Courtney Ball

Dirk Teaches Me How to Act Like an Idiot

When I was a kid, I had this neighbor who, for the purposes of this story, I will call Dirk. Dirk was older than me, but he lived close by in my neighborhood, so we got to know each other pretty well. I looked up to him like an older brother, and he looked out for me.

I’m still in contact with Dirk. I know about his life, and I know that these days people view him as a polite, hard-working, respectful person who does good things for others. Really, he is a fine person, a man of integrity.

Even as a kid, most people believed Dirk was a nice, polite young man. He was a model student and always behaved well at school.

Outside school, away from adult supervision, Dirk took more liberties. You never really knew what he might get up to. He had a wild side that most people never saw. Dirk usually reserved this part of his personality for family, close friends, or unfamiliar places where no one would know him.

When Dirk turned sixteen, I was only thirteen and still in middle school. Like most kids that age, I cared a lot about my image. Mostly, I was terrified (all the time) that I was going to somehow slip up and look like an idiot. My main tactic for dealing with this was to keep a low profile. As the saying goes, “Better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Maybe Dirk felt the same way when he was in middle school, but as he got older, he grew more sure of himself. He seemed more brave, and I admired him for that.

One winter day, since I couldn’t drive and my older brothers were out of the house by then, I convinced Dirk to drive me to the mall and hang out for a while. At one point, we were walking through Target, and some piece of clothing caught Dirk’s eye. He went over to check it out. When he saw the price tag, he reacted by unleashing a deep, baritone exclamation of, “Damn, Bitch! That’s some expensive shit!”

My head swiveled around and my mouth went dry. What the hell was he doing?

Again I heard, “Daaamn, bitch!”

I froze, eyes wide. I didn’t know what to do! My overheating brain had to quickly process options of how to respond to this completely unexpected scenario. Two choiced presented themselves: 1)Run away and hide; or 2)Beg him to be quiet. Neither seemed like a good idea. I had seen Dirk in this kind of mood before.

I knew that if I ran it would only entice him to give chase with even louder expletives. Begging him to stop would put me at his mercy, which I did not trust at that moment. And so, in a move of complete desperation, I chose a third option: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

With as much gusto as I could muster, I belted out my own, “Damn, Bitch!” And from there it was on. For the next [eternity, it felt like], Dirk and I wandered through different sections of Target, separated from one another by varying distances, carrying out a crude call and response.

Dirk, from lingerie: “Damn, Bitch!”
Me, from shoes: “Damn, Bitch!”
Dirk from children’s clothing: “Damn, Bitch!”
Me, from jewelry: “Damn, Bitch!”

Finally, we worked our way out of the store, Dirk laughing, me red and sweaty. I was proud of myself for stepping up to his challenge, but I was never again so eager to ask him for a ride to the mall.

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Courtney Ball

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