You people with your blooming onions, your volcano bowls, your various meats on sticks.  

I see you in there. You’re cracking jokes with the waitress, hitting her with soaring one-liners such as, “My name is Bob and I’ll be your customer tonight!” 

You’re buttering bread, negotiating over side dishes, ordering a fifth refill of chips and salsa. You’ve got the drink menu in one hand, your phone in the other and a napkin tucked into your shirt because you’re sure it will amuse the waitress – surely she’s never seen THAT one before. 

Around the table, your dinner mates are agonizing over their menus. Has anyone tried the prime rib? How are the quesadillas? Does the tuna melt come with French fries and if so, are they straight or crinkle cut? 

You put down your phone just long enough to say something meaningful to one of your dinner mates, but just then the waitress is back to refill your water glasses. You forget what you were saying at once because when the waitress is near, you’ve got to get back into character and unleash more of those hilarious one-liners on her. She loves this stuff, you’re sure of it. You have her so charmed, she’ll let you get away with side dish substitutions although it’s clearly prohibited. 

The room sings with the sword-fight sounds of forks, spoons and knives clanging together, an accompaniment to the ceaseless, muttering buzz of conversation from three dozen tables. Occasionally there comes uproarious laughter from a raucous group of diners or the unhappy wail of a screaming baby. Chances are good that at some point, a squadron of waiters will gather around a table to sing happy birthday to some red-faced schmuck who looks like he might throw up his fish taco from sheer embarrassment. 

“Glad it ain’t MY birthday,” you’ll mutter through a mouthful of bread. 

Eventually, your waitress will come back with her little pad and paper. Everyone at the table is ready to offer up their orders, but then your floundering cousin Louis starts having a last-minute panic attack about his decisions. Does he really want the pasta fagioli? What does he really know about fagioli, anyway? Maybe the minestrone would be a safer bet. He has no idea what’s in minestrone, but it sure is fun to say.

So, the waitress wanders off, her notepad still virginal, while Louis gets his act together. Everyone has tired of trying to talk over the clamor so they all go back to their salsa-smeared phones.

Sooner or later, food will come and the food will be good. Or it will be bad. Or it will be somewhere in between and you’ll spend the rest of your dining experience poking at your entree while sneaking peaks at the food on nearby tables. Gosh, that guy’s roast lamb looks good and are those crinkle-cut fries he has on the side? You bonehead, why did you go with the chicken frittata when there was lamb to be had? What the hell IS a frittata, anyway? And why did you get peas with it instead of fries? 

Diner’s remorse is rampant around your table – poor Louis looks near suicidal after giving in to the siren song of the fagioli – and a gloomy mood falls over the group. The gloom is not eased any when the waitress returns to ask how you’d like to take the check. All together? Or separately?  

It’s a conundrum, all right. You were feeling generous when you first came in, but now you’re having second thoughts. Do you really want to take on an equal split when all you got was a stupid frittata and some limp peas? Separate checks would be swell. Better yet, maybe you could slip off to the restroom to powder your nose while the others work out the payment plan. 

But ah, God has a way of punishing weasels like you. While you’re in the little boy’s room skipping out on the check, your hand will ever so slightly brush up against a faucet and that’s all she wrote. You’ve contracted some kind of ultra mutated super flu and . . . well, I hope you enjoyed that frittata because you’re going to see it again in about an hour. Enjoy, ya deadbeat. 

And that’s your meal. And all of this noise about your dining experience was just my windy way of telling you my sad, sad truth: I don’t like eating in restaurants. 

There. I’ve said it. Can you ever look at me the same way again? As far as I know, I’m the only person in the world over the age of 2 who doesn’t like dining in restaurants. I don’t like it any time, but I ESPECIALLY don’t like it when an important talk is at hand, or when I’m meeting someone for the first time. 

I’ll never understand why people prefer to get acquainted with one another in a setting where much of what you do involves cramming food into your mouth and wiping stuff off your chin. First impressions mean a lot, bro, and one misplaced shred of spinach can forever alter a stranger’s perception of you. Do you really want to propose to your lady love with bits of corned beef hash stuck to the corners of your mouth? 

Going out for drinks? That I perfectly understand. One can be slick and suave when all he has to do is take occasional sips from a glass and enjoy the uninhibiting glow that follows. You can be Cary Grant cool if all you have to manage is a tumbler of good bourbon and maybe one of those tiny umbrella things. Add endless rounds of food to the mix and Cary Grant becomes Jim Carrey – there’s no way you’re getting a second date, Jim, with the crusted remains of that New England fried shrimp all up in your beard like that. 

When I go to a restaurant, I feel trapped: trapped by the strangers around me, trapped by the five-page menu and trapped by the endless questions of the waitress. Baked or mashed? Medium or rare? Grated or crushed? Al dente or al… — the opposite of that? I mean, come on, yo. Is this dinner or a sobriety test? 

And then, when you finally make it through the dinner menu gauntlet, they’ll come back with fresh pads and start asking you about desserts. Straight or a la mode? Fudge or brownie style? With sliced strawberries or without? Permanent or henna? 

Whenever those options start flying, I expect that sooner or later, they’re going to transition into hard questions about war plans and underworld things, because clearly this is a trained interrogator hovering over my table. 

“We know you are working with the resistance,” the waitress will say, untucking her apron to reveal the .45 stuffed into her belt. “So, I’ll ask you one more time. Will you be having linguine this evening? Or penne? Do choose wisely, my friend.” 

Why, oh why didn’t I just order the minestrone!


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