The Observer

Words and illustrations by Corey Pandolph

Four guys walk into the bar. Three are your typical, heavy-set male stereotypes. They love football, beer, goatees and strip clubs. Each has a sizable gut, and in unison, like some sort of lazy man’s synchronized event, they suck it in as they pass the attractive little lady at the end of the bar.
Of the four, there is an odd man out. Much slimmer than the other three, this gent doesn’t show any interest in the hot chick. His hair is high and tight in the back, with sideburns sheared off to the top of his ears. There’s a much longer top layer, swooped to the left. His part is impeccably separated, like a Ken doll’s or that of a well-groomed pooch at the Westminster Kennel Show. The tip of a black barbershop comb protrudes from the pocket of his dark blue, recently pressed Levis. 

I name him Dale. 

Other than the jeans, Dale’s wardrobe today consists of a white turtleneck under a blue flannel shirt, rounded off with a huge pair of sneakers with shocks in the soles. The horrifying thing about Dale’s get-up is the way both shirts are tucked in tighter than turndown service at a Motel 6. His waist is a size 34, but he buys 38s so he can squeeze the numerous cotton layers into his dungarees. It’s an uncomfortable sight to behold. I’m suddenly confronted with the likelihood that one of the shirts is tucked into his underwear. The thought makes me squirm, and I adjust myself in my seat nearby with an uneasy grumble.

Dale does not take part in the pitcher of beer his cohorts have ordered, nor does he help them humiliate the cute waitress by staring at her chest like deer gazing into the illuminated doom of an approaching semi. Instead, he drinks a Coke with 87 cherries from a thin red straw and stares at the screen of his Blackberry. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything with the e-mail device – he just stares blankly into the screen, like he’s trying to figure out how he can physically fit inside it. 

I imagine Dale bought the Blackberry for his wife, whom I’ll call Teri, but she’s intimidated by all the buttons. Dale knew this would happen and gladly took over the machine, relishing the way his backhanded plan to get one for himself succeeded. 

The waitress departs, and the other guys turn their short attention spans to Dale fiddling with his tech toy. They’re all genuinely impressed that Dale has such a thing, and they start engaging him about every aspect of the pocket computer. Dale smirks with satisfaction. He’s once again been accepted into the herd thanks to materialistic machismo. This is his high. In Dale’s mind, if you don’t have all the latest stuff, you’ll be cast off to that fabled Island of Mediocre Merchandise, destined to live a life of mere “satisfactory” product performance. 

I can see Dale working in IT for a risk-management firm. He’s in a rather sterile office setting. There are three floors of cubed-off real estate with light blue walls and dark blue carpet. The sounds of mumbled sales calls and humming computer CPUs fill the air. During their daily, mid-morning conversations, Dale often tells his mother his favorite smells and sounds are at the office. 

Dale and his office pal, Elliot, meet everyday for lunch in the stark office lunchroom and pontificate on such matters as what Romulan ale would really taste like, or the scientific points for and against the existence of Atlantis. Elliot, with his 6-feet-8-inch frame and chiseled and pimple-pocked face, has a bit of IT machismo and a self-proclaimed “Thing with the ladies.” He faces constant rejection and occasional physical assault, recently coupled with the threat of jail time. 

Dale, who never really dated before his own marriage, finds Elliot’s forays into the female dating pool fascinating. Dale met his wife at a security software conference. At lunch, they both reached for the same McDonald’s hot apple pie and it was kismet. Elliot often greets Dale by making the sound effect of a cracking whip, as if to suggest Dale’s less of man for being married. In fact, Elliot is sexually infatuated with Dale’s wife, Teri, and has told her so in several un-mailed letters.

Dale and Teri were married four years ago in a ceremony that could best be described as “1985 Redux.” They live in a large, 2,300-square-foot Colonial on a cul de sac just outside the city. They both drive matching Mustangs that Dale bought for Valentine’s Day in 2005. “It was beautiful,” Teri tells her friends at the U.S. Hair Force salon. “We were just finishing our baby-back ribs at Chili’s when the waiter brought my Snickers pie with the keys as a garnish!” Their house is decorated with a country farm theme, Teri’s prized pony and unicorn miniatures placed throughout. There’s a rec-room filled with photos of their four anniversary trips to Disney World. For year number five, they’ve booked two weeks at the Olive Garden culinary school in Tuscany. Teri is apprehensive about the trip because her girlfriends told her American food is scarce in rural Italy. Dale has tried to assure her there’ll be plenty of places to find fried chicken and ribs. 

Teri enjoys Wednesday evenings with her women’s group at T.G.I. Friday’s. At their last meeting, she bragged that she hasn’t had to change her hairstyle since 1987. Wednesdays are also “Fun Sweatshirt Day” among the gals. Teri currently fancies the one with the airbrushed unicorn jumping a heart-shaped moon. Dale had it done for her during last year’s Disney vacation. 

Back at the bar, Dale’s phone rings to the tune of Beethoven’s Fifth. It’s Teri. She’s in a tizzy about their Shih Tzu, Tweety. Tweety has eaten an entire bag of Starbucks hazelnut coffee and is doing laps around the Pottery Barn apothecary table at an unhealthy speed. Dale pulls out the light blue Velcro wallet with dark blue trim he’s had since high school. He throws down three dollars for his cherry Cokes, pauses, and takes back two.

Dale throws on his CB Sports parka, misses every high five in the group, and runs out the door to his desert sage Mustang. Ten minutes later, he returns with nervous urgency and corrals the rest of the guys to join him outside. It seems the Mustang’s stuck on a patch of black ice in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, Tweety’s heart is racing as he attempts to shatter the world dog land-speed record through the living room. Teri stirs in the cheese powder for their Thursday night Kraft dinner, thinking, “When will Dale be home?”

%d bloggers like this: