When I was in college, I would fly between the West and East Coasts through Canada. My father’s family is Canadian and they would give us money for Christmas, birthdays, etc. The exchange rate was so crappy that my dad kept the money in Canada and would use it to buy me plane tickets. So I would fly Portland-Vancouver BC-Toronto-Syracuse. During my travels, I would have long layovers, say three hours in Toronto. I would fill the time by eating a meal in a restaurant.
It was fairly traumatic for me, I can’t stand to eat alone. I would have a book or a magazine or a crossword to help get me through the ordeal. I have been convinced since I was a child that I am the center of attention so obviously I don’t like sitting alone and eating with everyone staring at me.Which brings me to last night.
My sister Molly and her husband Sebastian are in Portland this weekend. We made plans earlier in the week to have dinner with my brother at Mother’s. I made reservations for four people at 6:30. Molly, Sebastian and John met at the University Club at 5:30 for a drink and I planned to meet them at the restaurant at 6:30. I was the first to arrive at Mother’s. The hostess showed me to a table by the window. I sat on the banquette against the window so I could look out at all the happy diners, as well as the passersby out on the sidewalk. I left my cell phone at home charging, which is a rather liberating feeling.
I sat alone at the table.
The busboy brought four waters to the table and said, “You’re all by yourself?” Yes, I’m waiting for my family to join me. “I’d hang out with you if I didn’t have to work.” A generous offer and pitying smile from the busboy. The waiter comes over, “May I get you a drink while you’re waiting?” Oh no, that’s fine! I’ll order one when they get here. Another busboy brings a white linen-lined basket of fluffy rolls with a bowl of butter.
Time for the diet portion of my blog: I didn’t have any of the rolls.
Waitstaff is now studiously avoiding eye contact with me. I can’t read the menu because I left my reading glasses at home. Dum dee doo. Just sitting here alone at a table for four without reading material. Turning my head every time a car stops in front of the restaurant. Nope, I don’t know those people. I summon the waiter to ask what time it is. He pulls his phone from his back pocket and says, “6:50”. What?! “What time were they supposed to meet you?” 6:30. I had to tell him that I was waiting for my siblings because being stood up by family seems so much better than being stood up by whoever he’s imagining; cool people who have decided I’m not that cool so they are blowing off dinner with me.
I continue to wait, knowing my neighboring diners are uncomfortable with my presence alone at a table for four. I begin to tap my fingers on the arm rest. I’m pissed now. I tear up for a moment but that’s silly so I stop. I know this is my brother’s fault, somehow, I know he is behind my wait. The tension is mounting, everyone feels it. Customers are averting their eyes. Telling their children not to look at the lone woman diner. The hum of the collective mutterings grows louder.
“Why is she still sitting there?”
“Why isn’t she pretending to read the menu?’
“Where is her cell phone?”
“She even wore a dress!”
“I don’t think her roots are that bad.”
Old women are weeping and rending their garments at the sight of Maggie sitting alone at a table for four. Babies are crying. People can’t eat, they stare at their plates in despair not wanting to see the lonely woman at the table for four. A police car is circling the block sensing there is trouble inside Mother’s Bistro. The situation is clearly spiraling out of control, a sense of panic has taken over the restaurant. There seems no way to avoid the senseless tragedy of the woman having to return to her empty life of solitude, where no friends will come sit with her at her table for four.
Oh! wait! She is talking to the waiter who hands her his cell phone. It’s going to be okay, she does have someone to call!
John answers his phone and I have to admire his chutzpah for attempting to turn the tables on me. “Where are you?!” I’m here at the restaurant waiting for you. “Where is your phone?!” I don’t have it. “Why don’t you have your phone?!” John, where are you? “Well we’ve had a ‘situation’ here?” Oh really, what ‘situation’ is that, I ask. Knowing full well that the situation is that John loves cocktails. Molly is quite punctual and I’m sure is annoyed with the men for not leaving the club to come for dinner. Sebastian has foolishly decided that if John’s doing it, it must be okay. Rule of thumb: if John is doing it, it is most likely a bad idea. I lower my voice and say, “John. I. Am. FURIOUS.” He assured me they would arrive in ten minutes. That voice scares him.
I returned the waiter’s phone to him and ordered a tureen of Pinot Gris to relax me so I wouldn’t punch my brother in the face upon his arrival.
When they finally arrived, there was much rejoicing. “Look! The woman alone at the table for four actually does know three other people and they are going to sit with her. We can order dessert now!”