June 25, 2009


Let's set the scene:

It was a busy Wednesday. I was bogged down at work - endless decks to pull together, meetings to run, cats to herd. I was down to the wire on a crazy-big project with lots of visibility. And, noticing Mickey's big hand was on the 12 on my clock, I realized with a pang that I was STARVING.

With less than a 20-minute window before my next meeting, I had no time to sit down somewhere. Worse, the secret pseudo-food health bar stash in my top drawer was depressingly empty. I had no choice but to run for some deliciously bad takeout.

The teriyaki place across the street is a far cry from the best I've had, but it's predictable, and thus was my choice.

My stomach grumbling, I entered the strip-mall-style shop to find every table full and a line at the register. Waiting to order, it registered that I had caught that magical lunch hour rush when the crowd in local restaraunts gets a little... awkward.

See, my company is very near a large high school with an open campus for lunch. This means that on any given day between about 12:15 and 12:45 the local establishments are the meeting grounds for many longing, lecherous businessmen suffering mid-life-crises in suits AND (the awkward part) herds of scantily-clad teenage girls. Cheerleaders and Lil' Kim wannabes abound, noisily giggling and madly text-messaging.

Hysterically, during these strange lunch hour mixings, these two different tribes do their best to pretend to completely ignore each other, at which they epically fail. At these moments, everyone is actually acutely aware of each other. I'd say there's a fair amount of eavesdropping, and more sideways glancing that is technically comfortable to watch happen. I was in the midst of musing about this when...

"What you want today, lady?"

Shaken from my rapt people-watching (people-judging, to be more accurate), I ordered the lunch special: a slab of sliced chicken covered in a sticky-sweet sauce, an ice-cream scoop of gluey white rice and a handful of iceberg lettuce covered in a mayo moonlighting as "dressing".

I stepped out of line after settling up and found a seat on the long bench between the register and the door to wait for my order to come up. In front of this bench, the distracted line of customers queuing up to order meanders from the register out onto the sidewalk. Further inside the restaraunt are tables for dine-in patrons.

A few minutes had passed when a woman from the kitchen made her way over to me, arm outstretched to hand me my white plastic take-out bag. I was shoving my pen and that day's NY Times crossword into my purse with one hand and taking my takeout with the other when I heard him.

"HI! I'M BEN!"

I jumped, startled by the inappropriately loud volume of his voice, and looked up. Meanwhile, the rest of the restaraunt's patrons did the same. His volume alone managed to hush the entire joint and, impossibly, capture the attention of all the teenagers and professionals in it.

I gulped, and slowly looked up. As I had feared, Mr. Mortifying was addressing me. Trying not to cringe, I smiled, said hi, and looked back down at the paper in my lap, silently willing him to dissappear.

Please, please...
I thought, eyes squeezed tight.


Oh no, I thought. This can't be happening.


Cue waves of crippling guilt.

Here he was, giving me a compliment, and just because he was SCREAMING IT EMBARASSINGLY AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS IN A PUBLIC PLACE, I was feeling all panicky and ungrateful.

But he just kept going.


Fuck. There it was.

The restaraunt was tomblike in silence. I suddenly knew what it was like to be on-stage, the main event, one of those terrified dogs on bicycles in the center ring of the circus. The only sound was the fryers and grills in the back of the restaraunt. Every cheerleader, hoochie mama and corporate VP had his or her eyes trained on the train wreck-slash-soap opera in front of them, featuring me and my new volume-and-tact-challenged Romeo.

Handle this, I thought. Don't panic. Be cool. But I just couldn't stop it. It was coming out of my mouth before I even had a chance to take hold of my internal E-brake and yank:


My inner dialogue had escaped like some clever little yappy dog. Rather than gracefully diffusing the completely mortifying experience and politely declining this gentleman's clumsy advances, I had sprung a leak in my filter and instead yelled - YELLED - "Awkward!", volume 10, drawn out theatrically into a 7-syllable groan of disgust and embarrassment.

The crowd's response was a gasp, and then some giggling. The moment the word escaped, I clapped both hands over my mouth, eyes as big as saucers and frantically shook my head.

"No, no, I'm sorry. It's just... right here? Right now? Do you think..." I took a deep breath, getting a grip. "Uh, can we speak outside, maybe?"

I leapt up, took his arm and lead him outside into the parking lot like he was a bad child. The next few moments were a mishmash of apologizing and thanking him for the compliment but (obviously) declining the offer. Shockingly, he didn't seem even close to as humiliated as I had been, which helped, though he did mention that he realized he had yelled, probably because he was "nervous".

But we managed to somehow extricate ourselves from the conversation, and both turned to go our separate ways on foot, me in front of him.

And a few minutes later, as I opened the front door to my giant office building and glanced behind me, guess what? He was still there. When I turned to address him, he smiled sheepishly at me.

"Well, if you thought THAT was awkward, I can't imagine what you'll make of this... you work here too??!"

Can a girl please catch a break? I must have kicked a kitten in a past life.

"Talk about awkward...