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The Ugliness Club

Coming to a conclusion about my place in someone's personal history.

I went with this hot girl. She had eye gravity; they followed her down the block. She showed me pictures of all her old boyfriends, one by one. She held them in a sequence-of-boyfriends album. In between boyfriends she had very few pictures.

She took me on the tour of her life one day, flipping the heavy plastic pages. Every single one of the boyfriends was ugly. 20 of them, at least, from when she was 17-31, which was when she found me: ham-lipped, squinting, bucktoothed, narrow-jawed, chinless, foreheadless, fat-assed, pimply, or pocked. Short and too tall and spindly. One had a gap between his teeth as wide as the Panama Canal.

It was the most dispiriting thing. It really brought me down. What could I say? I supposed I was lucky to score a fox when I belonged to an elite fraternity of the ugliest men in America.

"You're so cute when you squint," she said.

We got along pretty well, but I found her putting my picture into her book. I looked at it.

"Why'd you pick that one?"

"I like it."

"But my mouth is hanging open," I said.

"But that's how you look," she said. "I think it looks nice.

She looked fine in the picture, in a blue and green striped shirt with frayed sleeves, about as natural as a mountain stream with deer leaping along the banks, the banks made of granola, the deer made of hand-thrown pottery. She would dress me in my oldest clothes.

"Don't put on that Oxford," she'd said a week ago.

"But people like the Oxford."

"I don't want other girls looking at you."

"I don't want them looking at me and going, shit."

"Yeah, well. I like you a little rough around the edges."

I wore the Oxford; it was only a shirt, not worth fighting over, like a photo in a photo album: "I wish you'd put in a picture without my side profile," I said. "Or one where I wasn't wearing a T-shirt."

Defensive: "It's my book," she said. "You look good in that T-shirt."

"I look like I'm a sausage wearing scuba gear."

"I think I want this to be in my book, okay, Ray?"

"You're right," I said, and stepped back a bit, letting my body admit I was wrong. But it stayed with me. I couldn't stop thinking of all her exes, all this leering halflidded cretins, like a Linux Users Group cast in a George Romero film.

So that night before the morning when I was due to leave, all of it scheduled - she was going to go back to grad school and I was going to move in with my friend K, and we were going to remain good friends, that night I stayed over, and I got up after the sobby sex and went to that book on the shelf and took out every picture of me, and slid in a picture from a few months ago, one Paul had taken.

She and I had dressed up on our way to a wedding, except she'd gone out drinking the night before with her friends, and I'd stayed back and slept about 10 hours straight. We'd met Paul for breakfast. So in the picture I'm smiling with my mouth closed, beaming, my shoulders look good in my suit, morning light on my skin, my hair is cut right and slicked in good spots. She's got her mouth open a little, her eyes a little tired, still looking fine, doing her best. But it's clear from the picture who the good looking one is.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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