Monday, December 26, 2005

Thank God You’re Not Me

So, today I decided to celebrate in style. That seems to be a recurring theme with me – days of celebration like HKRXmasux and my birthday go awry, but then I recover the next day and do things right. Today I slept late, bought myself some NiMH rechargeable batteries for my camera Ophelia (which was obviously manufactured by Barbie because she doesn’t work well without thousands of dollars worth of accessories), and lunched at Pappadeaux, a Cajun seafood place. It’s a tad pricy but well worth it given the ambience, the high quality of the service, and the fantastic food. I brought Ophelia (and Satan Sue, my iPod, although I made her wait in the car as I took a book in with me) but I didn’t get any pictures since I didn’t see anything particularly photogenic and I hate to snap a shot filled with strangers. I feel like I owe them an explanation or perhaps a modeling fee.

I listened to Satan Sue on the way over and thought about the book I’m reading called Thunder Rise. I checked it out of the library because the writer’s was similar to mine. It’s not bad, but it’s not very good either. I’m a third through and the story is still building to whatever it’s going to be which seems to be evil spirits released from desecrated Indian burial grounds and could we possibly add a few more clichés while we’re at it?

I walked into the restaurant, greeted the hostess and asked for a table for one. I always feel like I should shout “’cause I’m a fecking loser!” after declaring myself alone and eating in a restaurant, but I keep that to meself. The hostess smiled and made chitchat while she assembled my welcome package – menu, specials, and silverware with a linen napkin. She was young and pretty with long black hair, friendly and more than politely inquisitive although I’m not deluding myself into thinking she was attracted to me. She was just being personable, better than your average hostess who acts like she can’t wait to foist you off on the nearest server. She led me to my table while people pointed and whispered as I passed, telling their children not to laugh at the circus freak. Okay, that didn’t technically happen, but it’s how I felt.

I managed to banter with the hostess along the way because she didn’t throw me any curve balls. Over the years I’ve developed a large repertoire of standard responses so that I sound upbeat, chipper even, instead of coming across as the world’s oldest emo kid. “It’s fine…I’m fine…Everything’s fine…just fine.” Instead I come back with things like “I’m doing just great, and how are you? My Christmas was wonderful, thank you for asking. It’s always nice to get the whole family together for the holidays, isn’t it? And how was your Christmas? Thank you, and you have a really great day too. Yes, Merry Christmas to you as well.” I could continue, but at this point you’re probably thinking “Excuse me while my eyes glaze over.”

Anyway, I took my seat (facing the crowd while not exposing my back to a door, natch) and then she interrupted the flow of our pointless conversation. Reading the title of my book out loud, she asked me “What’s that about?” I’ve been mentally writing a review every moment that I’ve been awake and thinking about it – it’s just the critical way in which I read, especially when I’m not enraptured by the writing. The book is about 400 pages long, and I do mean long. It’s about slumbering spirits awakened on Indian land that begin by manifesting themselves as nightmares in the children living nearby but soon prove capable of physical disturbances as well. It’s competently written with the exception of a few grammatical errors, capable of describing scenes but without really bringing them to life on an emotional level. The plot is clichéd and jejune and thus far it hasn’t been able to deliver on the cover’s promise of “A Novel of Terror.” The writer is prolific based on his list of published works, but in this work his reach definitely exceeds his grasp.

Of course, what I actually said was “It’s, um, horror? It’s kind of slow.” That failed to chase her away. She kept smiling and told me that she should read more, but school had left her regarding reading as a chore instead of a joy. She went into more detail than that, but I couldn’t absorb her words. My mind was busy scrambling for a response. “I had a wonderful holiday weekend…No, I missed the ending of (insert college or pro ball team here)’s last game…I don’t live around here, I’m just passing through and saw your wonderful sign and thought I would come in…No, those pants don’t make your butt look big…” Nothing seemed to fit. She stopped talking, smiled at me and awaited my response. My brain started to scream at me to say something, anything, just reply and end the uncomfortable silence.

Me (thinking): Just say the first thing that pops into your mind.
Me (speaking): …
Me (thinking): Shit! Nothing’s popping into my mind.

My mind literally went completely blank, devoid of all thoughts when I decided to speak the next thought to appear (in retrospect I think I heard crickets in the background, but I probably just made that up), and my mind is never quiet. It’s almost always overflowing with useless information, thoughts jumbled on top of thoughts while strains of music play endlessly until I want to scream and gouge out my eyes or perhaps just kill everyone in sight with a swizzle stick and a packet of non-dairy creamer.

Anyway, at some point I realized I had been smiling and nodding at her for several seconds past the realm of shy and edging into creepy, but I still didn’t know what to say. What’s really bad is that I’ve had conversations on this topic, about how the schools do such a disservice to their students by exposing them to a bunch of dead literary gasbags and insisting that there is no point in reading anything beyond Shakespeare because he is obviously the best writer the world will ever produce and nobody currently alive has any talent and how all books were written to teach a moral and any that don’t aren’t real novels and blah blah blah blah blah. I’ve heard and said it all before, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall any of it at that moment.

My hostess, wonderful woman that she was, didn’t act unnerved or wait for me to respond, she simply picked up the conversation herself and led it to a pleasant conclusion. She came back later and took my drink order, which I was able to handle without any further disasters. Yeah, baby. Nobody asks for lemonade quite like the G-man. To her credit, she didn’t try to avoid me either. She brought my drink, we exchanged a little more typical banter, and she always had a smile for me whenever she passed by. I wish there was a polite, standardized method for tipping the hostess. The waiter was competent, but he didn’t heighten the experience the way she did.

BTW, that whole “Don’t think about it, just say whatever comes to your mind” bit is a complete crock. What’s in my mind isn’t suitable for polite, corporate conversation. It’s usually something along the lines of “I want to cut your hands off with a chainsaw and finger-paint with your blood” or the lyrics to whatever song won’t stop playing in my head or, in the case of a visit to my dentist, something like “OHMYGODILOVEYOUILOVEYOU! YOU MAKE ME WANT TO DIE – IN A GOOD WAY!” Seriously, when people sneeze my first impulse is to shout “Stop that!”

If there’s a moral to any of this it escapes me. The whole incident reminds me of why I love delivery services. “I’m doing grand, and you? Here’s your tip. Merry Christmas. Bye bye now.”


circe said...

Grant, I wish I had an answer to that but I'm afraid I don't. I'm very shy so unless I know someone, I'm not very good at banter. (and I love it that you included the word 'gasbag.')

Nobius said...

Doesn't work without thousands in accessories. Now that was a good one.


Valkyrie said...

I think she felt bad that you were alone and tried to make your day a little brighter.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

I can sympathize with you as far as being a bad conversationalist...I suck at it. Sometimes I think I try to hard.

I don't think you give yourself enough credit, Grant...I think the hostess really dug you. Why else would she hang around and make small talk???

Valkyrie said...

On second thought, I concur with the commentator above.

She was hitting on you.

Spider Girl said...

I'm slowly learning NOT to say the first thing that comes to my mind.

My big mouth WANTS to get me in trouble, I swear.

I'm far more poised and articulate when I'm just thinking quietly to myself.

Crickets chirping...yeah...sometimes I wish I had that. It would be a change.