“A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly
— And is also known as a buster –
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass.”
TLC, “No Scrubs” (1999)
It’s 5am and I’m freezing. I shiver and pull a quilt over my bare legs. Drunk shouts from the bar and pizza joint below have finally subsided.
Charlie stirs next to me. He throws an arm over my face in what I take as an attempt at affection.
“Are you awake?” I ask.
“What’s that tattoo supposed to be?” I poke at his forearm. The tattoo in question resembles a grossly offensive child’s drawing of an Eskimo.
I squint at him through near-sighted eyes.
“You know,” he yawns. “Cartman from South Park. I did it myself.”
This is my 3rd sleepover with Charlie. Each time I spend the night, I wake up with stabbing back pains from sleeping on his shitty mattress tossed on the floor in the corner of the bedroom. Charlie’s bedding consists of one floral sheet and a hand-me-down quilt from his grandmother. His beard smells like Marlboros and I’m lucky if he showers before I come over. Later this morning he’ll drive me home in his 1997 beater VW Jetta after I buy him a large black coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
I adore him.
Last week, I went to a very popular restaurant in my neighborhood. Parson’s is really more of an outdoor scene-ster social club than restaurant. In warm weather it offers outdoor bocce alongside fried chicken and high-end tequila shots. It is relatively admirable to be a server or bartender at Parson’s. If you hold one of these positions, you are a cool kid. On this last visit, I intently watched one of the male servers. I never got his name, but I’ll call him Jonah. (Because dudes who work at Parson’s have ironically biblical names like Jonah.) This guy clearly hadn’t washed his hair since last season. His jeans were torn to shreds, his beard was full and unkempt, and his hair was barely contained in a terrycloth striped athletic headband. But he walked with the confidence of Chrissy Teigen’s French bulldog.
I’d bet my PBR tallboy that Jonah gets mad amounts of pussy.
In 2018, we are living in the Golden Age of the Scrub. The 90s and aughts were a time for prettier, cleaner men. These decades were the era of the metrosexual (a word that suburban aunts all over the country are still attempting to use in cool conversation). Acceptable mainstream casual for dudes in 2002 was a button-down shirt and khaki shorts. Beards were rare, and relegated to Humanities professors and small-farm weed growers. Preppy was cool. BMW was fucking booming.
And now my friends, we live in the era of the manbuns and those twin dudes on Instagram who put flowers in their beards. There has been a shift in what qualifies as male coolness — from making fat stacks at your Lehman Brothers job (haha remember them?) to setting up an audio recording studio in your neighbor’s garage. Creativity, independence, and emotion have evolved as the desirable man traits. And with them came scrubbiness.
I love the scrubs. Sure, they are terrible at showing up on time and having clean fingernails, but they put girls on a pedestal.
Cartman-Tattoo-Charlie comes on the heels of my last fling (aptly also named Charlie). Unlike Cartman-tattoo Charlie, Manbun-Charlie did not have a beard, but only because Manbun-Charlie couldn’t grow facial hair if his life depended on it. Manbun-Charlie was an assistant manager at Chili’s. He also slept on a mattress on the floor. We smoked grass and watched Arrested Development on his lumpy futon. Manbun-Charlie did not give a shit about material possessions. He gave a shit about making EDM music and eating tacos. He wanted to hold my hand in public and tried to make his apartment romantic by burning the Vanilla Cookie candle he stole from his mom’s house.
Contrast my quiet Netflix nights with the Charlies to a recent date with a Turkish urologist. Homeboy picked me up in a Porsche and shouted over fancy bourbon about his incontinent patients. He wore Prada glasses and had ridiculously clean hands. I was very uncomfortable trying to make conversation with him. Scrubs are easy and laid-back. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Type A scrub.
Scrubs typically don’t have a lot of money, so they don’t care if you come over in your pajama pants. They are blown away when you buy them pizza or small gifts, like a beer coozie from your work trip to Knoxville. As long as you aren’t looking to jet to the Maldives, scrubs are perfect. I maintain a relatively fast-paced existence, and scrubs are a nice, leisurely carousel ride through the park. The last thing I want in life is to be intimidated by a rich white boy with capped teeth who wants to like, GO OUT. Or expects fancy lingerie. Or that I wash my hair.
Relish the Golden Age of the Scrub. Eventually, men will shave their beards and tuck away their armpit hair again. They will pursue office jobs and monogrammed leather goods. Until then, breathe deeply and enjoy their tangy odor. Like all trends, the scrub will be a fleeting existence.
Buy Melanie LaForce’s book Corn-Fed: Cul-de-Sacs, Keg Stands, and Coming of Age in the Midwest from Thought Catalog books.