Table for One
Like being fitted for braces or getting trapped in a crowded elevator during a blackout, eating alone can be unexpectedly romantic. There I was, at the corner table in a downtown bistro. Across from me was an empty chair waiting patiently, expectantly for some handsome stranger to come along and ask if it was taken.
He’ll have to repeat himself, I thought, because I’ll be entirely absorbed in my novel.
I removed “Franny and Zooey” from my bag and arbitrarily flipped to the middle of the book.
“The word is ‘washcloth,’ not ‘washrag,’ and all I want, God damn it, Bessie, is to be left alone in this bathroom. That’s my one simple desire. If I’d wanted this place to fill up with every fat Irish rose that passes by —”
This was too much to take on an empty stomach. I scanned the room. Not very promising. Largely geriatric. I was beginning to think an early dinner was a mistake.
“One bison burger! Extra mayonnaise!” shrieked an enthused waiter.
I tried to look surprised, as if it had been a mistake, as if I had, in fact, ordered a salad, dressing on the side please, but was willing, for the waiter’s sake, to graciously accept this burger instead.
It was at this moment that my gaze landed on a couple I had somehow overlooked, seated at the table across from mine. A date? Definitely a date. I looked down at my burger, fatty oils dribbling slowly from the patty, pooling on the plate.
But wait. Did I just catch him checking me out? It was hard to tell, as most of his face was obscured by the woman sitting across from him, her back to me. I turned a few pages in my book before looking up again. Sure enough, as I panned over their table, my eyes met his. Well, one of his eyes, that is, over the shoulder of his — yep, definitely his girlfriend — they were holding hands now. What a prick.
Then again, his date seemed too self-absorbed to even notice. She was rambling now, monologue-ing. I noticed she was wearing dangling seashell earrings. I straightened up and delicately blotted at my grease mustache, trying my best at exuding some sort of mysterious Parisian allure.
He took notice — our eyes met again.
He had a faraway look in his eye. Who is she? That intriguing woman, so boldly devouring her bison burger with extra mayonnaise, I imagined him thinking to himself.
“I’ll be right back,” I heard his date say as she made to leave the table. This was it, this was the moment. As the girl strode off in the direction of the restroom, I let my gaze casually travel over to —
Jesus — No! No, no, no!
The eye was still trained on me, but it was alone, veering off wildly from it’s more focused partner.
It had been the lazy eye all along.
Defeated and ashamed, I signaled for the check. Suddenly the nautical scarf I had so jauntily tied around my throat seemed ridiculous. I checked myself in the window. A reflection not unlike Fred from Scooby Doo stared flatly back at me. Outside a man arranged flowers at a bodega.
Sometimes it is very hard to hold a stranger’s full attention.