Back in October, I read with great interest the news that the United Kingdom was proposing a ban on plastic straws. For the record, I think it’s a good idea. But my reasons for supporting such a proposal may be different from the British government’s reasons. I’ve been an opponent of straws since my college days. It was during that period of my life that a straw conspired to embarrass and humiliate me. That story is the focus of today’s blog.
You see, I was never a big fan of straws in the first place. Drinking straight from the glass, cup, carton or bottle is my preferred approach to ingesting liquid refreshments. But I can remember a time not so long ago when servers at some eating establishments automatically placed straws in your drink. Yes, a restaurant employee actually picked up an unwrapped straw with his or her bare hands and then put it in your drink. YIKES! This was the practice at the Wendy’s location that serves as the setting for today’s story. Keep this in mind. It is important.
Now on to the story….
The original Snell Hall on the campus of Western Kentucky University (WKU) has long since been torn down. Its hallowed halls have been replaced by a more modern edifice that bears the same name but is better equipped for the contemporary college crowd. When I attended WKU in the early 1980s, Snell Hall was already considered to be a dinosaur of a building. Even then, most students were not excited to learn that the outdated Hall would be the location of their upcoming biology class.
I can still feel and smell the musty warmth that emanated from the dull silvery-gray radiators as the scorching steam popped and hissed its way through Snell Hall’s ancient pipes. Her hardwood floors had seen better days. Yet there was something comforting in the high-pitched squeaks and creaks uttered by her floors in response to the shifting weight of students treading upon her time-worn surfaces.
For me the most memorable element of Snell Hall undoubtedly remains the attractive brunette who sat two seats ahead and one row to the right of me in my 11AM sophomore bacteriology course. From class day one, her presence made it impossible for my 20 year old mind to clearly focus on the pale middle-aged professor and his sonorous discourse on the science of bacteriology.
As bacteriology class ended on one crisp and sunny early spring morning, I found myself sitting in the venerable Snell Hall gazing in wonderment upon this vibrant attractive human of the opposite sex. Feeling an unexpected surge of bold optimism, I confidently approached the previously unapproachable coed, made some long-forgotten (although I’m sure engaging) small talk and before I could come to my senses I managed to invite her to lunch at the Wendy’s nearby. When she accepted my offer, I couldn’t decide if I was feeling mostly excitement or horror. Did I just ask her to lunch? Did she just accept? Now what?
As we we strolled across Chestnut Street and made our way to Cabell Drive, I alternated between ecstasy and panic. I was delighted that I’d been successful in getting this “date” but overwhelmed by the possibility of an awkward or stilted lunch conversation. But my nerves began to settle a bit as we walked towards Wendy’s, the cool sunshine seeming to lift lift my anxious spirits. It was spring after all; a time for fresh starts and blossoming romances.
Today I am unable to recall many details of this ill-fated lunch date, including the young co-ed’s name. I suspect that in some self-protective mechanism brought on by the sheer trauma of the event, my mind has all but obliterated the escapade from my memory.
One detail that remains is that I was able to choose a table in the corner of the dining area. It was a little quieter there and I thought that would be a more suitable setting for the lively conversation I envisioned we would have. Little did I know that the selection of this spot would also limit the number of people who would witness the bone-headed stunt I would perform only seconds after taking my seat.
No memory exists of what I said as we took our seats but as my date began her response to whatever brilliant statement I had made, I remember quickly taking the opportunity to enjoy a swig of the refreshing soft drink I had ordered. While maintaining eye contact with the sexy brunette sitting across the table, I reached down and blindly grasped my cup. I slowly raised the cup to my mouth, all the while remaining lost in my companion’s dreamy eyes. But before my lips made contact with the brim of my cup, the long straw, whose presence I had ignored – remember, I’m not a “straw person” – found its way an inch or so up into my right nostril.
Now I thought there was a remote chance that the young lady had not noticed what had just happened. So quickly I sat the cup down on the table in front of me. The cup did end up on the table. The straw did not follow suit. The straw was lodged in my nasal passage. I now had a straw hanging out of my nose. I knew there was no hiding this! The brunette suddenly stopped mid-sentence and her eyes became transfixed on the straw dangling from my nose.
You know sometimes when you are trying to convince yourself to take some action that you are really fearful about taking you’ll say to yourself, “What’s the worse thing that can happen?” Well, had I asked myself that question before inviting this young lady to lunch, I can tell you for sure that I would not have imagined an event nearly as embarrassing as having a bright red Wendy’s straw protruding from my nose. Since that day at Wendy’s, I’ve never been able to take any consolation or encouragement from the “what’s the worst that can happen” question. Some things are so bad that there is no way you can predict them ahead of time.
Now this story would be entertaining enough if it ended right here. Unfortunately, I apparently decided to destroy any hint of personal dignity or self-respect that remained – I mean I guess I REALLY want to make as big a fool of myself as I possibly could. Go big or go home, right? So I proceeded to remove the straw from my nostril and, realizing that I didn’t want to put my mouth on the end that had lodged in my nasal cavity, I turned the straw upside down and, trying to be as nonchalant as possible, placed the straw back into my beverage and took a big sip through the clean end.
It took my brain a second to realize what I had just done. But when I did, the bottom dropped out of my stomach and I could feel the tingling in my face as it changed from pale white to crimson red. Oh how badly I wanted to jump up and run as fast and far away as possible. And since that instant, I have been a sworn enemy of straws.