Monday, December 12, 2005

Some humiliations are meted out by fate itself.

If I do something weird or wrong and get caught-out in public that can be funny. But the tragic ones occur by misperception. This one just happened to me. I was on my morning break in the snack bar sitting with my co-workers. Pete returned just today from his trip to Hawaii. He brought chocolate covered macadamia nuts and ginger candy.

To set the scene, the snack bar is off of a hallway. No, check that; it is off of a HALLWAY. The aisle is a quarter mile long and runs the entire length of the plant. It is capacious enough to accommodate the passage of forklifts, pallet jacks and departments of people all at the same time. My group invariably sits at the first table we come to so we are thus right by the HALLWAY.

I accept the proffered treats and the chocolate covered nut goes down sweet and smooth. Then I bite down into the ginger candy. Let me take a moment to describe for you the experience before I announce the tragic consequences. You see the effect the candy had lead to my reaction and the forthcoming misunderstanding.

When I was younger I was placed in the charge of the neighbor lady because my parents were out and I often played with her son. Once while trying to impress the fellow I announced that if I were to be thrown in a snowbank naked I wouldn’t care. His mother heard me and gasped. And the gasp was not the kind I had expected, sheer admiration for my macho devil-may-care, but rather the lady had taken offense. I was informed that we do not use such language in that family. As she marched me to the bathroom I replayed my declaration mentally and could find no curse-word therein. She produced a bar of soap and informed me that she was going to clean my mouth out with it. Puzzled, I asked which was the offending word and found out it was “naked.” To this day I maintain that naked is no swear, but the soap I got nonetheless. In protest I had planned to bite a chunk out of her soap as soon as it entered my mouth, but the soap was very strong and I did not have the fortitude to carry out my plan. I mention this story only to note that if she had taken the time to sprinkle sugar over that strong soap she would have very closely approximated the flavor of ginger candy.

Flash forward, back to the snack bar by the HALLWAY. As I bite down and tear off a piece of the ginger candy the flavor hits me and I scream. YYYYOOOOO! (The multiple o’s signify the length of time I was saying ‘yo.’ they are to be read as such, not rhyming with ‘you’.) It sounded very like Bill Paxton’s character in the movie Aliens when he discovered the missing colonists. I follow that with a Stoogeian headshake and lip blubber all the time sounding a high note. I look up and all of my colleagues are staring at me like I am a pervert. I look further up into the HALLWAY and see a pretty young woman has just walked past the table.

Did I mention that my wife works in the same building as I do and we take breaks and lunch together? She sits across from me shaking her head.

I pointed at the ginger candy. Somehow words wouldn’t come. That’s the hardest I have ever made my boss laugh in 3 or so years of working here. He said that he had never seen my face so red. I hope the gal didn’t hear me or knew I wasn’t hooting at her like some construction worker. Sheesh!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Burnhams Cafeteria

In a recent post I referenced some of the goings-on in the Burnhams Cafeteria. This was a remarkable place of many first meetings with close friends and unlikely events. For all the time I spent there it seems that there were only two programs ever on the Ernest Burnham side television. The Simpsons and the Price is Right. The Smith Burnham side relentlessly played BET.

Once I was eating there with my freshman roommate Joe and a fellow student with an affliction entered the cafeteria through the cardswipe turnstile. This guy was very friendly. Once in an elevator I asked him what time it was and he pronounced it Beer-thirty. He was afflicted in his mobility. He walked with his elbows out, knees together on tip-toes. His upper body tick-tocked from the waist up to counter his small wheelbase, as it were. He walked past me just as Prince’s “Party like its 1999” started up and I saw Joe’s face go through a peculiar series of emotion. First came surprise, then hilarity, then shame. I knew without looking that poor Mr. Beer-thirty was ticktockwalking to the precise beat of that catchy song. I turned and sure enough there he was, human metronome, getting down, rocking with the boogie without even trying. I have heard that the goal of dancing is to make it look effortless; if that is the case he was the smoothest rocker to groove that day.

Then there’s my sophomore roommate Nick. Nick was a punk. Nick had baggy corduroy shorts. Nick had a chain wallet. Nick was not wearing a belt. Nick exited the chow line with his tray holding a typical heap of chicken strips, and several of the cute miniature cups that they give you to hold soda. Seriously those cups held about as much liquid as the corner of a napkin would. It was while Nick was walking to the condiment island that his dignity decided to depart him. Burdened beyond resistance by that heavy chain Nick’s pants quickly and unceremoniously shoot groundward. By the artifice of bowing his knees outward he arrests their fall at knee level. Nick now crouches spread-legged in his boxer briefs for the entire cafeteria’s enjoyment. (Hey man, nice underwear) The condiment island is beyond reach to set down his tray which requires two hands to hold and balance. He looks about, straining for a plan. But Nick has always been a man of action and so he quickly makes it to the island to set down his tray by means of a series of awkward, ungainly hops, which do nothing pleasant to the view of him due to perturbations of the various, barely-covered, parts of Nick which are most prone to, say, flop.

I was in the Burnhams cafeteria talking and joking with a table full of friends. We were having the biggest time when I thought I heard my name. Nah, it was probably nothing. So I went on eating and talking and joking and I thought I heard it again. I looked around my immediate area. Nothing. So I went to take a bite of Jell-O and I hear: “JON!” The shout was so deafening that the entire cafeteria went quiet and turned to look at the entrance. Joe was standing there, bare-chested, hair wet, clutching a yellow towel around his waist with one hand. He didn’t have his ID so of course the woman at the cardswipe turnstile did her duty by not admitting him, and though he saw his roommate and pointed me out she would not abandon her post to get my attention. You have to admire her work ethic. So everyone was just staring at mostly naked Joe and what did I do? I burst out laughing. He yelled at me again to get up and give him my keys. You see, one of the dangers of Dorm Life is the multifaceted horror of the Community Bathroom. More on that topic in general later, but in specific one of the bad things that can happen to a young collegite is being locked out of his or her room whilst in the shower down the hall.

Feel free to post comments of your own memories of the Burnhams Cafeteria if you have them!