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By Any Other Name
This story originally appeared on an earlier incarnation of this website in 2004. It was written after a conversation with my sister, in which we discovered that we have a mutual and irrational dislike of the name Chad. She was working in a coffee shop at the time, and she told me about a crush she had on one of the regular customers. She couldn't bring herself to ask him out because she couldn't imagine a guy that cute being single. Instead, she found consolation in the fact that his name was probably Chad, and asked me to write a story about the situation. This is a work of fiction, save for the character Jon, who is almost the actual (now former) owner of the coffee shop. K8 bears little resemblance to my sister, who would probably really like Mark Leyner's Et Tu, Babe. She has never stooped so far as to date a Chad.
"The name of a man is a numbing blow
He was sitting in the corner of the shop, hunched over a laptop. This was the third time he'd come in since last Wednesday.
It was Monday morning, and K8 had spent the last twenty minutes pointed squarely at the same page of Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner. It wasn't her book and a quick glance at the back cover had told her that she probably wouldn't like it, but it was the only book available. It was Jonathan's book, and he had left it behind the counter some months ago. K8 had homework she was supposed to be doing, but her car had been broken into the previous night and all her French textbook was missing, along with her road maps. She tried to imagine who might do such a thing.
It must have been performance artists. Damn them.
Damn them, and Jonathan and this stupid coffee shop and this stupid book and that stupid hot guy in the corner whom she couldn't help but peer at over the top of this stupid book! Damn them all! Damn, damn, damn!
K8 had seen him here three times—as many times as she'd been on the schedule. This suggested to K8 that he was probably coming in daily, and that the only way she could see him more often would be to request more hours. He was really attractive. Tall. Skinny. Curly dark hair. He looked like he'd be a lot of fun to drink with.
She supposed that she could go over and talk to him. No. What was she thinking? She couldn't do that! She didn't even know the guy! He'd probably think she was weird and she'd never see him again. He'd stop her in mid-sentence, say "excuse me," pack up his stuff and move down the street to one of those other coffee shops. She hated those other coffee shops. That was the problem with this town. Too many coffee shops. On Jefferson Street alone they were so densely packed that you couldn't throw a brick without hitting at least a couple of them, and not a single one served a good chai latte. Come to think of it, The Den of Evil didn't serve a good chai latte, either. K8 considered the possibility that maybe she just didn't like chai very much. All in all, she’d rather start hurling bricks.
The voice had startled K8, and she jumped a little.
"Are you okay?" asked the Hot Guy. He was packing up his laptop now, and putting his mug (now emptied of chai latte) into the bus tub.
"Yes, yes I'm fine, thanks for asking. Listen, I hope I'm not being, you know, too forward about this, but I think you have absolutely the most gorgeous eyes I've ever seen (from across the room), and I wanted to know your name and maybe if you'd be free to hang out later," thought K8. What she said was "um, yeah. Sorry."
"Oh, it’s fine," said the guy, "just, you were staring and I thought maybe you were having a seizure. My brother has those. Seizures, I mean."
"Oh man, that sucks," said K8. That sucks? Couldn’t she have thought of something better to say? No, no. Screw it. It was his faux pas. Why would he tell a complete stranger that his brother had seizures? Did she know what faux pas meant, and was she using it correctly? Is it normal to question the vocabulary of one's internal dialogue?
"He's on all these drugs," said the guy. "Prescription drugs and uh, he stopped taking his antidepressant and the seizures stopped."
K8 didn't know what to say, so she said, "that's good."
"Yeah," said the guy, "he's had the seizures since he was a kid, but they stopped when he went off um, Zoloft. His doctor and my parents want him to get back on something, but he won't do it."
"Is he okay without the Zoloft?" asked K8.
"Yeah, he's doing better than he was when he first went on it. And he's been off for like, four months so maybe he doesn't need it anymore. I guess."
K8 laughed nervously. "Well, you know, good for him."
"Um, what's your name?"
"Kate," said K8.
"That's a nice boring name," said the guy.
"Yeah," laughed K8. She wondered if she should tell him how it was spelled.
"Mine's Chad," said the guy (whom we'll call Chad from this point forward). K8’s spirits sunk. The phone rang.
"I gotta get that," said K8.
"Yeah, I gotta go," said Chad. "But it was good to meet you."
"You too." How witty.
Chad left, and K8 picked up the phone. It was Jonathan, that moron. K8 had never been a big fan of Jonathan, and now that he was interrupting her conversation with Chad (what a stupid name. She'd get used to it), he was rapidly losing Cool Points™ he didn't have. Jonathan Poke was the owner of The Den of Evil, and owning the place was pretty much all he did for it. He was an artiste (pronounced in italics with a nonspecific European accent and a general disdain for pretty much everything). Back in the day (about twenty years ago, give or take) Jon Poke had been a screenwriter for an independent studio in Iowa. Pretentious Pictures only made art films, and you knew they were art films because they didn't make any sense.
K8 had only seen two of Jonathan's films—the ones that bookended his career. The first was called Where the i Divides and K8 had borrowed it from Jon's wife who also worked in the shop. It had ended up being a detective story with first-person voiceover narration. K8 couldn't really follow the story. Something about a detective who, in the process of investigating a series of murders, discovers not only that he is the killer, but also God himself. The film—no, K8 wouldn’t dignify it with that word. The movie was pure crap. A retarded monkey could have done the camerawork, and the narration was filled with empty attempts at introspective dialogue: "If these are my hands... am I God? What time is dinner? Is there even such a thing as dinner anymore? Or time? If time exists for Me, does it exist for everybody else? Is there an everybody else? What time is dinner? Dinner... dinner....."
Jonathan had tried to talk to K8 about the film after she watched it, and it took all the self-control she could muster to keep a straight face. She resolved to redeem herself and rented a battered VHS copy of Jon's final film, Roses in Winter. The packaging didn’t surprise K8. The tape came in a box that faded from dark blue at the top to black at the bottom. The front contained only the title in raised, metallic red letters. On the back was a black and white photo of Jonathan emblazoned with a quote in his handwriting: "The flowers of youth bloom for but an instant. Memory is the blind echo of being." Underneath the quote was Jon's signature. K8 wouldn’t even try to guess what that meant. With handwriting like that, he should have been a doctor.
The movie, as it turned out, sucked more than she'd expected. The camera followed a man through his morning routine. He turned off his alarm clock, padded downstairs, took a shower, shaved and brushed his teeth, grabbed a banana and headed out the door. Two blocks away he sat down to wait for the bus next to an elderly woman. Some college students stood nearby, chatting about politics (“I blame The Man, man!”). When the bus arrived, the elderly woman stood up and the man slumped over on his side. He was dead. Somebody said they'd call the police and went into the department store across the street. A few minutes later the police and an ambulance showed up. And that was it. That was the movie, or the first 45 minutes of it, anyway. K8 hit fast forward, and watched the body being loaded into the ambulance. The police questioned a few witnesses, talked to each other, and then left to get some lunch (K8 assumed). The camera didn't move and the tape just kept fast-forwarding. Eventually the credits rolled.
Someone had told K8 (maybe it was Jon's wife) that the president of Pretentious Pictures had been found dead the morning after Jonathan delivered the final cut of Roses in Winter. He'd shot himself in his office. In front of him on the desk was a handwritten note:
Jon Poke was the sort of person who truly believed that he was the center of the universe, and he had taken the note personally. He never wrote a screenplay again. That's not to say that he didn't still write, however. Until he opened the coffee shop, his primary source of income had been the occasional inept whack at journalism. Every few months he'd publish a travelogue or some kind of review in the sort of thick glossy publications that people buy specifically to decorate their coffee tables. Jonathan was a passable journalist, but only because nobody ever bothered to read his work.
As far as K8 was concerned, Jonathan was—wait. No. The call was over, so K8 hung up and refocused her thoughts. Why was she thinking of Jonathan? She glanced backward, did quick calculation, and figured out that this story is (at this point) around 1,500 words long. Somehow, out of 1,500 words, she'd managed to devote more than 750 of them—50%—to thinking of Jonathan Poke when what she really wanted to think about was Chad.
Chad. She knew why she didn't want to think about Chad. It was his name. She'd always hated the name Chad. K8 couldn't quite say why; none of the Chad's she'd ever known had been especial jerks, they just... Chad. What a stupid, stupid name. Chad. Yuck. K8 was torn. He was so cute and sexy. And though their conversation had been less than stimulating, she could tell that he was a smart, cool guy. At least, she hoped that he was a smart cool guy, and that was enough for her. She'd find out next time she worked which, as luck would have it, would be tomorrow. Jonathan had called to ask her to pick up some groceries for the shop, and she mentioned that she'd like to take on some more hours. Jonathan had never gotten used to working more than a few minutes at a time and was all too happy to give up his entire presence on the schedule (provided K8 didn't hit full time—Jonathan couldn't afford to pay insurance).
The next morning K8 dressed for success. She put on her most flattering pair of formfitting jeans and a long-sleeved, low-cut, hippie/stoner-looking top. She pulled on some pink Converse Chuckies and spent about half an hour in front of the mirror making sure her hair was ~*perfect*~. She hadn't done that since high school.
Sure enough, Chad showed up at the coffee shop around 9:15, as per usual. This was about the time that the morning rush was subsiding, and business would slow down for awhile. Most people would be heading to the Starbucks across the street, and the only people that came into The Den of Evil would be there because Starbucks was so busy.
Chad took a seat on a stool by the counter.
"What's happenin', hot-stuff?" He flickered his eyebrows up and down faster than K8 had ever seen anyone do before. He was cute, but after a line like that it took some work to generate a smile.
"Not a whole lot. Can I get you a chai latte?"
He said yes, and K8 started to prepare his drink. He asked her was there was to do in a town like this.
"Ha, you're kidding, right?" snorted K8. "There's the coffee shops, and there's the bars. That's basically it. And college stuff."
"You know, concerts and plays. Sporting events."
"Pardon me for putting it this way, but this town sucks."
"Tell me about it," groaned K8. She picked up a freshly washed mug.
“Oh, sorry,” said Chad. “Today I need it to go.”
K8 poured the drink into a paper cup and handed it to Chad. He paid her and said, "Would you like to go out with me? Like, have dinner? Or something?"
"Yeah," smiled K8. She wondered if this would be a good time to ask if Chad had any nicknames, but she decided against it.
That evening K8 walked to Chad's apartment, and the two of them took the trail around the lake until they reached the docks. Then they trudged up Main Street to Vern 'n' Gina's Bar & Grill where K8 ordered a steak. Chad asked for the house salad. "I'm a vegetarian," he said. Strike one, but K8 wasn't sure whose strike it was.
The rest of the meal went really well and they hit it off famously. Chad was 26 (older than he looked) and having second thoughts about his career. He'd worked for two years as a middle school math teacher, decided he didn't like it, and was now writing instruction manuals for industrial food service equipment. He was a smart guy after all. Funny. Cute. K8 didn't know if he was husband material per se, but he was definite boyfriend material, and that's what she'd been interested in. They talked until the college students started getting drunk, at which point they went up to the cash register to pay their bill and leave. Chad took out his credit card.
"Oh no, let me get it," said K8.
"No, I insist," said Chad.
"Well I'll leave the tip then."
"Oh, all right."
K8 opened her purse and took out her wallet.
"Hey," said Chad, "is that your driver's license?"
"No!" shouted Kate, but it was too late. The card was already in Chad's hands. K8 put a few bucks on the table and went back to the register.
"Cute picture. I didn't know you spell your name with an eight."
"Yeah? Let's see yours!" K8 said, laughing. The woman behind the cash register was just handing Chad's ID back to him, and K8 snatched it before he could stop her. Kate stopped laughing.
"Chaddler C. Chadlington?"
"Chaddler Chaddsworth Chadlington III," he corrected her.
"Um, I need to pee," said K8, and she disappeared into the women's bathroom. A moment later she was in the alley behind the restaurant, nursing her arm. She'd cut it crawling through the window, but it was a small penance for running out on a guy. A guy named Chaddler Chadlington. Chaddler Chaddsworth Chadlington III, no less.
K8 took the long way back to the coffee shop so that Chad wouldn't find her. She knew he wouldn't, but she wanted to be absolutely sure. On the way, she composed a long and apologetic note explaining that she'd never be in to work again and that Jonathan had better replace her.
It was about 10:45. The shop had been empty for at least twenty minutes. K8 let herself in through the back door, started brewing some espresso and looked for something to write on. Eventually she gave up and grabbed a pad of Post-It! Notes that was sitting by the phone. K8 attempted to summarize her feelings to fit them onto the Post-It!, but there was too much, even for a short, terse bullet list. After a few false starts, she wrote her note:
She balled up the unsuccessful attempts at writing her note and shoved them into her purse. Then she poured an iced mocha into a paper cup and started to wash her dishes. No, screw 'em, she thought. She was done with this shop, this town. She was leaving ASAP. She wouldn’t bother leaving a forwarding address for her paycheck. Jonathan could wash the dishes.
K8 went back to her apartment, and started packing her things.