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Lou Charloff: On Being Ugly

Lou Charloff
June 26, 2011

by Lou Charloff

The words nerd, geek and dweeb were probably created by somebody who knew me in high school.

All through elementary school and junior high, I was always one of the two shortest kids in the class. It was just about the time I entered high school that I enjoyed a sudden spurt of growth. I delighted in the added height but I didn’t gain any significant weight. The result was that I was skinny and gawky and clumsy. I learned to hate the word gangly.

Based on what was written in my yearbook, it’s clear that the other kids thought I was funny, but that didn’t make me popular. Being a very good student didn’t help either. Although nobody vilified me for having good grades, they were by no means a social asset. The fact remained that I was a year and a half younger than the girls in my class, and each of them was looking for a boy who was a year and a half older than she was.

Although I could speak well in class, I could never formulate a complete sentence when I was talking to a girl. Worst of all, I didn’t know how to dance! Then, glory be to God, our principal announced that once a week, for the next four weeks, each student would have a choice between gym class or a dance class. There would be lots of girls there to act as partners and coaches. (How come every girl in the school seemed to know how to dance; where did they ever learn?) Those of us boys who needed the lessons leaped at the chance. Those who did not made that choice anyway — dancing with a pretty girl was lots more fun than gym class and the girls, of course, preferred to dance with those guys.

I was dancing with one girl and felt her hand doing something against my back. Then I realized that she was signaling to some other boy for help. And he, the proud confident Sir Galahad, came to her rescue and cut in. And I was sidelined.

I understood my limitations. I was a skinny, awkward, clumsy four-eyed lout. I was gangly. I was a geek. I was ugly.

Things improved when I graduated. I got a job. I joined the YMHA and found some new friends. I even became the president of our club. I somehow learned how to dance and how to converse. I found myself dating some girls and they were all pretty! I even once overheard one girl describe me to her friend as attractive and, for about two hours that day, I gained eleven inches in height.

In my senior year, I had not gone to the prom. I didn’t have a girl and, even if I had had one, I couldn’t have afforded to take her. Now I was invited by two girls to escort them to their proms (I even married one of them but that, of course, came much later).

When the army sent me to Europe, the local girls seemed to find my knowledge of French and German almost as sexy and appealing as the chocolate bars I always carried with me.

After I was back home and married, I joined an excellent amateur theater group, developed some thespian skills and improved my social skills, too. The highlight of my career as a man-about-town came in my late 50s when, after lots of good-old-Uncle-Harry type roles, I was cast as the romantic lead in a Paddy Chayefsky play.

And since you ask, yes, I got to kiss the girl.


Lou Charloff is featured in Old Jews Telling Jokes, both the website and the book.

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