Dana Norris is the founder of Story Club and she once went on 71 Internet dates.
It’s a Friday night and I’m excited because 1) I’m going to my friend Josh’s birthday party and 2) my rash is much better.
I originally noticed the rash a week ago, when I was doing my laundry at my best friend Erin’s house. We were drinking wine and chatting when she asked me, “Why do you keep scratching your back?” I hadn’t even been conscious of my hand constantly reaching to scratch until she said something. Erin lifted up my shirt and reported, “OK. You have these red scaly marks all over your back. Running up your spine. It’s kinda gross.”
I go to my doctor, who has no idea what this rash is all about and refers me to a dermatologist. I make an appointment with the dermatologist but meanwhile the rash gets worse. The itching intensifies and scratching only offers a microsecond of relief before becoming a white hot burn. I notice that the rash has spread up the sides of my abdomen, around my belly button, and down the backs of my legs. I can barely sleep at night from the itching and when I do manage to sleep I wake up to find myself scratching furiously. I start wearing mittens to bed.
The dermatologist begins by saying, “I’m the best at identifying weird rashes. It’s basically my specialty.“ I lift up my shirt to show off the scaly, itchy, horrible goods. He looks at my skin and squints. “Oh…” he says, followed by, “I…hmmm…well? Hmmm. I think it’s environmental, maybe. Or it could be…I just don’t know.”
I have recently moved into a new apartment in a very old building. The bathroom has a claw foot tub, there are French doors in the living room that used to hold a Murphy bed, and the whole place used to be a hotel for transients. I love my new apartment but maybe I should hate it because apparently the transients left their skin-eating rashes behind.
The dermatologist prescribes me a steroid cream, “The most intense steroid cream I can prescribe. Like, don’t loan this stuff out to anyone because this is the real stuff.” He tells me to use it three times a day and come back immediately if the rash gets any worse.
I begin a new thrice-daily ritual of slathering myself with the most powerful steroid cream on the market. I haven’t been on a date or even had a man smile at me for months and, while I had been quite upset about this fact, I now thank myself for being such a dating disaster because at least I don’t have to explain my raging full-body rash to a romantic partner. “Can we keep our shirts and pants on this time? Because…I don’t want to tell you why.” I’m also grateful that the rash isn’t visible on my arms or face so I can still go to Josh’s super fun birthday party without anyone knowing what scaly terror is lurking just underneath my clothes.
I adore Josh. He’ll occasionally text me the word, “Thirsty,” and all I have to do is text back the word, “Yes,” and he’ll swing by my apartment within the hour to pick me up. I’ve known him since college, his girlfriend, Lisa, is cool as hell, and Josh gives me dating advice like, “Don’t be upset about some dude. Because you know why? Because you’re Dana Fucking Norris. Do you understand me? DANA FUCKING NORRIS.” And I don’t know why him yelling my own name at me with an expletive in the middle makes me feel like I am brilliant and beautiful and unstoppable, but it does. He should publish a self-help book for insecure single women called, “Fuck those dudes who don’t call. You’re a sexy beast.”
Josh’s birthday party is a surprise party organized by his girlfriend. It’s at a bar and Lisa has promised me that there will be single dudes there. But when I first show up I don’t feel like talking to anyone new because RASH so I hang around with Lisa and a few attached guys I know from college. But then the scotch I’m sipping hits my blood stream and Josh comes over and says hello (“YOU SEXY FUCKING BITCH LOOK AT YOU”) and I notice a guy at the party wearing a newsboy cap, which is a look I go for, so I start talking to him.
He’s easy to talk to because he’s half in the bag and doesn’t seem to care much about the words I say as long as he can put his arm around me. Fair enough. He buys me a drink and I find out that his name is Rick and he works with Josh. This fact relaxes me because that means he’s probably not a complete psycho. Josh notices that Rick has his arm around me and gives me a big wink and Lisa gives me a thumbs up and then they buy us Jameson shots.
Half an hour later I am making out with Rick, right there, standing in the middle of the bar, with his hand on my ass. I know this isn’t “classy” but I also don’t care. Because I haven’t been kissed on the mouth in three months and he’s a good kisser and I’m covered in a horrible rash and I watched the movie Newsies at a very impressionable age so, like I said, I have a thing for a guy in a newsboy cap.
Rick then says those movie-perfect words to me, “Let’s get out of here.” I agree and neglect to ask where we’re going. We jump in a cab and keep making out and it’s all so dizzy and fun. The cab stops and I see that we’re at a giant club called “Joe’s Bar on Weed Street.” It’s a sports bar the size of a football field and it has a cover charge. I ask Rick, “Why are we here?” He explains that we’re meeting up with some of his friends who are already inside and there’s this awesome band playing that he wants to check out. We pay the cover and go in and it takes us 20 minutes to buy $8 Bud Lights. The band is loud and is called “Tripping Billies” and is a Dave Matthews cover band. Rick’s friends come over to meet us and this is also where I find out that Rick is 24 years old.
I am 30 years old and it’s 1am and I am watching a Dave Matthews cover band with a group of 24-year-olds. Suddenly my rash is the best thing about this situation. Luckily it’s almost last call so the band only plays a few songs before they bring up the house lights. Rick slides over to me and puts his arm around my waist, “You wanna get out of here?” I say yes, because I’m tired and I’d love to split a cab home.
We climb into a cab together and he gives the cab driver his address, which is half way on the way to my house. We get to his place and he pays the cab driver and indicates that I should get out of the cab. I shake my head, “No.” “Come on,” he says, wrapping his arm around me. “I have some really great whiskey upstairs and we can order pizza.” I’m hungry, and he is a good kisser despite his taste in bands, but I’m also covered in this rash and therefore I know I must keep all of my clothes on tonight.
I tell Rick that I’m not going inside with him. He persists, “You’re sitting by the curb. You have to at least step out of the cab so I can get out.” This seems like a reasonable request but I still refuse because he can totally still get out of the cab on his side. Plus, he already paid the driver so if I did get out the cab would likely leave and then I’d have to hail another cab while fending off Rick’s attempts to get me upstairs by lifting up my shirt and yelling, “I GOT THIS RASH FROM A TRANSIENT.”
So instead I tell Rick that, if he won’t leave the cab on his side, then he’ll have to climb over me to get out because I’m tired and not going inside with him and also not leaving the cab. He’s like, “Really?” and I’m like, “Oh, this here is a ‘really.”’ So he climbs over me, gets out of the cab, says he had a nice time and asks for my number. I give it to him because the steroid cream seems to be working and it’s always nice to have the phone numbers of a few potential sex partners on file.
A few weeks later I’m over at Josh’s house for a BBQ and he’s laughing at me. “When Rick told me that you made him climb over you in the cab I was like fuck yes! That’s my girl. That’s exactly what happens when you take Dana Norris home.”
“Josh, I was covered in a rash and I was afraid of losing the cab.”
“Whatever. You wouldn’t have gone upstairs with that guy anyway. You have better taste than that.”
I laugh along with him, but I also wonder. Do I?
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories in Chicago. She has been published in Tampa Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and The Rumpus. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University. She performs around Chicago you may find a list of upcoming shows at www.dananorris.net.