Adventures With Paradise

  

It was supposed to be a quiet evening dinner – just me, myself and I – Epicurious at a local food trough. But, the gods of Saturn had other plans for this mortal this Saturday.

Living alone I typically stay home at night. I make my own dinner and eat by myself, dribbling on clothes I know are predestined for the laundry.  But yesterday, a beautiful sun bathed Saturday, I decided to head out of the house for a meal in early evening.  This restaurant visit would be the first time I would have a dinner meal out in well over two years. Saturday breakfast at the Copper Fox is usually my big meal out.

At the Fox I down a repast big enough to choke a horse – eggs over easy, sausage, potatoes and multi-grain toast all drowned in black coffee. At that point having been sated for the rest of the week I then just eat simple throw-together meals.  But last night was different.  I was twitching to get out of the house.  I wanted to cool my ever-burning jets and pay for someone else to make me a meal. And, my serendipity was showing.

So I gussied up.  With some Ann Taylor hugging my bones and a smacking smudge of lipstick I headed out my apartment door and to my car.  Pulling out of the driveway the sun, heading in the opposite direction, shot a ray of reflected light onto my face from the rear view mirror.  I winced and thought, “This will have to do.  I can’t grow another.” I drove over to the next town.  There I knew I would find some restaurants that still served something beyond over-sized plates of Tex-mex carbohydrates with giant big gulps to wash it all down.

Once downtown I parked my car near the hundred-twenty year old county court-house and began to stroll down the makeshift-quaint First Avenue.  As I had learned this suburban hamlet became historic in one day.  All this happened when the city council decided it was time for their town to clone an Immigrant History.  This is verifiable.  The false histrionics I mean.

I once met the town’s historian (a full-time position in this small town!) at a bar about five years ago. While drinking down his bitters, gin and sweet vermouth he told me the whole spiel – the town wanted to appear folksy so it came up with an embellished history – two actual immigrant families who arrived in America from Sweden and who made their home in this town many years ago would come to define the town’s heritage.  With this little tinge of history the town councilmen whitewashed the town hoping to attract crowds to its festivals, art shows and local businesses. Voila!  A smorgasbord of fantasy folklore was created to charm the out-of-towners.

I was reminded of this as I walked past the town’s ‘historical’ center.  I continued to walk along the brick-paved street past the faux-historical showcase of facades.  Everywhere I looked there were gaggles of doe-eyed arm-in-arm couples taking advantage of the romantic spectacle that is this revisionist-town.

I walked by several restaurants, none of them appealing to my appetite, none of them worthy of my ‘thrill-of-the-moment’ twenty-bucks.

I walked on past the New-Age Gem store and its wafting cloud of incense. I passed Mama’s Gratto, a patio padded with doting couples – men doting their Miller Lites and women doting their chilled chards, both poking at a plate of shared antipasto.

I skimmed past the darkened window of Kwasimodo Sushi. Silhouettes stood out above the counter.  I passed the ever-strumming ever-piped mariachi music of the Mexican restaurant and crossed the street looking both ways for food, my stomach now on high alert.

There it was directly across the street – a new restaurant right on the corner.  An Italian wood-burning oven restaurant.  I walked over to the front door .  The menu was posted on a side window.  Inside the doorway stood a sidewalk sign offering “Special – Baked Oysters.”  This caught my attention.  The last time I had baked oysters was during a New Orleans Madri-Gras week that should never be remembered. ‘Nawlins food though, my palette can never forget, is delectable.  So in a trance-like state I ventured inside hoping to create a little culinary heaven for about one hour. Instead what I received was purgatory, a purgatory inducing purge-atory.

(Did I mention I live alone?  There is a reason for that.  I remain single because of George Bush. I went through a divorce while he was president. This is why I eat alone every night.  This is why I never hear Dream Weaver while I’m showering. This is why I don’t eat my Italian Wedding soup looking at some dreamy-eyed Spaniard whose thirst for life is matched only by his roaring appetite for friends to enable him. And besides this, there aren’t many real men anymore.  I don’t mean macho. I mean real as in solid stainless steel, not Formica veneer.  We have Formica veneer in the White House right now but I live alone because of George Bush.)

As I entered the restaurant I saw a throng of waitresses standing at the end of the bar.  Dressed in black from head to toe the girls were all in their early twenties.  The manager appeared to be giving them their instructions for the evening.  I waited at the door but there was no response from the crew so I sought a small table along a wall. I sat down on the long bench that ran the length of that wall. I sat facing the room.  From there I could see that there were only three patrons in the restaurant, myself and two young women.  A handful of diners were outside on the patio. It was just after five o’clock in the afternoon.

A waitress broke free from the meeting.  She welcomed me as she handed me a menu.  I ordered a Stella. When she came back with the drink I ordered the baked oysters.

I sat in the extremely chilled room and watched the crew scurry around the bar and in and out of the patio door. I wondered if flies would take advantage of the open invite. After a short while an older couple, a grandfather and grandmother, came in with three of their very young grandkids. They were shown a table along the wall, one table away from me. I sipped my cold beer trying to warm up.

Soon a young couple entered the restaurant.  They had brought with them their four daughters.  The daughters looked to be all under the age of ten.  This family was seated right next to me along the wall – the four girls sat on the same bench seat.  I soon learned that the youngest girl did not want to be there. She was adamant in her disapproval.

“Muh-maaaaa.”  Muh-maaaaa.” The youngest one whined repeatedly, “I don’t want to be here.  I don’t want to be here.” as she crawled from the bench to her father and then to her mother and then back to the bench. I was hoping my food would arrive soon.  I was quickly becoming de-romanticized about my evening out.  The Minestrone Moderne had morphed into Kinder-Kare.

With four children of my own, all now grown, I had brought my own kids to a restaurant early in the evening just like these parents had so as to not disturb the other patrons. But that was years ago and I had forgotten about the family hours.

My baked oysters arrived after thirty minutes.  They must have been fresh.  The half-dozen looked just dandy sprinkled with bread crumbs, Asiago cheese and some chopped herbs and shallots.  But as you know oysters are not eaten in the most delicate of ways.  So right then I wanted to be home – alone with the mollusks and far from the madding crowd

After downing the first oyster in the door walks another young couple with kids.  Guess where they were seated.  Yep.  On my left side.

To my left and to my right were antsy children, antsy children all wanting to go home or to go to MacDonald’s for supper.  Both sets of parents and the grandparents eager for a Saturday night on the town ordered wine.  Ah, the memories of wine’s sedative affects amidst the wails of youth’s discontent.

It certainly seemed odd to me that the three families with children were seated alongside me as the whole restaurant lay open.  But then it clicked.  I would naturally sit where parents of young children would sit on an early Saturday night. A lot of wine had passed under the bridge.

I finished my dinner, gulping down oysters five and six as fast I could with swigs of Stella.  When I was through I pushed the plate of disgorged oyster shells forward and almost off the edge of the table. I was hoping to get the waitress’ attention.  No such luck.  It would be another fifteen minutes before she would make her appearance at the kitchen doorway.  By now my stomach and head were both reeling from parenting’s noble strife.

When the waitress finally arrived she asked me if there was anything else I needed. I shook my head “No.”  I didn’t think they would have ear plugs on the desert menu and I didn’t want to ask for a bucket, either.

The check arrived after another curious disappearance.  I pulled out a wad of dollar bills hoping for enough cash so that I didn’t have to wait on her again.  I was in luck.

I set the bill folder down with the cash tucked inside. I looked around for my waitress but she was nowhere to be found again.  I grabbed my purse and headed out the door.  Ah. I heaved a sigh of relief as the warm summer air decompressed my thoughts.

Retracing my steps through Ersatz village I found my car and drove home.  Thinking that my parenthood had lost large quantities of its patience along the way I vowed that I would never go out for dinner again at night when the young and the restless were about. At least not until I become a grandparent and retrace my steps while sipping wine.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

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