When I decided last year’s march for science would be a turning point in my civic engagement, I really meant more along the lines of me participating in new forms of organized demonstration and not exactly me becoming the subject of protest. Not that I couldn’t imagine people finding problems with me—while I’m not the most putative person in terms of advancing my views, I can act controversially.
Things I Do That I Expected Would Be Cause for Protest
- Eating tomatoes whole like you do fruit.
- Regularly eating dinner at 3PM. Date and time of my friends’ intervention for me is TBD.
- Shamelessly taking home leftover food from club meetings—tacos, cookies, subs, a container of hummus, several pounds of chicken penne pasta, one vat each of shredded cheese, pinto beans, and that lettuce-tomato taco filling—and subsisting off it for weeks.
Instead, I got protested for eating a barbecue sandwich.
(Maybe that didn’t have as much impact as I’d hoped, given the evident theme of poor eating habits in that list, but you’ve got to admit the act of just eating a sandwich seems innocent enough.)
The sandwich in question was highly anticipated. Weeks prior, my friend and I had ordered a turkey box and brisket box, respectively, basically signing up to be early testers of a new food delivery service. The service would partner with famous local restaurants, taking advance orders from students and delivering the food to campus for us to pick up at a central location. The first restaurant partner, Franklin Barbecue, is notorious for its four-hour lines that yield to neither the likes of Kanye West nor Barack Obama. My friend and I figured the line-skipping premium might justify the $16.
On pickup day, my friend got scheduled for volunteering, so I offered to get both of our boxes. I was minutes late; the people hadn’t specified where in the Student Activity Center they’d be, and also I happened to be lugging around a human-sized trash bag filled with free merch I’d gotten from the concurrent off-campus housing fair, in which apartment complex representatives lure students into thousand-dollar contracts for rundown living spaces in exchange for a free T-shirt and High Brew coffee cans. (I’m one of said idiot college students, as apparently my sexual orientation is free anything.) Anyway, by the time I got there, an intimidating line had already formed.
Me, texting Friend: I thought the point of not having to wait in line was there not being a line
Friend: Ugh why
Me: They’ve got all the boxes on one table and some sort of pickle-barbecue sauce station at the other
Me: And they look tiny
I watched the people in front of me lay their pickles onto bread with what seemed like the care of children peeling and pressing gold star stickers. After what had to have been several frustrating minutes of pickle decorating, I reached the front… And promptly spilled the pickles all over the table.
Feeling hateful stares trained on my back, I offered to clean up—an offer they rejected so quickly I was almost offended—chalked the accident up to the pickle station being cursed, and scurried off to an armchair five feet away from the tables to recoup and eat.
I’d finished exchanging half my brisket for half my friend’s turkey and had cobbled the parts into a respectable sandwich when a group of ten people appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, right before me. They seemed like a large family, with children and adults, and they held signs of which I could only see the back. The people began spreading out right in front of me and settling into camera-ready poses.
Uneasily, I craned my neck to see a half-turned sign, held by a small boy with wispy blonde hair. STOP ANIMAL CRUELTY, it read.
My jaws were still frozen around the sandwich as I pieced it together.
The situation had an unreality to it, like it had come straight out of a cartoon.
Me: *slowly standing up*
Me: Somehow I get the sense that I shouldn’t be here.
Trying to inch my way out of the background of that photo was awkward, as I couldn’t make a clean exit. After all, I had two boxes worth of barbecue sandwich parts spread out on an armchair, a sandwich in my fingers, my backpack, and my giant bag of housing merch. I don’t know if they got me in the picture mid-bite or frenzily packing everything up in the background, and I still can’t decide which is funnier.
Either way, the students studying further in the background had started to notice something was going on. Their eyes collectively followed my walk of shame ten more feet to another armchair, where I finished my sandwich and felt kind of bad, watching the protesters vigorously shake their signs. Which I guess was the point.
The demonstration ended almost as quickly as it had begun—I don’t think they’d had a permit, so they had to leave—but I remained where I was for a good while afterward, trying to make sense of what’d just happened.
A student reporter approached me for an interview for our campus news show. Clearing my throat and wiping my mouth of brisket grease, I stood up and wondered how any of my life was real.
Later, via text
Friend 2: How was the food though
Me: Tbh, pretty good
Doesn’t this remind you of that Oxford University picture that went viral? The one of a female janitor scrubbing away the words “Happy International Women’s Day” on the steps? Nothing beats pictorial irony.
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