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ON BEING COOL


In the movie Can't Buy Me Love, high school nerd and part-time gardener Ronald Miller (played by Patrick Dempsey) pays the daughter of one of his clients, Cindy Mancini, who is also the sweetheart of the school, to pretend to be his friend. She accepts and in the course of their "friendship," she gives him a make-over, transforming his geek into chic, and before he knows it he's the king of the school. Of course he lets it go to his head, and while he enjoys the companionship of jocks and cheerleaders alienates his true friends (the other nerds) and winds up alone. He learns a lesson in humility and starts over with Cindy, hoping this time they can be friends for real.

Funny the parallel the movie, made in 1987, has to its star's own life. From obscurity to heartthrob of a hugely popular sitcom (I'm sure you know that until recently he played McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy), and a few money-making movies along the way (Sweet Home Alabama, for example), Dempsey's rise was meteoric. Along the way he marries a beauty and buys a $14.5 million love nest, but it seems stardom went to his head. He became a diva on set who drove the producer crazy (if you believe the tabloids), and so his Grey's character is killed off, his contract shortened, his wife leaves him, and he winds up alone. Life imitating art. Hopefully Mr. Dempsey learns his lesson in humility that his erstwhile character (Ronald Miller) did and starts anew with the wisdom of all he's been through both on screen and off. Good luck, P.D! I'm rooting for you, my man!

I too had my style makeover. I was in 10th grade. A nerd in my own right, if by nerd we mean A student without a gal. Then a family friend, Todd Morgan, who was and is the coolest guy I know, took me under his wing. He had tattoos and a motorcycle and earrings and long sideburns and slick-backed hair. I was 16. He was 22.

"You're a good looking guy," he said. "But you have no style."

I had no style? How could he say such a thing? I was wearing my All-Star baseball jacket from when I was 14, which I thought went rather well with my hat from the same year. I had a mullet which I was hugely proud of. I blew it dry fastidiously every morning. It was at least as stylish as Billy Ray Cyrus' hair from his Achy Breaky Heart days. And this was 3 years before Cyrus even came out. So, whatever!

Yes, complexion problems were mine, I own, but not worse than most kids my age. And sure, I lived in sweats. But what could you expect from a fella who went to an all-boys school where everyone lived in baseball hats and collared shirts! OK, maybe he did have a point.

So there at the McDonald's where we had this conversation, Todd offered to take me under his wing, and for the next couple hours he gave me a crash course in coolness, broken up by frequent bathroom breaks. He must really have a small bladder, I remember thinking at the time.

After a few such interactions, all of which Todd dispensed advice between numerous bottles of Becks beer, I had dyed my hair black, had taken to styling it with egg white (the best gel ever!), pierced both ears, bought a motorcycle jacket, rounded out my outfit with Dickies work pants and Doc Martens shoes. All patterned after my mentor, which happened to be patterned after Mike Ness, the lead singer of the punk band Social Distortion.



No tattoos because my parents wouldn't allow it. In a couple months I had changed schools and started doing really well with the chicks. Single no more, baby! Kids called me Richard Greico. Which back then was a compliment - I think.

And all because of Todd. Who by the way had stopped coming around the house after my parents found out that during his frequent bathroom breaks he was actually shooting heroin into his veins. Turns out he had obtained the stuff at the McDonald's during our first get-together. Yep, Todd was a bad boy through and through. He never saw the change in my appearance that his advice had wrought. I wonder if he ever knew. Of course, the following spring it was back to Polo shirts and a modified mullet. Being cool is a lot of work, and hard to sustain. Oh well.

My point is that you can have a huge impact on the lives of those around you, especially the young impressionable ones, who will follow your example. Be the change you wish to see in the world. If it were up to Todd, we'd all be wearing Dickies, and the world would be a cooler place, if hotter, since they're made of polyester, which doesn't exactly breathe.

I dedicate this post to you, Todd. I hope you're doing well. I dreamt of you last night, and in the dream you had great hair! You still are the coolest guy I know, even if I don't really know you any more.

So I say to you, my friends: Be cool, you reluctant role model, you. Others are looking, and listening, even though you may be unaware. And, um, go easy on the hard stuff.

This one's for you Todd.

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