In a move that defied the oddsmakers, I got hit on the other night. Not with fists, but emotions. It happens so rarely these days (reasons why: old-check, married-check, kid-check, receding hairline-double-triple-check) that when it does occur, it has roughly the same effect as being mugged — you aren't sure what's happening until it's over, and afterward you're left shaken and unsure of what to believe about the world.
Not that I've ever been mugged, but as someone who was unexpectedly hit on at the supermarket last week, I'm pretty sure I know what it would feel like.
Allow me to set the scene:
It's Friday night, 11 p.m., at the grocery — aka, prime time for lonely, single people to shop for next week's lonely, single meals and broadcast their vulnerability on an AM frequency. (I know that sounds harsh, and I'm sorry, but my journalistic integrity requires me to stay true to the reality of a Friday night at the supermarket. Have you been lately?)
My wife and kid are asleep at home, but we need milk, so I'm here, as solo as any of these other poor souls I see shuffling through the aisles with dull eyes and drooping shoulders. Which is to say, I blend in perfectly.
The shopping cart I'm pushing has even begun to resemble a single person's shopping cart — a primitive food-gathering instinct my wife has tried again and again to correct: stacked on top of each other, a frozen pizza, a bag of taquitos, a discounted 24-ounce tall boy of Ice House (because I party hard on Friday nights while my wife and kid sleep). To random passers-by, it appears as if I am held accountable to no other living creature. I look 20 minutes away from devouring an entire pizza and watching Netflix with my pants off (which, in reality, I am).
Unaware at the time, I also was in prime condition to attract a mate: I hadn't showered in nearly two days, and the musk that emanated from underneath my coat could only be described as animalistic. I had left the house unwittingly rocking the Three F's of Picking Up Chicks: funk, pheromones and 5 o'clock shadow.
The only deadlier combination known to mankind is Daryl Hall and John Oates. Looking back at the situation, getting hit on was inevitable; all of the factors were so clearly in place.
As I rounded the corner from the canned goods to the harbinger of my cardiovascular doom, the aisle of potato chips, I passed a young woman going the opposite direction. Given the proximity, abruptness and duration of our passing, making eye contact was all but a certainty — if only to avoid collision. Unfortunately, there is an appropriate way to make eye contact with a stranger, and then there is the way I did it.
It's not that the eye contact itself lingered for an extended amount of time — it wasn't "deep" in the way that Edward's eyes deeply gaze into Bella's on the "Twilight" poster hanging over your bed. But there is a multiplier effect that comes into play when the distance between eye contact shortens, and by cutting around the corner at just the right time and angle, we had caused ourselves to pass through each other's personal space, and in doing so forced our eyes to commit the equivalent of a Goose and Maverick control tower flyby.
I should have blinked. But it's in my DNA not to.
In the brief moment that our eyes locked, I saw a flash of something in this woman's eyes that I could not quite place. Was it opportunity? Attraction? The thrill of a potential kill?
Instantly, I got the weird feeling that she had misread my eye contact. It had been direct — pupil-to-pupil — which was something that was customarily uncommon at the grocery, like at the bus stop or the urinal. But I quickly shook it off, as my mind was dedicated to solving a far more perplexing quandary: Doritos or Cheetos?
I am halfway down the aisle when I hear her shopping cart pull a U-turn and approach me from behind. I glance over my shoulder to see the young woman smiling warmly at me.
"Well, here we are," she said. "Both of us in the chip aisle on a Friday night."
To which I replied something along the lines of:
And panicked, double-timing it away from her without looking back. If there had been a brick wall at the other end of the chip aisle, I would have burst through it like the Kool-Aid Man. That night, I dined on neither Dorito nor Cheeto.
On the way home, I began to feel guilty about my reaction to the encounter. It had probably taken all of this woman's courage to approach me, and by running away like a third-grader afraid of a cootie outbreak, I had probably set back her dating confidence by at least a month.
Then, I saw this on Craigslist the next morning.
MISSED CONNECTION —
Dwight Schrute look-alike, you left my heart in aisle 6. If this is you, meet me next Friday by the salsa display. I like mine hot and chunky. You didn't have to run. I won't bite. Unless you want me to. My love is like a can of Pringles, once you pop the fun don't stop.
Ryan Jackson is proud that he crammed a "Twilight" reference into the same sentence as a "Top Gun" reference, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.