Mexican Standoff

A life lesson in an argument about burritos

garwoodPhoto: Amy Garwood


By Dan Forward


y name is Dan, and I am not good at introductions. I’m filling in for Gabe, who usually writes this column. I like to think Gabe and I are two very different people, despite having shared a dorm room for most of college, a passion for Burn Notice, and other more uncomfortable things (read: ex-girlfriend). I often imagine my life to be headed in the right direction, or at least a direction, while Gabe is spinning his wheels, letting off that terrible smell of burned rubber.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I certainly do have my doubts about Gabe’s being able to steer through his own existence. Sometimes, though, I fear that my own might not be on such a collision course with success, either. I’m sorry. This driving motif really got away from me.

I go to Suffolk Law School. I know what you’re thinking: Why is a future millionaire bothering to write a column like this? Am I getting $700 an hour to compose it? You may be surprised to learn that, because of the bad economy, which was caused by forces my pride would never allow me to admit to not understanding, few law students have any job prospects at all. We have been forced to resort to the process of obliquely begging for personal favors to get work, otherwise known as networking. Unfortunately, while I can finish Luigi’s Raceway in under two minutes using Yoshi, and while my friends don’t even let me use the sniper rifle in Halo any more, chatting people up for a job is not among my strong suits.

I recently attended a networking event at my school that attempted to match me with a mentor. My venerable institution did provide us with each other’s e-mail addresses so that we could speak before we met, but then arranged for us to convene amid about a hundred other mentor-mentee pairs who had nothing to identify each other except for name tags. Perhaps it was my fault for not insisting that we each wear carnations in our lapels, or that I would be reading Farnsworth on Contracts in the corner of the giant function room where we were to be introduced. The secret code word would have been “collateral estoppel.”

We, the pre yuppies, stood along one wall, shuffling our feet and whispering to each other about which mentors we thought would want to dance with us, while the post yuppies who had given up their time for us suddenly started to remember that they’d left the iron on back at the office, or that their fathers’ funerals were happening right then. When we eventually began to mingle, we began a painful but rather beautiful un-choreographed dance in which we all leaned back at 15-degree angles and to the side and tried to read each others’ name tags.

After stalking around like this for a while, looking like extras in the Thriller video, most of us found our soul mates for the mandated six months of the program. My guy was a tall, salt-and-pepper-haired man in a suit with a smile and a voice that inspired confidence in him and a sense of inferiority in myself. We shook hands—he, strongly, I, weakly, as one might shake the hand of one’s already-deceased great grandmother.

Despite this, the meeting went well. This impartial judge assured me that in addition to being white and male, I also passed the test of not being totally socially inept, the three things requisite to my getting a legal job, if such a thing still exists, through backdoor connections and loose affiliations with someone’s cousin’s neighbor. If only he could have seen what came after he left.

Like a bear (a jobless bear, not one in the circus or something), I can smell that the winter is coming, that time after law school when the student loans stop flowing, when my need for those things that Maslow so neatly elucidated will persist even among other new requirements like interest payments and professional accoutrements such as man purses. Also like a bear or other hibernating creature, I instinctively store up for times of poverty.

So I made full use of the complimentary buffet. I got a Coke, a bunch of buttery, crumbly crackers, and a whole lot of chicken on sticks. While I was gathering these things into one hand and using the other to grab everything I could reach, I happened to overhear a conversation about burritos. I have no strong feelings about burritos in general. I think there’s too much stuff in them, but I don’t begrudge others the pleasure of them, and I don’t care where people purchase them.

“I like Chipotle better.”

“I like Boloco better because I’m a snob.”

It was a tie. What to do? This is precisely why there are nine justices on the Supreme Court. At this pivotal moment in my life, I was compelled to step into a similar yet singularly important role as arbiter. So, chicken sticks in hand, cracker plate so delicately balanced between two fingers as to inspire jealousy in that great leveler, Lady Justice herself, I stepped out of the shadows into what I would later recall was exceptionally inappropriate proximity to two people I had never met before, watched the index finger of my free hand rise up in the air level with my head entirely independent of my volition, and handed down my verdict:

“I put my vote in for Bo-lo-co.” With exactly that emphasis.

I think it was even before I was met with the blank confusion on the mentor’s face, or the profound embarrassment of the mentee that I was consumed fully by the question that still dogs both my dreams and waking hours: “What did you just do?” The moment of silence the three of us shared gave me far too long to consider, first, why these two people hadn’t responded with the lively and profuse thanks for settling the argument that I had for some reason expected; second, why I had felt it necessary to involve myself at all; and, finally, why, having apparently decided that it was right to butt in, I had done so in such a deeply stupid way.

I took my leave of them with one smooth backward step so that they could bond over my boorishness and rushed out of the room, still holding the chicken sticks and the plate. I met a classmate on the way and mumbled to him that there was free food if he wanted any, probably spewing cracker crumbs all over him.

I didn’t take much away from my experience, except my shame. But you can. Please keep in mind that next time you are horribly offended or made to feel uncomfortable by something Gabe has written about women, men, children, music, or what he seems to think are normal social interactions, just look around. Also, if I am not standing nearby holding any sort of food item on a stick, consider yourself lucky.

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