Thursday, November 02, 2006

dining out

Okay, so Bryan's parents came over last night to watch the kids so Bryan and I could eat dinner like adults at Cafe Steinhof before his Miller's Farm gig. Hamish fell apart as we were leaving, saying, "I want to go with you!" which caught me off guard since usually whenever his Grammom and Pop are around he can't knock us out of his way fast enough to get to them. But he'd missed his nap, and so I pried his little fingers off my face and bolted for the car. A night out was to be had! He would live.

So we get there and see that the only spot available is squished up beside a table occupied by this guy I used to, uh, "date" back in college, and his wife. Now I see him everywhere—a dozen years ago he called the post-production company where I worked as a receptionist, he wanted to talk to one of my higher ups but when I told him who I was he asked me out for a drink, despite the fact that I was living with Bryan at the time and had told him so. I declined, delirious with self-satisfaction and the fact that he was still into me. Then one night soon after 9/11 we ran into each other again in Union Square. He had his fiancee with him, and I had Bryan, now my husband. A few years later I'm strolling Hamish down 5th Avenue here in Sunset Park and there he is again, walking with his wife. It turns out they've bought a rowhouse two blocks away from my apartment. Uncanny.

Last night was the second time I saw him at Steinhof. Even though we'd exchanged all sorts of pleasantries and empty promises of barbeques and brunches, I didn't want to parallel dine. Too awkward. And I wasn't wearing make-up. So maybe we'd sit at the bar. The only problem there was that the bartender is this young gal, art student, pretty little thing who flirts to the extreme with all the guys who go in there, and one night a couple years ago when Bryan and I walked in, she ran up to him and hugged him like a long lost lover while I looked on, dumbfounded and furious. She is one of those girls who excels at avoiding eye contact while I stand there and stare, fuming. Another time while I sat at the bar, invisible, she grabbed Bryan's wrist and ogled his Fossil watch. It was a nice watch, sure, but lay off my man. I concocted all sorts of zingers and kung-fu moves to flatten her ass into the grime-smeared floor, but me being me, confrontation of any sort never came to pass.

So Bryan and I decided to take a little walk, and avoid the whole scene. We strolled down residential streets, trying not to yearn for the overpriced real estate, and when we finally arrived back at Steinhof, College Date was still there with his wife, their waitress bent over a fresh bottle of red, decorkifying. What to do? Bryan assured me the bartendress would not ignore me, even looked me in the eyes while saying it, and we sidled up to the bar.

The first thing Bartendress did was be prettier than I wanted to admit, bare-armed and smooth-skinned in a racer-back tank top. Lips glossed to heaven, she held court behind that bar, mixing, pouring and serving in a way that made it all look so important, like she deserved her own reality show. Her choker necklace was made out of wire hoops and her earrings looked like Chinese stars, the kind you throw at people when you feel like killing them. This was the jewelry of the childless. The next thing Bartendress did was acknowledge my presence. I was over the moon. When she delivered my Ketel One dirty martini with extra olives (my first one since Stella was born), it was so cold from extra shaking, an ice floe had formed on the surface. She even provided me with a shot glass filled with the overage. If she had grabbed my husband's wrist then, I might have handed her his other hand, unbuttoned his western shirt, and stepped out of her way.

I was set to yell across the bar to her how excellent my drink was when I checked in with myself and stopped short. I said to Bryan that I'd better pace myself and parse out my genteel conversations, lest I forget that this was the uber-bitch who tried to steal my man. So I played the reserved, slightly cold, always cool role of confident wife who is not rattled by sexy young bar wench. But I needed to make sure I didn't have food in my teeth first.

Of course the older man sitting next to me, a plastic bag full of canned dog food at his feet, was obviously in love with Bartendress. He was a regular who said that she was the least confrontational bartender he'd ever met, and he'd met a lot. In Missouri, and Iowa no less. Turned out the guy was a legal secretary just like Bryan is, and just like I was before the kids were born, and a writer too, in the style of O. Henry. He'd published some, in the Odessa something or other, and I noticed a composition book perched on the bar. I desperately wanted to tell him I was a writer too, and that I actually published a novel, because I am sadistic, but I stayed in character, zipped it, locked it, and put it in my pocket.

As I sipped my drink I watched College Date in the mirror over the bar and couldn't believe he was still there. What were they doing all this time? How long did it take to finish a meal? Who has time to linger anymore? The childless, that's who.

But they finally left, and he never saw me, and Bartendress and I got to talking about astrology a little, and now I know she's a cancer dating an aquarious and that her parents and brother are all geminis. Like me!

And I stuffed my face with chicken liver pate and chocolate crepes, braced to defend my calorie intake with that one deadly word: breastfeeding. Which doesn't necessarily rationalize the martini, but, oh well!

And the other waitresses at the end of the bar gathering their reislings and sour cherry martinis for customers were young wispy things just like Bartendress, and talking to one of them suddenly made me feel older than the Brooklyn Bridge. Twenty-five, hair pulled up in a knot, a mixed media artist who mused that she would go for her M.F.A. And I shivered from the bleakness of it all. I wanted to tell her that an art degree meant nothing if she wasn't one of Julian Schnabel's kids, but instead I suggested she try business school, or nursing, and knew I had turned into one of those people I loathed at that age, oldsters who'd stuffed their passions for practicality and laughed at my romantic idealism. But I have kids to support now, and a B.F.A. in "Selected Studies in Art." So I've been there. And I still envy accountants to this day, even with a published novel.

When the rest of the band showed up, I realized I was never so happy to see fine lines and ropy veins. I guffawed at the keyboardist's pedophile jokes, and found my island with the old timers in a sea of youngsters who are determined to change the world, one collage (and draft beer) at a time.


hubby said...

Ahh honey, you dole out practical advice to these poor young, unsuspecting idealists and yet you are a novelist whose still struggling to live within your artistic ideals. You like to think you're so practical, but I know better. You're still that 24 year old idealist, just perhaps much more cynical.

Plus, you're prettier than all of them!

Amelia Plum said...

brilliant post elise! you could flesh this out even more to make a chapter in that upcoming blockbuster novel that I know you have in you! I so understand what you're talking about the envy at the luxury of time among the childless and the dolling out practical advice, I'm so there with you. The only difference being poor Toby and I have yet to go on a date since Oona's been born, unless you count going to Aimee's weding over 4th of July weekend. Sad isn't it?

Sunset Parker said...

Hey neighbor-

Just discovered your great blog. Had a similar Depeche Mode experience in high school outside Radio City during the Music for the Masses tour (Some Great Reward was my Bible for a few years there)

Check out for poop on the neighborhood (and Brooklyn)

hubby said...

Oh, and thanks for changing the picture to that beautiful one of me with my shirt off. Ummmm eww?

amy said...

Funny... I am 25. My single 20-something friends travel, stay out all night, and swing from one guy to the next. Not to mention they are making tons of cash right now. Yet I feel ten times older than them. I always think to myself, "Just you wait girl!" Then the mothers I know are all over the age of 30. They had careers. They own stuff. How much do I hate the question "what did you do before you had Abby?" This is what I did! And I feel so young and naive.
So anyways... seriously great post! Got me thinking.

Scott the AV Guy said...

Ah, the trendy art kid... so full of idealism. I'm a 27 year old film grad and, despite my 9-5, I haven't given up on a successful film career. Keep hope alive is what I say!

Or at least until I get my MBA.