moment I discovered the nickname. This is the moment I understood Keebs.

He could not have been a centimeter over 5’3’’. Nowhere in his MySpace profile alluded to the fact that he was almost legally a midget. I mean, just to state the facts, I am no giant. I am 5’9 (5’10 in the right shoe) and usually someone’s height doesn’t bother me. But someone’s lack of height surely did that night. I was hoping that the six inches he was missing in height he would make up in girth.

As we walked across the street, a car zoomed past us and, as an instinct, I threw my arm out in front of him to stop him from getting run over. In my attempt to save his life, I smacked him so hard, my ring left an imprint on his forehead.

“It’s okay. It’s fine. He is a nice, normal, sweet guy. How tall (or short) he is shouldn’t deter you from having a fun time.” These were the words I was telling myself as I got into his Ford-250 pickup truck. I can barely get into one of those things and I would have loved to see how he managed to climb on up. I noticed on his front driver seat he had a phone book. “Who uses a phone book anymore?” I thought to myself. Until I saw his tiny little ass sit down on it.

“It’s okay. It’s fine. He is a nice guy.”

We were heading to the nice part of Jacksonville where there are great shops, restaurants, and bars he told me. I wish Katie wasn’t so mad at me because she would have been dying right now. The radio was blasting Toby Keith (okay, at least he was a Republican) and the windows were rolled down. I tried making small talk but he kept saying, “Let’s just keep the good convo for the dinner, alright?” in that Southern twang of his.

A long fifteen minutes  later, the truck was parked and we were walking toward the restaurants. I was so concerned everyone was looking at me the way Nicole Kidman was looked at when she was “married” to Tom Cruise. I didn’t want them to think that I knew about his height prior to us going out, so when I would catch people stare I would mouth “blind date” and they would look back at me, shrug their shoulders, and give me a knowing look that read ‘Hang in there’ and ‘God is watching and he is proud’.

As we walked down the pier, we passed so many inviting and interesting restaurants: A family-owned Italian restaurant, a Sushi one, a Thai one, a Mexican one. I couldn’t wait to find out where he was taking me. We made a left at the end of the pier and that is where I noticed the God-awful orange awning of the tackiest restaurants around, Hooters.

“This is not where we are going,” I said silently to myself as he ran to the door and held up two tiny fingers. “Table for two, please”.

“Denise is your server and she’ll be right over” Brandi cheered and then skipped away. I picked up the menu and started browsing the culinary selections.

“Have you ever been here before?” Bryan asked me.

Yeah, I’ve been to a Hooter’s before you moron. My dad would drag me here to watch football games and to stare at women’s boobs since I was seven. My grandmother has even been to a Hooter’s. But, I am sure she didn’t drive six hours to be taken on a date to one by a troll.

Bryan, yes I will call him Bryan from here on out because just typing the word ‘Keebs’ makes me nauseous. So, Bryan ordered us a fried pickle appetizer and swore on his life by it. “This will be the best part of your night,” he said. I nodded my head knowing he was right.

The dinner conversation was light, and mostly touched on the different types of wing sauce, if Georgia really does have the best peaches, and stories of his ex-boyfriends. I excused myself to use the bathroom, just so I could get a minute to myself. In the stall, I texted Katie and told her that I would much rather be at her family’s dumb rehearsal dinner instead of out on the docks with this shrimp. She replied, “Duh.”

When I got back to my seat, the check was laying on the table. A sign to me that this night was over, and thank Jesus for that. He picked up the checkbook and reached for his wallet, like a true Southern gentlemen. “Wanna just split it?”

I really didn’t have any other choice.

As we walked back along the pier to the parking garage, Bryan spotted a sports memorabilia store with a Georgia Bulldogs flag out front. “Mind if we stop in for a minute?”

I really didn’t have any other choice.

I was starting to feel that Bryan was having an identity crisis and being unsure of his sexuality – Hooter’s AND a sports store, both bad choices for the gays.

Pretty much the entire store was covered wall-to-wall with Bulldog shirts, hats, pillows, beer cozies, and statues of a bulldog wearing the uniform. “These are kinda cute” I said, making myself enjoy the store for what it was.

“Aww, I love them. Oh my gaw, look at this little guy. He reminds me of Kevin, my dog growing up. Wearin’ the hat and all. I think I’m a get him.”

Bryan made his way to the register holding this three foot dog statue that came up to his nipples and paid the lady the forty-seven dollars for it. He couldn’t buy my 10 wings, but fifty bucks for a dog statue was a much better way to spend his money.

Back on the highway, I saw the dog statue sitting in the bed of the truck out of my side-view mirror and had to ask, “Hey, Bryan- “

“…I’d prefer it if you just called me Keebs.”

“I’d rather not. What’s the deal with the statue? I’ve never seen anyone go into a store so quickly and buy something so specific. And I know shopping. I am an expert. Why did you have to get it tonight? I am sure there are better, more team-spirited dogs in Georgia.”

He put his left blinker on and got in the turning lane. The light was red, so he turned to me and said, “Well, I needed it tonight so I could drop it off.”

“Drop it off where?” I asked, concerned.

“Right here, down the road. To the cemetery.”

I chuckled and said, “Why the hell are you bringing some dumb statue to a cemetery at 10pm?”

The light turned green and Bryan made the left. Staring down the two-lane highway, listening to the silence, he swallowed hard, “My dad died one year ago today. He is buried right up here on the right. And he was such a big Bulldog fan, let me tell you. So, I figured that on that way back to me droppin you off, I could just put the statue on his grave and say my peace, mainly because I haven’t been to the grave yet.”

I put two spaces between the next paragraph just so you could take some time to process what has just happened.

Talk about a morbid date, huh? I immediately pulled out my BlackBerry and started frantically texting Katie. “Help me, please” I wrote with over twenty exclamation points. Like the great friend she is, she ignored every message I sent her. And then it hit me as the car went into park. I was really doing this. This was actually happening.

Bryan hopped the six feet out of the truck and went around the back and grabbed the dog. I just sat in the car, silently praying that I was in a bad dream. Hoping he would realize this was a little strange and to just go to the grave by himself, I heard a knocking at my window. “How the hell did he reach the window?” I thought to myself.

I looked out my window and could only see the top of his head. I rolled down the window and told him that cemetery’s freak me out and that I would be best sitting alone in the car. “Also,” I added, “what if a cop comes and tows your car. I should be here, just in case. You go ahead.”

None of these options were working and he was being relentless. I rolled my window back up and got out of the car. He grabbed onto my hand as we walked down the rows and rows of tombstones, passing many different flower arrangements and plants. But not one single dog statue.

When we finally got to his father’s grave, he turned to me and said, “James, I really appreciate you bein’ here for me and all, but do ya mind if I say goodbye to my father alone?” Uh, no! I don’t mind. I would love for you to say goodbye alone. Did I seem like I was itching to be beside you during this intimate family moment?!

Bryan knelt down and placed the statue in front of the tombstone and started speaking to his father. He started tearing up, got up off the ground, and whispered “Go Bulldogs”. He grabbed my hand and we headed back to his truck.

The rest of the car ride was spent in silence. He dropped me off in same the Starbucks parking lot where we met 5 hours earlier, at a time when I had hope and optimism. I opened my door and thanked him for the night.

“I had a swell time, too, James. And if ya ever in the great county of Camden, Georgia, well, give me a holler.” And then, just like that, he went into the night, probably back to his tree fort to make cookies and snacks.

I must have drove eighty miles an hour back to Katie’s apartment. Luckily, her lights were on which meant that she was back from the rehearsal dinner and could listen to the horrendous night I just had.

Katie sat through most of my story in shock, with her mouth hanging almost to the floor. “Wait, so you’ve never met this kid before tonight?”

“No” I replied.

“And he just brought you to a cemetery? To say goodbye to his dad? What kind of looney tunes are you going out with? You have got to stop this online dating. Seriously, he could have killed you out there.”

“Katie, the most he could have done was scratch my knee caps.”

I apologized for choosing a boy over her, and after hearing my story, she forgave me.

The next day was her sisters wedding. We ate. We drank. We danced. We drank. I was dragged onto the dance floor to do the slides, both electric and cha-cha. I even slow danced with her Grandma Evelyn. I was having such a great time I didn’t even think about the night before, until the waiter came around and passed out the desserts.

“What are they passing out? Didn’t they get a wedding cake?” I asked Katie.

“No, they didn’t want to have a traditional wedding.”

“Yeah, the whole getting-married-in-a-church thing is pretty unconventional.”

When the cute waiter(who didn’t take my number as a tip) finally approached our table, he held a tray with an array of delectable desserts; Cupcakes, pastries, and cookies. I decided I would have one of each…but only one. It wasn’t until then, when I looked down at my plate and saw the cookies, that I asked the waiter just to make sure, “What kind of cookies are these?”

He looked down at his tray and said, “Oh, these. They are Vienna Fingers. They were bought for the kids table, I think.”

Katie and I looked at each other and at the same time squealed, “Keebs!”

We lifted our cups of coffee, clinked them together, and said “To stunting our growth!”

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