The Cuban Missile Crisis

Deciding whether or not to speak to the stranger across the table at Whitney dining Hall. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

Deciding whether or not to speak to the stranger across the table at Whitney dining Hall. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

"Trust Me, I Got This" is a weekly column by staff writer and senior Christopher McDermott on surviving senior year, guided solely by this unconventional advice.

At the lunch hour rush in Whitney Dining Hall, the solo lunchers are perfectly spaced. There’s an extra chair serving as a demilitarized zone between each person to maintain the peace and reduce awkward elbow bumping or the looming pressure to actually talk to someone.

Space is tight, but there’s an unspoken covenant between diners to leave that little extra space. And when I enter to see an opening, I drop everything I have on it.

Tuesday I slid in just before the crowd swipes in. I get my plate, my leftover-from-the-breakfast-menu grapefruit and tiny little chicken wings. I’m filling up on iced coffee, looking fondly over to my spot, only to see a guy in a green sweater and light beard sitting directly across from my coat and backpack.

In describing negotiations, Michael Scott insists that you have to let the other guy speak first, “Makes them feel uncomfortable,” he says, “puts you in control.” I sat down without saying anything. If I said, “What’s up?” it would have given him too much credit; if I looked down or immediately looked at my phone it would’ve conveyed weakness. So instead, I stared at the window behind him.

He ate his chicken wings quietly. This went on for a good three minutes.

Originally I was keeping quiet just to convey my control over the situation, but by about minute six it was mostly just for continuity’s sake. By this point it would be weird to start talking. A couple seconds later he took his plate and left.

I was ready to declare victory over all the collected forces of evil. I was basically John F. Kennedy right after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Then Khrushchev comes back and sits back down with coffee and an apple.

A brilliant tactical maneuver. The apple is most aggressive fruit. That cracking sound you get when you bite into a Red Delicious is as close as you can come to waving a sword made out of Vitamin A.

All I had was a grapefruit. Only a banana could make me look less threatening.

Luckily the coffee was stale. You could see it in his face. He was struggling to choke it down; he had no more reason to hang around and stood up to go. I waited an appropriate number of seconds before turning around to make sure he’d left.

Being a reasonable person at least some of time, I did eventually put it together that the conflict was probably almost entirely in my head. We shared a nice moment. The fact that we didn’t ultimately have to actually battle to the death at any point should be some reassurance that not all interactions have that go that way.

And grapefruit tastes better sweetened with victory.


Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.