The Guy Across the Hall
I love the 1988 Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, so imagine my delight in spotting a new neighbor who looked like he practically stepped right out of it (that or else this). He intrigues me. I’ve seen him leave and return from dropping off laundry in what seems like five seconds. I’m pretty sure those are his pizza boxes in the common-area garbage. And every Friday night he has some kind of party, which I LOVE, even though I’m not invited. He’s usually blasting AC/DC or Slayer, but once I heard Adele, which I took to mean he was a progressive, awesome guy. One day, I worked all my Nancy Drew magic and got a bit of info out of him, and it turns out he specializes in “metal-parts fabrication,” which is obviously awesome, whatever it is. Sometimes I stand outside his door and listen to him complain/yell about some city annoyance, like the traffic lights at 2nd Avenue and Black Street. Last week I stepped out into the hallway at the exact moment he happened to be standing right there. I startle easily, so I clutched my heart and screamed, “OH MY GOD!” He did not miss a beat: “I’ve been called worse.” And off he went. —Sonja
Working at a children’s bookstore can be really rewarding. On a good day, I have a lot of fun tracking down a beloved novel from a customer’s youth, or helping a grandparent pick out a birthday present, or introducing a kid to their next favorite dystopian series. (This is gonna be HUGE.) And then there are other days, when there are a billion people in the store, most of them under the age of 10, and everything is effing chaos. One Saturday afternoon a couple of months ago, there was one frazzled mom carrying a dozen shopping bags, having clearly run several errands that day. Her son, who was maybe five or six, just wasn’t having it anymore. So he decided to take a nap. On the floor. In the middle of the store. He lay down on the ground and any time someone came near him, he would yell, “DON’T STEP ON ME!” He became my new hero, but then quickly contributed to my headache. —Anna F.
You know it’s finally summer when Tamale Man arrives. Tamale Man is the guy in his 70s who stands on the corner near my house with a blue cooler and shouts “TAMALE!” at everyone who walks by, and I believe I am his best customer. I speak almost no Spanish and he speaks almost no English, but we have a beautiful relationship built on several years of pork tamales with green salsa, which are the best. A few days ago, I went up to him to buy my usual, and instead of pulling out my little paper sack of tamales, he pointed at me and said, “You sweet.” I was taken aback. Was Tamale Man hitting on me? How could he do this? Here I thought we had something special and he was ruining everything! UGH MEN. I thanked him and pulled out my money. But he pushed my money away and said, “Today you sweet.” I stood there uncomfortably. Then he took my hand, which I jerked back. He stared at me like I was crazy, then laughed and repeated, “Today you sweet.” He opened his other hand, which contained…a tamale. He offered it to me, so I took it, and it looked different. “Sweet!” he said again and motioned for me to bite. It was like biting into a delicious cornbread cake. AMAZING! “Sweet!” he said, patting me verrrrry gently on the back. Ashamed, I asked for three of these awesome new tamales and three of my usual, and he grinned, wrapped them up, and then refused to take my money. I give Tamale Man five-plus-infinity stars for (1) making perfect tamales and (2) teaching me a lesson about assuming all men are predators out to get me. —Krista
This Girl I Have a Crush On
I saw her on the first day of school and immediately developed the biggest girl-crush of my entire life. She is the epitome of beauty. Her hair is like a long, golden silk curtain that goes down to her hips without a strand out of place. Her nose is perfectly sloped, and her eyes are huge and gray-green. Her eye makeup makes her look like a crying porcelain doll. She wears the coolest clothes. My friends say I’m obsessed: Her name is the password on my phone, I spent six months trying to get her to accept my friend request on Facebook, and I made a shirt with her face on it and wore it to my band’s gig. Yet we’ve never spoken and she doesn’t know I exist. And what’s more, she’s graduating in three days, so I have very little time left to summon the courage to speak to her, and it’s unlikely that I will. Last week she cut in front of me in the lunch line and I got so nervous I had to run away. In fact, maybe I hope I never meet her so that way I won’t find out if she has any flaws. —Ruby B.
This past Valentine’s Day, we went out on a meaningful besties date to the Meatball Shop, a New York City restaurant devoted to—well, yeah, not cupcakes. We were so excited about spending the most romantic day of the year eating meatballs that we didn’t really mind when we were told it’d be an hour wait. Once we returned, we had our first encounter with Meatball Suit. He gets his name because he was wearing a tailored, upscale-looking suit to a restaurant advertised as fuss-free, which just seems ridiculous. Anyway, he and his date cut in front of us at the entrance, where we were about to return our li’l buzzer. Then, to our horror, we were seated next to him at dinner. His poor date couldn’t seem to get a word in edgewise as he went on and on about how people in high school used him for his car, even though high school appeared to be a long time ago. Boy, did he talk a lot about his convertible (and loudly). We learned that he was an assistant to an author, though his dream job was to be an actor. “These writers are afraid of the internet,” he kept saying. “They’re afraid of social media.” His date, who just nodded along the entire time, couldn’t decide what to order, and neither could he. We should remind you that this restaurant is known for one thing, and they don’t have that much else on the menu. It took them 45 minutes to pick out meatballs! Anyway, this guy would have lost all stars for his lack of manners, but he deserves one star for giving us something to talk about. —Gabby and Hazel
Vested Rogue of the Target Parking Lot
I spotted this intrepid girl getting dropped off in the parking lot of a Target situated across the street from the suburban Chicago arena where Green Day played earlier this spring, and I scrambled for my camera to document the amazing freak flag being flown in the form of her Identity Vest. In case you can’t make them out in that little photo, the words are ARTIST, PIRATE, and ROGUE. She was alone in the parking lot, and so I imagined she was going solo to the show, and that she had dreamt up and then labored over the vest as a way to perhaps find her people. She looked like a seapunk Bruce Springsteen from the front, and there was an air of tentativeness about her, but maybe that had more to do with the fact that she was crossing a busy street. Looking at her sleeveless, not-quite-chambray, collar-popped vest, I marveled over each word: What kind of writer? Not a poet, because it would say poet otherwise. Artist? Well, obviously, going by the vest alone. Pirate? Not as easy to assess, but perhaps she bootlegs concerts and DVDs. Rogue? It’s a left-field word choice, and shows she is in fact a writer—she’s not merely a rebel, she is a savage apart from the rest. I love both her vest and her intent, which I assumed was to confront the limited view the world might have of her by telling it exactly who she is. —Jessica
Nancy blows her nose with a sock and is the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever met. I worked on her goat farm last year while I was WWOOFing. She lives more than 6,000 feet up in the desolate, desolate mountains of New Mexico—it’s so empty out there that in the evenings, we’d watch the lights go on in Albuquerque, over 160 miles away. Nancy keeps about 60 goats that meander freely all over the mountains and she makes delicious cheese. She tries to live as self-sufficiently as possible, which means that she grows her own vegetables, slaughters her animals, and lives off of raincatch. I’d walk out of the kitchen and see the head of a pig that we’d slaughtered, left out on the dusty ground so the chickens could peck it, and the old blue school bus where she and her partner lived for seven years before they built their house. Can you imagine? Living in a school bus in the absolute middle of nowhere for seven years? They used to hang cheese from the trees to dry. The stories that Nancy told me were as strange and beautiful as her farm: She hitched around with a goat named Baby back in the day, and claimed to be one of the first female truck drivers. “Drivin’ truck” was even more fun than being a hippie, she said. She taught me that life is beautiful and can take so many exquisite paths if you don’t get scared. I’m in love with Nancy, and so if y’all don’t mind, I’d like to give her one million stars. —Anna M.
Dancing Angel Bodyguards
A couple of weeks ago, I was out on a Friday night, pulling shapes on the dance floor, when over my partner’s shoulder I spotted these two round-bellied men trying to get their groove on. They were right at the edge of the room, shuffling, then standing still, and at one point attempting to clap along to the music. (I can’t really remember what song was playing, but it was not one that you clap along to.) I imagine they were not yet drunk enough to fully immerse themselves, but since they were both clad in white T-shirts, I prefer to think they were angels/bodyguards. I will probably never see them again, but I wish they could follow me around forever, or at least whenever I was dancing. —Naomi
The Barbarian at the Ren Faire
Last summer, I went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire for the first time. As I expected, I saw all kinds of people in crazy costumes, like a pirate couple with their adorable pirate baby, lots of knights, loads and loads of gorgeous flower crowns, and some Star Wars dudes (hmm). But the first guy who really stopped me in my tracks and nearly caused me to trip over my flip-flops (I dressed up, but sadly realized at the last minute that I did not have proper footwear, so minus two stars for me) was a short, rotund man in his 40s. He wore a pair of leather straps that criss-crossed his chest over a fur shirt, except—WAIT, it was no shirt! It was actual body hair! Front and back! I had to applaud him for finding an opportunity to flaunt it. But I had to deduct a star because he wore glasses, which seemed anachronistic. —Stephanie
Marco is my new best friend. He’s a construction worker from Poland who is currently building a wall in my house. There are lots of things that I love about Marco, but here are my top five: (1) He dresses like a heavy-metal roadie in 1987, complete with rock & roll T-shirts and long wavy hair. (2) He told my husband that he loves Vin Diesel. (3) He says everything is “cool, cool.” (4) He makes sweet little noises at my cats, who have fallen in love with him. And (5) he told us that he’s going to miss us. If everyone in the world were as nice as Marco, there would be world peace. Oh, and if I could give him an extra star for also possessing the ability to build stuff, I would. —Emma S.
My high-school English teacher, Miss Leont, intrigued all of us. She had the attitude of the Dowager Countess of Grantham and the style of a finishing school teacher: She wore a freshly pressed pencil skirt every day in a different shade of pastel, or high-waisted jeans if it was cold. She had deep maroon hair, with a little gray peeking through, and perfect makeup. When she read a passage from The Great Gatsby, she insisted the word sexual was pronounced seks-you-al, and she was very curt with us at all times. When I told her I wanted to be a fashion-magazine editor, her expression turned grave and she laced her fingers beneath her chin and said, “You won’t make it. It’s a hard industry to break into—those women hold onto those jobs for years!” I was crushed and amused all at once. But she was a great teacher, and I give her five stars for having the admiration of most people in the school, yet keeping us at such a cool distance. —Nova
Elfin Girl with the Ouija-Board Shirt
At last year’s Comic-Con, I again saw all manner of costumes, including extremely faithful replications of Star Wars gear and some freakin’ adorable six-year-olds dressed as the Incredible Hulk. But I was most impressed by this adorable, badass elfin girl. She’d done everything I’d been too scared to do in high school: shaved her head, bleached the remaining quarter inch of hair blond, dyed her two little sideburns black, shaved her eyebrows and then drew them back on again with thick, perfectly arched black lines. The best accoutrement, though, was her Ouija-Board T-shirt. I spotted her while I was waiting in line for a panel featuring Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane on The Walking Dead. She was way ahead of me and when I got into the room she was waiting in line for the mic to ask him a question—something I wanted to do, but wasn’t brave enough to. She asked how Jon got his start in acting, which is basic enough, but he told this story about how he was a total troublemaker, but had an amazing teacher who changed his life and how now she was really sick, so he was grateful to have the opportunity to share the story. He almost teared up! It was the most genuine, heartfelt response of all of the panels I attended, and this girl is awesome for not only asking the question, but for being so totally herself. —Stephanie