All That and a Bag of Chips

  • “Whazzzzzuppp????”
  • YOLO
  • I pity the fool
  • Pardon me, do you have any grey poupon?
  • Opposite Day!
  • You are the weakest link…good bye!
  • Is that your final answer?
  • Talk to the hand
  • Oh snap!
  • Take a chill pill
  • Don’t go there!

I hope this short list has conveyed how popular culture creates memorable saying that immediately conjure different images, eras, and feelings. These short sayings catch on and – for a while – are really funny and cool. People laugh at them and make jokes about them. And then they fade from the public consciousness. Remembered but also forgotten. Fleeting.

As such, these popular culture catch phrases aren’t exactly ideal words for important or lasting life events. I imagine at least one wedding from the late 1990s somehow clearly worked the question “Is that your final answer?” into wedding ceremonies. In fact “I pity the fools” that have to endure a memory inspired by a line Regis Philbin was likely contractually obligated to say to prevent lawsuits. I would imagine that majorities of couples now regret expressing these love for each other using a pop culture catchphrase.

In fact, I don’t have to imagine this regret because I feel it myself.

Allow me to elaborate. During the fall of 2010, I was in the North Park library. I was sitting in the reference section surrounded by thick tomes that represent the best and most lasting contributions to human knowledge – perhaps that antithesis of these throw away sayings – and with the beautiful girl I was crushing on: Christy. We were flirting and reading together – each surrounded by books and our thoughts and insecurities and feelings for each other. We were in touch with these deep and core questions of life, meaning, love, and emotion.

A mutual friend came by and commented that because Christy had more than one book open at the same time, she must think she was better than us. He was joking, of course, but in my love-addled mind, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to step in and defend her honor. Like other great romances in history, I would step in and defend her honor and, by doing so, make my feelings evident to her. So I did. Casually, I boldly proclaimed what I thought of Christy. I said

“Christy is all that and a bag of chips.”

And I immediately regretted by decision. Deeply regretted. Regretted in a way that called into question my entire identity and raised questions about whether I could ever trust my brain to make any future decision. I thought to myself: “I had graduated from college! Was repeating the 1990s phrase ‘She’s all that and a bag of chips’ really the best thing I could come up with? If I could have said something better, why didn’t I say it then!? Was that the best I could do?”

Yet this regret immediately turned to panic and I forced myself to play it cool. Maybe I was over-reacting. It wasn’t that bad. Maybe she hadn’t even heard it! “Wait. Who says that?” said our mutual friend who’s joke had provoked the comment. Damn, I thought to myself, I’m not getting a pass on this. “Seriously, who says that anymore?”

That was just over 32 months ago. And, I’m very happy to report, my budding relationship with Christy survived this episode. And, in fact, the more I ponder this story, the more my regret is subsiding.

Part of this subsiding has to do with lesson – one printed on every page of every book that surrounded us both that day. That the only human access we have to these huge, eternal, and core questions of love, meaning, emotion, and ourselves, comes mediated through the tangible and concrete. The snapshots, definitions, maps, and commentaries on the pages of those reference books are not the reality they are trying to explain – they necessarily fall short – but that is okay. Access to the depths of the human experience happens in a particular time and place. Or, to put it another way, YOLO.

My First Kiss

After much thought and pondering, I’ve decided to tell you all the story of my first kiss. But, in order to do so, I’m going to need to set the stage and tell you about the 8th grade version of myself.

The first important detail is my name – Andy. This will play a crucial role in the story.

The second important detail is that I was not very popular in middle school. I was pudgy, uncomfortable, awkward, and – for lack of a better word – nerdy. I realise that very few people look back on middle schools as the finest years of their social life, but my low social standing made this magical kiss all the more unexpected for I was kissed by a member of the social elite. I was kissed by a cheerleader. Surprisingly, I was not a member of the football team. Or the basketball team. Or even the baseball team.

In fact, the only team I was a part of was my school’s Quiz Bowl team. In fact, I was a founding member of the Quiz bowl team because it organized only after I successfully petitioned the principle of the school to create it. I actually need to made a side comment for historical clarity. I was also a member of the school’s Chess Team – but didn’t want to be associated with such a ‘nerdy club’ and therefore took efforts to hide my presence on this team. I waited for the halls to clear before going to practice and excused myself from the yearbook photo for this group. Looking back, this is rather strange – especially because the two teams had an identical membership – but it is the truth. And I should issue a public apology to them for making this mistake and distancing myself from some of the only friends I had.

In addition to the Quiz Bowl team and the Chess club, I also played the cello in the Orchestra and this is how I knew Tatiana – the beautiful cheerleader who kissed me. Tatiana also played cello; I was the first chair and she was the third chair player. That meant that on the day the second chair player was absent from school, Tatiana would move up and we would share a music stand. Tatiana needed to wear glasses but always forgot them. So – on certain lucky days – when the second chair was absent and Tati had forgotten her glasses – she would pull the music stand close and we would sit as close as our instruments would allow.

Now despite the fact that cellos are rather bulky instruments that require several feet of clearance, this was the closest I ever got to a girl in 8th grade. And it was almost overpowering. I could feel her hair move. I could smell her cloyingly sweet lotion, or spray, or whatever 8th grade girls used to make themselves smell like cherry candy. But these days were few and far between in 8th grade. Usually Tatiana hungout with the other cheerleaders and athletic people and I spent my time alone in the library.

In fact, I found creative ways to avoid not just Tatiana but all girls and most of my classmates. I volunteered to sell pop and candy at all the school dances so I could avoid the overwhelmingly awkward prospect of actually asking someone to the dance – the thought of actually dancing made me sick to my stomach. And I ate my lunch alone in the library everyday – I was already friends with the librarian and prefered her quite company in the library to the social nightmare that was the cafeteria. In hindsight, I see how this decision didn’t help my social life – but no one ever asked where I was and I was happy to have a safe haven in the library between the biographies and popular magazines.

That’s how 8th grade went for me – until the very last day of the school year. One that day, the school distributed our yearbooks and students spent the day signing yearbooks in every class. To me, this was the final social ritual to endure before I was free for the summer and free forever from middle school. That’s not to say no one signed my yearbook, it’s just that fewer people seemed interested in signing my yearbook and, when they did sign it, they wrote things like: “You’re the smartest piece of crap I ever saw.”

So I was surprised when Tatiana asked to sign my yearbook. We were in room 101, it was 6th period US History, taught by Mr. Dillenbeck. I was up front, in my normal seat – far from the door, near the windows, right in front of the teacher’s desk. She casually walked up behind me and asked to sign my yearbook. We exchanged our books and I’m sure I wrote something generic and nice like “Have a great summer!” but I really don’t remember.

What I do remember is that when she handed me back my yearbook, she leaned in and gave me a light kiss on my cheek. It was a quick kiss, but it was – unmistakably – a kiss. My heart soared and mind raced in the confusion and surprise of the moment.

And that was it. The end of class. The end of 8th grade. And the last time I ever saw Tatiana. As I walked home, I now imagine my face shone, transfigured, like the Virgin Mary; transformed by hope, joy, and love that came to the humble and lowly and undeserving in the most unlikely time and place.

And as I treasured these things in my heart, I flipped to the back cover where she has signed her name and read the following words:

“Dear Adam, *****”

And there I stopped. For – as you may recall – my name is Andy and not Adam. Her inscription – and her kiss – was not meant for me, but for another. Not for Andy but for Adam.

This – for better or worse – has been the story of my first kiss. One that I, over time, have come to embrace.