I promised to write every day this month. I didn’t say what I would write about. Today, it’s this…
Have you ever had your lunch ruined by a stranger? It happened to me yesterday. Not ruined, but let’s say unforeseen circumstances drove me to lower my expectations for an ideal lunch on the day it was most needed. Like I said, ruined.
I was in my seat and in my world, stuffed in the back corner of my favorite casual restaurant. This is my seat, and the workers here know it. It’s my table in a tight corner space, walls angled out on either side, a plate in front of me, and just enough extra room for a small laptop or tablet. An immersive experience. An observation deck at ground level. So what if I need to tuck in my left elbow whenever the bathroom door opens.
Then this happened: “Do you mind if I set my lunch down here while I go to the bathroom?” A rude man in a charcoal suit bent down over my meal, face inches from mine, a deep personal space invader.
What’s worse than asking a question like that to a person like me? He put his boxes down next to my plate and went in the restroom, so that’s worse. What’s worse? His thank-you before I could answer. What’s worse, is that I was in mid-bite when he did that.
It’s that presumption of an affirmative response from the cool guy in the corner that really gets me. That’s what one of the workers here calls me. “Take this to the cool guy in the corner, the gentleman next to the toilet,” I heard him say once. He only had to say it once to let me know that he thinks it all the time, even when I’m not here. That’s why I come here, not to be cool, but because I am. It’s confirmed.
I tucked in my elbow and shook my head at the door, the door with “Gentleman” on the sign. I talked to the door loud enough for the door to hear me but not the person behind it, because that’s what a real gentleman does, a real cool guy. He speaks to inanimate objects as if they are sentient beings.
“Really? You couldn’t have asked if you could set your lunch on the corner of my table for a few minutes and stopped there,” I asked the door. “You had to add the, ‘while I go to the bathroom’ part? Please come out with moist hands and shake mine to thank me. Please.”
I took a bite Silence. I smiled. This was nice. Just me and the rest of the cool people in this place, each eating in ignorant bliss of the others. My joy was almost returning. Almost. What’s worse is when you know your joy is there nearby, but not exactly where it should be.
I took another mouthful. As I chewed, I heard a flush. It may have been mostly in my head, but damage done. This guy just won’t stop. What’s worse is that it happened in mid-chew. Mid-chew! Who can swallow now! I forced a swallow but didn’t enjoy the taste of my food, not one bit. The thrill was gone, gone away from me.
Then as quickly as he had first appeared, that same round face, that same un-coolness, the same suited rudeness kicked open the door, because (you guessed it) his hands were wet. He stood next to me. I took another bite, this time with my other hand, while I waited for the numbness to subside and feeling to return in my left arm.
He rubbed his hands together. He flipped them over a few times to see if they were sufficiently dry. I took a bite and tried to ignore him in the coolest way I knew how. What’s worse is that he rubbed his hands on the butt of his slacks. Who does that while wearing a suit and standing next to someone cool? Who I ask? I took a bite and chewed. With all that is in me, I acted as if actually enjoyed the bite. I refused to give him the satisfaction.
“Thanks again,” the face inches away from mine said. He picked up his food and left. I stirred food with my fork. It was then that I noticed something odd in the bowl. I had noticed it earlier, before my lowered expectations.
Then, when I first started eating, the thing in my bowl had been an anomaly of nature, an all-natural ingredient inconsistent with the rest of the meal, because it had been hand-prepared from fresh ingredients, just for me, the cool guy. Sometimes they will do that for cool people, let us sample some experimentation from the chef.
But now? Now that I had heard, if only mostly in my head, the flush, now that my lunch was ruined, the thing had become something not natural at all. My fork had picked up something bad, some outgrowth of whatever had been grown by the intrusion of man’s hand, man’s invasion of the nature of things, something that slipped through the inspectors at Unnatural Mass-Produced Foods, Inc., or worse, from chemical additives, or worse, something the cool guy had not ordered, or expected. That’s what’s worse.
And you know what’s worse? That the invader of deep personal space ruined not just my lunch yesterday, but he has tainted all future lunches for me. There are only two things to do: One, never come back again and let Deep Space Invader win, or (2) come back tomorrow, and give this place a chance to un-ruin my lunch. They deserve as much. So do I.
I see the staff’s expressions when I walk in, how they turn to one another and whisper, “It’s him,” how they sometimes fight over who will take my order and who will serve, and especially who will check in to see if all is well with my meal, and if I’ve got any complaints to share. I see things like that.
I notice how they muster up so much enthusiasm as they wave and tell me bye every time I leave. I feel the energy change shape as I get up to leave. I overhear the murmurings and the laughter that follow just before the door closes behind me. Yes, I’m well aware of the joy this cool guy brings people. I’m a professional observer. And what’s worse? I know it.
“See you guys tomorrow. Save my place in the corner next to the bathroom.”
“We wouldn’t want you seated anywhere else. Have a nice day, cool guy.”
See? What’s worse is that they know it too.