CHEAP EATS They said we could stay and eat, but most of the band already had plans for dinner, and loved ones to eat it with, and East Bays to be in, etc. Me and Earl Butter, city dwellers, poor fucks, hungry, looked at each other. We looked at our hostess, and I popped the question: "What’s for dinner?"
By the book, beggars aren’t supposed to be choosers. But did I say we were beggars? No. I said we were poor fucks. We were invitees, and you have to be careful at these places. Sometimes they invite you to stay and eat, and what that means is institutional meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes, over-reheated canned green beans, sliced white bread with margarine, and other things that old people can chew. And that poor fucks like me and Earl Butter eat at home every single day. So what’s the point?
"Hold on. I’ll go ask," our hostess said.
And we finished setting up and played our songs. A sweet woman with black plastic glasses as big around as corn tortillas danced by herself, then with another woman. Then they both danced with a younger guy. Dude with a walker with a small paper plate full of snacks stopped in front of the stage and, oblivious, stood there eating. There were drinks too. A stooped, handsome man with eyes like William Burroughs and maybe Parkinson’s disease was sloshing a glass of red wine all over the white carpet and his white pants.
Rock ‘n’ roll, I thought. Right on! But I still didn’t know what was for dinner, so I got distracted and muffed my solo. It didn’t matter, of course, because nothing does.
When our hostess asked again, afterwards, if we wanted to stay and eat, I said, again, "Um, what’s for dinner?"
"Trout," she said. My eyes must have bugged. "We have a French chef," she explained. "It’s good food."
Goddamn it, now I have to get rich so I can afford to live in one of these places some day when my glasses are as big as tortillas. Just when you think you finally know your place in the world (with the meatloaf) … someone or something (such as trout) bonks you on the head and it’s right back to I-ain’t-good-enough.
I want to eat trout when I’m 90. Slivered almonds, twist of lemon. Side of real mashed potatoes, whipped to perfection, butter butter, and a salad bar. Actually decent coffee …
Forget it, kid. I can barely make my rent. In fact, I can’t. That’s why I had to sublet my place. How am I supposed to sock away savings into my late-life trout account? Forget it!
And Earl Butter’s worse off than I am. We treated this, therefore, like a special occasion. A taste of the good life. Dinner for two on top of Cathedral Hill. At a nursing home, yes but still it felt almost like a date.
It wasn’t a nursing home. It was the Carlisle Sunrise, an independent-living facility. Meaning the people there can make some choices for themselves. The dining room is more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. Cloth tablecloths.
A man in a suit and tie served us wine. The tomato-basil soup was delicious. And they waited until we had finished our salads before they brought out our trout. Then they showed us a dessert menu.
"I’ll have the mouse," Earl Butter said.
The waitress looked horrified. "Did we misspell it?" she asked, looking over his shoulder at the menu. He’d been flirting with the waitresses all meal long, either ruining the illusion that we were a couple or strengthening it. I can’t decide.
"Kidding!" he said. She laughed. He laughed.
I was disturbed. It had nothing to do with his mice or my cattiness. I was sociologizing. I’d noticed something about the way the old folks were arranged around the room. There was a big, round table in the center, full and boisterous, another cluster of talking, laughing people at one long table, and then a lot of little satellite tables, some with pairs of people, and some with just one.
The woman eating alone at the table closest to ours reminded me of me in high school. And me at camp a couple weeks ago. And I thought that even if I live to be 90, and even if I get rich, and even if I change change change change change … some things just stay a certain way. Probably. And that can be sad. *
Not really a restaurant