It was Dec. 2015, the day school let out for winter, and I was thinking my little 14-year-old thoughts: Christmas, snowfall, my “Harry Potter” house (the J.K. Rowling Is Over Party had not yet sent out its invites).
Suddenly, I heard running footsteps behind me. As it turned out, it was this guy. We didn’t know each other well enough to justify running up to one another to share our thoughts, so I was curious as to what was so important.
As it turned out, he had a very specific query.
“How do you feel about alligators?”
Small talk was never my strong suit, but I was still pretty sure that wasn’t how people began conversations. Noticing my confusion, he explained that he had thought of alligators because my shirt was green, and that had driven him to ask me about them.
That was where he truly lost me. For one, there are lots of things that are green. Alligators are hardly the most likely to spring to mind, especially if you live in Western New York, where alligators are sadly few and far between.
Here’s a list of things that I think of when I think the word “green”:
- Grass, leaves, foliage, etc.
- Mr. Green from the game “Clue”
- Mr. Green from the movie “Clue”
- Tim Curry, because I was just thinking of the movie “Clue”
- Tim Curry screaming “SPACE!”
- MAYBE alligators, if turtles aren’t an option
I also had to wonder why, if you just thought of alligators by looking at someone’s shirt, you wouldn’t keep that to yourself. That seems like the sort of thing that might hound them for the rest of their life. Wake them up at night. Prevent them from mentally or emotionally progressing past the age of 14. Doesn’t that seem like the sort of torture you would rather spare somebody, especially somebody who so kindly made you think of alligators just a moment ago?
But I had no control over his choices, only my own. I tried to manufacture an appropriately passionate opinion on the matter, as this was clearly a discussion to which having a strong opinion on alligators was central. I decided alligators were very similar to crocodiles (true), and that it was thus annoyingly difficult to differentiate them (also true, but it didn’t bother me as much as I pretended it did), unless you got close enough to see whether it had a snaggletooth (in which case it was an alligator). (For more fun facts about alligators, click here).
Momentarily placated, the guy walked next to me in complete silence for the next 30 seconds or so.
At no point during this interaction did we make eye contact. I studied the sidewalk the way a general studies a war map and waited for him to say something that made sense.
Instead of doing that, he said, “What about orange juice?”
At my behest, he further explained that he was wondering how I felt about the pulp, specifically, in orange juice. I at least have direct experience with orange juice, so I more confidently stated that I was pro-pulp.
He assented: “It tastes just like a real orange.” That doesn’t sound so bad on paper, but you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that it was the way he said it. It was like scraping unfiled nails against denim jeans.
For whatever reason, that was my tipping point. I speed-walked away from him, head down, life changed.
Once in a while, I recall that conversation, and I pace my dorm trying to make sense of it. It keeps me up at night. I’m a little jealous of its strangeness — I don’t think I could ever do something that weird to someone. I was a passive bystander in all this, yet it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I think that says something about me as a person.
Perhaps my perspective doesn’t matter. I’m just an NPC interrupting this guy’s quest to save the world from anti-pulp blasphemers. I give the protagonist some potions or a vague prophecy, make a comment about how it’s weird to run up to people and ask them about alligators, then fade into the background.
But maybe that’s for the better. I don’t know if I have it in me to carry my own story. Maybe I’ll settle down in some quiet fantasy town and sell herbal remedies — with pulp, of course. When you visit my shop, please do your best to follow conversational protocol. Acceptable topics include: greetings, inquiries as to each other’s health, comments on the weather, and opinions on Tim Curry’s performance in “Clue.”