I been around the world and all across the seven seas
Been paid a king's ransom for doin' what comes naturally
But I'm still the biggest fool, honey, this world ever knew
'Cause the only thing I ain't got -- baby, I ain't got you
"Hey!" says the guy doing a shitty job of making his espresso. "You're that guy!"
Lloyd mumbles into his collar and drops a handful of change into the tip jar.
"The guy with the manifesto! Drink's on me, man."
Lloyd sighs and takes his cardboard cup. "Sure," he says. "Thanks."
He's not that guy any more. That guy's better off dead. Lloyd doesn't even miss him.
Lloyd's manifesto was a masterpiece, an ironic confrontation of the self-deception required to triumph in the marketplace of relationships at the end of the twentieth century, or anyway that's what the money guys said. They didn't care that it was an e-mail he'd written at three a.m. after his twelfth girlfriend in four years had (predictably) broken up with him.
In a fit of pique, of rage, of utter despair, he'd stupidly sent it to all five people he knew who actually used their computers for something other than trying to recreate Wargames hacks. And then, like that shampoo commercial, they sent it to five friends, and they sent it to five friends and so did those people, a whole pyramid scheme of assholes with nothing better to do than traffic in some stranger's misery.
A guy Lloyd knew from back in his crowd-surfing days -- Ricardo, one of the original five offenders -- threw the whole thing up on a web page at Netcom, along with a dozen other ill-advised, late-night temper tantrums Lloyd had also made the mistake of committing to text. The Stranger did a write-up about self-made websites and took a picture of him leaning against a tree in Volunteer Park like a dickwad poet. It was good for a few beers and a lot of ball busting.
And then one early morning in the fall of '95, when Lloyd was still sleeping off the "remember the good old days before Seattle got famous" binge that he and Ed went on whenever the band was in between tours, his phone rang. And rang. And rang and rang and rang and when Lloyd finally answered it was some guy named Andrew.
Andrew had already cashed out at Microsoft. He was looking for content for a humor site. Lloyd had no idea what the fuck the guy was talking about, but he and Ricardo had coffee with him anyway and walked away with a promise to buy the so-called concept of Manifestos Anonymous for a million dollars.
Lloyd was twenty-six and because he'd gotten his heart kicked halfway around the world one too many times he was basically set for life.
It was pathetic, is what it was. And she still never called.
Corey gets off the plane with a guitar case slung over one shoulder and a grin as wide as the Viaduct. Lloyd is so happy to see her he bounces up and down on his toes.
"I can't believe I came all the way up here and we're not even going to go," she says instead of hello, and he folds her into a tight hug. Even Corey sounds less depressed than he's felt the last couple years, which can't be a good sign.
"You know the party will be better," he says into her hair, and her laugh puffs against his chest. "Reunions are for nostalgic wimps."
"Lloyd Dobler, the bitter poet of Lakewood High. Who'd have guessed?"
He steps back and picks up her bag. "You should have stuck around to defend your title," he says.
She reaches out, unnecessarily straightening his jacket. "You know there's no chance she's going to show up at Vahlere's."
"I don't even know what you're talking about," he says, and starts walking through the terminal.
The last time he talked to Diane Court was on the free and clear side of customs at JFK, summer 1991.
They'd bought their return tickets before Diane's unilateral edict that they'd be better off without each other and therefore spent six interminable hours squeezed side by side in economy, not talking.
In the two weeks between the break-up and their flight to New York, Lloyd had nurtured an elaborate interpretation of this diktat that what she obviously meant was she needed a break. His prediction included a reasonable timeline during which they'd still be friends and then, after a month of grad school, she'd call and admit she'd just been scared they were living in a fantasy world that wouldn't survive reimportation and then everything would be totally fine.
So he stood there at JFK like an absolute tool and refused to say goodbye, wouldn't accept her half-hearted, selfish apologies because they weren't actually a reversal of his fortune, he was still getting on a plane for Seattle and she was going to school in Chicago. He wouldn't look her in the eye because he was too busy scuffing his boots on the cheap linoleum at baggage claim. Finally she walked away and he had already decided that he wouldn't watch her and by the time he changed his mind it was too late. She was gone.
Jason opens the door, rolls his eyes and says Constance won't be home for a while. He sits back down in front of the TV and ignores Lloyd in favor of a Walker, Texas Ranger rerun and a never-ending supply of Fruit Loops.
"Hey, J-Man, tell me something. Do you hate high school more or less than you loathe your uncle?" Lloyd asks, trying hard to sound like he doesn't care if he gets an answer. Fifteen is such a fucked-up age.
Jason sighs heavily, like there's a Rottweiler on his chest. "I hate sell-outs," he sneers, and turns up the volume.
Lloyd tries not to think about how a decade ago they were both happy kids, tries even harder not to think whether his years of festering funk helped contribute to the kid's bad attitude. He kicks his heel into the carpet and goes to make himself a sandwich.
Constance let him crash with her for about three weeks, post-England disaster, before pointing out that he wasn't in high school any more, that Jason was eight and bouncing off the walls and she still couldn't afford a bigger apartment.
Lloyd and Stone and Jeff split a crappy one-bedroom that kept them off the streets, barely. For about a year he didn't do much more than sleep all day, work as a bouncer at crappy bars with surly clientele and do everything in his power to court concussions and lose his hearing at late-night shows at the Off Ramp.
Eventually he got drunk enough and deaf enough to go home with a girl who looked nothing like Diane, was curvy and short and had bright purple hair. Her squeaky voice wasn't audible until long after the screaming guitars stopped ringing in his ears and it was too late to leave. A few half-hearted tries after that he met Marian, who was kind and sweet enough that he made an effort at being a decent boyfriend, got a job at Elliot's, made some cash and got his own place.
When Marian broke up with him (a shock, but only because it hadn't happened sooner) he traded used books for throwing fish for taking ferry tickets for slinging coffee and kept going home with girls who seemed like they had some kind of potential. Not for real love, he was done with that. But for some grown-up, settled-down mediocre equivalent, the kind where basically he said whatever he was thinking and after a few weeks she went on conversational autopilot.
That was always the first sign of impending doom. By twenty-three or twenty-four, Lloyd had figured out that they were only interested as long as they still believed his inability to stop talking was cute. As soon as they started trying to kiss him to shut him up, he counted the days until they bailed.
"Why are you even here?" Constance asks.
He takes the grocery bag out of her arms. "Corey's having dinner with her mom." He shrugs. "I'm entertaining the possibility this alternate reunion plan was a bad idea."
"It'll be like every other party Vahlere has thrown for the last 15 years," she says, leaning down to untie her shoes. "Christ, Lloyd, those things haven't changed since I was still going."
"Yeah," he says. "So why do I keep going?"
She smiles like a textbook older sister, mean and adoring. "You could always go by the school, wear one of those badges with your senior photo on it and --"
"How about I take everybody out for dinner?"
"So I can have two scowling boys complaining about the state of the world while some waitress looks at me with pity? No thanks." She tugs at her work clothes. "'Sides," she says, and grins for real, wide the way that knocks a decade off her age. "Gary's coming over."
Gary's probably the nicest guy his sister's ever gone out with, friendly and laid-back and unfazed by Jason's adolescent expressiveness. He owns a Jack in the Box franchise, which means even when Lloyd sort of hates him, he does more of an honest day's work than Lloyd has in a long time.
A week after Lucinda told him she was tired of coming in second to his relentless self-obsession, he looked up from tamping the espresso grounds to find that blonde girl with the air quotes staring at him across the counter.
"Lloyd!" she said, eyes bugging out. He tried to fake a grin and checked the thermometer. She pointed at herself, helpfully. "Sheila!"
"Wow," she said. "Just -- wow!" Her eyes flicked down to his corporate logo apron. "Diane started working on her research, did you hear?"
"No," Lloyd said, and tugged down harder than necessary as he wiped steamed milk off the wand.
"I'm going to be forty and still playing catch-up with Diane Court. Like medical school wasn't enough for her? Of course I'll be done with my residency first, but she'll also have a PhD and --"
"Here." He poured the shot and pushed her cup across the counter. "Extra hot. No whip."
"Oh." She held it carefully, a wounded look flitting across her face.
"It's already a shitty week," he said, not trying too hard to be nice.
She tilted her head a little. "Why?"
She wasn't joking.
"Well, Tuesday I stayed up all night watching the election results come in, even though for the life of me I'm not sure why I even give a shit whether the Republicans take out a contract on America. Let them take whatever's left, that's my new philosophy. The best minds of our generation have already been destroyed by heroin, by chickenshit MTV executives, scud missiles and talk show hosts. We lost the Cold War and won a New World Order."
She stared at him like he made no sense but had somehow plucked the missing puzzle piece from behind his ear.
He couldn't stop anyway. "Come on, Sheila, seriously. 'I'd like that extra-hot, no-whip, to go.' Who really gives a shit anymore?"
He could tell he was yelling by the way her eyes watered. Lucinda was right, and Siobhan, and Cynthia and Miranda. He was an asshole.
Sheila walked off without paying and Lloyd let her. If it didn't matter whether kids had health care, it really made no fucking difference if his drawer was short three bucks.
Corey pokes the sharp heel of her boot into his leather dashboard, and Lloyd smiles and slides his hand down the headrest to ruffle her hair. She's the first person not to treat the car like a toy prize from the future. He only bought the thing after Ed took him down to a dealership and said they weren't going home until he picked something that wouldn't fuck up the environment even more. Lloyd's pretty sure it cost more than his parents' first house.
"Hey," he says, craning his head around to look at the backseat. "Where's your axe?"
"I played twelve of the last fourteen days," she says. "Any more session work and I'm going to have to get wrist braces like those Silicon Valley guys."
"I guess if Joe shows up you can always bum one off the band for your big serenade."
"Lloyd," Corey says, and a passing streetlight illuminates her expression, calm and condescending.
Finally she shrugs. "I grew up. I got over him."
"Yeah, that's what you think now. But when he shows up with some girl, you're gonna be eighteen all over again and twitching for an amp and an audience to bring him around."
"Lloyd, no," she says. "No."
He keeps driving, trying to figure this out, because he's pretty sure Corey's telling the truth and if he can be so wrong about someone he's known so long, what the hell does he know about anything any more.
"We could just go grab a drink somewhere," he says. "Just you and me, fuck the rest of the losers at the reunion and the party, all of them."
"No way." She holds up a hand when he tries to argue. "You're not getting out of it now. Plus --" She stops.
Her chin sets at its bad-news angle, but she does him the decency of staring him straight in the eyes. "Diane moved back. She's working at some cancer research center at UW. My mom saw it in the paper."
Lloyd stares carefully at the center line, clean white dashes swallowed up by his embarrassment of a car.
"We're going," she says. "You have to get over this, Lloyd. You have to move on."
"I am over it!"
"You're full of shit," she says. "You're a mess and --"
"Don't believe everything you read."
She turns towards him, her back against the passenger seat door. "It wasn't a joke, was it? I don't care what humor award you won."
Finally he says, "She's not going to be there."
"I hope she is," Corey says ruthlessly. "Because then maybe you'll admit it's over, it's been over for -- what, seven years now? It's over, Lloyd, and you need to move on."
I am a serial monogamist, and that's only one of the many sins I've committed against womankind, all of which essentially boil down to complicated ways of calling a man an asshole. That's what Margie said when she broke up with me yesterday. It was the same with Lucinda, Marian and Ronnie, Siobhan, Cynthia and Candy. It was the same with the original Eve, the girl who started it all.
Let's just dispense with the blind item bullshit and call her Diane Court, because that is her name, and you all know it.
When Diane Court finally decided to leave me (again), it was accompanied by a grand performance of every ounce of anger and insecurity she'd apparently been storing up during our three years together -- which I had, up until that very moment, considered to be blissful, ecstatic young love, the kind that could change a civilization, the kind they'd still be talking about when we'd nuked each other into the next Ice Age.
Every time another woman finds my manhood summarily lacking, my ambition non-existent, my ability to be serious at crucial moments perhaps surgically removed at an early age, I wind up right back in Hurricane Diane, torn to shreds, bashed against the rocks until only my ragged clothes remain. In the four years since we broke up it's become painfully clear that I'd still go back to her if she let me. Though of course that would require us to have actual inter-personal communication, which is less likely with every passing month.
The way I look at it, I have two choices. I can pick myself up, wash my face and act like none of this ever happened. I can go back out into the world of cute smiles and Friday night dates and impeccably timed hand-holding and listening with great interest to interminable self-examination about a girl's father issues only to have her once again walk out the door when my half of the conversation stops being considered cute.
I can be that guy, or I can say fuck it, being that guy that women say they want was never enough for any of them. It wasn't even enough for Diane, and she was my best chance, my great unspoiled hope to get it right before the world fucked me up so much that I stopped trusting my instincts. Before she fucked me up.
I say fuck it.
Let this be my manifesto, a code among brothers, our thousand points of light in the dark tunnel of love through which we stumble at the end of the end of the millennium.
Let a guy be himself, and fuck her if it's not enough.
Some geeks down in San Francisco made up their own ceremony, the Internet's first debutante ball. Lloyd wore a clean shirt and new Vans and was the best-dressed guy there. Some dude sitting at his table had invented a protocol for browser security, which he'd explained three times but still made no sense. After three too many martinis, he grabbed Lloyd by the shoulders. "You've got to take the money and run," he said. "Go now while it's still good."
So Lloyd went, literally got in his crappy old atmosphere-murdering car and drove clear to Mexico, slept on a beach for a week, drove back up to Texas and across to Florida and then zig-zagged back through the middle. He avoided every town with an Army base or a prison until the rule struck so much of the country from his itinerary that he gave up, more miserable than he had been when he started out.
He was driving across eastern Colorado, starting to pick up Denver radio stations when a DJ announced that Soundgarden had broken up, that grunge was officially dead, that there were still no answers in the Heavensgate cult deaths and that it was the 130th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. He figured that meant Seattle might be on its way down the list of cities most populated by assholes such as himself and pointed his car northwest.
They can hear the party from a block away, but they have to park even farther out.
"Guess somebody finally took up a collection and bought new speakers," Lloyd says, and Corey makes a murmuring noise of agreement. It's been quiet the last ten minutes in the car, ever since he snapped at her to mind her own fucking business and then cranked up The Clash as loud as his yuppie stereo could go.
They don't even get to the front walk before some chick with short bleached hair points at him and yells his name, squeaking as she turns to grab her friend's arm. Lloyd hates being a local legend, though even he isn't enough of an asshole to admit that to anyone. It's just another reminder that he made his own monster and then sold it off for parts.
The chick holds up a canvas sack. "Even Lloyd Dobler's gotta hand over his keys!" He digs the ring out of his pants pocket, drops them in the bag with a dull thunk. Maybe somebody will steal it.
Inside the kids look young, like kids, closer to Jason's age than his and Corey's. "Where are all the adults?" he whispers in Corey's ear and she cracks a smile, finally relenting.
"Let's get a drink," she says. He follows her out back, grabs a keg cup of his very own and pumps the handle. He's fixing the spout when a heavy weight lands square on his back, hairy legs wrapping around his waist.
"We're old, dude!!" The yelling in Lloyd's ear makes the rest of the party go mute, like a stage full of dancers with the sound turned off. The guy slides down Lloyd's back and under his arm, blocking the beer. He stabs his finger into Lloyd's chest. "We. Are. Motherfucking. Old."
Lloyd grabs him and steadies him before he falls over. "Yes. We. Are." The guy presses a sloppy kiss to Lloyd's cheek and stumbles off.
Corey laughs and laughs, holding her stomach, and Lloyd revels in it all, epically sad Corey full of mirth, drunk guys still being drunk guys, Vahlere still running around in a chicken suit.
And then Corey stops, somehow manages to lose what cool California tan she's finally acquired. "What?" he asks, and turns around to see what she's staring at.
"I'm glad you're here," Diane says, eyes wide and angry, cheeks flushed. "Because I am so sick of hearing how awful I am for breaking the great Lloyd Dobler's heart."
He whirls back around, utterly panicked. Corey is backing away, leaving him alone to be yelled at by the love of his life. "Oh, you can't go now," he says, even though it's exactly what he expects. Exactly what he deserves.
"Sorry, man." Corey holds her hands held up in apologetic surrender. She turns a bit, smiling warmly. "Hi Diane."
Diane nods politely. "Corey, hello," she says, but as soon as Corey's out of sight Diane squares her shoulders again and Lloyd remembers teaching her to spar in the Cambridge gym, centuries of sweat and blood thick in the air. Thicker even than the tension between them, the odd rush of realizing they both pulled every punch, that they were far more interested in keeping each other close than scoring points.
"How dare you take all the hard work I put into that relationship and reduce it to a sophomoric joke!" Diane yells, maybe, because Lloyd isn't really listening, he's watching as a wisp of rogue hair comes unpinned, floats around her face. There's a fine line of sweat right across her forehead, just like the way it would break right before she came.
"You are obviously as immature now as you were then if you actually think it's charming to write --" She flails a little, flapping her hands around like she wishes there were a thesaurus within reach. "A, a misogynist screed masquerading as revenge, and --"
He touches her wrist. "Wait," he says, soft, and she stops. "You -- you really read it?"
Diane crosses her arms, shifts out of reach. "Lloyd," she says, exasperated and beautiful. "Everyone read it. I had to remind my landlord I wasn't the only person in the relationship who'd never picked up a phone before he'd agree to rent me an apartment."
"That -- that whole internet thing was an accident."
Her mouth turns down, just like it always did when she thought he was taking the easy way out. "Publishing hate mail you're too cowardly to send isn't an accident, it's a cry for help."
"It --" He throws his arms up in frustration, takes a step closer. "It wasn't hate mail, it was a love letter!"
She gapes at him but he can't stop now, not now that they're both there and they're really doing this. He feels awful, more fucked up even than when he broke his leg on a slippery cobblestone, went down hard, watched his kickboxing career flame out before his eyes. He feels so sick he just opens his mouth.
"You left me," he hurls, stomach cramping like he's spewing actual vomit and not just another set of useless words that will change nothing. "You broke up with me and all I had left was this fucked-up story that wasn't even funny because it was true. I loved you, and you walked away. Twelve failed relationships later I figured out how to take the worst day of my life and make it sound like a joke. And then it turned out there are some other guys out there who also fell in love and apparently fucked things up without even knowing it and never got a second chance to be a better man."
"You could have had all the chances you wanted!"
"You thought because last time I was willing humiliate myself until you figured your shit out that it would be the same? It was three years we had together, Diane, not three months, so forgive me for taking your whole 'this is never going to work out' thing seriously."
"And that made it fair for you to tell the entire world I'd destroyed your life?"
"No," he says, and the adrenaline is fading, leaving him cold and queasy. "I thought -- I think I thought if I wrote it down, I wouldn't still miss you."
Diane's knees actually shake, Lloyd can see her wavering where she stands and he helps fold her down onto a low cement wall. Her flowered dress clings to her thighs and her shoulders slump.
"I'm sorry," he says, hunching down in front of her, one hand on her bare knee. "I'm sorry I didn't say that at the airport. I'm sorry it took the same thing happening over and over again for me to realize how much I fucked up."
"You didn't." She stiffens in the way that means she's really mortified. "I'm such a fool," she says. "I was so...scared. Like we'd only made it work because no one who knew us from before was watching."
"I know," he says. He pushes up and sits with his back against the concrete wall, shoulder touching her hip. He tilts his head back. "I wasn't sure you'd come. I thought maybe you'd..." He can't imagine it, really, her milling around a high school gym with a hundred people she never knew to start off with.
"I knew you'd be here, and I was -- I was so furious." She inhales tightly and rubs at her mouth and they sit for a minute, quiet as the party rages on all around.
He pinches the bridge of his nose and can feel her staring at him. "How long have you been back?"
"Last month. My dad --"
Lloyd looks up fast.
"He's okay. He's just getting old. He's weak, Lloyd. It's so -- it's so upsetting. I wanted to be closer, and then this university position opened up --"
"He didn't get old because you left, Diane."
She sighs, tapping her fingers on his shoulder. "I think, Lloyd, that you're the only truly honest person I've ever known."
"Pathologically honest, you mean," he scoffs, and her hand slides across the back of his neck, gentle and cool.
"This whole time," she says. "All these years, I kept meeting these men --"
He doesn't notice he's tensed up until her knuckles start kneading the tightness away. The week he spent laid up in a London hospital, leg slung in the air like a cartoon, she'd sit by the side of the bed and rub his neck like that.
"These guys who talked a good game and were everything I thought I wanted because they were nothing like you. They were successful and driven and -- every single one of them turned out to be a liar. Just like my dad."
She dips her fingers beneath the edge of his shirt and he could be nineteen again for all he cares about the mistakes they've made since. "I have an idea," he says.
"What's your idea," she says, and he can hear the smile in the way her consonants slur together. He stands up like a shot, heart pounding, deafening, electrifying. She stares up, lips parted.
"Let's go out," he says.
"I think we should go out on a date. You and me. Let's -- let's go have dinner. Anywhere you want. You pick a night. Pick a restaurant. We can have dinner and -- I don't know, start over. And you can help me figure out what the hell I should be doing with the rest of my life. I have all this money, Diane, lots and lots of money, it's ridiculous, and there has to be something worth doing with it."
"Lloyd --" she starts, and then doesn't finish, just grins down at her lap while Lloyd tries and fails to stand still.
"Let's go out tonight," he says. "Let's go right now."