It’s a fine Saturday night here in Macaroni Grill, and I’m working my way assiduously through a basket of unlimited bread. My dinner partner watches as I tear into a slice of crusty foccacia. “So,” he says. I avoid his gaze.
This is my fourth dinner with him, and at first I jumped at the chance to eat at the classiest, most dimly-lit restaurants in town. It was only until we were blundering around at a tapas bar in almost-total darkness that I realized with mounting horror that I was witnessing (metaphorically, of course, because the candle at our table had gone out) the slow struggle of a man mustering up the chutzpah to tell me that he “has feelings” for me. Now there’s an elephant in the room with us, only the room is so small that we’re wedged up against the wall in a corner booth, and this guy’s asking me hopeful questions about my plans for the future as we both avoid being asphyxiated by a pachyderm.
I continue chewing. This is good bread.
“How do you feel about children?”
“Mmm,” I manage through a mouthful of carbohydrate. My effort sprays the tablecloth with a fine layer of crumbs. Even if I wanted to respond to him, all I can think of right now is the word “elephant,” and maybe “help.”
This scintillating conversation is interrupted by our waiter, who seems only too happy to be facilitating this death-trap of unrequited flirtation. He puts down two steaming dishes, smiles indulgently at us, and glides away. Somebody’s watched Lady and the Tramp one too many times, and if anyone emerges from the kitchen with an accordion, heads will roll.
To distract myself from this unsavory thought, I pull my plate of chicken parm towards me. The chicken breast, resting gently on its bed of pasta, mocks me.
“Look,” I think to it sternly, “It’s not my fault you were fattened up for the slaughter in entirely unethical conditions. I think we can both agree whose problems are more pressing right now.” The chicken doesn’t respond, only sits there reproachfully. Still, this is one of the better conversations I’ve had this evening. At least with this mute slab of meat, I can be honest.
The meathead sitting across from me, though, is anything but mute. He’s running off at the mouth, spewing out words as quickly as I’m consuming food. I look at him with slight revulsion. He appears to be talking about his turn-ons, but I can’t be sure, and I sure don’t want to find out.
I take a large bite of the chicken. Sorry, buddy! But just as my teeth cleave the chunk of meat, my dinner partner finishes up his extended diatribe with a question. He stares at me expectantly.
Great. I stuff more chicken into my mouth, chew vigorously, and roll my eyes. I’m chewing, see? I can’t answer your question! The only thing I remember him saying is something about urinal cakes, and I only looked up because I heard the word “cake.” I didn’t even know urinal cakes were a thing until half an hour ago.
“I think,” I mumble between bites, “that the idea of a urinal cake is a compelling one.”
A stray piece of half-masticated chicken shoots from my mouth and lands on the sleeve of his dress shirt. He is too enraptured by my face to notice. My response is somehow satisfactory to him, and he launches afresh into how much he loves long walks on the beach. I keep my eyes trained on the fleshy bit of food clinging to the fabric, nodding absently every time he enumerates yet another city he’d like to visit with someone special.
At the same moment that I lunge for the wayward morsel, he makes an abortive attempt to clasp my hand in a fit of passion. Our hands collide in an unintentional high-five and rebound, flopping down uselessly on the table.
“Yes!” I say hastily. “Paris is magical in the springtime!”
Thankfully, any rebuttal he has to this claim is lost, as the waiter sidles up to the table and asks us young lovebirds (this said with the greasiest of smiles) if we’d like any dessert this evening. I watch in horror as Meathead here damns me with a “Yes, please.”
Why could he possibly want to extend this travesty of a date? What was this, the four courses of the apocalypse? My stomach lets out a low, tortured wail that would’ve done Dante or Gordon Ramsay proud.
A few restaurant-goers look around for the source of the wail. I stare accusingly at the elderly couple sitting two tables away.
The waiter soon returns with an elaborate sugary confection, adorned with tiny rosettes of frosting and fondant swags. A latticework of caramel arcs above them like a cage. How apt. Topping this saccharine monstrosity is a large plastic tiara. “For the lady,” our waiter proclaims, depositing the behemoth before me.
Steady on, Romeo. The arrival of the dessert works a change in poor Meathead. He looks desperate and hopeful and a little bit like he’s about to start dry heaving, all at the same time. A vein in his forehead pulses erratically, and he purples. I contemplate calling a doctor. The elephant is trumpeting and stomping around like nobody’s business.
He’s going to say it.
I get up hastily. “Listen, pal,” I say. “Right now my plans for the future involve a Jane Austen novel and lots and lots of whiskey. My turn-ons include filing taxes, brutalist architecture, and punching. Children terrify me. But I’m sure you’ll make someone very happy someday. Just not today, and definitely not with that cake.” I seize the sticky tiara.
And placing it atop my head, I make my escape.