Sunday, December 22, 2013
A Going Out to Dinner Carol
I’ve become bored with going out to dinner. When my wife asked about Saturday night, I said I was happy staying home, eating w/ TV. Sadly she left, and a knock came at the front door. I opened and there was Steve Barnes from the TIMES UNION’s “Table Hopping” Blog. He told me I had to relearn the “true” meaning of going out to dinner, and on that night, I would be visited by three ghosts, to which I said, “Wow, three ghosts, huh?” Steve did not take kindly to my sarcastic tone, and squeezed a hand around my windpipe, dropping me like a sack. He screamed, “You fool, this is your LAST chance to learn the true meaning of going out to dinner. Don’t waste it.”
I forgot about Barnes’s visit, went to bed early, stuffed with homemade grilled cheese and canned soup. At 1AM, I felt a breeze blow through the window. I came awake and there stood Shannon, our former waitress from the Villa Valenti. “Are you the ghost,” I asked, and she said, “Of going out to dinner past.” I was then lifted over my sleeping wife and dogs and airborne into the night. We landed outside the Villa Valenti, and looked in the icy windows of a winter night. I was in the back booth with my wife and our friends: Jill and Brent. We talked over a table packed with breads and wines and apps, as Shannon delivered pasta entrees. Then we buzzed to the next destination, the icy window at Prime in Downtown Albany, and I saw me and my wife sitting with our friends: Jamie and Sana. The piano played as we talked and laughed. “That was the best night,” I said, and Shannon said, “But you forgot about that fun, didn't you?”
At 2AM the same breeze blew and I snapped awake to see Kay, our D’Raymond’s waitress, at the hanging mirror in our attached bathroom, fixing her frosted bangs. She told me to hurry up and follow her through the bathroom window. She doesn't have all night and wasn’t getting tips on this job. I jumped from bed and followed and then we were sitting at the LaPorto’s bar, and I saw me and my wife at the corner table, alone, and I was texting away while she stared off bored and unhappy. It was the same scene at Longfellow’s, the Old Brien Inn, and finally D’ Raymond’s itself, where I only tipped Kay six percent, which she read sadly off the receipt when we’d gone. “You didn’t even finish your shrimp parm or order dessert that night,” she reminded me, and I said, “Please, ghost, no more.” Kay said, “You forged these memories yourself.” Then, “You still owe me the other fourteen percent.”
3AM came and I woke to the TV on loud. I sat up and on the screen saw the 90-year-old sample lady from Hannaford. She was handing out some kind of cheese packaged in Dixie cups. Then I saw me taking one of those samples. I had a cart filled with boxed foods and frozen goods, and I looked old, and hunchbacked, and alone. It was a sad sight and I grabbed the remote, changed the channel, saw my wife older but looking alive, with a new man, laughing and drinking wine and having a great time on the town. I changed the channel again, I had to, and I saw myself inside a small apartment, hunched over a standing tray in front of an oozing TV screen. I tried turning the TV off, but couldn’t, and when I looked at my wife’s side of the bed, it was empty, and the dogs were gone.
I grabbed my cell phone off the side table and saw the time: 10AM. I was awake. I jumped from bed and ran to the kitchen. There was a note on the fridge that read: TOOK DOGS TO PET SMART. Then: GROCERY SHOPPING FOR DINNER. With the back of my hand, I smeared those dry erased words away. I sprinted to the living room window, saw a young couple in matching jogging suits power walking by. It’s the Burbs, what can I say? I threw open the window, and said, “Hey you, kind neighbors, what day is it?” They stopped at the same time, took a second to spot me, and the man responded, “Why it’s the Sunday before Christmas, sir.” And I pumped fist and said, “Do you still think there’s time to book a restaurant table for X-Mas Eve?” The man considered this: “Probably nothing before eight, but yes, sir, I believe there’s time.” I said, “Thank you, friend! Thank you!” And threw the window shut. The garage door lurched open underneath, signaling my family’s return. “I haven’t missed it after all,” I proclaimed.