I always seem to like the idea of taking myself out to lunch so much more than the reality.
Today the waiter asked, Just one for lunch? and I resisted a snotty rejoinder. Instead I murmured, Yes, please. . . outside, I think, and meekly followed him to the patio. I ordered coffee and a veggie burger. I asked for Dijon. He shook his head. “Regular fries okay? Onion rings or garlic fries, for $2 extra?” I stuck with the dish as presented, but hold the mayo, okay to regular mustard.
It came in little packets. I sat with my book and dragged a cold fry through barbecue sauce. The waiter whisked by my table as my coffee cooled and the fries nearly hardened back to their original frozen state.
A woman came from the restaurant and nodded. Good morning, she said. I replied in kind and then added, But isn’t it afternoon? She laughed. I explained that I knew it was after noon because I had hovered by the radio for hours until the AP had called the presidential race and I felt I could venture out into the world.
A good outcome for you? She asked in a voice which suggested that she hoped it was, flashing a thumbs up. I noticed the rainbow pin on her sweater.
Indeed, I answered. And you, too?
She grinned and nodded, two thumbs high in the air, just as another woman came through the door and sat down across from her. They had matching sweaters and identical thin gold bands on their left hands. I turned back to my table for one.
When I had eaten what I could, I asked for the bill. It seemed a bit higher than I expected. I noted the tax, and the exorbitant charge for bad coffee. Then I saw the fifty cents for the side of BBQ sauce.
Nickel and dime, I thought. Plastic fries, oily java, and a surcharge for condiments. And the waiter only brought one refill. What’s the worst thing about the food in the old folk’s home? It’s tasteless. What’s the second worse thing? There’s not enough of it.
I tried to leave the patio directly to the street but the gate would not yield. I asked, Is the gate locked? and the hostess said, We gotta control the flow. I sighed. I told myself, don’t complain, don’t complain, don’t complain, then heard my voice mentioning the distance from table to door through the rat maze of the building. It’s hard for me, as a disabled person, to go that far. I hoped she might unlatch the outside exit.
Sorry you feel that way, hon, she replied, sweeping past me to the kitchen. I spoke out loud, to no one, to the empty space and the shuttered face: It’s not about how I feel, ma’am. It’s about what the law and common decency require. I might as well have been invisible.
Then my cell phone rang. I heard a warm voice say, Hello, Corinne! I decided to call you because I knew you’d be in a good mood today!
And suddenly, I was.
It’s the seventh day of the eighty-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
Dust of Snow
BY ROBERT FROST
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
For Charlie, who likes my bird pictures.