Friday, July 15, 2011

A dinner scene


The table was large, and set for ten. Two appetizer plates steamed in the middle of the expanse of oak, a tower of onion rings arranged in descending radius as they climbed up a thin metal spike, and a platter of nachos slathered in day-glo cheezefood substitute that glistened greasily in the overly bright overhead lights. Three drinks stood on the table, and David wondered if passers-by would think he'd ordered them all.

He sat alone at the table, stuffed absurdly into the far corner of an enormous cherry-red naugahyde booth. Only one of the drinks was his, the "Lumberjack size!" Bud Light that sweated into a slowly gathering lake at the base of the pitcher-sized glass. No wonder this country has an obesity problem, he thought, when this kind of obscene overindulgence is sold as some kind of nasty birthright.

He checked his phone again - no texts. He could feel the heat rising on the back of his neck; he hadn't even wanted to come out tonight. Come on! they'd said, it'll be fun! He had a new Netflix disk waiting on the dining room table in his apartment, on top of a pile of unopened mail (mostly come-ons from credit card companies, undeterred by his lack of response to their last hundred and fifty entreaties to take advantage of their low low interest rates!), which was in turn crammed into a crater in the pile of washed but unfolded laundry that he'd been dressing himself from for the last week. He wasn't really sure what movie it was - he had the vague memory that it was either a French actioner that subverted the premise of an obscure Coppola film from the 70's that his film-snob friends had recommended, or a brainless boobs-n-blowup film that he'd missed in the theaters the summer before. But he'd been all set to cocoon in for the evening with it - even had a six-pack and a bomber of what his ex-girlfriend had called one of his "snooty beers" in his plastic grocery basket, along with one of the orange plate specials from the grocery store's mini-cafe. Then he'd run into Phil and Kate.

There had been much shoulder-grasping, much rolling of eyes at his attempts at begging off their invitations. Lame, they'd said; many iterations of "duuuude!' in a tone that communicated disapproval, brotherly (or in Kate's case sisterly) camaraderie, insistence, and bemusement. Finally when it was communicated that the cute redhead who'd started six months ago but whom David had yet to even wrangle an accidental introduction to would be among the revelers, he relented. He almost backed out when he dropped his groceries off at home; as he put his not-to-be-eaten-tonight dinner into the fridge (got tomorrow night covered at least!) and put the beers on the top shelf, he fought the urge to pop open the cherry Netflix envelope and just fuck it all. But he'd mentally smacked himself around a little and bustled determinedly out of the apartment.

He'd gotten to the restaurant first. It was a slow night so they seated him anyway, even though he'd said there'd be ten and he was the only one there - the hostess looked like there might be things she cared less about in this world, but not many. He sat in the corner of the booth with his jacket on, playing microgames on his smartphone and feeling humiliated every time someone walked by the table - like he'd been seated in a high chair or something.

Eventually Phil and Kate showed up - awesome, duuude! You made it! Kate bet you were going to bail and stay home with a Netflix or something! David laughed dismissively. They'd slid into the booth on either side, but only to the ends, and only long enough to order drinks from the waitress who drifted over, her voice exuding disbelief that anybody else had actually shown up. Drinks had come, trite toasts were made, and suddenly Phil noticed an old friend of his and Kate's at a table on the other side of the restaurant - be right back, dude!

That had been twenty-five minutes ago.

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