Boy @ The Window, Chicken McNuggets, Crush #2, Fake Meat, Fake Smile, Friendship, Immaturity, Manhood, Obsession, Operation Opportunity, Relationships, Self-Discovery, Self-Revelation, Shyness, The Galleria
To think that it’s been a quarter-century since I went into obsession mode over a girl. Not love, not so much a crush, but a bonafide obsession. Well, it’s a confirmation of how pathetic I’d allowed myself to become in the summer between the end of high school and my freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh in ’87.
The funny thing was, it was an obsession with Crush #2, and one that almost didn’t happen. After all, I’d given up on seeing Crush #2 again after our graduation ceremony. So the week after, I began working at the General Foods’ (now Kraft Foods) scientific testing facilities in Tarrytown, just down the road from the GM plant and the Tappan Zee Bridge over to Rockland County. I was hired as part of their Operation Opportunity program, a summer internship program for students of color.
It was my first office job, and it showed. I had to take two buses to get to and from work and walk the seven blocks from the bus stop at the corner of North Columbus and East Lincoln to 616. I took the 40 or 41 bus to downtown White Plains and transferred to either the 13 or the 1W to Tarrytown. I was consistently late to work in the first three weeks, not even knowing to call in to let folks know I was going to be late.
About a week into the job, I boarded the bus for White Plains on my way home from work and decided to vary my routine. I got off at the White Plains Galleria, a state-of-the-art mall back then. It was five stories of concrete and a glass ceiling, of shops, eateries and a movie theater.
The mall had a mom-and-pop cookie store that had the best chocolate chip-walnut cookies this side of Mrs. Fields. They also had a McDonald’s, a luxury for me for most of the decade. I stopped to buy my ultimate pre-dinner snack: a six-pack of McNuggets with that sweet-and-sour sauce, small fries, a vanilla “milk”shake and two gooey and warm chocolate chip-walnut cookies. It was heaven-on-earth food for me. When I went outside to wait for the 40 bus back home, there she was. Crush #2 was standing there, also waiting for the bus. We exchanged “Hi”s and started some small talk about college, music and movies. It turned out that Crush #2 had a summer job in White Plains just a couple blocks from the Galleria.
Even as pitiful as I was, I knew I had a window of opportunity to get beyond the idle chatter to the “Do you want to hang with me?” question. But I just didn’t and couldn’t ask. Not on that commute home, and not on any coincidental bus trips after that. In all, I probably had about a dozen opportunities to ask Crush #2 if she liked me or if she wanted to go out with me throughout July.
A standard non-conversation conversation went like
“Hey, [Crush #2].”
“Hi. How are you?,” she’d asked.
“All right,” I’d say.
“How was work?”
“Okay. How was your day?,” I’d ask in response.
“Fine,” Crush #2 would say.
Then, there would be the occasional “Did you see…?” some movie, or a “Did you buy…?” the latest album or tape. Otherwise, it was like two ex-spouses attempting small talk before switching the conversation to concerns about their kids.
These bump-ins weren’t deliberate and not even “by accident-on purpose.” When I did see her, I didn’t get the sense of euphoria that I had when I saw her in high school. My heart didn’t go pitter-patter, and my throat and mouth didn’t turn dry. At times, I felt a sense of dread when I’d come out of the Galleria with my comfort food in hand and Walkman on, only to have to talk to Crush #2 without the cover of school as a pretext.
I preferred to think of Crush #2 from afar. On meandering walks that often took me through Crush #2’s neck of the woods. Or when I listened to certain songs, particularly love duets and Whitney Houston. I never once dared to walk over to her house, and I refused to call even though her family’s number was in the phone book — I did look it up, though. I couldn’t even quench my libido’s growing thirst by thinking of her and how she looked.
In the back of my mind I began to realize that my attraction to Crush #2 didn’t have much to do with Crush #2. Yet when I did bump into her, I tried through our short conversations to see if there was any “there” there. Anybody with about two years’ more maturity than the twelve-year-old in a seventeen-year-old that was me knew that I was on the short road to rejection and embarrassment. And that rejection would lead to six months of obsession over Crush #2, and stalker-esque thoughts, if not stalker actions.
But I couldn’t get that smile of Crush #2’s out of my head. Even if it was more fake than any Chicken McNugget I’d ever eaten. In a year filled with rejection, scorn and externally imposed invisibility, the eventual rejection I suffered from Crush #2 was a bridge too far.