John Travolta’s iconic movie “Saturday Night Fever” defined my high school and college years. I’d join my buddies going to Discos or Social Club Mixers. While attending these outings, I was well aware that I was the ugly fat friend. Perhaps, I was harsher on me than mandated. Yet, I was about 30 pounds overweight at 5’ 3”. Now that’s a visual. I was no athlete at all. I spent all my time studying. I was a geek. I wasn’t handsome. After all, I could look in the mirror. I was no Richard Gere circa 1979. Do the math, because I did the calculus. Not an optimal solution.
Granted, my 18-year-old self didn’t cloak a positive spin on what was. It just sucked. I wasn’t going to meet any pretty girl who would like me, much less go out on a date. The probability of that was still non-zero, and asymptotically approaching zero.
Okay, I wasn’t nauseatingly ugly. Yet, I was smart enough rather self-aware enough to know that being beautiful and pretty was a good thing.
Honestly, at the time, if I thought I had a choice, I’d forego being smart to be good-looking. Yeah, the responsible adult might say, “No. That’s superficial. It’s all about substance.” I get that, now.
Keep in mind that when I was 18 years old, I never thought I was good enough since I believed I was a disappointment to my dad. At the time, I had yet to learn to love me, myself. That’s something I’ve gotten in the last few years. I’m now 57, so we’re talking about a 40-year journey. Sensei always reminded me when he was around, “It’s not like you’re getting somewhere.” I just had to do my best. I just had to train. Take my baby step in becoming my greater than version.
I fantasized that if I were Brad Pitt handsome, and just smart enough to know that my looks had an expiration date, I could leverage my opportunities. I could date the supermodel girlfriend. Get married. I could make a lot of money. So when I turned old and ugly, I’d be set and live in graceful decline.
Fortunately, that’s just fantasy. Life is both predictable and wonderfully unpredictable. Ultimately, I discovered doing what I love and doing what gives me purpose are the Deal. Amen. Amen.
A couple of summers ago, I caught “The DUFF” from 2015 on HBO. It was a Saturday afternoon and I had some downtime to kill. I had missed “The Duff” at the theaters after reading many unfavorable reviews.
In the Millennial lexicon, DUFF is the acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Whoa, that was me! Well, it could apply now, but honestly: I don’t fucking care. In “The DUFF” high school senior Bianca, played by whimsically pretty Mae Whitman, discovers, unbeknownst to her, that she’s the DUFF. WTF?
Her epiphany occurs when she helps her childhood friend, amazingly handsome star Quarterback Wesley, played by funny compassionate Robbie Amell, with his chemistry class. Bianca’s blossoming relationship spurs the ire of gorgeous “It” girl Madison, played by wonderfully haute Bella Thorne. Apparently, Wesley had broken up with Madison, but not according to Madison.
The very thought that Wesley might be in love with DUFF Bianca elevates the stakes to sully Bianca’s good name. Predictably and what I like about most romantic comedies, Wesley sees the innate beauty and heart in Bianca. Okay, Mae is a very pretty young woman. So that narrative failing requires major disbelief on our part, specifically on my part.
In the end, Wesley and Bianca fall in love. With Bianca’s love and support, Wesley gets his chemistry grades up and wins a college scholarship. Madison reveals as the malicious bitch we saw 20 minutes into the movie. Yes, it is, after all, a formulaic romantic comedy.
The epilogue of “The DUFF” is nearly its undoing. Nearly. “The DUFF” delivers the Pollyanna-like amorphous sound bite that we’re all DUFFs. Whether that’s being a gamer nerd or yearning wallflower. I get it. I’ve been there.
What touchingly lands is what Bianca says:
“In the end, it isn’t about popularity or even getting the guy. It’s about understanding that no matter what label is thrown your way, only you can define yourself.”
In the endearing words of O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba: “True victory is victory over oneself.” Much of my victory over myself is learning to love me. Others don’t get to define me. I’m the only one who gets to do that.
So if I were writing my own Hollywood script: I’d build a time machine and travel back to 1980 and find 18-year-old Jon. I would tell me:
“Jon, that’s who you are right now. Know the things that you can change. Do those with all your heart. Keep in mind the things that you have absolutely nothing to do about. Let that just be. Let it go.
You’re okay. Things have a way of working out. Being smart is a good thing. You’ll become a good engineer, and work with amazing people. Some will become lifelong friends. You’ll become a good martial artist like your Hero Bruce Lee. Your Sensei will make you see that you were always strong inside. That you’re a good man.
Maybe you don’t meet the woman of your dreams for a number of years. Yet, you stay in the game to fall madly and deeply in love. You’ll do online dating. Yeah, what’s that? Well, it’s a thing in 2019. Trust me on this. Yeah, some women will dismiss you, because of how you look or how much money you make. Yet, you get to meet some wonderful women. You get to be you. And you are good with that.
Jon, if I can leave you with one thing it’s this: Love who you are. You’ve always been okay. You have a lot to offer the world with what’s inside you. In fact, you’ll become a writer and express that to the world. What you have to say matters. What you have to say and what you do makes a difference.
As your Sensei in the future would tell you, “Wait it out.” You get to breathe. God bless. Take care.”