Saturday, November 15, 2008

Shipwrecked In a South Side Diner

This is a looong 'un... written entirely while I was waiting tonight. Who says one can't be productive with nothing to do? Feel free to skip to the material for short attention spans below this post if you like.

I have dined alone at a restaurant before, though usually by my own choice. I have been lucky enough to say (minimal though my dating history may be) that I have never been stood up. Tonight, however, I must admit that this is precisely what’s happened. The embarrassing truth is that tonight, I was stood up by an eighty-three year old woman.

I’ve discussed Pat, the woman I call my “pseudo-grandma” on this site before. Having first been introduced when my mother worked at the law firm at which I was later employed, Pat took a shine to me and she and I see plays, operas, the odd night at the symphony. She’s one of the few people I can count on to always be up for something “cultural”. During the fall, we have season tickets to The Court Theater, located on campus of University of Chicago. Nice digs, indeed. We usually meet for dinner before the show, and we decided to try someplace new.

Earlier this week we had planned on meeting at Orly’s, a restaurant recommended by the theater at 6 pm. I arrive a few minutes late, and I am enthusiastically greeted by a short, round host with a very heavy, yet unplaceable accent. As I’m being seated, I take in the odd d├ęcor- garish murals depicting a range of themes: mainly centering on tex-mex, baking and barbecue. I also have seen enough to realize I am the sole patron of the place tonight. Being a new restaurant to our repertoire, I realize Pat must be late.

I’m starting to grow a little bored, so I begin texting a friend to pass the time, a captain’s log of sorts: “Pseudo-grandma is late. I’m the only one in the restaurant. I feel like I’m a castaway on a desert island, with the locals staring at me.”

I sit, and while I eat a dry, but warm cornbread muffin, I jovially explain to the host and my server that someone will soon be joining me. After fifteen minutes, I try calling Pat. Her cell phone is off, which is not unusual- at eighty-three, she detests the thing and it gives an unholy squeal in her hearing aids that I can usually hear across the table.

Dressed as I am in my theater finery, and experiencing an atypically fantastic hair day (an ode to the power of hemp oil shampoo!), it is natural for my attendants at the restaurant to assume that I am waiting on a date. My waiter asks “Is he running late?” to which I respond with an inadvertently cryptic “She.” My waiter gives me a double take that I don’t immediately understand. As he walks away, it dawns on my why he looked at me with somewhat unflattering surprise.

“Captain’s Log: 15 minutes and waiting. The natives are friendly, and have brought me sustenance. Through a possible error in comprehension, my waiter could possibly think I’m a lesbian.” Due to a few low-toned and completely distressing comments to me about how he wouldn’t ignore a girl that looks as good as I do, I make no effort to dissuade him of this notion.

I order chips and guacamole. The guacamole is pre-made and still frozen and the chips are stale. I continue to eat them, partly because I want to look like I have purpose in the restaurant, and partly because the idle wait staff is standing right by me… staring. With only me to attend to, I am experiencing a bit more attention from the wait staff than I’d like, particularly while I am waiting longer and longer for an individual who is clearly not going to show.

“Captain’s Log: 30 minutes and waiting. The natives are now looking at me with pity. They appear to question whether I had a dining partner at all. Indeed… at this point, so do I. Did I create pseudo-grandma as some deserted dining mirage??” I try Pat’s cell phone several more times, each time going straight to voicemail. While I wait, the music, a generic piano concerto that isn’t quite Muzak and isn’t quite worth listening to repeats three times. My waiter, waggling his eyebrows in a suggestive manner, asks me if he thinks my date isn’t going to show. I decide to finally set the record straight, but trying to explain my relationship with Pat is difficult, and I end up babbling non-sensically to the guy. As I look at the bemused expression in his eyes, I realize I am giving him far more information than he cared to know, and probably asserting in his mind that I have gotten stood up by a date and I am now trying to save face. I should have just told him she was my grandmother.

Forty minutes in, and I am genuinely worried about Pat. The woman does more in a day than a Marine, and stays up later than any 21 year old I know, but she is in her eighties and driving in from the suburbs. I know from personal experience that driving with Pat is a singularly terrifying ordeal, and I begin to worry that she has gotten in an accident. I decide to call her house number, which she answers. She has forgotten the play.

“Captain’s Log: 40 minutes and final entry. It’s official, I have been stood up by an 83 year old woman. I shall never leave the dining island. There is no hope!!” I finally break down and order ribs, and from my waiter’s smug expression as I hang up the phone, I know that he is certain that I have been stood up. As he delivers my ribs, he says in a quiet voice that shows that he is hoping his boss won’t hear “you look too good to leave alone tonight!” Wide-eyed, horrified, I use my best defense mechanism for when someone (sadly, anyone) shows interest in me; I laugh far too loud, and pretend I don’t understand him until he walks away. I choke down my ribs as fast as I can manage, which is difficult, because they can only be described as a boiled shoe covered in ketchup and cherry jam.

I ended up paying $35 for my crap dinner tonight, a wholly wasted experience. I did meet Pat at the play, which was like the CLIF notes version of MacBeth. The best thing I can say about tonight is that it ended quickly. And that I still have amazing hair.

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