Tag Archives: food

A party of one isn’t much of a party

man eating alone at restaurantIt’s inadvisable to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day if you don’t have a date.

Common sense, you say? A nugget of knowledge so blatantly obvious that it need not be spoken?

Perhaps. But unfortunately, I speak from experience.

Unattached and dateless — and working at a new job in a new town — I decided one evening to check out the local dining scene. I’d been living on my own cooking for nearly three weeks, so I was undernourished and ravenous for edible fare.

The inspiration struck on a Tuesday in February. After work I went home, spruced up, and wandered across the highway to a Mexican restaurant in a neighboring shopping center.

A waitress greeted me with a large smile. “Are you meeting someone, sir?”

“No,” I said. “Just me.”

“Oh.” Her face fell, and her upper lip started quivering. “Yes, well … I’m so sorry. Please, follow me.”

She grabbed a single menu and scurried through the restaurant, keeping her gaze on the floor. I followed, feeling perplexed. I’d eaten here alone twice before. Why was the waitress acting so squeamish?

As we wormed through the restaurant, I noticed candlelights on all the tables. And there were no families or children; only couples sitting across from each other, some holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes.

I passed one booth, and I noticed a man fastening a silver bracelet around his date’s wrist. She was smiling as the diamonds sparkled orange from the dim dining-room light.

Now, I’m not the most observant person. I don’t connect the dots in a given situation as easily as, say, Columbo or Matlock.

But walking past the patrons, I started to piece together a series of what should have been obvious clues:

Happy couples. Candlelit dinners. Glittering jewelry. A Tuesday evening in early February.

Oh no, I thought, as the realization struck. It’s Valentine’s Day. 

I’d completely forgotten. As a freewheeling bachelor subsisting on Swanson TV dinners and Grey Goose vodka, Valentine’s Day wasn’t exactly a holiday I had circled on my calendar.

My cheeks flushed as the waitress continued to guide me to my table. She led me to a booth in the middle of the restaurant, in full sight of all the other patrons — which is exactly where you want to be when you’re eating out alone on Valentine’s Day.

I swore she sniffed as she set down the menu. “I’ll be back for you drink order, sir.”

“Please,” I said. “And I suspect you’ll be making a few return trips. Keep them coming.”

I glanced around the restaurant, then gazed down at the table. A candle flickered before me. I resisted the temptation to blow it out.

For the first fifteen minutes, my aloneness wasn’t so obvious. I imagine the other diners suspected my date was running late. In my head, I could hear the unsolicited advice of a nonexistent bystander:

“Oh, you know how women can be, son. They have to doll themselves up before a big date. Romantic evenings like these are very special to them. I wouldn’t worry — I’m sure she’ll be here in no time.” 

But once twenty minutes came and went — and my aloneness became more apparent — the surreptitious stares started coming. Discrete glimpses pierced me like pinpricks. Sideways gazes stabbed me like lightsabers.

One woman even stared at me with a hand held to her mouth, as if I were a two-legged dog dragging its haunches across the floor.

I read and re-read the menu. It was as if I was lounging on the beach with a page-turning novel. It’s amazing how fascinating entree descriptions can become when you’re awkward and uncomfortable, and you have no one else to talk to.

But then when the waitress took my order and whisked the menu away, I was left with nothing but the saltshaker to capture my attention. Individual grains beaded from the lid.

So I took out my iPhone and set it on the table. I scrolled through the headlines on Google, but didn’t really read them. I’d look up every now and then just in time to catch another patron looking away.

And when my dinner came and I started picking at my food — still sitting there, alone — I could almost hear a collective shudder escape from the crowd. It was like the live audience on a sitcom when the main character experiences a moment of anguish.

On this most joyful and romantic of holidays, everyone’s heart was breaking — and it was all my fault.

I swallowed some refried beans, but couldn’t taste them. It was like gnawing on a mouthful of mush.

I was tempted to rise, clink my fork against a glass, and make a quick speech:

“Can I get your attention, please? Folks, I know how this must look. But I assure you, I’m not a hapless loser who’s been stood up — or worse, didn’t have a date to begin with. I genuinely forgot about the holiday. I swear. See, I just moved to town and started a new job, so my entire focus has been on settling in and adjusting. It’s not like I couldn’t get a date if I tried. I mean, once I’m settled and get everything unpacked, I intend to renew my eHarmony subscription and hit the local dating scene hard. Aside from the untrimmed goatee and hair that needs cutting, I have a lot of desirable traits. I’m passionate. I like long walks on the beach. My ideal Friday evening would be cuddling on the couch with my lover, watching a romantic comedy. So please, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m just as much dedicated to the pursuit of soulful intimacy as the rest of you. My quixotic yearnings run just as deep. My heart, too, burns for the passionate embrace of a loving kindred spirit, with whom I’d promise to share the rest of my life.”

Instead, I flagged the waitress. “Excuse me. Can I get a box?”

“A box, sir?” she asked.

“Yes — and the check. As quickly as possible, please.”

I scooped up my dinner and scurried out of the restaurant like a mouse running along a wall. Returning home, my one-bedroom hovel never looked so cozy and inviting.

I turned on the latest episode of Top Chef and finished the remains of my Valentine’s Day dinner. In the privacy of my apartment, it tasted delicious — especially when washed down with a generous glassful of Grey Goose.

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A side order of drama at the drive-through window 

hamburger with pickles, lettuce and melted cheese

Huh. I don’t remember asking for sarcasm or attitude with my order.

I pulled up to the drive-through window to order lunch.

The speaker clicked, then gushed out a stream of static and crackling.

“Excuse me?” I asked, leaning my head out the window.

The speaker hissed, then shrieked with a horrible feedback-like squeal. I jumped back, holding my ear.

“Mumble mumble mumble,” said the speaker.

I sucked in a breath, leaning out of my window uncertainly. “Hello?”

“Mumble,” the speaker said.

“Hello?” I said again.

“Can I get your order!” screamed a young woman’s voice from the speaker.

Startled, I jumped, my head hitting the roof.

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing my head and wincing. “Just a second. I got to read the menu.”

The car behind me honked. “Come on, pal!” a guy screamed.

I perused the glass-enclosed menu that stood in a large stand alongside the speaker. “OK. I think I know what I want.”

“Mumble,” the speaker said.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“I wasn’t talking to you!” the young woman’s voice screamed, followed by a stream of hissing.

“Sorry,” I said. “Can I get a chicken sandwich with mustard instead of mayonnaise and no tomato, with a side of large fries and a medium root beer?”

“Can I get your order!” screamed the young woman’s voice. Keep reading…

I scream, you scream — we scream at each other about ice cream

ice cream man

One is Breyer’s ice cream and one is Dreyer’s. Can you tell which is which? (Because I sure can’t.)

Earlier today, I went grocery shopping for my friend, Vanessa. As I carried the sacks into the apartment, setting them on the kitchen floor, Vanessa unloaded them and put things away.

“Uh oh,” she said, as I carried the last bag inside, closing the door behind me. She was standing in the kitchen, the refrigerator door wide open.

“What’s that?” I asked, trudging into the kitchen.

“Did you follow the list I made for you?” she asked, frowning at a carton in her hand.

“Of course I followed the list,” I said. “I always follow the list.”

“So you’re aware that my lists are detailed and specific and denote exactly what to buy?” Vanessa asked.

“Exactly. And that’s why I follow them to the letter. I know I’m not allowed to think for myself when I’m grocery shopping. That’s why you always give me a list.”

“I don’t think you followed the list,” Vanessa said, extending her arm. She was holding a container of ice cream.

“Ice cream was on the list!” I said. “I remember that specifically, because it was one of the last items I bought. I didn’t want it to melt in this heat.”

“But what kind of ice cream did I specify?” Vanessa asked. “Do you remember?”

“Of course I remember. It was vanilla.”

“Not the variety. The brand. What brand of ice cream did I specify on the list?”

I frowned. “I … I don’t recall that you specified a brand.”

“Yes I did,” Vanessa said. “And this is not the ice cream I requested.” Keep reading…

The unexpected humor potential of gut-friendly microflora

I came up with the most awesome joke the other day. And like all the best-known one-liners, it involved probiotics:

Gut-Friendly Microflora

“I like to take probiotics and antibiotics at the same time and let them duke it out in my stomach.” 

Great stuff, right? Excellent execution, amazing creativity — the kind of joke that will inscribe my name in the granite slab of time. (Although I’d much prefer to remain unlisted, to avoid telemarketers.)

I congratulated myself on a job well done. This hard work and deep thinking not only would earn me a spot on the mantle of immortality, but perhaps also a couple of re-Tweets on Twitter. All was right with the world.

But then I was watching an old Steven Wright routine, and he told a joke that goes:

“I like to put a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and let them duke it out.”

My jaw dropped open. Even without the bacterial subtext, I could clearly recognize my joke. Obviously, this jerk had stolen it! And he’d done so by traveling back in time 25 years and performing it in the 1980s, when I was only a child.

It might sound far-fetched, but if you’re familiar with Steven Wright, you’d agree it’s something he might do.

So now I can’t tell my awesome probiotics joke, because people would accuse me of rehashing, if not outright copying. So there went my one chance of landing a writing gig on the Tonight Show — as well as getting any re-Tweets on Twitter.

But there’s a silver lining amidst all this sadness. Even though my gut-busting joke is ruined, I still take probiotics to aid my digestion.

And that’s no laughing matter. (Unless, of course, I take them with beans and sit in a confined space. In that event, the term “gut-busting” takes on a more appropriate — and illustrative —  usage.)

Regardless of Jamie Lee Curtis’s claims to regularity, I’m still not sold on the science behind probiotics. (And no offense to Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s that she’s an actress, and those Hollywood stars can feign a wide range of emotions — including the glee that comes from healthy digestion and satisfying elimination.)

So I turned to the one source I trust for all my medial advice. And because the Internet was out and WebMD was unavailable, I asked my doctor instead if probiotics are really all they’re cracked up to be.

“Mmm, dunno,” he said, shrugging. “I guess they, like, can’t hurt you, and stuff? I mean, if you want to take them, go ahead.”

Sage advice. And it demonstrates how twelve years of medical school can instill a mere mortal with a dazzling array of breathtaking knowledge. Never before had I heard such a lively and passionate dissertation on the crucial role nutrition plays in physical well-being. Here was a man who poured his heart and soul into his profession, keeping pace with the latest medical research and obsessively seeking out new and more potent remedies for even the most destructive of human afflictions. I shed a tear of gratitude as I left the examining room, pausing to genuflect at the halo-encircled medical degree hanging on the wall.

“God bless you, good sir,” I said, sniffing. “God bless you.”

And I touched my chest, tracing my fingertips across the tender space in my heart.

Actually, upon a second look, I realized that tender spot was in my stomach. And when I pressed it, a pocket of air soared through my intestines and blew out my behind, resulting in a trombone-like exhibition of lip-fluttering flatulence.

“Damn gas,” I said, groaning. “Must be the beans I had last night.”

And so I popped a probiotic and wandered into the distance, fading into the horizon like the gleaming rays of the late-afternoon sun — and the dissipating stench of an odiferous, seam-bursting gas emission.