The last place I expected to be hit on was a poster session. I mean, it’s a conference where people bring three-foot long glossy posters and explain their research to passerby. Which was exactly what I was doing: giving elevator pitches to all that dared make eye contact with me. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I had just finished an internship at my lab, studying social isolation on the schizophrenia spectrum, and I had three notecards and a poster to show for it. I spent most of my time talking to the girl next to me, with brief interruptions when someone showed interest in either one of our posters. Towards the end of my session, a boy approached me. He glanced at the title and saw my mentor’s name on it, (let’s just say it’s Patrick Pancakes for simplicity’s sake) and smirked.
“Hmm…” he said as he approached me, “is that the Patrick Pancakes from the English department I see on your poster?”
To answer his question, we’re going to have to back up a little. You see, at the beginning of my sophomore year, I took a fiction writing course with a professor named Patrick Pancakes. Around the same time, I found out that a lab that studied psychosis was looking for undergraduate research assistants, and I applied. Coincidentally, the professor running the lab was also named Patrick Pancakes. I got the lab position, and bam! There were two Patrick Pancakes in my life and my inbox. As the year went on, I continued to work in the lab and ended up taking another class with Patrick Pancakes from the English department. I will be working with both Patrick Pancakes in the fall as well. My life and resume are indeed pretty confusing.
But back to the question.
“This is the Patrick Pancakes from the psychology department,” I told the boy. “But I know who you’re talking about, because I’ve taken classes with the Patrick Pancakes from the English Department, and I’ll be taking another one in the fall.”
“I took a class with Patrick from the English department,” said the boy, who apparently was on a first-name basis with Patrick. “He calls me Waffle Boy because I wrote a story from the point of view of a frozen waffle, and nobody knew that it was about it a waffle.”
“Wait a second,” I said, “I know you. Patrick told us about you.” I said this in part because I had a vague memory of this, but also to subtly assert that I too was on a first-name basis with Patrick from the English Department.
“Do remember how I did it, then?” asked the boy, whom we will refer to solely as Waffleboi for the remainder of the story.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He just mentioned it in passing that some kid wrote a story about a waffle and no one knew it was about a waffle.” In truth, I had been in Patrick’s advanced fiction writing course, and Patrick enjoyed making fun of his intro students with us. But I didn’t say that to Waffleboi, and instead I listened to him drivel on and on about how the waffle in his story was sad and lonely in the freezer for four pages, and then ended up in the toaster, but nobody understood that the protagonist was a waffle because he never explicitly identified him as one.
“Of course it was mostly just a sad story,” I remember him saying, “because it was written by me.” I assume he was trying to interest me in his profundity.
It didn’t work.
Over time, the girl at the next poster over joined our conversation, and expressed her surprise that there were two Patrick Pancakes at the same university and that I knew both of them. And as the three of us were standing there, chatting away, I started to have a growing suspicion that Waffleboi was flirting with me.
Unsure of how to proceed, I started talking even more to the girl next to me, to display that I talked to everyone exactly how I was talking to him, and that he should not assume I’m flirting. Eventually, he nodded to me, told me he was displaying his poster in the next session, and would be “honored” if I stopped by. I told him politely that I would and secretly planned to stay a ten foot radius away from his poster. If I could have, I would have just gone home as soon as my time at the poster session was up, but sadly my program required that I stay at the session the entire time to get my research stipend, including the hour that I was not presenting. So I would just have to go the avoidance route.
It was more difficult than I could have imagined. For one thing, most of the posters were crammed into tiny little rooms, and they were packed with people. Scanning a room was next to impossible. It was as I was leaving one poster that I heard my name being called through the crowd, and when I turned around, I was face to face with Waffleboi, his poster, and four of his friends. I greeted him and stood at his before him, resigned to listen to his speech. “So, what’s your shtick?” I asked, to get him talking faster so I could leave sooner.
“This,” he said, holding up a bottle of fish oil capsules, “is fish oil.” Everyone nodded knowingly. “It helps prevent cardiovascular disease.”
I bit my tongue and remembered a study I had just happened to read the day prior claiming that replicated studies had not achieved similar results and that fish oil was no longer viewed as important to heart health by most doctors.
Meanwhile, Waffleboi was yammering on about the placement of a protein on the lipid bilayer in our intestines that they thought might absorb fish oil. I nodded and wondered when he would be done cracking bad jokes and running his mouth. “Interesting,” I had told him once he had finished.
“That’s some great work, man,” said one of his friends, who was standing next to me. “Bring it in, man.” The friend extended his hand and they bro-hugged, shaking hands and hugging. Then, Waffleboi turned towards me and offered his hand. One might assume, as I did, that Waffleboi was not going to hug a girl he’d met thirty minutes ago, and instead would simply shake hands with her and let her go on her merry way.
That is not what Waffleboi did. Instead, he shook my hand, and went in for the hug. I gave him the quickest, coldest hug in the history of hugs and promptly retreated. There was no doubt; Waffleboi was into me, and I was not into Waffleboi. As I wandered about the displays of posters, I mistakenly believed that I had just experienced my final interaction with Waffleboi. Besides, he knew where I was. He was stuck at his poster for the rest of the session, right?
It was as I was texting my brother (who also happened to be my ride home) about when we were leaving that Waffleboi popped up again. I still don’t know a) how he found me, or b) why he wasn’t at his poster, but he spotted me regardless, and immediately, in true Waffleboi fashion, began yammering on about Waffleboi things. I mostly ignored him and kept texting my brother.
“What are you doing?” he asked, peeking at my phone screen, “texting your boyfriend and ignoring me?”
There were two correct answers to this question. Correct answer number one was yes. Correct answer number two was, “Nope, I’m a lesbian.” Both lies would have succeeded in deterring Waffleboi (or so I hope).
Instead, I said, “Uh, what? No, I’m texting my brother.” As soon as the words fell out of my mouth, I regretted them. Waffleboi nodded and went back to his poster, deep in thought. I, on the other hand, considered throwing myself out the window. Flexiglass might be the only reason I am still among the living.
Eventually, I saw my friend Patel, and I stood and hung out with her until the session ended and we could all take our posters and go home. As the event coordinator stood by the exit with her microphone and made her final remarks, I saw him in my peripheral vision: Waffleboi.
I silently cursed the flexiglass and eyed the door. As we were dismissed, Waffleboi started talking to me again.
Waffleboi talks a lot.
“You’ve got a lot on your hands there,” he noted as I juggled a purse, a backpack, a water bottle, and three-foot long poster.
“I’ve got it,” I said. To say that I was being short with him at this point would be an understatement. But Waffleboi persevered. He mentioned that he was headed to the science building. So was everyone, really. When we reached the fork in the sidewalk, there was a flock of business-casual clad college students going towards the science building, and absolutely no one going the other way.
“Well,” I said, “I’m going this way,” and headed instead towards the campus center.
“You know what?” Waffleboi asked, rhetorically, “I don’t like following the crowd.” And instead, he followed me.
He was quite lucky that there was no dramatic incline from which to fling myself from. I said nothing, and suddenly it was quiet. Waffleboi was nervous. We walked together, quietly, and if I let my hair fall over the side of my face in just the right way, I couldn’t see him, and it almost felt like he wasn’t there. It was sort of nice.
“Well,” Waffleboi said, chickening out, “I’m going to go this way now,” and promptly did a 180 and left. My heart soared. I could taste the freedom. The burden that was Waffleboi was lifted, and I felt light, like I was made out of air. The afternoon sun shone brighter. The birds sang of my victory from the campus treetops.
Then, behind me, I heard footsteps. I glanced back and it was none other than Waffleboi himself.
“Hey, Anna, do you wanna go out on a date sometime?” he asked.
“No thank you,” I told him. He hung his head and stuck out his lower lip. “Have a nice day,” I added, and then briskly walked the long way to the science building, and wondered quietly to myself if being stalked was a normal part of the poster session experience.
But what about you? Have you ever been sort-of stalked at a poster session? Did you ever have two professors with the same name? Comment down below and let me know. If you blinked while reading this, like this article and follow my lovely blog. Or don’t. I’m not your mom or whatever.