Humiliation number two occurred my senior year when I was working at the Hillside café (more of a coffee shop than a café) at the University of Rochester. In this instance, a slightly older man brought me the flowers.
Ed was a thirty-five-ish, waif-like, Asian man whom I had met—ironically enough—through my friend and then-roommate, Tom2. (The irony will be revealed after reading Humiliation three.) We met one night when Tom2 took me to his friend Jason’s apartment to play darts. Ed and I were both beginners (i.e. had held a dart maybe once or twice before in our lives), so we took turns sitting out to let the others play more competitively and consequently took to chatting about how unskilled we were at the sport. Ed was very pleasant, asking me about my studies and telling me about his former life in Singapore. (I was very interested in this, having just made a Singaporean friend and planning to travel to the country to visit her after graduating in May.) When our evening had concluded, Tom2 had other plans, so Ed volunteered to walk me back to my apartment (in spite of the fact that is was located less than ten yards away from where Jason lived). I figured this was just his way of being gentlemanly and responsible—he was significantly older, after all, and had been raised in a different culture—so I allowed him to do this and then bade him goodnight.
What should have tipped me off, I suppose, was when I received the birthday card—at my house. In Pittsburgh. Through one email exchange (yes, I foolishly gave Ed my email address to “keep in touch,” although in my defense, I still thought he could help me in planning my trip to Singapore), Ed had asked me where I was from. (He said he liked to travel, and so it was good to have friends in various places.) Afterward, he apparently asked Tom2 for my home address. Meanwhile, I went merrily on my way home for winter break, and then, in early January, lo and behold a card appeared in our mailbox from Ed. I was shocked! Yet, receiving a birthday card—at my house no less—seemed like more than enough. I certainly did not expect him to give me anything else for my birthday…or to use my birthday as an excuse to give me anything else….
I was hauling a cart laden with boxes of cardboard coffee cups, bottles of Dasani, bags of espresso, plastic lids, and other supplies into the coffee shop one morning at 9 a.m. when I was approached by my coworker, Ashley.
“There’s a man here looking for you.”
As soon as she said “man,” every guess I could have given for the term “guy” flew out the window. I didn’t know any men! I stopped pulling the cart and followed her gaze. Someone was rising from a table on the other side of a giant concrete pillar in the center of the room. Extended in front of this person was a bouquet of yellow blossoms wrapped in what seemed to be a combination of plastic grocery bags and translucent plastic. The bouquet obscured his face, but I could see his petite stature and his overly academic clothing, and from these clues, along with the black hair peeking over the top of the bouquet, I knew.
“Oh hello, Ed.” I could feel my coworkers trying not to climb over the counter in their curiousness over this exchange.
“Happy birthday, Allison!” He lowered the bouquet enough to see me. “Or belated birthday, I guess.”
“Thank you.” I tried not to blush as I took the flowers and set them on the cart behind me—anything to get them more out of sight. “You really didn’t have to.”
“I’m sorry I missed your birthday. But I am in time to get a smoody, no?”
“A…oh, yeah. What kind do you want?” His pretext for saying he would come visit me at work was always to say that “he had heard I was the best smoothie maker at Hillside” and that he would have to come and test this for himself. Apparently he had chosen now as the time.
“ Whatever kind you think is good.” He looked at me expectantly.
I looked at my cart and then at the three sets of saucer eyes watching me over the counter. “Actually, I have to finish putting this stuff away. But Ashley,” I pointed to the short red-headed girl over the counter, “will make you one.” I gave him an apologetic expression. “Sorry. Maybe another time.”
He face fell. “Okay. Maybe another time.”
I rolled away with my cart, careful not to be rude, but also careful not to prolong the conversation. I noted that he left without ordering a smoothie.
My most immediate thought was to throw the flowers into the trash, but Michelle (another coworker) hurried over to see “what kind they were” and to find out “who that guy was,” so I had no time to get rid of the bouquet before she had confiscated it. She and Ashley made me put them in water on the coffee counter so they would survive until the end of my shift. Everyone who came into the shop asked so many questions about “whose flowers those were,” that I barely survived until the end of my shift.
One more episode awaits….