Lots has happened since then and tonight our daughter was with us and we wanted to share our memories with her. Unfortunately, our favorite Italian restaurant was no longer around but we found an excellent substitute, Trattoria Romana, a 4 1/2 star restaurant nearby. The problem was we were looking a little ragged and unkempt after driving 5 hours from Key West. We were wearing sweatpants and, in my case, was unshaven and wearing a rumpled shirt. But we were determined to retrace our steps the best we could for old times sake.
As we walked into the elegant restaurant we could tell we stood out in an awkward and uncomfortable way. We felt like the Beverly Hillbillies had just walked into the Boca Raton country club and at any minute we would be asked to leave. We joked among ourselves that maybe we were making other people uncomfortable that they may had overdressed tonight. After some uncomfortable self-conscious banter we were seated. Not beside the kitchen door–which was what I expected– but in a secluded corner tucked away from visibility from anyone save the waiter. It was obvious but not offensive if were willing to suspend disbelief long enough to get through an appetizer and entree.
We continued to chuckle and joke among ourselves as the waiter brought bruschetta to our table. I tried to eat the bruschetta while ordering but ended up dribbling oily chunks of tomato in an orderly pile beside my plate instead of inside my mouth. My daughter was laughing almost uncontrollably at how deftly I was fulfilling the stereotype we assumed our waiter had of us–and I wasn’t being self-deprecating. Just self-fulfilling.
I wanted to play it up with the waiter and ask if they served possum and grits. But I didn’t. We ordered rigatoni and ravioli, two entrees easy enough to pronounce–and split the two entrees among the three of us. So far, so good. We skipped dessert and asked for the check before something really embarrassing happened.
As we slinked out I joked with Rebecca and Maggie that maitre ‘d was probably expressing relief that we were leaving quietly and not creating a spectacle. We laughed again amongst ourselves and filed in line behind several older regulars at the restaurant who were chatting and chuming it up loudly and proudly–and a little intoxicated. One, a distinguished looking man of about 70, turned to me and peering over his bifocals couldn’t decide if he should give me his car parking stub or not. So he just held it out in my direction in an uncommitted way so that if I were the valet I would know to take it but if I wasn’t it would look like he was just making it known he had a parking stub but wasn’t directing it at anyone in particular.
I was laughing to myself at yet another slight– but also, by this time, getting a little irritated. So I responded by pulling out my parking stub and offering it to the distinguished 70 year old man. “Could you, uh, please get my…Oh wait! I’m sorry” And then the man’s friend interjected laughing, “He thought you were the valet and tried to give you his parking stub” We laughed together and I said I would be happy to get their car if they were good tippers and not in a particular hurry.
Then some other friends from their party came out and we tried to chat but one of the other gentleman, also about 70 and distinguished looking, said to his group just loudly enough for us to hear, “Open the door and anyone can walk in.” He was referring, apparently, to us–the riffraff in sweatpants and, in my case, unshaven and with a rumpled shirt.
I thought to myself. “Surely, he’s not referring to us.” But my wife and daughter assured me he was.
I looked at him agog and thought to myself, “What do you say to that?” I didn’t say anything. And at that moment the valet pointed to where our car was parked across the lot rather than deliver it to us. We, staying consistent, only had $1 of cash left and used it as our tip. I was very discrete in handing it off hoping the valet would think he got a larger single bill than a $1 and wouldn’t notice until we had pulled off the property.
The drive back home we joked about our dinner experience as outcasts and I tried to think of something clever I wished I had said to the man who made the rude comment about opening the door and anyone walking in. But nothing at all came to me. Which confused me. I am usually good at telling people off after they offend me and I am driving home having an imaginary conversation with them and putting them in their place. I was offended but other than fantasizing what it would have felt like to punch him (which, of course, I didn’t), I couldn’t come up with a clever or funny retort. And didn’t really even want to. It just felt like any way I could respond to such a rude comment would automatically devalue me more rather than put the other person in his place. (Especially if I haven’t shaved.)
And that, I suppose, is the lesson I learned tonight.
In the future when I go to a nice restaurant, I will try to dress more appropriately. If I do that I won’t feel as awkward and have to make inside and self-deprecating jokes about myself. Or pretend I don’t know who the valet is. And if someone treats me rudely by making an insulting remark, there’s nothing I need to say at all in response. Just let it lie and leave it with the rude person un-responded to. And just fantasize about punching the rude guy in the face (even though I really don’t) as I drive off the lot–after tipping the valet $1.