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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That’s Good Enough For Me

It was the early 90s. I was young. I was in love. I didn’t care who knew it.

Like most young girls who taped pictures of cute boys to the inside of their lockers, pencil boxes and Trapper Keepers, I adorned my bedroom with photos of the young man who’d captured my heart. While it’s true that I was a senior in college and the fact that I still participated in that kind of ritual was, admittedly, slightly unsettling for those who knew me, that’s not really the point.

His name was Andrew, and though we hadn’t ever gone to the same schools or even lived in the same state, and even though he graduated from college the same year I was a senior in high school, there was a time in my life when I really thought he was the man I would spend the rest of my life with. I mean, so what if there was a four year age difference? And who cared if we lived in cities that were hundreds of miles apart? Those weren’t factors that really mattered because the list of things we had in common was endless. First of all, we both loved soccer. He was a star player in high school and college, and though to this very day I’m still in shock college scouts somehow missed the chance to add me to their future rosters, didn’t I play my heart out in that right halfback position for the Bangor High School Rams from 1987-1989? You bet I did. Does it really matter if most of that playing time occurred when my team was up by 5 goals or down by 10? It most certainly does not.

As if our mutual interest in soccer wasn’t enough to convince the world that Andrew and I were a match made in heaven, there was a huge mountain of evidence from which I could pull to further my case. Take the fact, for example, that we were both raised on the East Coast; he in New Jersey and I in Maine. I mean, if that doesn’t just scream soulmates I don’t know what does.

Need more proof?  His name was Andrew…and growing up, you’re not going to believe this, but I once had a neighbor named…Andrew. See what I mean? Meant to be. 

Still not convinced? Well, are you sitting down? After he graduated from college, Andrew went to Zimbabwe to teach math and play soccer and I….I was going to college to become a teacher at the time AND 9 times out of 10 I could locate Zimbabwe on a map on my very first try (okay 4 out of 10 if I’m being honest). So, there you have it. The defense rests.

By now you must be wondering so, what on earth was the problem? Well, I admit, the one hurdle I faced in being able to find true happiness with Andrew was somewhat difficult to surpass, but it certainly was not one that other couples throughout history hadn’t overcome trillions of times. That one teeny barrier in our relationship was the fact that…well, to make a long story short…we had technically never met.

Nope. Not even once.

Why not? The perfectly logical explanation for that is that in addition to being an outstanding athlete and brilliant mathematician, he was also an actor…on Melrose Place.

Don’t you dare judge me.

Being an English major in college and working 35 hours a week as a waitress at the same time was not the most fun I’d ever had. It was hard work, and if I needed something to take my mind off the countless essays I had to write comparing and contrasting the shenanigans and characters those crazy Bronte sisters brought to life in the pages of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, well then excuse me for living.

Each week, if only for just an hour, I would sit down and escape to Melrose Place where the characters’ lives made my little existence as both a full time student and waitress just a little more bearable. At the end of a long day after attending classes and writing papers, or better yet, after seven hours of asking customers if they wanted french fries, baked potatoes, rice or curly fries with their chicken, burger or steak, I would sit down and watch Andrew act the heck out of that role as Billy Campbell and leave my woes behind.

Over time, however, my imaginary love affair with Andrew faded slowly away, and other than a brief run-in with an intoxicated customer on my second to last night of waitressing in which I found it necessary to defend his honor, I handled the end of our relationship pretty well. I’d walked into the lounge at the restaurant where I worked after my shift was over, and for some reason, Melrose Place was on one of the televisions (must have been a slow night for sports). One of the men sitting at the bar was talking about the show, so needless to say, my ears perked up. As luck would have it, I caught him right as he boldly exclaimed that the guy playing Billy was the same exact actor who played Tommy Bradford on Eight is Enough

WHAT?

Invoking my infinite wisdom, I didn’t see one single thing wrong with correcting him and letting him know that he’d made a ghastly mistake, that they were definitely two different actors. Is it my fault he got all surly, spun around on his barstool and slurred, “Sorry Sweetheart, but you’re wrong. My niece loves Billy and she’s the one that told me it’s the same guy.”

Okay. Game time, Buster. His niece loved Billy did she? Oh, I’d show him who loved Billy.

It was late. I was tired from having packed all day in preparation for moving to another town a few days later, and I just wanted to go drown my exhaustion in a plate of beef nachos. Honestly, was that really too much to ask? The last thing I wanted to do was deal with someone who thought they knew more about Andrew Shue than I did, but having no other choice, I turned slowly and purposefully and gave that fellow my steeliest stare. Not seeming the aaleast bit intimidated, he just sat there grinning on the bar stool as I advanced on him. Though it would have been so much more dramatic if I’d had an entire room to storm across, I angrily took the two and a half steps necessary to get within an inch of his face, and using as much control as I could muster, declared, “Andrew Shue, the guy who plays Billy, was born in 1967. Tommy Bradford was a teenager. Andrew Shue would have been ten years old when that show first came out. Does that make any kind of sense to you?”

When he just stared back at me blankly, I continued by proclaiming that there was no way on God’s green Earth that Andrew Shue was playing Tommy Bradford in the late 70s. Why?  Because he was too busy being a soccer star and getting the kind of grades needed to get him into Dartmouth one day. And finally, just for good measure, I stomped my foot and yelled just a bit more loudly than intended, “You should tell your niece to check her facts before she keeps making a fool out of herself!” (No, the pathetic irony of that last ridiculous declaration is not lost on me.) Not only was that comment met with confusion by the man who’d unintentionally engaged me in battle, but the elevated volume of my voice had drawn the attention of a few other customers, not to mention my manager. Not wanting to make any more of a scene (and also because I really was craving those nachos) I untied the apron I was still wearing with a vengeance, and with eyes still glued to the man on the stool, draped that apron over my arm like a boss and marched over to my seat.

Hand to the Lord, it may just be one of the most pathetic displays I’ve ever made in public, but what’s done is done. In retrospect, my anger that night could possibly be described as irrational and my tirade as somewhat of an overreaction, but hey, he messed with the bull…he got the horns.

At this point you may be wondering why I’m choosing to document a childish story about the crush I had on a character from a television show twenty years ago, and frankly, I don’t blame you. But the fact that at one time in my life I wanted nothing more than to be Mrs. Andrew Shue is not the real story here. The best part of this epic tale is that only ten years after that wretched night that I pathetically let the world know just how much I knew about Andrew Shue (before Google, mind you) in the middle of a dimly lit sports lounge surrounded by men eating Beer Nuts and popcorn until they had to lie down, is that I actually got to meet him.

Yes. The man himself.

I met Andrew Shue.

It probably won’t surprise you to discover that like most other major events in my life, the actual encounter was nothing less than a complete disaster. The meeting took place not as a result of me winning the grand prize in some ridiculous “Meet Your Favorite Aaron Spelling Star!” contest, and no, not because I was brought up on federal charges for stalking the poor guy (I know it crossed your mind). No, in the end, the opportunity to meet him came about because of the fact that I became a teacher. As it turned out, his father, Jim (yes, I was on a first name basis with his father, can you EVEN believe it?) moved his family, including two of Andrew’s younger siblings, to the town where I was teaching, and as luck would have it, I crossed paths with both of them.

I will never, not as long as I live, forget the afternoon that I was overseeing my study hall and one of the students blurted, “Hey, Mrs. Field, did you know Jenna’s brother and sister are famous?” Feeling 100% certain that I was being set up for some ridiculous punchline, I decided to bite, and responded, “No, I didn’t. What are they famous for?” Never in one million years was I prepared to hear, “One of them was in The Karate Kid and the other was on Melrose Place.” My heart stopped. The room started spinning. I’m pretty sure I lost consciousness to tell you the truth. But once I realized everyone was looking at me, including young Jenna Shue (HOW HAD I OVERLOOKED THAT LAST NAME?) I took a few deep breaths and simply looked at her and said, “That must be pretty neat.”

Even all these years later I’m still in shock that I was able to contain myself. However, at the time, I only knew Jenna from having her in study hall a few times a week, and it was only a couple weeks into the school year. I found her to be a sweet, quiet young lady, and I certainly wasn’t about to grill her about her family. Instead, I went back to my desk and nearly imploded as I tried to get on with my work.

Over the next three years, I was lucky enough to work with both Jenna and Harvey Shue, both as their director in the school play, and as Harvey’s 8th grade Language Arts teacher. Working with him during that time, I came to know him as a wonderful, hardworking young man with an absolutely fantastic sense of humor. Very rarely did he bring up the topic of his famous siblings, but at the same time, whenever some curious person did bring up the subject, he didn’t back away from it either. Being the professional that I am, I never brought it up first, but if I happened to be around when a conversation about the talented siblings was taking place, I most certainly piped in. The one and only time that I ever made mention of the fact that I thought his brother was  the bees knees, I said it calmly and casually, and just simply stated that if I remembered correctly (oh, I remembered alright!), I was a pretty big fan of his siblings, Andrew especially, and I even had a poster of his brother hanging on a wall in my apartment in college when I was far too old for that kind of thing to be socially acceptable.

Down the road, it was the school play that finally (oh yes, finally!) brought Andrew Shue into my life for real. Having earned the lead role in our play, The Great All American Musical Disaster, during his eighth grade year, Harvey approached me on the afternoon before the opening performance when he found me standing in front of the stage taking care of last minute details. As he walked away from me after dropping off his costume backstage, he said, “Oh, and by the way Mrs. Field, my brother’s coming to our play tonight.”

Unable to believe that I’d actually heard him correctly, I spun around and asked, “What do you mean your brother’s coming to our play tonight?” Though I meant for it to sound casual, if not even a little disinterested, the question came out sounding more like the ecstatic squeal my little brother released on the morning he discovered Conway Archibald, his long awaited Cabbage Patch Kid, sitting in a box under the tree one Christmas morning.

Harvey stopped, turned around, and responded, “I mean that my brother, Andrew, is coming to the play tonight.” And then with a big smirk on his face he added,  “And don’t worry, I’ve told him all about you.”

Not wanting to appear too concerned, but at the very same time convinced that because of the pounding in my chest I only had two minutes to live, I not so casually demanded, “What exactly does that mean?”

Smiling even more widely, he replied, “I told him exactly what you told me. And what you told me is that you liked him so much that you had a poster of him when it was no longer even a little bit cool for someone your age to have one.”

Sweet Sassy Molassy that kid had a memory like an elephant.

Since that incident occurred eleven years ago, and at a time when I used to eat my feelings, I immediately regretted the fact that I’d just inhaled five cupcakes to deal with my nerves about the play opening that evening. I also wished I’d made another clothing choice as the floral printed skirt and black blazer I was wearing suddenly didn’t seem all that fashion savvy. 8e015d4d3e528887d8f966cbee354455Throw a doily or a string of pearls around my neck and I was one feather infested hat away from being a dead ringer for one of the Baldwin sisters peddling Papa’s Recipe to all of Walton’s Mountain. Let’s just say, it’s not exactly how I imagined looking if the time ever came that I got to meet the man of my dreams. But then again, meeting the man of my dreams in a middle school “cafetorium” surrounded by posters sporting dancing fruits and vegetables and a whiteboard menu with the words “100% all beef franks and potato puffs” scrawled across it wasn’t exactly what I’d pictured either. I guess I’d have to take what I could get.

Though I could have easily spiraled into the depths of despair at that moment, I actually didn’t have too much time to worry because before long, thanks be to God, the cast members in the show began arriving. Instead of fretting over what clothing might have been a better option for my unexpected meeting, I found myself focused on dealing with kids who were experiencing panic attacks about getting ready to appear on stage for the very first time in their lives and steaming wrinkles out of costumes that would melt if we tried to iron them. The only time I did come close to having a panic attack of my very own about the fact that my one time (sort of) fiancee was going to be in the audience in less than 45 minutes, I walked in on a young sobbing actor whose little brother had shown up backstage to make fun of him for having to wear makeup. So, rather than dealing with my own nerves, I spent the time drying the tears of a 12 year old boy whose mascara was running down his face as he repeatedly wailed, “I do NOT look like a girl!” while blowing his nose into makeup remover wipes over and over again.

Good times. Who says it’s not a truly glamorous life I lead?

Add to all of that the further chaos related to getting 28 middle schoolers set to perform in front of almost 300 people, and I all but forgot about the fact that Andrew Shue was going to be sitting in the audience that night.

I forgot, that is, until I found myself standing in front of that same crowd of almost 300 people with a microphone in my hand.

Not good. Not good at all.

As is the case every year, I took the floor just before the play began to say a few words and to remind the audience about the food that would be available for purchase during the intermission. I’d just finished announcing that all the proceeds from the intermission sales would be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network, when I remembered he was there. Within a nano-second I was drenched in sweat, and just as I felt the first bead of perspiration roll down the side of my face, I spotted him. There he sat, smiling in all of his magnificent glory, about four rows back from where I was standing.

What happened next is the stuff of nightmares. No, really. It is. Because what happened next is that I quite literally lost all ability to retrieve words, let alone say them out loud. The next part of my speech was supposed to let the audience know that videos of the performance would be for sale at the intermission as well, and that all of those proceeds would also be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network. Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

In fact, relaying that information to the audience that evening turned out to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

After making the initial eye contact and seeing that smile that had only become more dazzling over the last decade, I tried my best to remain cool, calm, and collected, but my brain had completley shut down. I knew I needed to mention the videos, but when I opened my mouth to speak, try as I might, I only managed to croak, “Okay, also at the intermission we will be selling….um….ah…er…we will be…sell..ing…” God help me, I could see the image of a VHS tape in my mind, and I knew the word I was searching for began with a V, but for the life of me I could not remember what it was.

Desperate, and realizing anything was better than standing there looking and sounding like a fool, I decided that surely the best way to say what needed to be said was with an impromptu game of charades. Much to the surprise of just about everyone in the audience, including my poor husband who was in the front row, I raised my hand in the air and did my best to draw a rectangle. When the audience just sat in stunned silence, I took that as a sure sign that all they needed was a little more prompting, and began to wildly draw a series of very large rectangles with both hands. Unbeknownst to me at the time, in addition to the unintentional interpretive dance I’d begun, I was also inadvertently expressing my frustration into the microphone by making a series of super classy grunting noises.fedba91360cf41152d340f22d2450a4e I’m pretty sure Chris Farley’s portrayal of Matt Foley, the motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river, was both more attractive and far less offensive than I was in that moment…wild gesticulations and all.

So much for making a good first impression.

Completely helpless, I finally looked to my husband who, as it turned out, had been frantically mouthing the word vid-e-o to me over and over again from his seat just a few feet away. I can’t imagine that being granted a stay of execution could feel any better than the relief I felt at that moment, but unfortunately, all of that relief came out in one sharp gasp of breath and spit as I picked up the microphone and traumatized the audience by loudly hissing, “Video tapes! We will be selling video tapes of the performance….. at the intermission….out in the lobby!” Then, yet again channelling motivational speaker Matt Foley, I wiped my face clear of the sweat that was now gushing from every pore on my face and waited for the horror to pass.

After hearing all of this, one might think that that moment would have been a perfect time to call it quits and just take a seat, but that is not what I chose to do. Having gained confidence (albeit a shred) by finally being able to string a sentence together, I decided to finish what I’d set out to do and remind the audience that the proceeds from the video tapes would also be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network. It seemed like a pretty easy task, and at the very least, we would head into the opening of the show on a positive note. After all, how difficult would one more reminder be… the situation couldn’t possibly get any more awkward than already was, right?

Wrong.

Reminding myself that it would be a very very bad idea to make any further eye contact with Andrew Shue, I began round two by holding the microphone up to my mouth with both hands as steadily as possible to make sure I didn’t slam it up against my giant horse teeth (at that moment in time I was certain that the only way the situation could possibly get any worse was if I were to be bleeding from the mouth). After getting the microphone somewhat steady in my hands, I went full speed ahead, and making sure to keep my voice light, said, “Now that we’re all aware that video tapes will be for sale, I just want to remind you one more time that every cent of those sales will be donated to (accidental eye contact made)…to….um…ah…er…the money’s going to go to the…..(Sweet Mother of God)…to the….um…(are you ready for this?)….ahh…..to the….Children’s MIRACULOUS FUND.”

No, I’m not kidding. I replaced the words Miracle Network with the words Miraculous Fund and there was not a single thing I could do about it.

Mortified to my very core, yet still unable to recall the actual name of the charity, I looked around at the faces of the audience members in hopes of finding a savior, or at the very least, someone who had a pocketbook large enough for me to crawl inside. Some people were snickering, some were looking around (most likely for the paramedics as they must have felt certain I was having a stroke) and still others looked on wearing expressions of sympathy or concern. It was then that I found my mom, and the look of helpless anxiety on her face remains burned into my memory to this very day. The only other time in my life that I’d seen her face so stricken was when I was ten years old and found myself standing in front of yet another microphone. Twenty three years prior to that moment, I’d stood on stage during my fourth grade spelling bee and added an h to the beginning of the word onion for all the world to hear. (Only two days before I’d spelled the word honor incorrectly by leaving off the h at the beginning, and I would be darned if that silent h was going to get me again, especially in front of all those people.) The rest, as they say, is history, and I went down in round two of the spelling bee that year just like I was going down in a blaze of glory in round two of trying to impress a man who’d held my adoration for decades.

Finding myself  standing in front of an extremely unsettled audience and wishing to spontaneously combust, I sought help from the same person I’d gone to earlier. I looked at my husband who, though he was no longer smiling, was once again dramatically mouthing words in my direction. This time, however, he was commanding me to, “SIT DOWN NOW!” And really, who could  blame him?

But sit down I did. I sat down, caught my breath, received a few sympathetic pats on the back from the people around me, and prayed that I would wake up at any minute and realize it’d all been one gigantic nightmare.

Once the curtain opened, however, I was able to forget my worries and enjoy a really great play. As always, my husband and I sat back and proudly enjoyed the fruits of our labor. The actors on stage had the audience rolling in their seats for the entire show, and when the final curtain went down, I could only pray that what people would walk away remembering was the outstanding performances of the students and not the ridiculousness of my faux pas earlier in the evening.

About ten minutes before the show ended, I made the realization that Harvey would more than likely be planning to introduce his brother to me when it was over. That meant I had several minutes to prepare. To come up with some clever, sophisticated remarks that I could make after we were introduced….comments that would be so charming that Andrew would forget all about the babbling I’d done earlier that night and instead, he would leave the school that evening feeling like I may just have been the one that got away.

Unknown-1Oh, yes. I could do it. I still had time to make a good impression on my long lost love. I’d once watched with my very own eyes the episode of The Brady Bunch when Marsha survived meeting her celebrity crush, Davey Jones, and by God, if she could do it, then so could I. I could and I would.

I didn’t.

As I’d predicted, following the curtain call, Harvey made his way to me, took ahold of my arm, and said, “Mrs. Field, I want to introduce you to my brother.” Feeling as prepared as I was ever going to be, I let him take my arm and walk me over to where his family was standing. As we walked, I reminded myself to breath and negotiated with the Gods above by offering them my first born child if they would just please, please, please keep me from breaking out into a sweat so that I wouldn’t look like a drowned rat. When Andrew Shue took my hand to shake it just after Harvey introduced us, I remained steady on my feet, looked him right in the eyes, and made every effort not to smile like a crazy woman. The first words out of his mouth were, “Wow, Mrs. Field, you must be extremely proud.”

This was it. This was my chance to show him that I was not a blundering idiot, but instead, a suave, articulate, and refined educator capable of drawing out award winning performances from each and every student actor I ever came into contact with. Thinking it far more polite to giggle rather than to let loose the guffaw that was swimming around inside my head before I spoke, I kept my eyes on his (bad idea in the end) and slurred, “Proud of what?”

So, there you have it. Instead of looking, acting and sounding suave, articulate and refined, I ended up looking, acting, and sounding like someone who’d just come out of having her wisdom teeth removed. A person with a mouth so full of cotton and a bloodstream so full of pain meds that she looked like a raving lunatic and could hardly be understood. Lord have mercy.

The look of consternation that first appeared on his face quickly turned to one of a more sympathetic nature as he very kindly turned, pointed at the stage, and politely said, “Of the performance the kids gave tonight.”

Oh, yes. That.

To be totally honest, I don’t really remember much of what happened after that. I do know that we conversed for several minutes. I know I told him how much I enjoyed working with Harvey and how much I loved teaching. I think we talked about the process my husband and I use to choose plays with large casts so that we can get as many kids involved as possible, etc. The good news is that I never did fully lose my mind and run shrieking from the building like I’d wanted to so many times during the events that unfolded that evening. I even kept my wits together long enough to have my picture taken with him. The photograph that resulted from that evening is one that I coveted for years, and then, when I moved several years ago, it disappeared into thin air. I have searched every box, every closet, every drawer, and under every bed in my house in an attempt to be able to provide that picture for this blog post, but alas, its current location remains a mystery. (For the record, if there is anyone out there who does have a copy of that photo, or any other photo that might have been taken of me with Andrew Shue that night, I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE IT!)

As I sit here and put this memory into words, the events of that long ago evening seem almost surreal, even to me. It’s been 11 years since that March night when I met Andrew Shue in the very building where I still teach. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of that night often, because I do. But instead of remembering it like a love sick school girl, I look back on it and think how lucky I am to have ever had the opportunity to meet him in the first place.

Would I like a do-over? Of course. But, knowing me, I’d be no more presentable today than I was a decade ago, and no matter how hard I’d try, I’d still more than likely grunt, groan, drool, slur, spit and sputter my way through any interaction we might have. He’s just that cool. So cool, in fact, that if you Google his name these days you often see the term “internet mogul” next to it. The very fact that my internet capabilities max out when and if I’m able to correctly remember my Gmail password each day pretty much speaks for itself.

DOInstead, these days, much like I used to do years ago, I sometimes remind myself of the things Andrew and I have in common. First and foremost, he was a male heartthrob and I…well, I don’t like to brag, but I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I once bore an uncanny resemblance to one-time male heartthrob Donny Osmond. So there’s something.

Also, I think it’s important to note that while I was teaching novels like Great Expectations to my eighth graders, Andrew was still starring on Melrose Place. In fact, on February 3,1997, he even appeared in an episode titled Great Sexpectations (it’s true, you can Google it). I mean, come on, that has to be more than just a mere coincidence. Am I right?

Lastly, Andrew is married to the absolutely heroic (not to mention stunning) Amy Robach, who is an anchorwoman on Good Morning America. Though not too many people know this, I went to college majoring in Communications, but after being deemed “too giggly” by one of my professors (really Sir, is that the technical term for it?) to pursue my one time dream of being a television news anchor, I switched my major and set my sights on becoming a teacher (which ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made). Either way, that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

In all seriousness, the thing that I really am the most proud of having in common with Andrew Shue these days is a shared passion for believing in the amazing impact that teenagers can have on this world when they’re given the right tools. As an educator, I tell my students all the time that even though I’m a language arts teacher, and that of course I care about the fact that they become the best readers and writers they can be, I care just as much that they become responsible, informed, and involved citizens. Using the themes and lessons found in the stories and novels that we read in class, I try to instill in my students an understanding that it’s not enough to simply be aware of the struggles others face, but it’s important to understand them from every angle so they can become educated, make informed decisions, and finally do something to help bring about positive change.

It would seem that Andrew Shue agrees. In 1993, the same year I graduated from college and began my middle school teaching career, he cofounded a non-profit organization called Do Something, an organization that strives, to create a culture of volunteerism and activism through social change among young people.” It is one of the largest organizations in the United States that helps youth take action on causes they care about. A visit to the website shows teens taking action against censorship, bias in the media, sexism in the music industry, and bullying in schools just to name a few. It also displays teenagers engaging in creative campaigns to support music education in public schools, to help support our troops abroad, to reduce the stereotypes that exist around people with disabilities, and literally hundreds of other causes.

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Hey, at the end of the day, do I still think Andrew Shue is a handsome devil? You bet I do. Would I still hang a poster of him up at home or at work if I thought I could get away with it? Yes, I most certainly would. But what matters most is knowing that he and I share one really important similarity; a belief that when teenagers are provided with opportunities to thrive, they will prove just how much good they’re capable of achieving. And if, in the end, the thing we ultimately have in common is the fact that we’re both doing all we can to help make the world a better place by believing in the potential of teenagers, then that’s good enough for me.