Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hi-yo, Silverware!

Lonely is as lonely does.
Lonely is an eyesore.

- Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses) "Fish"

He's called The Lone Ranger, even though he has a faithful companion.  I'm not sure of the literary reference, but on its face it seems strange.  Those of us without companions in life have issues to confront that are foreign to many of you.  One is the experience of being The Lone Diner.

I don't get out much.  Either because of economics or social inertia.  Either way, the difficulty of dining alone settles in whenever I do venture out with the general public.  It is more difficult strategically than logistically.  After all, there is almost always a "table for one," and the only social awkwardness comes in when I take up a table otherwise meant for a group of four.  That's their cross to bear for being so damned popular, I suppose.

My recent trip to New York City reminded me of what goes into the experience of dining alone. I was seated at the customary table for two, out of the way of the view of most of the other diners. At least I was asked, "Will this be OK?" as though they know, in some form, it will not. If I had a tad bit more moxie I would respond, "No, I would prefer to be in the center of your dining room so that I can have the full experience." But I do not.  The Lone Diner can ill afford to be discourteous to the staff.

The strategic difficulty comes in the form of what to do with my stuff if I have to get up to use the rest room.  A certain level of trust in my fellow citizens comes in, but mainly, I don't trust them as far as I can fling my iPhone, SLR camera or keys.  As such, I generally wind up toting items to the rest room with me so that, at the very least, I know I will have them when I return.  Although (it must be said) taking a camera into a rest room carries with it a certain social awkwardness of its own.

When I returned, I found that my table had been cleared and wiped - leaving behind the moist residue of the restaurant towel and the cleaning solution that they wipe but do not dry.  So now, not only do I have to fetch another bread plate and knife/fork wrap, but I have to wait until the table dries or else be faced with the creepy wet table.  I sat with my hands in my lap.  It's all in a day's work for The Lone Diner.

The stigma of being The Lone Diner carries with it the server's anticipation that they will be automatically getting a smaller tip than they would normally get.  Nevertheless, I am taking up one of their stations, and I must be accommodated.

Without a newspaper, book, or magazine I am left to gaze around the room.  At the finer establishments, there are televisions on the wall.  With any amount of good fortune, the one nearest me is not placed directly behind another group of diners who may think that I am furtively staring at them.

As I look around, the only other Lone Diners I see are seated at the bar.  If the place is crowded, that is my first choice. I feel as though I am performing some sort of public service by not taking up a table that could otherwise be occupied by two or more people.  The Lone Diner has society in mind first and foremost.  You're welcome.

Invariably, when the server comes back to ask, "Is everything OK?" (which, it most certainly is not - but I remember that they are living in the moment) I have a mouth full of food.  Without conversation, there is nothing to do but eat and stare, so the odds of me chewing are pretty good.  I'm unsure of what I would complain about anyway.  "Could you turn the TV up?" would be a reasonable request.  I wonder if restaurants save money on televisions if they come without speakers?

As The Lone Diner departs, leaving behind his empty plate, stacked neatly with knife, fork and accoutrements, and his 20-percent gratuity, he is reminded that perhaps it is society's stigma on dining (and doing other things) alone that works on him and not his personal feelings toward it?

At work, The Lone Diner was confronted by a co-worker.  He approached me at my table (alone) and said, "Eating alone?  You look anti-social," and then went on to sit with others.  What the co-worker failed to realize was that The Lone Diner was the first one in the room, and it was the others who had bypassed him, not the other way around.

Lonely is as lonely does.

1 comment:

junior alien said...

Being on your own and alone is a real drag when you decide to go out, even more so as a woman because you are regarded as prey or sometimes even as a prostitute. It's daft!
It could be a good idea for restaurant owners to create special tables that are reserved for the Lone Diners. Because then one could have company during one's dinner and then go home again being glad that you don't have to share your life with any (strange) person.
Living closely together with a loved partner that gradually becomes a despised partner is what drives most people nuts and still they are willing to stay together OR split up and launch into another relationship.
I don't know what's more loco: Being alone or being in a relationship with endless rotten compromises.
Oh, I know: Hollywood's the answer.