Painting by Dear M. Matisse
We went out to dinner tonight, to a small, really good-food place which serves Whole Catfish on weekends. Chris is inordinately fond of catfish, hence the capitalization above, and one of his favorite “second-hand” meals is the second two of the four smoked catfish he does on the grill every couple of weeks.
He has the first two warm, as they come off the grill, usually with grilled vegetables and some Pink Sauce---the mayo/ketchup/lime juice/sprinkle of S&L, his own alternative to Tartar Sauce.
Then, two nights later, I know what he’s having for supper: the Second Two, ditto Pink Sauce, while I have a quickly-stirred up bit of tuna salad---easy meal; I usually make a quick gratin of something, to offset the cold fish. He also likes it as a salad: the fish removed from the bone, and hand-crumbled into neat bite-sized pieces, then combined with thin-sliced celery and chopped boiled egg, then tossed with a little of the sauce with a bit of horseradish added, for a nice remoulade. Piled onto lettuce on a plate and surrounded with tomato wedges, a bit of lemon, and perhaps some egg quarters, it makes a lovely dish. Just not one I’d care to eat.
Anyway, we got into the restaurant, which is seat-yourself. He stopped in the lobby a moment, while I picked a table right in the corner by the door, and stood waiting. After a moment, I saw the “Reserved” card sitting there, so we went looking for another. There seemed to be nothing left except six-tops, so we went back to a forlorn little table, also by the door, which, though it would seat three, had only one place setting.
He sat at the cover-spot, and I sat down to the bare tablecloth. And I did notice as I looked around as we waited for our person---we didn’t go to eat until perhaps 7:30, and I suppose they had seated all the tables once, and re-set them hurriedly to keep up with the crowd. The tablecloths, even on tables for six and eight, had been tossed on sorta lap-scally all around the room, so that some swayed WAY down into a diner’s lap, whilst their companions across the way were practically eating off the bare boards. Dali would have loved sitting in that room---some tables had that one-corner-uncovered effect of so many modern magazines, and others were bunched up so that the salt and pepper sat sorta sidesaddle.
While we awaited our person, the young woman clearing the next table took our iced-tea orders, and said someone would soon be with us. She brought the tea, and no one ever brought anything else---not one thing, the entire night. It was serve-yourself, so we did, and when we sat down, Chris got up and retrieved me a place setting from the “Reserved” table, which was the only un-populated one in the area.
A young woman scampered up to him. “Is this YOUR table, Sir?” When he said “No,” she walked away, and we could hear her telling another table of diners of our egregious trespass---we distinctly heard the words “silverware” and “Reserved,” as if we'd disturbed the sanctity of some holy altar. When she came back with a fresh cover, she mentioned it again, to SOME MORE PEOPLE, then muttered to herself, three feet from us, for the whole time it took her to lay down napkin, knife, fork, spoon. It was like eating on a second-grade playground.
Y’all, I wished I felt embarrassed, but I hope they knew we weren’t getting any help from anywhere else. We got our salads, we ate; we got our dinner and ate, ( lovely crisp Panko shrimp, home-style snap beans with ham chunks, cooked down LOW, some fresh-steamed broccoli just at its perfect moment) And the used plates and silver and empty glasses just accumulated and sat there. I'm WAY not above clearing my own table, or moving things myself if there's an empty spot nearby, but there was nowhere to put the stuff, and nobody came near us.
When we went to get our dessert (a huge tall pie safe, and you help yourself---tonight there was Karo Pecan, Lemon Chess, and Brownie Pie---You see why we did not take the little bumps in the road too seriously, but then we’re not really complainers, and have never sent anything back, unless it was WAY undercooked)---the dishes still sat there when we returned.
From our little table in Coventry, we watched diners get refills, (We HAD ordered a pitcher of tea, so there WAS that) and eat and get cleared, sit back and converse, then go for a leisurely dessert---we sorta did all the leisure part, but it’s like we were alone in the room. And you know, we really didn’t care about any of it---we were together, we had a good dinner, and aside from getting grumped at and tattled on, we did just fine.
And the kicker: A party of four passed our table, having had their dinner farther back in the room. One of the ladies stopped at the still-pristine “Reserved” table. “Look,” she said, “HERE’S our RESERVED table that they couldn’t find.” And she picked up the little card and walked out with it.
When we finished, we waited in vain for someone to come back into the room full of people---neither the nice lady who got our tea, nor the scoldy one returned, and so Chris went out to the cashier in the lobby, who headed for the kitchen.
We envisioned the scenario to be like this: She asked, “I need the check for Table X---whose table is that?” Everyone disclaimed the poor orphaned thing, so she realized that no one had paid any attention to us, went out to her lobby stand, printed us out a check, and came back, saying, “I’m so sorry; I printed this out for one dinner only---I hope that’s all right.”
And so we accepted it. And we left a dollar on the table---I have no idea which one retrieved it, and I wonder if they even found it, amongst all the dishes---I also wonder if they counted the silver and made sure I'd left the purloined napkin.