TNS: Once there was a nerdy boy and a nerdy girl…


The captions will make everything clear, because I know that grilled cheese with mashed potatoes does not look like a romantic cliche. Also, do you know how hard it is to find a cookbook with recipes for plain grilled cheese and mashed potatoes?

…who went to high school together in central New Jersey in the early nineties, a time of unfortunate amounts of flannel and hair that was just beginning to make its slow descent from The Great Bang Upheaval of 1986-91.

NB: I am aware that it is not yet Valentine’s Day, but (1) I couldn’t give a dead donkey’s shit about Valentine’s Day and (2) this is February’s First Thursday, and I had to justify the romance of a grilled cheese sandwich.


Russet potatoes, not my ordinary mashing potato but good for a really light and smoothe mash.

Junior year, she sat behind him in Trig with her feet up on the book rack under his desk, bouncing her legs as she is genetically predisposed to do so can you really blame her, annoying the shit out of him while he seethed but said nothing. Senior year, they had Calc together and he mocked her complete inability to manipulate numbers in any way, an inability that continues to this very day when Woman sometimes calls Man at work to help her with percentages. (Girl was never good at percentages.)

Boy and Girl were huge nerds, although in different ways. Boy was a physics geek who wore Nine Inch Nails t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off and read a lot of science fiction while listening to black metal.* Girl was an English nerd who knew the words to every Billy Joel song, even the shitty ones, had seen Les Miserables 5 times and had twenty-seven pairs of Keds in different colors including one pair she had painstakingly covered in sequins (we had to do something to fill the void left by our rapidly deflating hair).

Eventually, although they loathed each others’ tastes in music, they became friends and then kinda maybe sorta started to LIKE like each other.

*Or death metal. Or hardcore. Or grindcore. Girl could never tell them apart. Woman still can’t.


Grilled cheese cannot reach its full potential without bacon.

Senior year Boy, against all conventional wisdom regarding his particular kind of nerd-dom, auditioned for the school play; sometimes Girl would sit in the hallway and watch rehearsals. One day, Boy came out into the hallway and asked Girl to the homecoming dance. Girl distinctly remembers that she was wearing a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt she’d gotten on a trip to Disney World with her dad in 1987, gray sweatpants and a flannel shirt tied around her waist. Also Keds. Don’t ask why she remembers things like this.

Boy and Girl went to the dance and did not care that they looked like goons, Girl being around 5’11” and Boy hitting 5’5″ on a good day. They had a grand old time, and Boy sent many signals that he was interested in girl although he did not make a move because his momma raised him right.


We all know this is how mashed potatoes turn good, we just don’t like to admit it. White stuff = creme fraiche.

The next day, Boy and Girl were on the phone, talking about nothing. Boy still was not making a move, so Girl forced his hand:

Girl: Why haven’t you asked me out yet?

Boy: I’m too nervous.

Girl: But I promise I will say yes.

Boy: So, can’t we just pretend that I already said it?

Girl: No, you have to say it.*

<repeat ad nauseum>

Boy finally asked, and Girl said screw you, wuss.

Kidding! She totally said yes. And that made them Steady Boyfriend and Girlfriend, because that was how things worked in high school.

*Girl had never been asked out before, so this was a critical, non-negotiable point.


Noooo, there’s no butter in here. Just potatoes. Carbohydrates are good for you!

Boy and Girl graduated from high school and spent a blissful summer making out in the back of Boy’s dream car, a black 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon*, getting kicked out of various elementary school and municipal parking lots by the damn cops and their damn flashlights. They fell in love in a deeply nerdy way, the way only 17-year-olds can. When he was too broke to buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, he made a dozen origami roses. (She made him a giant chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart and stole some books she thought he would like from the library where she worked, because her momma had not raised her quite as right.) Sometimes he would bring her lunch at work, salami and cheese sandwiches cut into the shapes of hearts.

It’s a wonder they didn’t make one another nauseous with their own cuteness, the way they do in retrospect.

*I told you, Boy was a geek. That car looked like a Giant leech.


Sandwich assembly line.

When Boy and Girl couldn’t go to their senior prom because it was too expensive ($120? This was suburban New Jersey not Scarsdale, for Christ’s sake.), Boy planned a romantic picnic, driving a blindfolded Girl to a lakeside where he’d laid out a picnic of their favorite 17-year-olds foods – Twizzlers, cheese popcorn, Dairy Queen blizzards made with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter cups – and had a boombox playing classical music.

It was the best prom ever.

I know, I know, vomit.


These sandwiches? Not smeared with butter: smeared with MAYO.

At the end of the summer, Girl went off to college in Chicago while Boy stayed in Jersey. They kept in touch with an exciting new technology called, I believe, the “electronic post,” used primitive forms of online chat and spoke on the phone once a week, being mindful of the cost of long-distance calls (Did I mention the part where they were nerds? Yeah, they were also goody-two shoes.). They sent lots of letters, mostly mushy, some a little blue.*

*Girl is not sure if she’s happy or sad that she got rid of these letters, because they would either be HILARIOUS or painfully cringeworthy.**

**She disposed of them by leaving them in the shoebox on the steps of a high school several towns away from where she’d grown up, both as fodder for humor and a warning signal.


We drank this cider and holy shit: you need to try it. It’s like champagne with a subtle pear nose. SO GOOD.

Then boy dumped girl.

Girl gave Boy back his skull necklace, Boy returned girl’s stuffed penguin.

The end.


We used our new panini press for the sandwiches.

Boy and Girl didn’t speak for 5 years and moved off in different directions. Boy started dating a new girl, a girl who Girl heard, through the grapevine, looked just like Girl but shorter (not that Girl is suggesting anything). Girl had a painfully dysfunctional, emotionally unsatisfying pseudo-unrelationship with one of Boy’s best friends. Boy stayed in Jersey, finished college, got a job. Girl couldn’t make up her mind, went to grad school in Cambridge, went to law school in New York.

Girl would frequently drive down to Jersey from Boston or New York to see mutual friends – which often included Boy – get drunk and play Magic: The Gathering (see above re: GIANT FRICKING NERDS). At first, Boy and Girl go out of their way not to speak to one another. Then they start grudgingly acknowledging one another’s presences. Once night, after a particularly stimulating evening of Magic: The Gathering, they stay up all night talking. Then they spend a day in the city together. They go to a Celtic festival in Pennsylvania to watch oversized men throw heavy logs end-over-end (otherwise known as the “caber toss,” for those not up on the ancient Hibernian sports).*

Boy and Girl start to realize that in the years they’ve spent apart, they’ve somehow grown – although independently of one another – in the same direction. They have the same politics, the same values. There is something there other than the intense desire to make out in the back of a Ford Taurus station wagon. although that also remains.

As they’re hanging out one night, sitting side by side, Boy puts his hand on the small of Girl’s back. Girl leans back against the gentle pressure of Boy’s hand.

And suddenly, like in high school, Boy and Girl are a couple.

*Again, GIANT nerds. HUGE. To emphasize: neither Boy nor Girl are remotely Irish.

Two months later Boy and Girl, now technically Man and Woman, move in together. Man is terrified of Woman’s father, who was still somewhat bitter about the dumping of his daughter and turns up the intimidation level to 11*, but they manage to make it work. (Father grudgingkly comes around when Man moves Woman’s heavy furniture out of her fourth-floor walk-up, sparing Father from having to do it). Man and Woman have no plans to marry, just to live happily ever after.

One day a month or two later, Man and Woman are in Cambridge, visiting some of Woman’s friends who are still in school there. They’re wandering through some shops and stop to look at some plain silver bands. They decide that although they don’t want to marry, they’d like to make a firmer commitment to one another. They buy the inexpensive bands.

Man and Woman head to a now-defunct restaurant called Johnny’s Luncheonette on Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Central Square, which Woman is still angry has been closed. Over Johnny’s most excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes – Man and Woman REALLY love sandwiches** – they exchange rings. Two little old blue-haired ladies are sitting in the next booth eating cereal, and Man and Woman pledge to become elderly people who order cereal in restaurants together.

Eventually, despite Woman’s philosophical and political objections to the institution of marriage, Man and Woman get married in a blatant exploitation of heterosexual privilege – Woman had had cancer, and needed better doctors than those available at her law school’s shitty healthcare center. But they don’t really count it, and both know that the real moment of commitment was over those damn sandwiches.

And now it’s seven years later, and a grilled cheese sandwich will never just be a grilled cheese sandwich again.

The end.

*And his natural 5 was like a normal person’s 10. God, I miss that crazy son of a bitch.

**Man slightly more so than Woman; he actually has a little song that he sings while assembling sandwiches. It’s really cute. You should hear it sometime.

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY: Super Bowl Day Potstickers

0 thoughts on “TNS: Once there was a nerdy boy and a nerdy girl…

  1. this is really really cute… in a sickening-but-i-like-it-anyway way. like cake batter.
    also: re-hooking up over a “particularly stimulating evening of Magic”… SO SO NERDY LOL. but i totally have had those really nerdy hook up moments.

  2. Pingback: Pages tagged "grudging"

  3. Clearly I am also a huge dork because I think that’s awfully sweet and romantic and I’m sighing a little on the inside.

    Also, your husband sounds a lot like my bf, at least from this basic description. “Boy was a physics geek who wore Nine Inch Nails t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off and read a lot of science fiction while listening to black metal.” – that was J in high school too (at least to hear him tell it, I didn’t know him then), and still basically is, though he’s traded in the NIN shirts for intentionally-gaudy work shirts. And he also has a fanatical devotion to sandwiches and has a making-a-sandwich song (which has the same basic melody as his waiting-for-water-to-boil song and mixing-a-drink song). I don’t really get it, but it makes me laugh.

    I don’t care what anyone says, dorky guys are the best. :-p

  4. …loverly and cute!

    I had a lovely beta-black-bordered 5-color highlander (except for lands) back in the old days. It totally rocked.
    I long ago got rid of all my M:TG cards except that I still have an original Arabian Nights “City In a Bottle” card I carefully preserve (long story).

    And of course mashed ‘taters and grilled cheese sandwiches are ultimate comfort food.

    I remember Johnny’s well, I had not realized it had closed, but I’ve been living away from there for years now. What *I* really miss is F&T Deli in Kendall, it just tore out a little piece of my heart when it went away.

  5. Wait, it’s not Valentine’s Day yet, is it? Oh well, I guess romance is allowed on OTHER days of the year, no matter what Hallmark might tell us.

    Oh, and the old love letters? WOuld be cringe-worthy. Trust me.

  6. Delurking to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with loving Celtic fests. I just want to put that out there.

    I missed out on the high school romances of that nature, since I moved to a new school almost every year of my educational life, but it looks like you guys are making the most out of what you have, so yay that it’s out there, being enjoyed by someone.

  7. That was incredibly sweet, in a perfectly balanced, not at all saccharine way.

    And I think Girl might be me, only about 2″ taller. (It was the Billy Joel and Les Mis)

  8. SO CUTE!! Awwww.

    Incidentally, should you ever be near Cleveland, I hear there is a bitching place that makes amazing grilled cheese sandwiches with a huge selection of beer — apparently it’s called Melt.

  9. dana, i think you’re about 14 years too late with the pogs.

    jesi, yes, it was, and i REVEL in the nerdiness.

    erica, somehow, although he works in an office, he still gets to wear t-shirts to work. damn government job.

    also, i think he has a barbeque song, and also an applying-dry-rub-to-a-pork-but song. like your bf, i think they’re all pretty much the same, but that doesn’t make them any less cute.

    fuzzy, now you too have revealed your total dorkitude.

    we were in cambridge a year or two ago and tried to go to johnny’s to relive the magic. it was closed for reno and some thai joint was moving in. so we went to bartley’s instead (which is a fine trade-off).

    kristin, yeah, i know. but i can’t help but think they would be funny to read drunkenly at a party. and then set them on fire.

    (post edited to reveal current whereabouts of said letters)

    anna, well, you could also have beer. which we didn’t have then, but we do now.

    kristina, i will not lie: i think caber tosses are a fricking BLAST.

    lisa, trillian, jesse and shannon, i’m glad you liked it. i honestly didn’t know if anyone would give two craps about it.

    claudia, you know what? we are. if my crazy hasn’t made him run screaming for the hills by now, i think we’re gonna make it.

    kat, i try never to be near cleveland, but i will keep that in mind. there was actually a similar place – also called melt – about 5 blocks from my apartment, but it folded a year or two back. it was a sad, sad day for me.

  10. Great story, well told!

    That’s funny, though–my husband and I sealed the deal over sandwiches too. Must be something about stuffed bread (leer).

    Ours were banh mi, and we were just eating them on the way to city hall so I could be his fake-y “domestic partner” for insurance purposes, but then about halfway through the sandwiches, we got all serious-feeling. When we got married later (again at city hall), we got more banh mi. I never did get a ring out of it, though…

  11. carolyn, aw. jeez. in a good way, i hope. or else i’ve done something terribly wrong here.

    KG, glad to have contributed to your office time theft! here’s to diminished productivity!

    zora, i feel the sandwich love.

    we also got married by a judge. i was working for him at the time, so our immediately families came down to the courthouse and sat in the jury box while we stood in front of the judge’s bench at god married. we used the same silver rings. (which, actually, neither of us wears anymore).

    kerry s*, you don’t need a sweet story to crave grilled cheese and bacon for breakfast.

    vera, come back!

  12. Good God, I’m tearing up. I got pre-engaged over a Chicago style pie in Evanston this New Years, to my very own geeky boy (man). Congrats! And the food? Looks awesome!

  13. I know that is the first time I have ever teared up over grilled cheese and mashed potatoes!

    and my next grilled cheese will have bacon and mayo as a tribute. :) (and because it sounds delicious!)

  14. Stumbled over here yesterday. love it. Got “married” in front of our stove. At least someone else made your wedding food.

  15. Grilled cheese sandwiches save the day every time. Nothing else for lunch. Grilled cheese. Need a quick dinner? Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Six-year-old doesn’t want cereal for breakfast? Grilled cheese.

    Great story by the way. Geek boys are the best. I’ve got my own.

  16. This may very well be one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read. It beats the heck out of fiction, which never includes grilled cheese sandwiches and mashed potatoes.

  17. Very cute, very romantic. Magic:The Gathering huh? My hubby used to play that with his Little Brother when he did Big Brothers, while we were dating. We would make Boboli pizzas (do they still make those?) while compiling fantasy baseball stats from Baseball Weekly (yes – nerds here too)

  18. We don’t have any romantic food stories unless you count bleeding chicken or undercooked turkey. And neither will make repeat appearances.

  19. I really loved your story! And *sigh*, I hope some day my nerd will come (sing along, everyone).

    (By the way, I’m so glad that Jamie is gone. But couldn’t they have gotten rid of Leah also? Tom so wanted Leah gone!)

  20. This is my first comment, but I’ve been a reader for a few weeks now (thanks to the Bloggie awards for showing me the wonderfulness* that is TNS!!!) Love this post, love it love it love it. Thank you for putting a huge smile on my face (and making me laugh out loud at my desk a couple times too :)
    *is that a word?

  21. Thanks for sharing your terrific story, from one nerd to another. Also, I really appreciate you characterizing your legal marriage as “a blantant exploitation of heterosexual privelege.” I suspect I’m not the only non-heterosexual TNS fan who’s pleased to know you recognize it as such! Do keep up the fine work.

  22. god, y’all are keeping me BUSY trying to stay on top of this. that’s the last time you’re getting a personal story out of me.

    kay, evanston is where i was when i got dumped! so you can guess where i was, it rhymes with schmorthwestern. it’s the circle of life. congrats on locating your geek!

    jlhpisces, then you aren’t eating enough REALLY GOOD grilled cheese sandwiches. they make me tear up all the time. also, i would never have thought you could fry (or would want to fry) grilled cheese in mayo, but it is totally good.

    su-lin, the nerds will inherit the earth, isn’t that what the good book says? although maybe when it says “earth” it means “world of warcraft.” (which i feel i must state i DO NOT play).

    wkf, welcome, and congrats on your appliance-centric nuptials.

    robin, i might have another for dinner tonight, just because i can. although we’re out of bacon…bummer.

    aldyth, have i mentioned how much i like your username? well, i do. and i agree that too much contemporary fiction these days lacks sandwiches as a central plot device.

    ts, shuuuuuuuucks.

    erika, [secret confession] sometimes we still play, and have sucked neighbors into playing as well.

    also, i have a fantasy tour de france cycling team.

    tanis, ever? come now, have you never seen the princess bride?

    kate, ew.

    sara, everyone’s got a nerd – or more than one – out there somewhere. (and HELLS YEAH about leah. can’t believe colicchio didn’t win that fight.)

    cassandra, yay for mushy stories drawing commenters out of the woodwork! glad you found me, glad you like it!

    arthur, anytime. also, let me clarify that statement: “the blatant privilege afforded to couples made up of one man and one woman, regardless of their actual sexual orientations.” because i’m not actually heterosexual, which is part of why we just didn’t get married in the first place. i’m more a B or a Q, though if i weren’t with my sandwich-nerd i’d be a plain ol’ L. frankly, as wonderful as my relationship is – and it IS – my radical feminist self is still peeved. if we had universal health insurance, i’d be in a plain simple sandwich-commitment relationship.

    well, that was more than i was planning to share with the internet, but there you go.

  23. I wonder, did Johnny’s Luncheonnette move to Newton? I work in Newton Center and there is a diner of that name there. I went once; bit of a letdown, but it was packed, so maybe I just didn’t order the right thing.

    ANYWAY that’s a sweet story and you two deserve to spend the rest of your lives in nerdy bliss, eating sandwiches.

  24. Wow – a trip in the way back machine! Sounds so similar to my high school days. I still remember the way my bangs looked on my first day of freshman year. They were an odd combination of curled and sprayed yet deflated. And, I’m certainly a nerd too … I -still- play Magic. = )

  25. I’m having visions of you with big hair and a purple dress, must have been Homecoming. Here’s a flashback…it was junior year, they met over the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, girl was wearing a white and black sweater with Laural and Hardy on the front, Levi’s and work boots. She loved those boots. Math boy was all prepped out in Clarks that his dad made him wear and and a nifty crew neck sweater. We still eat Kraft Mac and Cheese with hot dogs on every wedding anniversary.

  26. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » February First Thursday: Romance my ass. No really, woo it.

  27. The caber toss is hot, for sure, but I personally love the sheep herding. It’s my whole want-a-dog-but-can’t-have-one thing. And the music. God, I love the music. And the dancing!

    Anyway. Good to know there are others out there.

  28. Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton remains, though they did close the Cambridge location. You should really go there for more grilled cheese sandwiches. Instead of Mashed Potatoes, though, go for the Sweet Potato Fries! They have the best.

  29. camille, see stephanie’s comment below, it is the same place. the grilled cheese is killer and she’s totally right – the sweet potato fries are awesome.

    holly, i try never to think of my hair from 1988-1995. it was a tragic period for many of us.

    dear people who think it’s “cute” to post high school photos on facebook: it is NOT CUTE. those pictures do not see the light of day. not enough time has passed.

    eatingclub, excellent.

    kerry w, y’all are almost as cute as we are. almost.

    damn feed subscriber and kqb, thanks! sadly, that’s the most interesting story i have.

    karen, gracias, and +1 on the SP fries, so good.

    kristina, you can have my herding dog, because i’m tired of having my knees whacked so i’ll so where he wants (an old english – he herds by bumping, not with border collie lazer eyes).

    stephanie, we’re so there the next time we’re ’round boston way. last time we were in cambridge we tried to go to relive the magic and were SO bummed to find it closed.

  30. I too miss Johnny’s, which closed around my sophomore year, which means it also closed before my hub started (yeah, we’re both Crimson alums, oh well). But we did meet doing Gilbert and Sullivan, because Nerdy Boys and Nerdy Girls rule.

    And eat grilled cheese with mashed potatoes. This looks awesome. :)

  31. This is what I love about Valentine’s D–err.. season? Whatev. It’s not the conventional mushy Hallmark crap, it’s these other stories — the good ones and the bad ones. (Dude, have you read those ‘restaurant marriage proposals gone horribly wrong’? http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/feb/11/restaurants-valentines-proposals)

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this story! I don’t comment very often (I’m sorry, I’ll try harder!), but your blog rarely fails to make me laugh aloud. Sometimes it’s those short, sharp barks of laughter that would be really annoying if I were in, say, the library… let’s call them ‘shouts of utter amusement’.

    Nerd love is always the best.

  32. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Tight Ass Tuesday: Old Skool

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s