Dinner for One

essay, non-fiction Add comments

Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret…Robert Brault

Several years ago, I managed a Colorado restaurant.  One particular evening, around dusk, customers filled the dining room despite the heavy falling snow.  Several staff members were unable to get to work due to the weather.  As a result I waited on tables, too.

I watched as the host sat a tall, thin man at a table in another waiter’s section.  The customer’s unshaven face looked drawn and his nose red with cold.  He wore tattered jeans—wet around the bottoms—and an old dirty overcoat—underdressed for a restaurant with candles and cloths,

The few waiters and waitresses complained that the man was a waste of time and flipped a quarter to see who would lose and have to serve him.

“What is the matter with all of you?” I said. “I will take care of him.”

The man kept his eyes lowered to the menu and traveled a spindly finger down the items: Bouillabaisse, Mozzarella & Romas, Arugula Artichoke Salad, Iced Oysters in Rainbow Shells

Spinach & Roasted Beets…

“Good evening sir,” I said as I looked into the tired, dark eyes of the man.

“I foresee a good night,” said the man. “I’m thirsty for a bottle of wine, yes this one.”  He looked up into my eyes and with a perfect French pronunciation, he smiled and said, “The Beaujolais Village .”

The man removed his coat, tapped the wine label on the list and I leaned into see exactly which Beaujolais the man wanted. The odor of unbathed skin reached my nose.  I started thinking about the man’s secret, what it was that I didn’t see.

He added, “Please bring two glasses,” then briskly rubbed his hands together.

I returned, opened the bottle and offered a taste of wine to the man.  He held the glass up, swirled the liquid to observe its legs and then sipped the wine, letting it roll over every taste bud on his tongue.

“Yes, yes. This is good,” he said as he took the bottle from my hand and poured wine into the second glass.  “Don’t let me toast alone.”

He handed me the other glass.

“Here’s to warmth tonight,” he said and then we tapped glasses and drank to warmth.

“What can I bring you this evening?” I asked, wondering what the man meant when they toasted to warmth.

“I can order everything right now–the African Lobster Tails, the Arugula & Artichoke Salad, the Prosciutto-wrapped tenderloin, medium rare, and a baked potato dripping in butter.”

“You must be hungry tonight,” I said.

He nodded, “Oh and please bring all the food at once.”

The man arranged the plates on the table, admiring it all before eating as though observing a piece of art.  He then savored every bite of food, with impeccable manners all along.

After clearing the plates from the table, I offered dessert, but the man declined and grabbed my hand. “Thank you for everything and now I want you to do one more thing for me.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I’ve had some tough times lately.”  The man stood, put on his overcoat and turned up its collar.  He looked at the floor and then nearly whispered, “I have no money and I won’t be paying the bill.  So as soon as I walk out the door, call the police~”

I interrupted him, teetering between sadness and feeling afraid.  “I can take care of the meal for you, write it off, help you out~”

“I’ll be walking south down the street where the police can pick me up.”  He shook his spindly finger at me, “Remember you joined me in the toast for warmth and this will get me that~you will be helping me out.”

With that the man turned away from me, looked over his shoulder and mouthed “thank you.”  He walked through the dining room, out the front door and headed south on the now dark and snow-covered street.  I watched through the window, wavering back and forth on what to do.  I, watched him walk for a few moment before I picked up the phone.

nannette rogers kennedy 2011

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