Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fresh Choice Therapy

She was overweight, heavily acned, with stringy blond hair tied back in a scrunchy, with pieces of hair falling over her eyes and into her face. She wore too-small jeans low on her hips, and a navy blue hoodie. Her blue fingernail polish was chipped and she had a good number of earring studs in her ears.

She sighed heavily, and often, and spent much of the dinner hour with her head leaning against one hand, or chin in her hand, scowling off into space.

In short, she was your basic teenage girl (16 or 18 tops), full of disgust and angst, and she was sitting next to me in a Fresh Choice restaurant, where I’d popped in for a simple plate of salad and a bowl of what they call Build-Your-Own-Pho (but it isn’t Pho -- it's a horribly Americanized version, and yet, it is healthy, low-calories and tasty in a certain way).

What was remarkable to me at first was that she chosen to sit next to me at all. I’d selected a table in a corner of the restaurant, and in a sectioned off area, where virtually no one else was seated. It was blissfully quiet, there were 5 tables vacant in every direction. Not a kidney-bean or crouton-throwing toddler in sight. I set my salad and beverage down on my table, and went to fetch cutlery. When I returned to the table, she was seated at the table immediately next to me. I had a small table for 2 against a wall, so when I say right next to me, I mean that literally – right next to me on the same bench seat.

Why does this happen? You have at least 20 tables, and you choose the one less than 12 inches from another person? Same thing with parking lot spaces. Not a car around, but someone will decide to park next to me, to keep me company.

She was eating a bowl of soft serve ice cream, eyeing the front of the restaurant, and ignoring me completely. I sat down at the table after briefly considering moving, but thought it was probably unnecessary. If she was eating ice cream, she was finished with dinner. Right?


What transpired during and after dinner made for quite an interesting evening. As my boyfriend would say "Oh no. All the sudden you’re involved?" Which is what he says anytime I insert myself into a public situation that may draw attention to us which we may regret (like offering to help someone who has fallen down and that person ends up screaming at you that aliens are stealing her memories, or that all Eye-Talians have made deals with the devil and that's why one should NEVER eat pizza [true story]).

All the sudden I was involved.

What I learned over the next several minutes -- from her -- can be condensed as follows:

Her boyfriend works at Fresh Choice.
She works at Wal-Mart in the Snack Bar.
He has a car. She doesn't.
He works days and early evenings.
She works late night and early mornings.
They only get to see one another a few hours between shifts, or, if she visits him at work.
She visits him at work. A lot.
This bores her.
This thrills him.
Everything about her job is lame.
Everything about his job is lame.
She likes pudding. A lot.
She doesn't like soup.

After I sat down and began to eat, these details unfolded. Her boyfriend stopped by several times to bring her something to eat or count down how much longer she had to wait for his break.

"10 more minutes, baby girl, and I'll be on break."
"8 more minutes, babycakes."
"6 more minutes, boo boo."

I found him charming and fascinating. He wasn't a prize in the looks department, but he was clean and enthusiastic and clearly madly in love with this malcontent of a girl (a first Girlfriend for him, of that I'm certain -- he was still far to eager to please and woo her), and in all likelihood was jeopardizing his job by checking on her so often, permitting himself to be distracted.

Finally, he was there, to have dinner with her. I eavesdropped on most of their conversation.

I'm on break! Finally. Do you want more than ice cream?
I wanted pudding. There wasn't any. Why don't they refill the pudding?
Sorry baby. I'll go check for you. ::He leaves::
I found more pudding! They have not put it out yet.
::She eats it silently::
Is it good?
It's okay. What is THAT?
It's soup noodles from the Pho and then I put the chicken noodle soup over top of that.
Why not just eat Chicken Noodle Soup?
Because this has like, way more noodles this way and it's way better.
Are you tired baby? Do you want more than just pudding?
Yea, I guess. I'll take some soup like yours.
You got it! ::He leaves.::
Here you go. I loaded you up. Soup, noodles, some bread and pizza, and a potato.
I also got you some cornbread while I was up.
I don't like cornbread.
Oh this is aweseome, you'll love it. It's like --- it's like cake, not bread.
Ok. Whatever.
Is it good? Do you like it?
Yea. It's good. Whatever.
What time do you go to work tonight?
11, same as every other night. Why do you always ask me that?
Because sometimes you go to work at 10. I want to know how long we can visit and if you need me to take you to work.
Oh. I guess you're right. I better call.
::She calls:: Yea, Megan, do we go at 10 or 11? 10? Oh. I'm glad I called. Bye.
I work at 10.
See?! But that means we can't visit very long tonight.
Whatever. Is there any more pudding?
I'll see if they put it out yet. ::He leaves.::
It's not out yet. You didn't eat the soup.
It has too many noodles.
Oh, I'll go get you something else. Do you like Chili? Or spaghetti?
OH, SORRY BABY, SORRY! He actually waves his hands back and forth rapidly to try and un-do this foolish suggestion of his, to turn back time and not get her riled up. I can see he's an expert at this time-continuum thing.

He returns to his own dinner and eats quickly, gulping. His break time is rapidly dwindling, and he has spent the majority of it catering to a sullen, ungrateful girl. He looks up from his plate and notices she has her chin in her hand and she looks very sleepy.

What he does touches me. He stops eating, puts down his fork, and reaches across the table with his hand, and gently pushes all of her loose hair back and away from her face on both sides, tucking it behind her ears. She doesn't react to this, and keeps staring off into space. He is gently smiling at her.

I wish you didn't have to work tonight. You look tired.
My job is lame.
You could work here!
Your job is more lame. Working around food all the time.
But you work at the snack bar -- you're around food all the time too--
Whatver. I don't want to work here.
We'd see one another more often.
We'd be working. I couldn't sit and eat or anything.
I guess not. Do you want more pudding before I go back on?
Yeah. Wait. No. I'll get more ice cream. I"ll wait here until you're off. I got dropped off.

After he went back on duty, I smiled at her and said

Lot of time to kill before work?
I guess. Like 2 hours sitting here.
Do me a favor.
Be nice to that boy. Really nice.
He is so happy you are here.
He doesn't care. It just means we don't have to go out.
No, he is happy you are here, waiting for him, keeping him company.
He cares alot about you. I can tell.
Okay. God.
Just be nice to that boy. You have a keeper.
What makes you think I'm not nice?
I'm not saying you're never nice. I'm saying, and take this from an old broad who has been down this road before -- this hour, this restaurant, this is valuable. This is special ---
Special?! It's freaking Fresh Choice and I'm so tired of it. I hate sitting here all the time waiting for him to get off work. I'm bored of it.
I can tell. But this is what you have. This is when you can see one another, and he's making it the best he possibly can. Why not do the same for him?
Are you like a teacher or something?
No, and this isn't an after school special. It's not even any of my business. But I can see things you can't.
Like what? ::she turns to me and looks more involved than she has all night.::
How thrilled he is that you're his girlfriend.
Like how?
He touches you alot. Kisses you. Gets up and waits on you hand and foot. He had 30 minutes for his dinner break, probably worked what, 6-8 hours?
He spent 50% of his dinner break serving you instead of visiting. Or Eating.
He takes care of you.
He thinks you're pretty.
He does?
Oh for sure. He was fingering your hair. Even now, look at him.
What? (she turns and looks for him)
He's watching over here, watching us talk. Wave! ::we wave::
Everytime he walks by, he looks over to see what you're doing.
That doesn't mean he thinks I'm pretty.
Sure it does. He's watching you and watching over you. He's not embarrassed you are here. He wants people to know you are with him. He is very sweet. Girl -- you're lucky.
So be sweet back. He's making this hour as fun as he can -- for you, and he's the one working. You should do the same for him.
Be glad to see him.
I am.
Well you're the only one who can tell.
Smile at him. Thank him.
Blow him a kiss, but don't get him in trouble.
What's lame?
Blowing a kiss. LAME.
Oh you're completely wrong. You do it. Trust me.
Oh no way.
Do it. Listen. One of two things is going to happen to the two of you.
You'll be together in 10 years, or you won't.
Well that's brilliant.
And if you ARE, you're going to look back and laugh about how often you had to eat at Fresh Choice on his dinner break, and remember how much pudding he got for you, or when he got in trouble for kissing you, or when you snuck out extra rolls in your purse. All this stuff, you'll remember it and it will be a very happy memory.
And if you are NOT, you may be with some guy who doesn't take you out, doesn't pick up his garbage, doesn't remember to pay the bills, doesn't do squat for you, and you'll think, gosh, I remember when my first boyfriend worked at Fresh Choice, I'd meet him every night and he'd bring me soup, and pudding, and take care of me, and ask me if I was tired, and act like I was a princess. You'll wish you were right back here, eating more pudding. I bet this guy spends his last $10 bucks on you instead of gasoline.
I can't make the story more interesting. You can't tell a teenager what she has to look forward to. Never works.
I'm listening.
I know, but I just can't tell you what this means. How sweet it is to watch him, and how much you'll look back and remember this kid, and wish you had been nicer to him. Don't blow this by being so confident you don't take care of him, as much as he takes care of you.
Blow him a kiss next time he walks by and looks at you.
Lame, but okay.
::She does it.:: He breaks into a huge grin and waves. He makes a detour comes by her table and quickly kisses her. He says:

Just 2hours until I'm off. We'll have like a whole hour before you work. I'll take you to work tonight, okay?
Okay, thank you. That would be really nice.

She looked at me for approval. I smiled, nodded and left. Last thing I heard him say:

"You look so pretty when you are smiling. I'll go get you some more pudding. They just put it out."


  1. what an awesome story. I often wish i could go back and have a conversation with the 17 year old me.

    Even the 30 year old me could use a good talking to.

  2. What a sweet story! And you're right. From someone who's 30 something and single, sweet!

  3. This was *awesome*. I just found your blog an hour or so ago and am reading backwards....anyway, love it, you're on my list of daily reading now for sure.