The Wretched Replacement

She looked as beautiful as Nick remembered her.

The dirty blond hair flowing the way beer flows like wine in Aspen…The hazel eyes penetrating any person they come in contact with…

Oh, and that ass…just how does she keep that derriere so upright at age 32?

Suddenly, the Picasso that was Ashley looked more like a finger painting out of a kindergarten class. As Ashley strolled across the bar with that perfect posture and easy stride, she came into contact with the biggest tool in the shed.

And she kissed him.


Then she looked at The Tool the way she used to look at Nick. The Tool now played his former role of Superhero. Like Spiderman, he was the guy who could do no wrong in her eyes.

Nick wasn’t sure if Ashley even saw him, but chances are she did. On the bar scene, people in general act like they don’t see anyone five-foot outside of their radius, but here’s a newsflash most of you already know:

At a saloon or a party, everyone sees everything.

You’ve been judged 1000 times over the past four weeks.

And those members of the opposite sex have rejected you immediately anywhere from 20 to 90 percent…the deal breakers being your appearance, your crew and the way you dress.

Tough crowd, huh?

So there’s a sporting chance Ashley saw Nick through the throngs of the overserved and planned that exact passionate moment in her head a few dozens times ever since they broke up three months ago.

But if this were Hollywood, someone really screwed up the casting part. Sure, there was nothing wrong with Ashley as Kirsten Dunst, but the faux Tobey McGuire in the form of said Tool evidently didn’t get the memo.

Nick thought back to Tools of movies past who managed to get the girl. There was Rick Morehouse (Clayton Rohner) in Just One of the Guys (who is legendary for his pronouncement of Cyndi Lauper as Lowper, as in “Right, and I’m Cyndi LAOW-per.” It’s a Top 10 movie quotable classic and can be used in almost any situation…trust me). Then there was Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nichols) in the first American Pie who somehow landed Vicky Lathum (Tara Reid) as his high school girlfriend before a disappointing sexual experience did him in (like Tom Brady, I assume). TV hasn’t been any better, continuing to drive home the scary reality that not-thin, hair-challenged guys in the late 30s and 40s somehow can land trophy wives (Still Standing (Mark Addy/Jami Gertz), the late King of Queens (Kevin James/Leah Remini) and According to Jim (Jim Belushi/Courtney Thorne-Smith) just to name a maddening few.

Regardless of the small and big screen justification…in Nick’s mind, this guy was The Tool of 2007.

He wondered how someone as complete as Ashley could settle so easily and so soon after being with, well, him. Sure he wasn’t the perfect guy, but this trade down from a first round draft pick to the waiver wire was ridiculous. No, make that ludicrous. Any “dicrous” seemed to apply.

Was he being as shallow as everyone else in the bar that makes judgments on others without even knowing them? Was that his problem in the first place? Evaluating those solely on hair, body and face? The tool actually was fine in that regard, but Nick only saw what he wanted to see.

Naah…he was a realist, he thought. He and Ashley had the same conversations before: “You know if you’re interested in a person for the first time you see them,” she said to him once. “You know if you’re going to give a phone number to a guy after only fifteen minutes of conversation unless he says something really stupid.”

If you pass those two tests…looks and a great first impression. It’s like the Yankees in the American League Wild Card race:

It’s yours to lose.

Nick looked over at the Tool and Ashley again. This time he caught her glancing at him. Ashley knew he was there, and she would be damned to have Nick think that she was still alone pining after him. Nick then turned to look at the group he was out with. But he was so caught up in the Ashley/Tool kiss that he didn’t realize that he lost them upon entering the bar. He was alone with no one around to support him. It felt eerily like that scene in the beginning of Vanilla Sky where Tom Cruise is in Times Square without anything except empty buildings around for miles. Just where the hell did everybody go during a time like this?

Never in his life did he want a girl (hell, any companion, even a dog) by his side more to counter Ashley’s gamesmanship than at that moment. He tried to decide whether the butterflies in his stomach were a result of jealously or because he was still in love with her. Taking a page out of the aforementioned American Pie, he turned to his trusty advisor, Jenna, who nicely played the role in the movie of the wise and pragmatic Jessica (Natasha Lyonne). Jenna possessed a rare ability as an expert on the way both girls and guys think. Decked out that night low-rim in a LA Galaxy cap, and always in complete control, Jenna is certainly a girl who gets it.

“Ashley’s here,” Nick deadpanned.

“How do you feel about that?” Jenna asked while locating Ashley across the way.

“Not good. She kissed some wet mop with me standing 30 feet away. Now all I can think of is them getting dressed up in bunny suits and doing it like Drama and Shanna Moakler on Entourage last week.”

“Great episode. But wait, maybe Ash didn’t see you,” Jenna responded.

“Oh, she had to because…” he said, cut halfway off in the sentence by Jenna as she finished, “…because everybody sees everybody in a bar.”

“You really need to stop reading Joe Concha’s columns. You’re starting to sound like him,” Nick laughed.

“Look who’s talking!” Jenna shot back. “Anyway, let me guess: You’re wondering if you want her back after seeing her with another guy,” she observed. You’re thinking, ‘Am I upset that she’s with someone else because I still care about her, or is it because my ego can’t stand the fact that she’s with someone that you consider to be a tool?’ It’s like she’s insulting your entire relationship by hanging out with him.”

Nick’s thoughts of love for Ashley or his jealously of the Tool prevented him from factoring in the role that his somewhat inflated ego played in his emotions. In fact, many in our small world of perpetual run-ins with exes often get those feelings confused with one another. What some consider being love of a former girlfriend or boyfriend is actually love of self.

If he or she can’t be with me, they should at least be with someone that is better…

Whatever “better” is…

“If she were hanging out with Derek Jeter, I’d consider it a compliment to me,” Nick explained. “Instead, he looks more like Joe Torre. It’s embarrassing. I thought her standards were higher than that.”

Jenna then advised Nick to go back home later that night and read what she asked him to write the day they broke up. In that journal Jenna recommended that he write down all of the reasons he could no longer be with her.

“Sometimes people choose to only remember the positive aspects of a relationship,” Jenna had advised him at the time. “But they forget all of the little and even big things that forced them out the door in the first place. By writing all of these things down, you’ll remember why you couldn’t stay with her.”

Nick went home that night not feeling particularly well. After seeing Ashley he decided the easy answer was to go to another bar and drink several gallons of scotch to wash down several tequila shots. After driving the porcelain bus with his head for approximately 20 minutes, he stumbled to his top dresser drawer.

There sat a folded piece of paper entitled, “Do not read until absolutely necessary.”

The words were a bit fuzzy, but he could make them out clearly enough. Some reasons could be characterized in the “diculous” category while others were valid.

Reasons not to be with Ashley:

Doesn’t listen

Extremely needy

Bad-mouthed Mom on several occasions

Sees my good friends as bad influences

Unpredictably moody

“OK, all of these are little things all couples have to work on. If these are the issues, then I may have made a mistake in not sticking it out longer,” he mumbled to himself.

Then there was the doozy with an asterisk at the bottom of the page.

* In the end neither one of us ever trusted that this relationship was going to the ultimate final step. She never saw me as her hero. And I never saw her as my wife.

And the note ended.

That was good enough for Nick. He then realized that his feelings for Ashley and the Tool were mostly guided by his own ego and self-image. Her new relationship and taste in men, or whatever it was, was not a reflection on him. Instead, it was what she wanted to do with her life.

A life that no longer had anything to do with him…

Nick then turned on the television. A repeat of “Home Improvement” was on.

“Hi, my name is Tim Taylor.”

“And I’m Al Borland.”

Welcome to another edition of “Tool Time!”

He may never have laughed so hard since hearing the name, “LAOW-per”.