September 10, 2007

Ivy Room Encounter

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Admittedly, I’m no beacon of normality. I’m sure I’ve done things and said things that have made people rush home to tell their friends all about the “total weirdo” they just ran into. Here in Ithaca – land of the organic, city of the dread-locked – I think it’s fair to say we’ve all been there. Like the time you tried to ask that cute girl in your writing seminar to meet you by “leeb slope” or “beeb lake,” only to discover later that day, upon recounting the story to your friends, why she seemed so confused about the whereabouts of your intended rendezvous. Or that time you broke into uncontrollable giggles upon first hearing (from your advisor no less) the words Ho Plaza. Or maybe it was that time you said “orgasm” instead of “organism” in bio lab and had to spend the rest of class, red-faced, explaining the exact thought progression that led to your verbal mix-up.

We’ve all been the subject of that ‘weirdo’ story at some point or another, and so perhaps it’s with some shared sympathy that I recreate for you the following event:

I should begin by saying: I’m not a big fan of the Ivy Room. I find it dark and depressing, the benches are uncomfortable and awkward and the food is either bland or doused in Louisiana hot sauce (fajitas anyone?). But my friends seem to like it, and so, more often than not, I find myself tagging along with them, sulking into my plate of fries, muttering bitterly about the dismal lighting.

If it were up to me (which is very rarely the case) we’d be eating in Okenshields. Sure it’s more expensive, and the food isn’t North Campus worthy, but at least it’s bright and sunny, the options are numerous, and you’ve got Happy Dave, bouncing those blonde jerry curls to the blaring 80’s hits that pervade the room.

But, as no one listens to the voice of reason, I found myself, that Tuesday, walking down the wrong staircase once again. I was with three friends that day, and we’d just finished a quick lunch together. After spending the better part of the last half hour failing to work out an appropriate wasabi to soy sauce ratio for my pre-packaged sushi, I was uninspired, and ready to move on. We collected our things and made our way past the napkin station towards the tray drop off.

Now for those of you who haven’t put two and two together, the Ivy Room and Okies are separated by a single wall. In fact, if you stand at the tray drop off, you can actually look into one from the other. As I stared wistfully through the hole at the paradise beyond that day, I noticed a girl standing to my right.

She wasn’t looking at me, I could tell. She was almost actively avoiding eye contact. And as my friends had left the station to wait for me outside the door, she and I were the only ones in the immediate area. I glanced at her, trying to gather as much information as discreetly as possible. Did I know her? Had I offended her in some way? Why was she so obviously refusing to acknowledge me? From what I could glean peripherally, she was short and Asian with a mushroom halo of black silky hair. Her body was tiny and compact, the kind that would fit quite comfortably in a locker on the off chance that she found herself in the shoes of a pimple-faced ‘nerd’ in a high school movie.

She was carrying a purse, a small one, which unexpectedly incited in me slight pangs of jealousy, knowing the weight of my own heavy backpack. Her clothing was fairly standard. Short mini skirt with leggings underneath (how trendy) and a plain green tank top.

All this I picked out immediately, subconsciously, and am only describing it here so that you can establish a decent mental picture.

So here she was, here I was, avoiding looking at each other directly. She stepped towards the tray return, which was odd, because she didn’t have a tray to get rid of. In fact, she wasn’t even carrying any food. What was she doing?

I was surprised to see her placing the only item she had onto the conveyer belt: her tiny purse. At this point, I dropped the formality and began staring at her directly. The conveyer was gross, it had food bits on it, it went by the kitchen, why would she put her purse there? Maybe she’s trying to give something to someone who works in the back, I thought. Maybe it’s their purse and she’s dropping it off in the most convenient way possible – by conveyer.

I didn’t dwell long however, because it all became clear very soon.

After she plopped the purse down, she very quickly glanced from side to side, placed her hands out in front of her and deftly hoisted HERSELF onto the moving contraption! All I could do was stare on, looking around, to see if anyone else was getting a load of this. No one was.

In one stealthy movement she immediately lay flat, belly down, face first, like a missile disappearing through the tiny tray-sized hole. And that’s when I figured it out: she was sneaking into Okenshields! The whole experience was very weird, but I must admit, I was quite impressed by her efficiency. She didn’t mess around looking awkward, lying uncomfortably. She knew what she was doing, and did it with such precision that I wondered whether it was the first time. I can only guess what the people on the other side must have thought. Can you imagine? Seeing someone suddenly pop out on the conveyer belt – what can you do but stare, agog.

I wonder if Happy Dave noticed? I wonder who she was and why she didn’t just swipe in like everyone else? Was it really worth all that just for Okenshields? Maybe she forgot her card, or maybe she was feeling cheap, or maybe she was training to be a ninja. At this point, I guess I’ll never know — but if you ever see her approaching head first through the tray return, maybe you can ask her.