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Monday, November 19, 2007

Dining Table Intrigues

I have been accused of being slothful, yes, but I have never been accused of being a glutton. This note may change all that. Food…it’s a wonderful world. A few times a day our minds always turn unflinchingly towards this subject and then we follow through with its directives and next only a few hours later it’s the same beckoning call. My task: By the end of this note to have you starving like Augustus Gloop in a Kroger or at least ready for that Thanksgiving meal.

I’ve been divulging myself in the supple task of becoming a real connoisseur of all that’s sweet and savory on the end of a fork. And my traveling has led me to that fine apex of journeying where a person’s rump is parked in a chair in front of a table….to dine, whole-heartedly on what lies before one’s craving gullet. But food is one component, atmosphere is another that can make or break a dining experience. But few people remember to mention that there is also company. And with my job and habits, it’s very often that I find myself alone in front of a single plate with a whole empty booth staring bleakly across from me. Meanwhile, the room could be loaded with tons and tons of people all with friends, family, lovers, laughter, and cheer to make their rations go down smoother. -Poor ole lonesome me. What to do? Finding yourself in my circumstances you are left with two options. The first option is to adjust your ears towards whatever crowd or couple interests you and then completely eavesdrop on everything they say. I’m serious. This entertainment is greatly enhanced if you try to predict exactly what they are saying by simple observation. People-watching is a luxurious pastime if polished into a craft. And top that off with eavesdropping. You can hear entire conversations of people without them knowing. You’re like a spy without the risk of international torture.
The other option is to focus on the food. Blind out the other senses and just let that sense of taste be foremost and commanding in its artful act of eating. You must take pleasure in something and when you’re all alone, everyone else is having a good time, the music’s bad, your waitress is ugly, then all pleasure goes to that steak that’s about to be cut and that bake potato that’s about to be trounced with black pepper and butter. But sometimes, you don’t need any of these to have an enjoyable time. Sometimes strangers make it for you.

In Dallas recently, I stopped for lunch in what looked like some sort of fish grill. A small place, bustling with people. I walked in and only being one, I was immediately shown to the bar. I was eating when in walks the oldest, cutest little old lady. She climbs up to the bar stool next to mine, perching on it like some sort of triumphant heron and orders her meal. I eavesdrop. I deduce two things from her. A) She’s a regular. B) She’s foreign. She immediately piques my curiosity. Foreigners always do. I like to play this game where I guess the country where they are from. So far in the few things she said, the thick, choking way the consonants sounded pointed to Germany. Probably somewhere in southern Germany like Bavaria. I was confident enough to check my guessings.
“So pardon me asking, but where are you from?”
“Frromm Hhere.”
“Well, I just thought your accent sounded a little different than most Texans.”
“Ahhh! Ffor many years, Ei’ve tried to looze it. Ei moved hhere in 1948. And Ei still haven’t gotten rid of it.”
She sounded a little hard on herself. I think most foreigners are when you recognize that they’re foreign. To them, it’s the same as telling them that they speak bad English. I assured her that she didn’t and we both started talking. I was wrong, but close. She was not from Germany, but from what used to be called Czechoslovakia. She told me that she was a teenager when the Nazi regime took over her country in ‘39. And for those years she was held under the surveillance of the Nazis. But then the Communists took over after ’45 and that’s when things got real bad. She said that the Communists were far worse than the Nazis. (Of course, I take it that she wasn’t Jewish). That the Communists were monsters and that she and her sister had escaped from them. And she has been living in Dallas ever since. We continued talking to each other. She would touch my arm often in a token of grandmotherly communication. I felt this was really sweet. I think that she was probably one of the most interesting strangers that has ever just sat down next to me. I later found that there is an entire Czech community a few hours south of Dallas. I drove there shortly thereafter for my job, all the while thinking about this little old lady.


In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I stopped at a restaurant near my hotel. I walk in and after ordering, the first thing I notice is that several of the workers are Russian. Come to find out, most of the people working in the summer on Myrtle Beach are Russian. I grab my tray and then sit down. All the while eating, I’m locating my bearings. There is this really cute Russian girl walking by. I motion over to her and ask for some napkins or something. And she responds, I say “Speciba Bolshoi” which is “a big thanks” in Russian. Her eyes go wide and we begin talking about Russia. We introduce ourselves with the shake of our hands and a few Russian phrases, and wouldn’t you know, our hands didn’t separate. I made no move to let go of her hand and she made no move to let go of mine. Our eyes were entrancing each other, when a manager came up and apologized to me telling me that “Ludmilla” had to finish working, sweeping the floor and wiping tables. She then left and somehow, I can’t remember how, it was agreed for a certain tryst to be set after they closed. She told me to come in the parking lot behind the restaurant at about 11:30 we where going to talk all about Russia., maybe go for a night walk on the beach, which is my favorite. I walked up to pay for my pizza when the cashier who was also Russian informed me that Ludmilla was going to have to go home tonight after work, that they went clubbing the night before and only got 30 minutes of sleep and that she hasn’t showered or anything. Ludmilla’s bags under the eyes told me that. It would have to be another night. Well, that was the end of any tryst, for the next day I had to drive out of there. But regardless of Ludmilla, that same night I still went for a walk on the beach. And I believe that I’ve given up on the waitress and customer tryst idea for the time being at least, but that still doesn’t stop flirtation.
I’m beginning to see a deviation in my subject matter. I’m talking less about food, and more about women. Oh, well….one must follow one’s appetite.

Once again, just a month or two ago in Dallas, I’m driving around looking for something local. I get so sick of chains. When I see a building with “Wings” written on the top and I think, “That’s exactly what I feel like some wings.” So I walk in, and to my amazement it was basically a Hooter’s restaurant without the name. Girls strutting around in short shorts carrying mugs of beer. What else could I do? It would be rude to just walk right back out. Besides, I felt like some wings. And dad-blame it, I was going to have some wings even if there is a bit of a distraction involved. I was sat down by a pretty Latino hostess with the most vivacious eyes, and I ordered some Teriyaki wings. Wouldn’t it be something that my waitress, a burnette and I get in a long conversation. This time she plops down right in front of me while I’m busy getting Teriyaki on my face. We talk about traveling. She’s loves to travel though the only place she’s ever been are places that party girls go to like Cancun and Cozumel. In my book, not real traveling. Though we do talk about New Orleans, of course, she doesn’t remember much her being drunk and all. The quintessential party girl is really the worst at making any type of conversation. The only thing they know how to talk about is being hammered. It’s almost as though they use catch words like “shots” or “funnel” or “Lagerbaums” and it’s a clue to the recipient of their narrow conversation to understand that they are hip and really “in”, all the while showing the perceptive recipient that they lack any depth in personality and are just like any other conveyor belt party girl that our sick society is mass producing. The depth of their personalities can only go as deep as the shot of tequila pours. And yes, she may have had nice jugs and a fine pair of legs, but her face was quite plain and so was her conversation. In other words, she bored me. Meanwhile, I was looking at the cute little Latino hostess scurrying about the place. After the meal, I was on my way to walk out when this same latino hostess spoke to me telling me that I look like this guy on a movie that she just saw. I’m thinking this could be really good or really bad. She squinted her eyes trying to remember, until finally, “Aha! The guy off Dumb and Dumber. It’s your hair.” I saw that this was the really bad thing. But then she backed up and told me that it was not the original “Dumb and Dumber” but the one when they were younger. Still, I was wounded. However, the ice was broken in our eyeing each other, time to talk to this lady. She was originally from Honduras. -An island of the Honduras coast to be precise. But this one thing fascinated me about her. She didn’t know which sea her island was in. And she had lived there her entire childhood and teen years. It was either the Pacific or the Caribbean. I felt like doing her a great service by finding out for her, so the next person she talks to doesn’t take her for a complete airhead. How could I find out? Easy I just asked her about how well people on her island speak English, take that into account with her fairer skin and reddish curly hair, I told her that she was certainly from the Caribbean for people on that side are more Creole and learn English alongside Spanish. Then I added, that people on the Caribbean side were “fair like that, you know very beautiful people”(emphasizing beautiful while looking at her.) We went on talking. People would enter the restaurant every minute or so and she would say “Wait right here, I’ve got to go sit them down. Don’t go away.” She would grab a stack of menus and go sauntering off to a table. I would just stand there trying not to stare at her caboose as she passed. Eventually, I walked out of there wondering if I should’ve made a stab for another “tryst” (I know this word is out of date, but I love to use it.) Maybe she could show me to one of those Dallas Latino bars she was talking about, and there she could teach me the finer elements of Meringue and Salsa. But my confidence is not so bold. So I walked out content with my wing dinner and their company.

Females and dining experiences…none can eclipse this rather weird situation when a few months ago, my Dad, his wife, and I went to this Crackerbarrel in Pell City, AL. Crackerbarrels are not really known for its good-looking waitresses. Although, their food is par excellence as far as chains go. We were sitting there when our food pops out of the back and they bring those enormous trays with country hams and fried okra and whatever else that is so sweet to the mouth. I made eye contact with one of the waitresses who brought our food. They always bring an entire troop of employees to dish out the entrees. Well, let me clarify that I was in no way checking this waitress out, just a casual observation, when she lingers behind while our food is on our tables, trying to make light conversation. Then she asks a question, the main reason for her lingering.
“Say do you mind if I ask you a weird question?”
If I were a practical person, and not given to complete randomness, I would always answer such a question with “Yes. I hate weird questions! I despise them! abhor them. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it!” while grabbing my throat like I was gagging and that should guard me from what awkward moment’s coming next.
However, I am a random person and derive pleasure from the strangest, weirdest questions, so I said, with a grin, “No. Not at all.”
“Where are you from?”
“That’s not a weird question. That’s quite a normal question. I’m kinda disappointed.” But then I turned it on her, “Why where do I look like I’m from?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m from Alabama. Dothan.”
“Well you look like someone I used to know.”
After that, awkward silence reigned. Maybe the awkward silence was intentional on my part after all we were sitting there our food hot off the grill while she seemed to hover about. But then she asked if I’d ever lived in South Florida. I shook my head a firm negative. Then I said, really intrigued by this conversation and her supposed memory, “Why? I take it that this person whom I remind you of lives there.”
“Yes, he used to. But that was 3 years ago.” She brushed back her hair as though sifting through a painful memory. And then she told us this story.
“I dated this guy about 3 years ago and we had this plan that we were going to run off together. But the night just before we were to run away, he committed suicide. He was involved in drugs and all. You just remind me of him.” Her eyes continued to dig into me. I chill echoed down my spine. At such moments, you really don’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.” Sounds cheap to strangers. I think a resounding “Oh….That’s horrible.” issued out towards her. Some how we managed to get around the awkwardness. And even managed to talk about this guy and her idea to run away. And what she was doing now. She eventually left and we finished eating with what little appetite we had left.
As we were in the store part of the Crackerbarrel, she walks up to me, “Can I ask you a really weird favor?”
“What’s that?”
“Can I have a hug from you?”
I said yes, and then I probably participated in the oddest hug in the history of my existence. She walked away eyes watering. I felt very strange, but very sorry for her. I wonder how much I really looked like that guy, and how much of it is her trapped imagination. This isn’t the first time where I was thought to be someone else. Once in Russia in someone’s past, another time in America in someone’s visionary dream. It’s as though, I have this doppelganger, double, that struts around in people’s memories and dreams doing all kinds of trauma inducing things.

Well, that’s the end. I strayed far away from the idea of food and got more into the land of females. Ah…Men and our appetites.

2 Comments:

Blogger thepriesthood said...

wow, great stories. you're quite the mealtime play-yuh.

4:49 PM  
Anonymous the author said...

Well, when you sometimes go a week without seeing anyone you know, it does something to the way you interact with people. Not to mention with females.

9:26 AM  

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