You’ve made your first mistake: entering a dining hall without an eating partner. How did it end up like this? Just today, ten acquaintances inquired about grabbing a meal and catching up, but when you asked what time worked, they started sweating and fled. Weird. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard to find somebody, but if you don’t put in enough effort, you’ll end up sitting alone. You see Jimmy from Orgo. His notebook of chemical reactions is open next to his cup of Mountain Berry Blast Powerade. If all else fails, Jimmy is always super down to talk about stereoisomeric relationships and his overbearing parents. Before you enter the kitchen, you see two of your friends halfway through their meal. Last time you joined them, they wouldn’t leave until you finished. Not wanting to delay them, you ate so fast you choked on your beef and kimchi taco. Yikes. You avoid eye contact and head toward the line.
Rationing chicken tenders
You’re third in line for chicken tenders, and by the time you’re up, three remain. Normally, you’d take all three, probably more. Chicken tender day is a gluttonous celebration, and one or two doesn’t cut it. But there’s someone behind you. You don’t want to leave her with nothing, but at the same time, would she be happy with just one? She’ll likely take it, and then wait for more. The lone tender you left will be the coldest on her plate. You glance back, gauging her expression, and she smiles. It seemed like a genuine smile, but was it too genuine? Your legs begin to shake and you nearly lose control of the tender tongs. You take two. Not enough for you, not enough for her. As you walk to the sauce table, the dining hall staff whip out a fresh batch. It’s too late now to go back in line; you would be admitting defeat. You drizzle sweet and sour sauce on your plate in quiet resignation.
Ordering a hamburger
You’re craving more meat, so you walk to the grill. The grill master looks at you, expecting an order, but you’re not ready. It will take around seven minutes for the burger to cook. By that time, you’ll be seated, enveloped in a riveting conversation with your yet-to-be-determined meal partner. Going back to grab your hamburger may stunt or even terminate your conversation. And what if the person you’re talking to just watched Food Inc. and is repulsed by the steaming hunk of meat on your plate? And don’t you think it’s kind of rude that you’re asking an employee to make you a hamburger when there’s plenty of prepared food? And—“Excuse me,” the dining hall employee says, “Would you like a hamburger or not?” You notice that there are seventeen people behind you.
“No thanks,” you say. You exit the kitchen and sit alone, fantasizing about red meat.
Scooping out ice cream
You grab the ice cream scooper out of the murky water, and flip open a metal top—vanilla. You try another—raspberry. On the third try, you find an empty tub. No, wait: there’s three inches of rock-hard chocolate ice cream stuck to the bottom of the container. You should have known that the Berkeley freezer would be set to an inappropriately low temperature, but there’s no use in having another dining hall meltdown. You don’t want Yale Security to pin you to the floor again. You get to work, reaching your entire arm into the freezer, digging into the ice cream with the world’s tiniest ice cream scooper. To get an adequate amount of ice cream, you’d need at least five or six more scoops, but you don’t have that kind of time. There is one person in line behind you, and you know that if you keep scooping, he’ll write an op-ed about how much he hates you. You get one last scoop into your to-go cup and steal a metal spoon because there are no to-go spoons. By the time you get back to your suite, the ice cream is melted. You drink it like a thin milkshake, which is a sad thing to drink alone.