I Was Just Too Chicken

Candy. Flowers. Jewelry.

Three items that most women, over the course of their lifetimes, receive at one time or another from someone who’s special to them. They’re all gifts that a woman might receive from a significant other, a family member, or a friend as a gesture to show appreciation, congratulations, support, or even just to express that she is missed or being thought of often.

But these are not the presents I wish to focus on in this post. No, I’m more interested in focusing on the offerings a woman receives that hold meanings that are far less straightforward, and in some cases, just downright baffling.

images-2Let’s take alcohol for example…more specifically, alcoholic beverages ordered for a woman by a complete and total stranger. It’s no secret what motivates a man to send a drink across a crowded bar to a woman he’s never met. What I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around, however, is once he’s made the choice to do so, how does he decide exactly what kind of drink he should send her way?

I sometimes wonder if the beverage of choice could be based on where he guesses the woman might be from, thereby sending her something along the lines of a Long Island Iced Tea, a Cape Cod or even an Alabama Slammer.

It’s also crossed my mind that perhaps a man might try to dig more deeply by attempting to decipher what he thinks her personality might be like. If that’s the case, he could end up sending her anything from a Flirtini to a Nutty Irishman.

My last guess, and perhaps the one that exhibits the least amount of class, is the theory that he chooses the drink based on one of her features that he finds particularly attractive, in which case he could send a Body Shot, a Fuzzy Navel (hey, each to his own) or if he’s especially bold, a Slippery….well, you get the picture.

Of course, in the end, it’s probably most likely that he relies on the recommendation of the bartender. I recently read, “Bar culture is your first step into the grown-up party world.” If that’s true, then an experienced bartender is the complete Czar of that party world. As a result, I’ve always imagined that he or she, after only one ruthless glance in a woman’s direction, can state immediately (usually in an intimidating foreign accent) exactly what kind of drink would best suit her.

Now, some of you may be wondering why on Earth I even bother to spend time pondering the dating habits of men in bars, and I agree, it’s a little weird. The reason, however, is simple. I’ve actually been on the receiving end of one of those unexpected offerings sent by a complete stranger across a crowded bar, and although it happened several hundred years ago when I was in my late-twenties, it remains one of the single most bizarre experiences of my life.

I guess I should have known early on when my first romance ended in turmoil that I was doomed when it came to understanding the best ways to communicate with the opposite sex. I was nine. He was ten. And I pretty much thought he was “it-on-a-stick”. His name was Billy Enoch and he lived only a few streets away. That meant that not only did I often see him walking to school Iooking all dashing in his Wranglers and Dukes of Hazard t-shirts, but I was also gifted with many opportunities to see him ride by my house on his super hip Huffy dirt bike. The number attached to the bottom of the safety bar clearly indicated that his bike had all the power and speed of The General Lee itself. I mean, let’s be honest ladies, how much more could a girl of nine possibly be expected to take before just giving in and falling hopelessly in love? Add to that the fact that Billy was one of the very best kickball pitchers in all of the fourth grade, and it didn’t take long for me to be a total goner.

11025645_10203856759086109_7793198243476413203_nThe problem, of course, was getting his attention and tricking him into falling in love with me as deeply as I’d fallen for him. This, I assure you, was no easy task. First of all, here’s a picture of me in the fourth grade. Enough said.

Knowing that I had my work cut out for me, I tried everything I could think of to turn his head in my direction. Though I’d love to report that I decided to rid myself of the gigantic glasses that masked 75% of my face and took drastic measures to tame that raging cowlick, those tactics didn’t even cross my mind. Instead, my first plan of attack was to wear only my red-tag Levis every day because everyone knew that the orange tagged ones were so not cool. After that attempt fell on blind eyes, I tried my best to make myself look a little more girly by invoking images I’d once seen in a calendar of Marilyn Monroe draped in pink fabric. The best way to do that, I figured, was to begin wearing the pink L.L. Bean chamois shirt my mother had insisted on buying me instead of the forest green, navy blue and red ones I wore every other day. The end result of that little experiment only made me plummet further into the depths of despair when another boy in my class took one look at me on the first day I wore it and stated, very matter of factly, that if I didn’t wear glasses, and if my hair was long enough to put in braids, I’d look exactly like Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie.

The worst part? He was right. Marilyn

Lord Almighty. Only I would try my darnedest to look like America’s most famous sex symbol only to end up summoning the likeness of a buck toothed little girl who spent the best part of her day wearing pantaloons and sitting by a creek holding a fishing pole.

Needless to say, I pretty much gave up at that point. I mean, for crying out loud, if draping myself in cotton candy colored felt didn’t work, then what on Earth would?

While I’ll never be 100% certain, to this day I believe that in the end, the answer to that question was…citrus. Lemons to be exact. No, I didn’t draw him in by coating my lips in the Bonnie Bell lemonade flavored lip gloss that all the girls were wearing and smacking my lips in his direction, and I most certainly did not drown myself in lemon scented body spray (I stuck with my Love’s Baby Soft thank you very much). What I’m talking about here is the real deal. Lemons…as in…the actual fruit. Don’t ask me why, but I used to take freshly cut lemons and eat them every single day at snack time and I always shared them with Billy. The truth is, I have absolutely no idea how or why I began that little ritual, but many of the other girls in my class did it too…it was a thing. All I know is that one morning, only a few weeks after giving up all hope of being noticed, I was the recipient of a folded up note (most likely passed from one sticky, lemon juice coated hand to another as it made its way to my desk), asking me to “go out” with Billy. The bottom of the letter, no joke, respectfully requested that I please check yes or no and return it ASAP. Oh, I checked yes alright, and when I did, I added no less than ten exclamation points and made a border of hearts all around that box just to make sure he knew that I meant business.

I’m not going to lie, my courtship with Billy was the best 6 hours of my life.

After lunch that day he was the king of the kickball field and I…well naturally, I was his queen. Though we didn’t end up on the same team at recess, we cheered each other on and exchanged secret smiles as our teams switched positions from being in the field to being up to the plate. After Billy single handedly resolved a somewhat heated argument about whether or not the pitcher on my team was purposely “spinning” the ball to make it more difficult for it to be kicked, I pretty much started making plans for our wedding.

smurLater that day, since only two blocks separated my house from his, we ended up walking home together. Even though we’d experienced a successful first day as an item, things suddenly got weird since, for the first time all day, we were actually alone. For months we’d been friends and conversations had always come easily, but it became clear to both of us during that walk that somehow things were different. Being only nine years old, the only lessons in the art of seduction I’d ever witnessed were those I’d seen played out by Miss Piggy in her misguided efforts to capture the affections of Kermit that Frog and the pathetic attempts of Brainy Smurf (with whom I shared an apparent preference for wearing glasses the size of Texas) to win the heart of Smurfette. As I’d never seen either of them meet with too much success, that didn’t give me much to go on. As a result, I had absolutely no experience when it came to the kind of smooth talk required under the circumstances and not a single clue as to what to do or say.

At first we talked about the kickball game at recess and how we both thought it was high time we started having different kids be captains since the teams always ended up the same (it only seemed right that, as the reigning king and queen, these kinds of decisions were ours to make). When that conversation ended we talked about how we couldn’t wait for it to snow because there were so many great hills to slide down near the school.

After that…silence. The kind of silence that is so loud it practically makes your ears bleed. I’ve explained in past blog posts how ineptly I behave when trying to impress someone I’m enamored with, so you can imagine how utterly disastrous it was when, in a desperate attempt to fill the air with something other than the sound of silence, I somehow ended up blurting, “Your last name is Enoch. My friend Katrina has a dog named Enoch……..You have the same name as a dog I know!” And then, when his eyes (which had instantaneously become two seething slits atop a very pained expression) finally locked on mine, my nerves elevated to an even higher level of angst and I made things even worse by adding, “I can’t stand dogs.”

Smooth move Exlax.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you in the least to learn that Billy didn’t really appreciate being compared to a dog. In fact, he made that super clear the first thing the next morning by sending me a break up letter. This time there were no boxes to check and no Karyn + Billy (TLA) scribbled in colored pencil in the margins. Nope. Just one sentence letting me know in no uncertain terms that not only was he breaking up with me, but he was planning to ask my friend Amy to go out with him instead.

Just perfect.

Is it any wonder then, that all these years later, even though I’ve been married for 13 years, that I’m still somewhat bewildered by the world of “bar culture” and dating? Honestly,  I find myself as confused by it now as I did when I was nine. And that brings me to the point of this story and the revelation of just what kind of gift I was treated to one Saturday night when I was sitting at a local pub with a group of friends.

It was the first and only time in my life that I’d ever bellied up to the actual bar in a restaurant instead of getting a table. The plan for the weekend had originally been to go camping with some co-workers, but as the weather predicted it to rain all weekend (thanks be to God!) we changed our plans and went to see a movie. I’d suggested we see the new movie Hope Floats because I’d heard it was a comedy. I thought that might liven the spirits of my friends who were far more disappointed about the cancelled camping festivities than I was.

Turns out seeing that particular movie was a bad idea. Why? Because not only was Hope Floats not a comedy, it was one of the saddest movies we’d ever seen and we all left the theater bawling our eyes out.

Oops.

So there we were, sitting at the bar drowning our sorrows and trying to make a plan for another possible camping adventure, when I got the surprise of a lifetime. It seemed like everyone else in town was trying to escape the rain, too, because I’d never seen the place so crowded. Over the course of the several hours we were there, we struck up conversations with tourists who were enjoying their first trip to Maine and who were headed for the ocean as soon as the rain ended, we spent time talking to some new graduates from the University of Maine, one of whom had just turned 21 and was sure to be bedridden for the next day or two after the way she was celebrating that night, and we also spent time interacting with members of a bachelorette party who, even though I was only 27 years old at the time, made me feel ancient.

Being surrounded by so many characters in the course of only a few hours, I never really took notice of the fact that I’d apparently caught some young man’s eye, but as luck would have it, that’s exactly what I’d done. Having grown up watching men like Jack Tripper on Three’s Company send women drinks in bars with some success, or the many episodes of The Love Boat in which romance bloomed when a man sent a woman a drink after noticing her across the crowded pool deck, I always thought I had a pretty good idea of how the whole scenario played itself out. The bartender would take the order from the hopeful fellow, and then, after making the drink, he or she would deliver some beautiful cocktail garnished with fresh fruit speared by a tiny plastic sword or adorned with a brightly colored mini umbrella.

I should have known better.

As I sat on the barstool surrounded by new friends and old, and listening to stories of graduations and vacation plans, I was somewhat surprised when the bartender tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention. Knowing that I still had a half a mug of Woodchuck Cider left to finish, and that he couldn’t possibly be asking if I needed a refill already, I automatically assumed that I’d once again knocked over my friend’s water glass (as I’d already done twice in the last hour). Starting in with my automatic apology as I spun the stool around, I realized quickly that not only was the water glass still completely full, but the bartender was standing there smirking at me with his hands on his hips. As he didn’t say anything, I just looked back at him and tried to figure out the reason he had such a strangely amused look on his face.

Seeing the confused expression on my face, he turned suddenly and pointed to a man sitting on the other side of the bar. After being pointed at, the man shot me a quick smile and a wave, and then just simply seemed to wait. Taking that as his cue, the bartender turned back to me and said, “He wanted you to have this.”

And that’s when I finally saw it.

Sitting in front of me all along was the first and only item that I’ve ever been sent by a stranger in a bar. Only it wasn’t a beautiful cocktail decorated with a cute little umbrella…and it most certainly wasn’t a colorful drink bursting with freshly cut fruit.

It was a plate of chicken fingers.

That’s right. Breaded chicken fried in grease.

Oh, and a two gallon vat of blue cheese to go along with it.

Never having been the official recipient of anything (let alone something off the appetizer menu for the love of God) from a complete stranger, I wasn’t really sure what to do next. On television the women were always able to remove the swords from the drinks and take dainty bites of the fruit that had been attached to them or take the tiny umbrellas to spin between their fingers while smiling in the direction of the men who’d sent them. UnknownBut this was real life, and somehow, dipping a piece of fried chicken the size of a brick into a plastic cup oozing with blue cheese dressing and twirling it between my fingers didn’t exactly seem right, not to mention the fact that it no doubt would have ended up all over the front of my shirt. I would have ended up looking like a toddler making a mess at the craft table in a pre-school classroom. It was in that moment that I suddenly felt as helpless as I had so many years before on that walk home with Billy…and we all know how that turned out.

So, what did I do? Well, the first thing was to try to ignore the absolute riotous laughter of my friends who’d watched the whole scene unfold with frantic delight. A few of them laughed so hard they actually needed to remove themselves from the situation and go walk around for a bit until they could catch their breath. Others just patted me on the back and taunted me with whispers like, “Hey, you should go for it, you’re no spring chicken you know,” and other fantastic chicken related quips.

After making the realization that I wasn’t going to be getting help from my buddies anytime soon, I simply looked across the bar and found the man still looking my way. To show my sincere appreciation, I raised my glass of cider, mouthed the words, “Thank you,” and hoped like heck he couldn’t hear what my friends were saying. In response, he waved back, lifted his John Deere hat in the air, and gave me a thumbs up.

How’s that for romance?

Did I eat the chicken fingers? You bet. Every last one. I’m only human after all. Did I end up talking with the kind soul who’d sent them my way? I’m not proud of it, but no, no I did not. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I ended up leaving about thirty minutes later, and as I was making my exit, I gave a wave in his direction…a gesture that was met this time with two enthusiastic thumbs up.

God love both of us.

As I sit here seventeen short years later and reflect on that night, all I can do is laugh. To be honest though, if I were to analyze the situation using my own theories about the ways men behave in bars and the reasons they send the drinks (and apparently, appetizers) that they do, it leaves me feeling just a bit perplexed.

I wrote earlier that I sometimes wonder if the beverage a man decides to send a woman could be based on where he guesses she might be from. Well, according to that theory, I can’t help but wonder…did that guy think I lived on a farm? Had I’d not shed the Laura Ingalls likeness even after all those years?

If I consider the other theory that I put forth, the one that suggests that perhaps a man bases the drink on what he thinks a woman’s personality might be like…could he actually have been calling me a coward? I can just picture him sitting there thinking Oh, she looks like a real chicken…I guess I’ll send her a plate of deep fried confidence.

And finally, the theory that is perhaps the most upsetting, is the one that suggests a man chooses the drink based on one of the woman’s features that he finds particularly attractive. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I have man-hands…but being an English teacher who’s always trying to read between the lines, could it really be possible that he thought my hands just looked downright Finger Licking Good?

I guess I’ll never know.

Last but not least, there’s my belief that it’s most likely that many men rely on the recommendation of the bartender. If that were the case in my situation, the bartender had an accent alright, but it was a Maine accent. You simply cannot imagine the horror and heartbreak that sweep through me when I think about the conversation between him and the man in the green and yellow hat as they sized me up…a conversation that clearly led to the final conclusion that…bottom line… I just looked like someone who’d be lured by a gigantic platter of deep fried poultry.

How does that even happen? Seriously, how?

In the end, I consider myself a very lucky lady. Over the years, just like most women, I’ve been on the receiving end of candy, flowers, and jewelry, but frankly, it’s those darn chicken fingers that will remain one of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever been given. All these years later, my only regret is that, at the time, I didn’t show more kindness to the man who sent them to me. I should have gone over to thank him personally, and at the very least, offered to share the plate with him. He’d made an attempt to make a connection, and looking back, I find myself admiring him for the courage he must have had to do so. While I’ll never be sure why in the world he decided that fried chicken might just be the way to my heart, he did something that I could never do. If I got the chance to apologize to him today, I’d tell him that I appreciated the gesture, and then I’d try to explain that the reason I didn’t thank him more appropriately was because of the fact that, well…I was just too chicken.

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