The other day, I ventured to Okenshields for what cowards call a “light” lunch. I picked up a take-out box, trusting this styrofoam container to control my appetite more effectively than my own power of will, and I stuffed it to the brim with fried rice and more cookies than socially acceptable — to get my swipe’s worth, of course. As is customary, I also got a pre-packaged set of plastic cutlery. With meal in hand and procrastination in heart, I set out on my merry way back to Olin Library. I wasn’t in a haste (though I ought to have been; that’s another story), but I was absent-minded anyway. Upon reaching Olin, disaster struck. My dominant hand felt limp, stripped of some crucial ability. Within moments, I realized that it was lacking its scientifically marvelous, three-pronged extension — a fork — without which my whole entity would fall tragic prey to starvation. Recognizing the urgency of my situation, I devised a simple and resourceful solution. Naïvely, I thought I’d ask for a fork at Libe Café. They’d be glad to give me one, right? After all, what is a café for if not the pretense of friendship and nonchalance? Where else might one go to drink the drink of the left wing? Little did I know, Libe Café does not hand out forks to just any distressed damsel. You’d have to be a distressed paying customer instead — one who just purchased an item that satisfies the arbitrary criteria for plastic ware dispensation. Alas, on that day and on most others, I was not a member of the favored echelon. I was not worthy of receiving a fork, and so, esteem shattered and rage awakened, I write for the silenced, forkless masses.
Neither voicing anti-establishment sentiment nor spurning the capitalistic nature of commerce is my intention. I get it — it’s just business. I don’t have the luxury of boycotting Libe Café, and I don’t particularly want to sacrifice my routine White Mocha with an extra shot. No, this is a sophisticated, mature retelling of how all I ever wanted was a god damn fork to eat my already-cold meal from Okenshields that, might I add, got soaked in the rain on my walk back to Olin, but somehow I was denied this small desire.
It’s not even really about a fork, although I’m sure there is a sphere in which forks would merit sole focus. It’s about how we rank profit and comfort higher than service, especially when there is only marginal profit or comfort to be had. It’s about how we are disinterested in taking care of each other, how our self-preservation instincts are mutating into malicious things, how empathy is scarce. Admittedly, there are varying degrees of kindness, and personal cost is an increasingly valid consideration as we move along the scale. By all means, stop and think, get conveniently distracted by a phone call, run a marathon before risking your life to save a stranger from a burning building, but for trivial, materialistic things? When, at very little forfeiture, you could offer someone aid, peace of mind, happiness? It’s an easy decision. Contrary to the belief that only you can help yourself, casting a plea for forks or perhaps other useful, more abstract commodities is a viable option (provided that the object of your plea is adept and inclined to help). In the case that you are the one sought out, congrats! Now, get up and switch sides with your friend if that means getting his/her good side in a photo; don’t avoid offering an explanation to someone if you owe it; share your homework answers without contemplating the effects on the curve; cede your coupon if you can afford to; give a girl a fork — the little things.
At the risk of detracting from the magnitude of this message, it turned out that the fork was situated safely in my pocket all along, so I didn’t need the Café’s fork anyway (ha!). Still, the moral here is painfully obvious: always choose dine-in over take-out. And, I guess, for those on a journey of self-betterment, my recently-unearthed wisdom seems to indicate that not all circumstances are meant to be exploited for personal gain.
Priya Kankanhalli is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Matters of Fact appears alternating Tuesdays this semester.