In the opening weeks of Freshman year, it seems like a lengthy conversation can be born of almost anything—where you’re from, where you live on campus, where you wished you lived on campus, your name even. Social desperation dictates . Despite the awkwardness, it’s commonplace to go up to strange freshmen and say hello during the first week of Harvard. After that, it gets a little awkward. Very awkward. FM dispatched intrepid freshman Alex C. Britell to hit the ’Berg’s tables for a week armed only with a hat, an inviting smile, and redeeming courage in the face of unimaginable indifference.
With nothing more than an Olive-Garden all-you-can-eat philosophy on Golden Grahams (to provide a pretense for his table-hopping), he dove in.
Alex: “Hey! What’s up?”
Random Freshman #1: “Hey,” he responded, with a weak inflection and a feminine side-wave. Did he have some kind of palsy? Or was he just watching too much Bravo?
Alex: “What’s your name?
Random Freshman #1: “Alex”
Alex: “That’s my name too! [no response: awkward pause #1] So, where are you from?”
Random Freshman #1: “Texas.” [awkward pause #2]
Alex: “That’s cool.” [awkward pause #3]
Random Freshman #1: “Where are you from?”
Alex: “New York.” [awkward pause #4]
(Finally, he realizes that he isn’t going to know me long enough for it to matter.)
Random Freshman #1: “Oh my god, I have so much reading, because I don’t have any science classes. [painfully awkward pause #5] Well, I’m sorry to rush off, but I have to go read!”
Alex: “See ya!” (Aside: “Wouldn’t want to be ya!”)
I refill my bowl of cereal, and head to a corner table.
Alex: “Hey guys, what’s up?”
Random Freshmen #2, #3 & #4: (Indifferent, forced head-turns. Not a smile among them. A minute later, they were all gone.)
I leave the cereal on the table as a milky monument to miserable misanthropy and went for a new bowl, striking up a conversation with a girl at the milk dispenser.
Alex: “How you doing?”
Random Freshman #5: “Good, how are you doing?” (That was it. She didn’t even stick around to hear the answer.)
I head for another Golden Grahams refill, then set out to continue my Magellan-like quest.
“Hey, how are you guys?,” I said to a table of three girls.
Yes, I know they aren’t guys, but I would hold out on the political correctness at least until I got a hello. All I got was a chilling stare from one of the girls; it was targeted not at me but at the somewhat unusual diagonal turquoise stripe on my FCUK hat. Maybe she doesn’t like guys who FCUK…maybe she just doesn’t like guys. In a controversial decision, I decided to stay, testing the outer limits of their possible disgust. I was curious as to the content of their furtive whispers. What could they be discussing that was at the same time so enthralling and so off-limits?
Was it feminine products? Their new group crush? The new “Sex and the City”? It was all of them and none of them. My left ear cocked, I listened: “…steamed carrots, French dressing…”
“I love salad, and croutons.”
“Croutons are just buttered bread toasted.”
“We had this great carrot cake at home…”
Now this is only a pieced-together sample of the conversation. It was in fact, much worse, with much more details on salad and croutons and a little more continuity between sentences. In any event, this lunch-based dinner conversation was too cool for me; I only go in for breakfast-based dinner conversation. In fact, I was some sort of rudeness poster-boy for breaking up the energy of their revolutionary talk.
“Ooooh, that taste of honey and graham cracker crunch of Golden Grahams,” I thought as I tiptoed backwards towards safety. It really is an underrated cereal, up there with Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes.
I spotted a dark-haired girl getting diet coke.
“How are you?” I said.
After slight bewilderment, she turned up her head and smiled.
Who does this kid think he is, wearing that crazy FCUK hat? I know she thought.
She laughed a silent, piteous laugh, seemed to ignore me, and left.
Oh those golden grahams, I thought. Maybe they’ll be my friend.
Yet I still pondered betraying my tastes and resorting to Lucky Charms: I needed to get lucky somehow.
As I left, I wept.
In the name of social experimentation, I went back two weeks later, more than a month into the school year—the veritable all-time height of a hello’s Annenberg awkwardness.
First, a large table with at least five people.
Each one turned, oh so quickly, with the speed of the quick stab of a dagger.
And then each one turned back, pulling the dagger back out of my chest.
I got a bowl of Fruit Loops and went for milk.
“How are ya?” I pretended to care.
This guy didn’t even pretend. He just looked at me like I had vomited into his backpack. And then he left.
Finally, I approached an affable looking fellow sitting by himself. And I was not disappointed. Our conversation covered common ground such as the underappreciation of buses as a means of transportation, Vietnam, and using the energy of one’s opponent against him in the ancient art of Aikkido.
In the sea of harsh lighting and indifferent stares that was my Annenberg, I had found a beacon. But it wasn’t that great. On second thought, I missed those cold scowls. So I decided to return for one more bowl.
It was later than I thought. Suddenly, it seemed I was the only one left in the dining hall, save for a few dozen busts. I entered the small talk fray once more:
“I’m from California.”
“I’m a pre-med majoring in Math, how bout you?”
I looked up, said “Please” with my eyes, and went back to my cereal.