The other day I went to a popular restaurant in my neighborhood, which is a thing I like to do sometimes because supporting local businesses is important and also I am hopeless in the kitchen and one time a fire truck had to be called when I was making fried eggs (which, up to that point, I’d considered myself swell at). I was feeling pretty great for a reason I can’t remember, so when the hostess announced that she could seat my friend and me “right now!” I saw it as the universe offering a sly wink and saying “You know what, buddy? You deserve this.”
“I do deserve this,” I thought, as I proudly marched to the back of the dining room and up a flight of stairs to a new and exciting level of the restaurant that I’d never been to before. This victory seemed like a very reasonable, nice thing and though I don’t believe that I deserve the finest things in life like big houses and huge cars and to win the lottery, I’m okay with believing that I have somehow earned the right to sit at a table and order too many appetizers without having to put my name on a list.
It was only when I noticed that we were being followed by the man who had entered the restaurant behind us — a man who, from the phone call I casually/deliberately overheard, was waiting for a Tinder date he was only 60 percent sure would arrive — that I started to worry. “Should I say something?” I thought, having a tiny existential crisis (which is another thing I do but is less fun than supporting local businesses and something my therapist says I should work real hard to stop). Should I say, “The guy’s not with us” — even though that would be rude to point out and the dude was already in an emotionally precarious situation?
Then we came to the table and I realized that the world is an unkind place that will promise you things but then rudely strip them away from you: The man was walking with us because we were all being led to the same tall communal table, where we would be expected to perch on stools, break bread with stranger(s?), remark how wonderful it is to be living in a city where community is just so important, and then keep our conversations to a polite hush so as not to disturb anyone’s date/gentle weeping when that date doesn’t show.
I felt betrayed. And wronged. And every other word people use at the end of Lifetime movies when they’ve been unmasked as the killer and have to justify exactly why it is that they (Daryl Hannah) set up a fake social media account to stalk and harass their daughter (Kirsten Prout) so that she’d have too much anxiety to go to college and would stay at home forever (or die). I felt all of those things. And as I looked around helplessly, trying to find a way out of our communal situation without hurting this dude’s feelings — I’m responsible for someone else’s feelings now? I just wanted to have dinner! — I had an important thought that I would like to share with you now:
Listen: Communal tables have got to go. They must. They’re cool on Game of Thrones (although very dangerous) and a delight in theory (so many interesting people to meet in our big, brave, beautiful world), but when you get right down to it, no one is leaving their unexpected dinner with strangers with anything more than a take-out box and a bad attitude.