It’s about 2 p.m. in Bell Tower Place dining hall, during the listless period between the lunch and dinner rush. The tables are dotted with students having a late afternoon meal. Conversation is muted.
Then, a disturbance: A photo is publicly AirDropped to everyone in the dining hall with an Apple device, including me.
“‘Gary’ would like to share a photo,” the pop-up window above the photo reads.
It looks, to put it indelicately, like a picture of a man’s ass.
Without even blinking, I press “Decline,” unfazed. It’s been one of those days. But not everyone is as jaded as I am; at the high table next to me, a girl gasps and shows the picture to her two friends. They laugh in scandalized tones. The sound carries in the near-empty room.
“Should I accept?” the girl asks. After a brief deliberation, she decides not to.
After that, it seems the disturbance will pass, a mere ripple in the lazy afternoon. But a few minutes later, a boy in long baggy basketball shorts and a gray T-shirt gets up from a nearby table, where he sits with his two friends, and approaches the girls.
“Hey,” he says. “I heard you guys talking about that photo.”
“Are you Gary?” says the girl who received it. “Yeah, I didn’t accept it.” There is a slight mocking edge to her voice.
Gary laughs, before explaining that his name is actually John, and that it was actually just a picture of his knees pressed together. He had meant to send it to everyone in the large lecture class he had just left, but it hadn’t gone through until now. He tells them that he’s a freshman.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” the same girl says. There is more than an edge of mocking in that.
But John doesn’t seem to notice. The conversation carries on, and the girls — all of them sophomores — don’t turn him away. They make small talk. John, I overhear with some amusement, is from Springboro, Ohio — my hometown.
The girls laugh at his jokes and sympathize with his grievances about his tiny, unclean dorm. The girl who first spoke to John, with dark hair in a ponytail, continues to do most of the talking than the other two — one blonde, and one with glasses. After a few minutes, John crosses his arms on the high table and leans in.
I begin to wonder if I am witnessing the boldest sober attempt at picking up girls that I have ever seen.
The girl in glasses makes eye contact with me as I try to watch surreptitiously, and I quickly look away. I’ve finished my food, but now I’m intrigued; it’s clear this boy is angling for something. I take out my computer and pretend to do homework, settling in for the long haul and trying my best to look utterly uninterested in my surroundings.
Conversation continues. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen. John’s friends at the table he left behind look over at him every now and then. The girl with the ponytail doesn’t seem to be mocking him anymore. The girls extend an invitation for him to come study with them at the library. But John has somewhere else to be after this.
At one point, John brings up the fact that one of his friends has a skateboard. Would they like to ride it? Sure, they say, and he goes back to his table to fetch the other boys.
“This is so fucking funny,” the blonde girl says while he’s gone, and I wonder if they’re stringing him along after all.
But then John and his friends return, introductions are made, and they all leave together. I wait a minute before packing up my stuff and trailing after them, wondering how this will end. No numbers have yet been exchanged.
Outside, I find that one of the girls has left. The other two are testing out John’s friend’s skateboard on the street that runs past Bell Tower’s entrance. I loiter as discreetly as I can, pretending to stare at my phone. But that can only be convincing for so long, and I have a class starting soon. Reluctantly, I start to meander away.
As I pass them, both girls say they have to go. They bid the boys cheery farewells, and I wonder if perhaps they always intended this to be merely a lunchtime diversion. They haven’t exchanged Snapchats or given contact information or made much of any indication that they ever want to talk to the boys again.
But then, as I walk away, I hear it: The girl with the ponytail, walking backwards down the sidewalk, shouts her number back at John.