Better Strangers

So at least Jesse Broder Van Dyke kissed me. That’s how this story is going to end. I just thought you’d like to know up front. It all started with that fateful e-mail…

“Free Press columnist dinner, the night of Saturday, December 2. Call Quinne (the editorial page editor) if you can’t make it.” I got the message about a week beforehand, right about the time I should have been working on an English paper but instead was throwing small bits of dinner roll at my sleeping roommate’s head in an effort to get one in his open mouth. So when I took a break from “Will He Choke or Sneeze?” (the name I have affectionately titled my game), I found that e-mail.

Of course I responded with an enthusiastic “yes” — enthusiastic meaning I put an exclamation point at the end of my e-mail. In theory this would be really cool, because although the readers would like to think that all of us columnists hang out on weekends and have wacky zany adventures all over town (and occasionally in Mexico), in reality most of us have never met. So, even though I used an exclamation point in my response, I was actually terrified.

Terrified because, what if those rumors are true? What if Alex Cuthbertson does randomly burst into show tunes? What if it’s true that Jesse Broder Van Dyke insists on kissing everyone on both cheeks when he greets them? What if Denise Spellman truly is the man-crazy hoochie we all hear about and she makes a pass at me? What if Casey Schreiner is a vegetarian?

Nevertheless, I found myself sitting on the steps of the Free Press office at 4:50 p.m. Saturday night waiting for my fellow columnists. Maybe it was curiosity that did it. Maybe it was a desire to see the legendary Jesse. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve been in a drought for ideas lately and I assumed the six of us would engage in some act of vandalism/international smuggling violation that would make good fodder for Tuesday.

Right now let me stress the fact that none of the columnists look anything like their pictures. I know this because while waiting on the steps of the Free Press office, I said hi to 17 individuals who were not my fellow columnists. When we had all finally assembled I found that Jesse is seven feet tall, Denise wears a red leather jump suit at all times and Casey is a woman.

Oh, and as for all of my fears that I mentioned earlier, they were all groundless. Well, Casey actually turned out to be a vegetarian (but apparently Quinne never heard that rumor, because she made reservations at a steak place). But since I was prepared for that, it wasn’t nearly as scary as it would have been otherwise. I really can’t say for sure whether or not Denise was hitting on me, but she let me hold one of her rats.

We had dinner at the Ninety-Nine. I was a little nervous that since I’m a freshman they would make me carry stuff, speak only when spoken to or create a distraction while they skipped out on the check. Fortunately, they did not discriminate, and they let me run from the waiter when they did.

The dinner conversation was interesting, although I admit I didn’t follow much of it. The majority of the time, Casey, Denise and I spent quietly reveling in the presence of the legendary Jesse (I felt very proud because he let me hang his coat up, and I stole his driver’s license). They talked about past editors of the Free Press, and they kept mentioning some really tall girl — that was all I understood.

Quinne had a lot of stories that ended with, “so then the RA came in and broke it up, and I kept screaming, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I’m an editor for the Free Press! I can make your life miserable!’” Alex didn’t show up, so they talked about him too (wish you’d been there now, don’t ya, Alex?). About the only thing I did keep up with was when they brought up the subject of applying for a column next semester, which basically amounted to all of us crying and sobbing, begging Quinne to give us a list of the asses we need to start kissing.

Personally, I was a little upset that most of the people who pick the columns are men, because Denise has a clear advantage over the rest of us when it comes to persuading them (and by “persuading,” I mean a black cocktail dress and a suite at the Marriott).

Oh, and the most disturbing part of the night was when Quinne brought up elements of my personal life for dinner conversation. Apparently, since she is an editor, she has a red phone on her desk that puts her in contact with the CIA, and they give her all the information she could ever want on me. She had lists of all the girls I’ve been with this semester as well as every embarrassing thing that has happened to me in college (I don’t know why she needed a whole list for the girls … one 3×5 index card would have sufficed).

And then we skipped out on the check. Around the corner, hiding from the wait staff, we said our good-byes. Goodness knows when we’ll see each other next (although, odds are it will be in court). And then I found out that the rumor about Jesse was true. So at least Jesse Broder Van Dyke kissed me.

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