Bigger ain’t always better

I was 12 years old when I went with Jasmine Lowell from my 8th grade class to see The Princess Bride, and I knew right away that I was in trouble. We watched young Wesley scale cliffs, brave the fire swamp, and battle Prince Humperdink’s army to gallantly win back his true love Buttercup. As we trudged out of the theater into the bright, echoing bustle of Briarwood Mall, my offer to treat her to pizza and arcade games with the 10 extra bucks my dad had slipped me seemed feeble and demeaning. How could I compete with Cary Elwes’ dashing looks and winsome bravado? I had pinned a few garter snakes and mice in my parents’ house over the years, but I was certainly no match for any Rodents of Unusual Size. What was I to do?

I tussled with my feelings of inferiority while we roamed from store to store.My crush on Jasmine was dizzying; she was the prettiest girl in school, and I prayed under my breath to be given the opportunity to hold her hand.I knew that I had to do whatever it took, and I vowed to find a way to impress her and win her love.

Halloween was approaching, and the drugstores and candy shops were overflowing with piles of trick-or-treating ammunition.We bought a bag of peanut butter cups and downed them one by one as we meandered through the mall’s gleaming corridors toward the arcade.Exiting one of the big department stores several hundred feet away, I noticed that the arcade seemed bigger.Upon our arrival we discovered that they had indeed undergone a recent expansion.Set apart from the main room, which housed classics like Asteroids and Moon Patrol, was an atrium with an assortment of carny games, complete with prizes.We ambled past shooting games and ring tosses, tests of strength and one where you could win a goldfish by tossing a ping-pong ball into its jar.

As we came to the end of the line, Jasmine gasped. Hanging among the prizes over the last game was a pink Bangles t-shirt with a picture of the group walking like Egyptians. The Bangles were her favorite band; I knew I had found my way into her heart. The challenge was to knock down a stack of six small milk bottles with a fist-sized heavy rubber ball. Each throw cost one dollar. I couldn’t have been more pleased; I was the reigning pitcher of the year in my youth baseball league. I could send the bottles flying on the first pitch, prove my worth to Jasmine, and still have three bucks left for Double Dragon and Missile Command.

Alas, it was not to be. My first throw hit the bottles squarely, but they didn’t budge. My second throw dislodged the topmost bottle from the pile, but the others remained standing. Rattled and tense, my third throw sailed left and missed completely. After laying out my last dollar bill, I channeled all of my strength and hurled my fourth throw as hard as I could. It hit the mark and the pile swayed precariously for a gut-wrenching moment before stabilizing with a resounding clunk. Taking pity on me, the guy behind the counter even gave me a free extra throw, but to no avail. Dejected, we left the arcade to find a payphone so she could call her mom.

The disappointment I perceived on Jasmine’s face was heartbreaking. I promised her that I would win the shirt for her the next time we came back, but I doubted there would ever be a next time. I sank into a gloomy malaise, certain that she would never talk to me again and that my chance to hold her hand had entirely evaporated.

While we waited outside together for her mom to pick her up, I absentmindedly gazed at the long forgotten bag of candy dangling from my hand. Amidst the wrappers and crumbs sat one lone peanut butter cup, begging to be eaten. As her mom’s station wagon came rumbling up to the door, I offered it to her.

“It’s the last one,” I said.

She looked at the candy, and then looked at me. Maybe I expected her to turn it down, or even to throw it on the ground and stomp on it. Instead she was mysteriously smiling. Then, inexplicably, she leaned over and kissed my cheek.

“That’s so nice of you!” she said as she took the peanut butter cup and stood. “I had a great time today. Call me!” And the next thing I knew she was driving away…

Nineteen years, many dates, and countless blockbusters later, I’m still not sure what I’ve gotta do to win a girl’s affection. But what I have learned is that while gifts and gallantry make people feel special, it’s the small, sweet, everyday gestures that make us feel loved.

Author by Davy Rothbart