A small bit of awkwardness

Terry and I sat at a picnic table in the food-cart parking lot at SE 12th and Hawthorne. I had been coming here at least once a week for about a month, specifically for Whiffies Pies. I had finally convinced Terry to come down and try them. He’d brought his wife and teenage daughter but they’d been bored and were wandering off somewhere.

While Terry and I chatted, Whiffies Pie Cart owner Greg Abbot came up and sat down on the other side of the picnic table. He had some food he’d purchased at another food cart and began wolfing it down. I said “hi” but wasn’t sure if Greg recognized me as a regular customer (and regular Portland Tweeter).

Terry looked and asked him, “Is that… tofu? With barbecue sauce?”

Greg said, enthusiastically, “Yes! And baked beans!”

Terry, who is American of Italian descent but is intimately familiar with Japanese culture, was silent. My read of his face was that he was trying to process the culture clash of bean curd and barbecue.

While Terry was momentarily silent, lost in thought, Greg had poked a big block of sauce-covered tofu on a fork, and held it up in Terry’s direction. “Here! Try some!”

Even though this incident happened more than a week ago, I can still see the expression on Terry’s face as it changed from confusion, to a strange mixture of fear and social awkwardness, as he tried to figure out:

  1. Who this guy was?
  2. Why he was offering Terry food?
  3. Food that was a bit (maybe more than a bit) outside of Terry’s immediate cultural comfort zone?
  4. From the same fork that Greg had just been eating off?
  5. How I knew Greg?
  6. And lastly, how could Terry gracefully decline the friendly offer of food without making a big scene?

I have known Terry for a very long time – we were in junior high together – and he is one of the most social, graceful, friendly people I know. I have not known the Whiffies pie master nearly as long, but from what I’ve seen about Greg he, likewise, is friendly and open.

But as I watched Greg’s long awkward pause, the fork in his hand slowly drooping slightly as the seconds ticked off, and Terry’s eyes darting from Greg, to the fork, to me, and back again… I have to admit that it was surprising and funny to see two such normally companionable men struggling with a clash over food.

I can’t help it. I laughed.

Terry, after finally sorting it all out, turned back to me and resumed the conversation we had been having before Greg had sat down. I felt bad for Greg, though I did not say anything further out of fear of embarrassing both of them.

But man… the look on Terry’s face. Priceless.