(Indignation, indigestion, invisible women: could this be love?)
Every day, thousands of people walk up to me and ask, “How d…”
Okay, that’s not entirely true.
Often, people will walk up to me and a…
Okay, that’s not true, either.
Once, a guy I know asked me, “How do you find stuff to write about every week?”
True story. And it’s a fair question, too, because people who know me know that I don’t do anything. I don’t like crowds. I hate flying. I like a book, an album, a warm fire, some Mexican food. If I could get Mexican food delivered, I’d never leave my house.
But occasionally, I’ll put on the minimally-acceptable number of socially-required pieces of clothing necessary to go to a store, or to a concert, or to get some Mexican food. Or I’ll pop out to visit with friends, who will inevitably ask me, “How do you find stuff to write about every week?” Or I’ll motor away to spend some quality time with my parents, who will inevitably ask me to “please take some of this fruit home.”
At my parents’ home, in the town where I (more or less) grew up, there are always boxes and crates and cartons of fresh fruit. I don’t know why that is, but they seem quite comfortable constantly navigating between pallets of grapefruit and tangelos, so I don’t ask. Plus, there’s practically zero chance of my parents ever getting scurvy.
Anyway, during a recent trip to visit them, I went out to eat with my parents. It was a mild mid-December early evening, a lovely occasion to visit a nice restaurant, and the three of us were to be joined by my cousin, Amber.
Amber, my cousin, is a good man and a good friend, and his name is not Amber. Calling a normal, healthy man “Amber” is, I’ve discovered, one of the singular advantages to writing fiction, though it carries the unfortunate side-effect that relatives may block your incoming phone calls. It may also explain why I don’t get out much.
Maybe that’s what’s up with all the fruit. Perhaps my parents have convinced themselves that my condition could be cured, if conscientiously attacked by enough citrus.
But back here in our story about dinner, let’s peek forward in time a bit, to the shank of the evening. It will surprise no one to hear that, for dinner on this evening, I angled toward anything at all that was Mexican, or Tex-Mex, or just simply hot. A blackened tuna steak, a mango and pepper salsa, garlic potatoes, a brimming bowl of black beans and onions. Ticket stamped. Barry happy.
And what happened after the meal may surprise no one, either, but it sure surprised me.
The four of us, there at table, were doing what all Americans do at nice restaurants, in that awkward limbo period that oscillates between the food being consumed, and the plates being gathered and cleared away. And so, as we each idly drew little rambling circles in our plates with our forks, our waiter, Lolita, approached and addressed me, directly.
“Sir, may I ask you a question?”
My eyes narrowed. I was trying to remember where I’d parked, and if I might ever have met the waiter’s mom. “No. Or. Yes, I mean. Yes. What?”
“How were the black beans?”
In my little single guy skull, little warning gastro-klaxons fired, re-fired, and fired again. I stared at the waiter. Amber stared at my parents. My parents stared at the remaining black beans.
“Uh, um.” I bartered for time. “Fine, they, uh. Fine. Why, um, would, why. Why, why would you ask?”
“Oh, nothing. Cook asked me to ask. New on the menu, I guess.”
“Should I wor…”
Our waiter torpedoed for the kitchen.
“Well, that was odd,” I began, trying to initiate a quick, empathic, internal-organ roll call. “Normally, you don’t ge…” I paused, noting the approach of a smiling shift manager.
“Hi folks! Hope you’re enjoying your meal with us! Just wondering … how were the black beans?”
And people ask me how I find stuff to write about every week.
Anyway, back to the evening’s pre-shank.
Amber was running a bit late, so my parents and I had ourselves seated at a nice four-top, with a nice view of the inevitable wall-mounted coats-of-arms and the federally-mandated restaurant aquarium. Shortly, we were approached by what I could only assume was our waiter’s child.
Man, I’m getting old. The waiter – I’ll call him “Lolita” – looked to be about twelve minutes shy of a massive puberty outbreak.
“Hello, gentlemen,” chirped Lolita. “My name’s Lolita, at least in this story, and I’ll be your waiter-or-waitress tonight. Can I start you gentlemen off with something from the bar?” Lolita then whipped out a stubby crayon and wrote his or her name, backwards and upside-down, which was a pretty cool trick for a girl whose voice hadn’t even changed yet.
Suddenly, it dawned on Lolita that my mother was at table, too, which is a handy discovery for a waiter to make. Step one: count the guests. Step two: spell “a t i l o L” upside-down with a crayon.
Clever of her or him to notice.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see you there.”
“Perhaps the pencil was in the way,” I quipped, virtually guaranteeing myself top billing in my mother’s future estate planning.
Lolita took note of our drink requests, then nodded at the empty seat next to me. “Do you know what she’d like to drink?”
“Lolita, I don’t, in fact, know what she’d like to drink,” I admitted. “To be honest, I didn’t even know that he was a she.”
Lolita, now totally discombobulated, turned smartly on his heel, and she beat a retreat to the safety of the kitchen, or perhaps to either one public bathroom or the other.
Poor kid. Wait till Amber shows up, and Lolita discovers I’m dating my cousin.