French fries make the man,

published at 6:11pm on 11/17/07

My desktops (both the metaphorical one that sits in my computer, and the actual one, on which said computer sits) are covered in scraps of paper (again, both the virtual and the actual kinds, but I think we’re beginning to see a pattern here) reminding myself of stories I would like to tell. A year ago, a pile of these papers on the actual desk began to come together in something resembling what would eventually become yet another aborted attempt at writing a novel in a month as part of NaNoWriMo. Many people say that they have a novel in them, and many people I know have already written one, or two, or more. I don’t know that I have a novel in me. I’ve thought on occasion that maybe I could have one in me, but all evidence throughout my life points elsewhere. After all, I am the person who would opt out of classes in college simply to avoid the writing requirement.

That said, there is a scrap on my desk that reads “Write a story about: the boy with the french fries.”

So I think that’s where I’m going to start tonight.

I guess we should demand a little more of the story than just that. Perhaps we should demand context. Perhaps we should demand those things that put us right in the heart of the story. Perhaps. Or perhaps we should just jump right in and see where things take us.

The fact is, if his french fries had fallen to the ground, it really would not have made a lick of difference to me, except that I really like french fries, and it looked like he did too, and on this particular night, it looked like he was really, really enjoying them. He was sitting on a bench on the subway platform, waiting for the train to come. The display overhead indicated that the next one was due in about twenty minutes – certainly enough time to significantly wallow in misery had his fries actually taken that leap off the arm rest.

They were balanced precariously as he opened up ketchup packet after ketchup packet, tearing into them with his teeth, his arm bumping the tin of fries on each bite. I took a step toward him and put out my hand, steading the container.

“That could have been a disaster,” I said.

He didn’t thank me. He just nodded in agreement and went back to opening ketchup. A minute went by. And another.

“I really need to eat these fries. I’m about to go and drink a lot of Patron.”

This was not exactly what I had expected after saving this man’s dinner. Unexpected, but curious, nevertheless. He went into more detail, because I was clearly interested in what he had to say.

“I don’t understand. I’m going to see my girlfriend tonight, and we’re going to drink Patron, and I’m going to get wasted. I mean, she’s probably already eaten, and I’m going to have to drink fucking Patron and I’m going to get hammered.”

I suggested that maybe he didn’t need to drink the tequila. That, perhaps, he could stick with the beer that he’d been drinking. I mean, he had been drinking, right?

“Yeah, maybe five or six beers. And that’s the thing. I’m going to have a beer, and then for every beer I have, she’s going to have a shot of Patron. And like, seven or eight shots later, and she’s the one taking care of me, and I’m the one that’s wasted. I don’t understand.”

I realized that it was probably not worth explaining that the fact that he was drinking, and not eating, and that the french fries were the only thing resembling food in his system at all, and that his girlfriend, by his own admission, had probably already eaten dinner already, all might contribute to the fact that he would get completely loaded and that she was going to be fine. Instead, I offered up what I can only describe as an attempt to relate to a drunk person while being completely sober.

“Girls exist to fuck with you, man,” I offered. “That’s all. They’re just there to mess with your head.”

I thought this was a good response. It positioned me on his side of the equation, while offering a sweeping generalization that clearly could not be disputed.

“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

Ah, dissension.

The voice belonging to those words in turn belonged to a young woman who was sitting on the bench next to the young man with the french fries. She had been buried in her magazine, doing the crossword puzzle, but had been listening in on our (incredibly boring) conversation until this point, and finally felt the need to inject her opinion into the conversation. I, in turn, did what most men will do when confronted by logic from the opposite sex: I back-peddaled.

“It was a joke,” I responded. “In fact, I’m heading home now because I was hanging out with my girlfriend but she sent me away because she wanted to have some real fun.” With these statements I hoped to show that while I was capable of maintaining a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, I was also comfortable enough in that relationship to understand exactly how things are supposed to work between boys and their girlfriends, thus gaining the respect of the woman who at this point believed that I was just a dickhead. I looked across the bench at the woman and our eyes exchanged a glance that said: “Besides, this guy is wasted.”

“Maybe you should have eaten dinner, first,” she offered. Precisely what I was thinking! I liked this girl already. “Besides, I don’t know how you can drink beer. I can drink alcohol as much as I want, but once I have a beer I get completely drunk.”

The young man with the fries thought about this a bit. “Yeah, you know, I can drink as much beer as I want, but if I have a shot of Patron, I am gone.”

They batted this thought back and forth a couple of times before the young man sitting next to them, not being able to sit on the sidelines any more, chimed in with his observation.

“I’m the same way! I’m fine with beer, but will get completely wasted drinking shots.”

The conversation carried on from there, talking about drinking, and the possibility that men and women metabolize alcohol differently. It continued on to the discovery that the young man with the french fries had just beaten a DUI charge by pleading it down to disorderly conduct, which means that he gets to keep his license but has to be alcohol-free for the next six months. (To which I say, hey jackhole, next time you’re blotto in Brooklyn, take a freaking car service the 10 minutes back to your house instead of cruising around in a Patron-fueled haze, ok?)

The girl pointed at me, and then to another young man who had just gotten on the train.

“You’re both cats,” she said, pointing at the ears perched on top of my head.

“Yes,” I replied, “but at least I’m still wearing my tail.”

And then I started taking photographs of the three of my companions, and the girl hiked up her skirt to reveal that the tights that she was wearing had “pubic hairs” sewn into the crotch area.

It was that kind of night. The kind of night where strangers will get together and talk, because there is nothing better to do when you’re sitting on the subway platform at two in the morning, and a man you don’t know has just saved your french fries and you’re about to go get wasted on tequila with your girlfriend. It’s the kind of experience that I have every so often, mostly when I’m alone, mostly in cities. It’s the kind of experience that one can have when one just decides that whatever happens can happen, that most people are probably out looking for the same kinds of things, and that maybe, just maybe, sharing a word or two with a stranger might help everyone get to where they finally need to go.

In my case, it was back to Manhattan, back to my home.

I got off the subway and saw two angels standing on the sidewalk, holding hands.

It was Halloween, it was New York City, and it was perfect.

Filed under: Personal

At 2:57 pm on 11.19.07, Danielle said,

Be careful about those stories about things falling to the ground in the subway. My college boyfriend once saw a semi-trampled bouquet on the subway platform. For how many years afterwards did he write and rewrite a short-story scene attempting to explain those flowers? … right. Exactly. Fear.

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