The first time I watched High Fidelity I was twelve years old. For the uninitiated, the movie follows a turn-of-the-millennium John Cusack as he traces five failed relationships from his past in an attempt to understand why he is loveless and miserable. While I generally make an attempt to separate character from actor, loveless and miserable is how I still choose to think of John Cusack.
At thirteen, I was fat. I was also happy, smart, reasonably well liked, accomplished, funny and a host of other good things. But when I look back on my childhood, I mainly remember being fat. Obesity then seemed different than it is today; there was less national dialogue on the subject and the term “fat shaming” would have sounded like something a gimmicky professional wrestler would do before leg-dropping a luchador. Nutrition was a talked about in school, but I always got the impression it was genetic – you were either destined to be a nutritious person, or you weren’t. There was never a time during my childhood when I believed I wouldn’t always be a fat person.
That notion was why I found the very basic concept of High Fidelity so repugnant. The concept that not one, but five women could love a man during his lifetime was unimaginable. How dare this man sit in his record shop, smoking his hipster cigarettes and claim to be unloved? I didn’t absorb much more of the film during that viewing (I did read the book many years later – Cusack was born to play the role) but the movie tinged the way I approached romance for a long time.
Suddenly the concept of finding “The One” was entirely moot. How could I possibly expect to find The One when I had at least four to get through first? Suddenly, the girls in my classes became obstacles and check marks on the way to true romantic success. If I had a summer fling could I count that as one, or must my classmates fully recognize and tally the relationship within the confines of the school year? The pressure to initiate and subsequently sabotage multiple relationships was a tall order for a boy who jiggled when he went down stairs.
I began defining strategies in my free time that would move me through the ranks and deliver me to the realm of “ready for love.” My time table was a fairly conservative one: two girlfriends before high school was over, one in college (a strikingly low estimate, even for me), and two more before I was thirty. Eighteen years of romance, planned, mapped and ready for the taking. Interestingly, the time table made things even more difficult; certain girls piqued my interest in the hallways, but seemed much more like #3’s than they did #1’s or #2’s. How was I going to spend my nights in college if I had already felt up Missy Sauerhagen in the 7th grade?
After a few months, things hit a fever pitch. I was very nearly in junior high school with nothing to show for my elementary days. Fueled by a half dozen slices of pizza and a vat of Mountain Dew, I sat in my room with the door locked and the school directory open on my bed. Rabidly, I flipped through the pages determined to find a girlfriend. One after another, I dialed the available girls in my class. I hung up on the first three calls – they were #4’s and #5’s anyway – but then I caught my stride, shot gunning courtship like a veteran. A few gentle letdowns and a couple solid rejections later, I was beginning to lose steam. The pizza and soda began to gurgle inside me as I dialed Kate McMahon – my last hope.
Kate was blond and rich and pretty and, most importantly, she said yes. She would go out with me.
I avoided her at school for a week until she dumped me.
One down. Eat shit, John Cusack.