At 12 years old, about to enter junior high school, Dean’s mom took him shopping for clothes in the“husky” section of the department store. Even as a pre-teen—somewhat precocious—Dean knew that “husky” was a euphemism for “fat.” Never a slim kid, Dean grew wide instead of vertical. His father, Roger was a “heavy-set” man—there were so many euphemisms to circumvent the plain truth—and Dean started staring into the tea leaves. To that point, while avoiding the fat kid trope of telling jokes and playing the role of the loveable loser, Dean dedicated himself to his studies and instead cast himself in the role of the obsequious pupil, doting on his teachers and other adults.
Then, after joining the wrestling team as a freshman in his high school at Binghamton in the western New York State, Dean changed the narrative once again. He lost nearly all the “baby fat” as his mother called the weight—as well as his matches (Dean was incorrigibly uncoordinated)—but at the beginning of his sophomore year, people began to notice. Girls flirted, and the guys eyed him with a new reverence. But Dean had not forgotten the taunting in the schoolyards, and the pig sounds his classmates would make when they thought he was out of earshot. And Dean’s resentment morphed into a need to be better and show them up, to court the approval of adults with an innate charm while using his natural wit to secure a handful of superficial friends.
Academically, Dean continued to do well in school—a first-class sycophant to his honor’s class teachers—and was accepted into Hofstra University where he enrolled as a business major. While he had kept off the weight and enjoyed modest attention from the ladies, Dean was also one of the most disliked guys in his dorm. In order to suck up to the Resident Assistant on the third floor, Dean would rat on his classmates buying beer — unless he was invited — and soon enough the guys in his dorm ascertained that Dean was the whistle-blower for the authorities, and Dean was ostracized by his peers. He withdrew from school the spring of his freshman year and moved home with his parents and finished his associates’ degree at the community college while working his way to a manager at a sporting goods store in a mall not far from his parents’ house.
As a manager, his employees loathed him; they couldn’t stand his disparagement—he had a tendency to make unwelcome comments about their bodies and weight, preceded by a blanketed “just joking” statement. He had a misplaced sense of grandeur, and his voice raised an octave whenever he’d shameless self-congratulate and spew gratuitous compliments when the corporate bosses arrived. As the bosses saw him as another unctuous man trying to climb the ranks, his co-workers, who Dean referred to as his “subordinates,” saw straight through his charade.
Yet sometimes, when he would let his guard down and allow himself to be vulnerable, his coworkers would see a peek of his innate wit, the true charm that once endeared the fat kid to adults, that almost convinced his only serious love interest—a waitress at Applebee’s named Amy who dated Dean for three months, and he adored—into renting an apartment with him. But, like his coworkers, Amy was ultimately unable to extricate the real-Dean from Dean who insulted coworkers and kissed corporate asses for his own advancement. Amy moved out of the apartment after three months, breaking the lease, and Dean was forced to move back with his parents.
Some nights, Dean lies awake in the same bed where he slept as a kid, staring at the dark ceiling and shadowy image of a Derek Jeter poster still thumb-tacked to the wall, and he contemplates calling Amy. He contemplates begging for her back, telling her that the person he portrays is not a Dean who can be loved. He contemplates finishing up his bachelor’s degree and, someday, maybe working toward an MBA.
In those noiseless moments in his bed, late at night—as he reminds himself to compliment his district manager’s hair and thank her for her acumen—Dean feels like the kid wearing husky pants again, someone stuck in a body that doesn’t fit right for him, utterly alone but knowing that he’s still capable of casting a better self.