Guest post by Jon Moormann, writer, improviser, game designer, and dad to cats.
Freshman year of high school, I had it all. I was in the same classes as all my closest friends, I started losing weight for the first (and probably only) time in my life, and we were still in the middle of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, back when we thought a Hobbit movie was something to get excited about. For a 14-year-old nerd, things were pretty much amazing. So when my parents decided we had to move to Cleveland, where a foot of snow is “pleasant” and the sports teams have fewer Ws than a Scrabble set, you’d think I would have been devastated. In reality, though, I couldn’t wait to start over.
As much as I’d loved my freshman year, there was still something missing: being cool. I was raised on a steady diet of Dragonlance novels and Magic: the Gathering cards, and it hadn’t really occurred to me until high school that dreaming about being a wizard is actually not the best way to get girls. I wanted to go to a party that didn’t need a LAN cable. Everyone in Atlanta called me “the Dictionary,” because in elementary school I could spell words like “rhythm” and “measure.” But nobody ever talks about that crazy night with “The Dictionary.” But in Ohio, I would be a man of mystery. A man of intrigue. A man who might someday get to first base.
So, upon arriving at my new school in the frozen north, I did my best to cover my dorkiest tracks. Diablo II account? Canceled. T-shirts covered in dragons? Traded in for polo shirts. I even changed my email address from “email@example.com” (named for my Everquest character, the valiant halfling rogue Deubens Furrytoes) to “firstname.lastname@example.org” (named for my distaste for the University of Georgia’s football team, because sports, am I right?). I joined the football team, stopped parting my hair on the side and started combing it straight down like a badass, and refused to admit to playing any video game but Madden. No one would ever know how many sanctioned Magic tournaments I’d competed in (it was 10).
The first test of my new persona came during summer practices for football. It was clear from the other players’ height and stylishly moppy hair that they were the in-crowd, and I’d need to impress them if I wanted to be at the top of the social ladder. It’s hard enough to run suicides, but coming across as cool and aloof while you’re gasping like dying fish is even worse. Still, I had my ace in the hole: “I’m from Georgia.” Ohioans are naturally interested in anything that isn’t Ohio, because EVERYTHING is more interesting than Ohio. It’s science. So, for the first time in my entire life, I was hanging out with the cool kids. It felt awful.
The problem was, I had zero actual connection with my new friends. We barely saw each other outside of school, and the few times we did hang out, we had nothing in common. I was trying to hide everything that had made me me for the last 15 years, which left me with just the blandest parts of myself to work with, like a painter going through his “Beige Period.” That first year in Ohio was probably the loneliest I’ve ever been. Like “Seeing Reign of Fire in the theater alone, and then again with your Dad because you didn’t want to admit to having already seen it by yourself” lonely.
But my dork past did eventually come to light. While working in the computer lab with the debate team (one of the few dorkceptions I’d allowed myself), we started Googling each other’s names AIM screennames. You know, typical 2003 stuff. Upon searching for “stupidkid171” (which came from me “ironically” calling myself stupid and then referencing a score I got on a free online IQ test in fifth grade, because I am both a nerd AND a self-aggrandizing douche), my teammates discovered my account on mtgnews.com, a Magic: the Gathering forum where I had spent some time. Enough time to have become a mod of some subsections. And lead several popular forum games. And be given the honorary title “Lord of Donuts” for my contributions to the community. “It must be another Jonathan Blair Moormann!” I said, before they pointed out my address and cell phone number in my account info. “But I haven’t posted there in ages!” I replied, before they called out that my last post was only a few weeks old. I considered claiming to have been the victim of a very elaborate, oddly specific identity theft, but it was clear that I’d been caught.
That was the moment that I realized The Great Gatsby was full of shit, and it’s impossible to make friends while pretending to be someone you’re not. Or maybe that was the point of The Great Gatsby, and none of Gatsby’s “friends” actually liked him - it’s been a long time since I read The Great Gatsby. But I do know I’m still friends with every person in the computer lab that day, and I barely speak to anyone I knew from my time playing football. What I’m saying is, you can re-roll if you want to, but your backstory stays the same. And yes, that’s a D&D reference, and no, if you didn’t already get the joke, we probably won’t have much to talk about.
For more stories of fuck-ups, please follow this tumblr, and check out some of our past posts about high school: