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Language Barrier [with a Side of Politically Incorrect]
He was the sort of man who took it upon himself to order for the entire table,
“Yes, to start we’ll have a round of the stuffed clams…to follow, an order of the angel hair pasta for each— light on the sauce. And then, of course, for the main dish, we’ll have the duck.” He was also the sort of man who seemed to get a kick out of ordering extravagant dishes which did not necessarily go well together.
“Anything to drink, sir?”
“Oh yes, of course— a bottle of the House Bordeaux for the table will be fine.” He was the classic sort of man skilled at dismissing a waiter with a simple head turn, without allowing any chance for follow up inquiries.
“Red or white, sir?” Without so much as turning his head, he requested the red, and then continued sharing his thought with the rest of the table; there must be a course where such excessive arrogance is taught.
“But you couldn’t possibly hope to convince me to vote for such a thing. I would die before seeing my country marry that…. kind of people. Or better yet, I’d move to Montpellier. At least in France I’d be able to pour my Bordeaux without activists mixing in their radical ideas and expecting me to enjoy swallowing it all.” Wherever he learned his manners, they must have offered an accelerated course in ignorance, for the highly advanced pupils.
There were so many people in the restaurant that night— doesn’t anyone cook anymore? The waiters could hardly move through the round tables on the main floor, and forget trying to get through to the booths along the walls. There was the old man at the back table who ate a red steak dinner; the meat dripped flavor and fat, and the young woman across from him spent the night picking at a fresh garden salad that had more color in it than any dress she had ever afforded. The young couple— the couple who unabashedly sat on the same side of the booth —shared a plate of stuffed mushroom caps and sipped at a light pink wine. The young blond boy who sat in the chair between his parents (the perfect buffer for a wealth-induced separation) stared at a plate of fish that he had never heard of or tasted before; the two other plates on the table were picked over. And in the corner booth, with a perfect view of the floor and all the hungry people, there was a pair of men sharing a basket of long, buttered bread sticks.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing, I’m trying to listen to that guy over there – the one at the table for four.”
“I don’t know, I just can’t make up my mind…. what do you think?” he thought this might be a fun game to bring back into their dating life. They had played it more when they first met; it eased the tension of the beginning stages of things. They laughed together while they watched him, with his wild gestures and animated eyebrows.
The response came in between laughs, “Honestly, I think I would have said yes right off the bat,” and sips of wine, “but now I’m thinking he just hasn’t gotten any in a really long time—” and more laughter,
“So what— he’s just hitting on the whole room?” he loved beating people to better punch lines. They drank more wine that night than they had in months. Across the room, at the table for four, the master of table etiquette was holding court:
“…and so I simply told them,” he continued, swirling his wine glass under his nose before sipping, “‘No way in hell would I make eyes at a woman three years my senior. I still have the best of my youth, and I refuse to be tied down by a pair of legs wearing out-dated pumps with last season’s hem line.” He was the kind of man who liked to pause between thoughts that he was particularly fond of, as though he were inviting feed back of some nature. He liked to take that pause, and then continue speaking in a way that completely contradicted or had little to do with what he had said originally,
“…okay sure, for argument’s sake, let’s say I am attracted to that kind of woman.” Pause. “Of course not, I would never refer to myself as a homophobe. I don’t think that’s a fair accusation at all.” Another pause, and then, “Of course I respect a woman’s right to choose, all I’m saying is that the woman carrying my child will choose correctly,” one last pause, his hands were in the air, “Waiter, we’re ready for the main course now, thank you.”
Across the room, the two men considered him further,
“I wish we could understand what he’s saying. I hope I never have to work as hard as he is to be heard.”
“Well, you’ll never have to… as long as you only ever talk to me.”
They smiled and found each other’s hands across the table, beside the basket of bread sticks. This was the most intimate they had been in weeks; they always felt more relaxed while eating out, which was now a habit they were trying to break away from to fight their “stress-induced weight gain” (a phrase they had developed a love-hate relationship with since the adoption).
“This was such a good idea.”
“I’m really glad we did this.”
“…you don’t want to call and… check in…do you?”
“No, we really should let this night be about you and me…and us…”
Their hands fell apart as he pulled out his phone and dialed.
The old man with the rare meat broke a sweat climbing out of his chair; he took the young girl by her arm and escorted her past the table of four where the man with all the gestures on the side of his opinions sat. His gaze trailed after the old gentleman, who was sweating grease into the hair of the young girl on his arm. He lost his train of thought as the conversation at the corner booth with the two men and the basket of breadsticks caught his attention for the first time that night,
“We love you, too! We’ll see you when we get home!” It was not a well-received interruption:
“I’m sorry— I’m sorry, is our eating intruding upon your very important phone call?” The man with the degree in manners and wine-sniffing was on his feet, and the room had come to a pause, “We’re trying to enjoy a meal and some quality conversation,” he threw his napkin on the table to pontificate.
In the silence that followed, the young blond boy lifted his thick finger up onto the table and poked at his meal; his parents craned their necks to see the look on the faces of the pair of men with the cell phone pressed between one of each of their ears as they tried to share what was left of their call. The man stood beside his table with his eyes wide open; he looked around the room clearly not understanding why they were all staring at him so fixedly and not at the blatantly rude couple he had been addressing. His eyes locked briefly with the men holding hands at the corner booth, and his eyes fell to the basket of bread sticks. Sweat gathered along the back of his neck. He sank back into his seat and jumped head first back into his discussion of women’s inability to succeed in politics,
“Don’t misunderstand me, of course there’s nothing wrong with women running for office, and of course I wouldn’t be opposed to voting for a skirt— so long as every other man, boy and jack*** were one hundred percent out of the running, that is,” he took a well-deserved pause to laugh and to indulge his thirst with a long sip from his wine glass; he smiled as though the silence were laughing with him. He glanced quickly up over his glass at those who sat nearest to him, and they stared directly back without shame. His words picked up speed and volume, but nothing he said turned away the widened eyes of the onlookers.
“Of course one of the big concerns is about their campaign— I mean what skills do they really have that they can advertize…?” He smiled to himself as he went on, “I can just see it now, ‘Vote for me, men, and get a free, home-cooked—”
“Excuse me sir, but you’ve been sitting here for quite some time now, and our company policy dictates that you please allow us to turn over the table now…If you’d like, we have a smaller table prepared for you along the wall? Thank you, sir for understanding—”
“And thank you, sir, for understanding that my dinner party and I are quite content, thank you, just as we are. If you’re set on cleaning house for the night, I suggest you start with the pair of queers in the corner. I swear they have been coming onto me all night long, and I will be perfectly honest with you—” he took one of those pauses; he was on his feet again and he was slowly spanning the room, taking in all the faces.
“Sir, I am very sorry, but it doesn’t look like anyone is coming to join you anytime soon, so would you please, allow me to…”
The waiter’s voice was transparent in the ears of the man who continued to swirl his wine glass even as he stood in confrontation. His eyes rested once again on the corner booth, and the man with the cell phone smiled at him as though he completely empathized. The smile was warm, sincere even, and the man standing alone in the middle of the floor quickly dropped back into his chair with one hand held tightly beneath the table over his lap. The self-absorbed parents exchanged a sharp glance over their son’s head; the couple sitting on the same side of the booth cried out inappropriately; the man with the cell phone at the corner booth squeezed his date’s hand and looked down at his breadstick.
“No! Of course this has nothing to do with him! I’m not that way! It’s the women. It’s not even about the gays! It’s about keeping the women from ruining everything we could have,” he was yelling down into the empty plate and the empty wine glass that had been in front of him the whole evening,
“Sir, I’m terribly sorry, but I really don’t have any idea what you’re saying. You’re going to have to either: order something and pay for it now, or you’re going to have to leave, thank you.”
There was no response. There was a lot of head shaking, and rocking back and forth, and indefinite muttering as he twisted his fork into the white linen tablecloth.
At the corner booth, trying to keep the mood light, one lover said,
“Alright, alright….I don’t know how you do it— you must have some sort of gift for pegging the crazies—
you’re right every time!” They shared an understanding and a slow sip of wine before he replied,
“That’s not true…I didn’t peg you as crazy until years after we met,” they laughed together once more and then bought dinner for the man who was sitting alone at a table for four, rocking back and forth, and twisting his fork into the white linen table cloth. They watched him receive the meal as it was served to him, and everything they felt came bursting through their eyelashes. The waiter asked why they were bothering to help, and they said,
“It’s terrifying to have a voice that no one understands. Besides, he seemed hungry.” They went home considering what sort of meals they would serve to their growing baby daughter.