CLOSE ENCOUNTERS — Chapter ?? (blackout)

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Hang on a second.” Who the hell could that be at… huh, wonder what time it is.

“Oh, Jimmy, hi, come on in. What time ya got? My clock’s dead and I don’t know where the fuck my watch is.”

“Yeah, hi yourownself, fucker. Why don’t you answer your damn phone?”

Jimmy was not always so mean spirited ‘specially at this hour, whatever hour it was. We’d been friends, sometimes out of touch for stretches but whenever we hit each other again, it was like no time had passed. We just went on from wherever we’d left off before. Seems like we’d been tipping a few last night and hmmm… well anyway.

“Hey, don’t get all huffy, man. I don’t know where the stupid thing is. If it’s around here some place, it sure hasn’t been ringing. What’s up?” I asked in my most composed (so I thought) manner.

“Well… it’s Saturday, I’m here. And your place, if I may use the term loosely, looks just like it did on the 1st when we dragged all your shit up here. What the hell have you been doing? Have you unpacked anything? Jeeze, Dan, it’s been two days already, three if you count Wednesday when ya got here.”

“Yeah, I dunno, time gets away sometimes,” I chuckled. “I started cleaning the kitchen. Seemed like a good place to begin, but you know me, I get sidetracked easily,” and I burst out with a snort.

“Isn’t the landlord s’posed to come check today and see how you’re making out?” Jimmy mumbled. “He let you move in with no security deposit if you’d be willing to get the place all cleaned up, right? Well, it doesn’t look like you’re making much progress.”

“I know, I know, but the place really should be hosed out with some hydrochloric or something. I’m telling you, the guy who was here before musta been some really weird dude. It’s a good thing the fridge was left plugged in or it would have smelled like a city dump in here. God! was it a mess, odd stuff in old jars and whipped topping containers. I don’t know when they started making Frigidaire, but this relic musta been one of the originals. The freezer compartment was practically solid ice. It took four hours and pots of boiling water to thaw it out. I thought all refrigerators were self-thawing. Not this one! Anyway, when I got all the frosty crap off, I found a key lying on the bottom under an ancient metal ice cube tray. Weird! Remember when you picked me up from the bus station that time last year and I’d stuffed my crap in a locker?”

“Oh yeah, I remember, all right. You were so far out of it, I don’t think you knew where you were. Said you didn’t have any luggage, it was coming later or some bullshit. Actually you’d put it in a locker so you could run next door and fill up your hollow leg. We had to go back the next day when you remembered what you’d done,” Jimmy recalled, shaking his head.

“Well, the key from the freezer looks pretty much like the bus station keys. It has a number stamped on it and I’m gonna go down later and see what treasure’s stored inside. Sound like a plan?” I asked, grinning.

“Doncha think that’d be a little like stealing, Dan? I mean the stuff, if there’s any there, belongs to the old guy, right?”

Belonged to the old guy. Remember what Joanie, that older chick, lives in back, downstairs said about him? Not only was he strange, mumbling all the time, with some wispy beard hanging from his chin but he turned up dead in the park. That’s why I got the deal on this place anyway. The landlord threw out all the crap that was here but would give me the break if I cleaned the place.”

“Yeah, OK, there’s probably nothing there anyway. How ’bout we get going on what has to be done here. I said I’d help out today but Ginny and I are going out tonight so time’s a wasting. Where do we start?” Jimmy asked, doing his jittery, I-can’t-sit-still dance.

“OK, the kitchen is pretty much all shaped up. The oven does need a good scrubbing, but that can wait. Cabinets are all wiped out and what food I brought is put away. So… let’s move the rest of these boxes and stuff into the bedroom. I swept up there and went over the walls and floor with some Lysol. Then we can tackle the dirt, dust, dead bugs, and… I don’t know what these stains are, in here.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Time passes, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. After clearing out my boxes and the few meager pieces of furniture the apartment came with, Jimmy and I began the major cleaning, disinfecting (I hoped) and general ship-shaping  of the living room. I pulled out an old bed sheet, clipped ends off the large hem edge and slipped it over the window rod. Ta-da! Instant drapes. Yup, the place was coming together. We talked along as we worked, like old friends do but I must admit I had a bit of trouble recalling the last day or so, when Jimmy wanted to know what I’d been doing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So… after we got your stuff up here Wednesday night and finished off the last of the beer, and I left, you did what?” Jimmy began again.

“Well… I ran up to the corner place for a sub and I think I got a bottle…”

“Wait, wait,” Jim jumped in, “you think you got a bottle?’

“… yeah, guess I got some vodka. You know to go with the OJ, I needed the acid stuff in OJ to counteract the chemicals in the processed meats in the sub, right? Anyway, then I came back here, ate the sandwich, probably had a drink or two and crashed. I was pretty wiped from carrying all that junk up here.”

“OK, so you ate, had a drink or maybe two, slept and here ya are and it’s Thursday. Then what?”

“I got up… sometime… I think the cell said somewhere around 10. There was some bread chunks left from the sub, so I ate those and began to tackle the kitchen. Probably spent most of the day doing that, having a drink from time to time to help pass the time and keep from upchucking over the nasty crap I was finding.”

“So you spent all Thursday cleaning up the kitchen. That’s cool. Good start,” Jimmy smiled, seeming to understand.

“Yeah, you know, cleaning and sippin’,” I grinned. “Then sometime late in the day, maybe around 6, there was a tapping, on m’chamber door, as Edgar would say. It was Joanie from downstairs, ‘member her from when we were bringing stuff in? So here’s this older chick… what do you think she is? 35? 40?… anyway she has a can, unopened can, of soup in her hand and says: “heard you bumbling around up here and thought you might be hungry.””

“I’m half in the bag by now and couldn’t quite put together the idea of her holding a can and me maybe being hungry, Come on in,” I said. “And she did, sorta gazing around at all the crap still in the living room.”

“Would you like some help straightening things out,” she said. “I know what a hassle it is moving in and getting things in order. Or maybe I could heat up this soup for you?”

Coming back slowly to my senses, I began to get things into perspective. “Oh yeah, sure, the kitchen’s in a lot better shape than this mess,” I stammered. “We can go in there, there’s even a couple of fairly clean chairs to sit on. Hey, I was just having a drink, would you like one… before our delicious soup dinner?”

“Uh, yeah, OK, I guess. It has been one of those days. Maybe one, got any beer?”

“Sorry, all out of beer. But m’bar is presently stocked with vodka and OJ. Will a little screwdriver suit you? Gotta get your vitamin C ya know.”

I don’t know why I said screwdriver. Holdover from days gone by? To me it’s always just vodka and OJ now. Maybe I just wanted to work the word screw into the conversation. She is kinda hot… for an older woman, ya know.

“Haven’t found any bowls yet, Joanie, but there’s a couple of mugs there on the drainboard by the sink and a pot underneath. If you warm the soup, I’ll stir up the drinks,” I said. It was about then I realized there was just barely enough vodka left for two drinks. Where the hell had all the booze gone?

What a gourmet delight… Pepper Pot soup, the kind with bits of cow stomach lining chopped up in it. Tripe? Whatever. And, of course, the vodka which helped it slide down. Following the light repast Joan asked if she “might have another drink.” Girl after my own heart. But no! We were out of vodka. Had I really gone through that whole quart?

“Sorry, Sweets, we got a dead soldier here. We can run up to the corner store and get another if you like,” I suggested. Remember, I’d been sipping all day and the thought of running out of booze now had not been a happy one.

We did. And in the interest of conservation of energy, got two or maybe it was three? quarts, and some beer. Remember, she had asked for beer. She suggested also getting some whiskey, ’cause vodka and beer just didn’t do it for her. My wallet was looking a little empty at this point but, bless her heart, Joanie sprang for the case of beer. Good thing it’s only a short walk to the corner, what with all the new provisions we were laying in. We made it back, laughing and being a bit goofy along the way.

After getting the “supplies” put away in my kitchen, that is, plopping it all on the counter, except for the beer which went in the freshly cleaned fridge, minus one can for Joan, I mixed up another V and OJ for me and poured her a couple fingers of whiskey to  go along with the beer.

We decided that the hard kitchen chairs were not all that comfortable, even though I had cushions on both of them, so we moved to the cleaned bedroom. Funny, I didn’t remember cleaning and wiping it down but someone sure had. Booze, ha, when you’re sippin’ and having fun you can often get a lot done… and sometimes, apparently, not even remember. Anyway, the only thing in there was the mattress I was sleeping on. No foundation, who really needs a foundation? After tossing a few pillows against the wall where I’d scooted the mattress, we had a fairly comfortable nest for sipping our new drinks. Time went on. Nothing really sexy about it. We just talked, getting to know about each other… and had a few more drinks. I think we went down to her place for a while so she could show me what she’d done with it. But… I’m not too sure after that. When I woke up, it was the next day, sun streaming in around the shade on my bedroom window and I can’t remember anything after walking down  to Joan’s apartment the night before. Strange. It’s all just a blank. Guess I drank a little too much.

“So it’s Friday, probably after noon, you had a fun night getting to know Joan, you think. Then what,” Jimmy inquired.

“That’s the thing, Jim, I’m not quite sure. I checked the cell, so it was Friday and you’re right it was around 1 PM. I did go to the kitchen but wasn’t really very much in the mood for food though did make some coffee. I’m pretty sure I had some OJ (flavored) while the coffee pot did it’s thing. Maybe I went to the grocery store after coffee? I can’t recall. Musta gone some time ’cause there’s new food in the cabinet and fridge. I just don’t remember. I do remember finding the CD player and listening to some tunes while I studied the mess in the living room. Guess that was Friday afternoon or evening or both. The oddest thing is: I DON’T know what happened to Friday. Have absolutely no recollection of the day at all. Woke up this morning, which according to you is Saturday, had a cuppa jo with the dregs from the whiskey bottle dumped in and then you were at the door.

“Christ on a cracker, Dan. You lost a whole fucking day?” Jimmy exclaimed. “Doesn’t that get you a leetle bit worried?”

“Yeah, sorta, I guess. I mean, I’ve had some short periods when I lost track of time or maybe couldn’t remember exactly what I’d been doing, but nothing like a whole day plus just vanishing like that. What do you s’pose I was doing? Maybe I just drank and slept it away? But no, the groceries. I definitely must have gone out to the store. How could I do that and not have any memory?”

“You don’t remember going anywhere besides the store?” Jim asked. “Like maybe you went and killed time in the library? It’s only a few blocks from here, right? Or maybe you went to the paint store? Didn’t you say you really wanted to repaint this living room area?”

“I just don’t know. Don’t think I went to the paint store. At least I didn’t buy any paint. And the library… I just don’t know. Wow, a whole day disappearing. It’s like something from the X-Files, ya know.”

“Call it X-Files if ya want, Dan. What you experienced was a major blackout. You don’t have any idea what you did, or said, or where you went for over 24 hours. Doesn’t that get you a slight bit worried?”

“I s’pose. Yes, it is a concern but if I cut back on the drink, I doubt it’ll happen again. I just have to watch myself. Being alone in this new place and trying to get things in order just got to me, I guess. Hey, you want a beer?”

An Intro to Arts

Arts And Beans Espresso Bar and Dry Goods is well known among the locals of the area for the intoxicating aroma of freshly ground coffee beans and the heavenly scent of baking pastries from the oven. Arts is not a large space, and some might find the low black ceilings a bit confining. The popcorn ceiling over exposed wood joists helps to keep the sounds to a low murmur most times. In addition the somewhat unfinished quality of the ceiling hints that something unexpected might just happen here. It is not an environment for everyone’s taste. The soft qualities of the sandblasted red brick walls, with hints of former layers of old paint, add to the unique character. Furnishings are the height of eclecticism ranging from Formica top tables in a variety of colors with chrome legs to beautiful oak pieces with a glow of many years use. Ladder back, spindle, cushioned, vinyl and chrome… the selection of chairs also spin the imagination. In addition, a couple of small groupings of comfy upholstered chairs with side tables are there for the grabbing on a first come basis. Lighting is from wall sconces lending a somewhat dim but adequate glow.

Walls are decorated, if that’s the proper word, with a hodge-podge of drawings and renderings in various media, mostly pencil or pen. The art work is hung from strips of cork board with multicolored push pins. The display is constantly changing. Patrons may take a piece with the admonition from Michael, the owner, “you must replace it with your own work of equal or better quality.” Taste and determination of “quality” is of course, somewhat subjective as evidenced by the display. It all seems to work well and the patrons are a generally good natured, friendly bunch, more than happy to see their own work vanish. This meaning, one hopes that someone has found their offering worthy of adding to an “art collection.”

Michael and his wife, Sabrina immigrated to the US from one of the Eastern European countries about three years ago with hopes of finding better lives here. They alternate hours at Arts with hours at “day jobs” elsewhere but hope to make Arts their sole source of income… someday soon. They offer a variety of coffees freshly ground and brewed to your liking along with many flavors of teas. Cold beverages are also available. All pastries are baked on the premises.

On the tables one can usually find some foolscap and pencils for the suddenly inspired but possibly impoverished patron. Along with the beverages and eats, Arts began to offer a selection of writing and drawing supplies for sale a while back. These are for the more dedicated “artist/author” in the house. The displays on the walls, however, are of both the refined artsy works and the “foolscap” variety.

Jason and Amanda have just entered and claimed a vacant pair of comfy chairs.

“What would you like m’lady,” Jason offered with a faux chivalrous flair, bowing slightly at the waist.

“How about a Columbian and maybe we could split one of the yummy apple pies?” Amanda replied, referring the well liked lattice top apple pastries for which Arts was also well known.

“Sounds like a good choice, I’ll go let Mike know and be right back,” Jason said as he moved off toward the counter. Amanda took the opportunity to wander about gazing at the art work on display having left her and Jason’s bags to hold the chairs.

Multitasking

Sometimes eating alone is not the worst thing in the world. I can be watching a movie on Netflix, hit pause and take a break to cook some food. I’m not the world’s best chef, to which many will attest, but I can throw together some edible grub when I’m into it.

This was not one of those nights. I had decided to fiddle around with graphics on the computer and was quite into the work when hunger caught up with me. Stopping when I’m involved with a project just to satisfy hunger by shifting into cooking mode has never been an easy thing for me. Actually, stopping what I’m doing for any reason is often problematic. I therefore chose to stick one of my Healthy Choice prepared dinners (they’re really not all that bad) in the microwave. I keep a supply on hand for such emergencies.

The instructions directed me to heat for three minutes, pull back the plastic covering, stir, replace the plastic and heat for another three minutes. Easy. Well, either I didn’t hear the “ding” or ignored it and it wasn’t till my stomach growled again that I thought the three minutes were probably up. More than a half hour had passed. I did the stirring bit and plunked it back in for six minutes. It had cooled off, right?

I returned to my computer and when I came back to the microwave (twenty minutes later) I found part of the meal had boiled over and the remainder was luke warm and somewhat toughened. Perhaps nine minutes cooking was too much? I ate it.

Some folks multitask marvelously well, others of us do not. Today I’ll just blame it on the weather.

Ted

“Fuck, goddamnedsonofabitch, piece of living shit,” I heard the muffled shout from the next apartment and what must have been something being thrown against the wall. A bit more plaster fell down on my side. This was the third time in about a week. Many shouts with a variety of colorful and inventive epithets, but the third time an object was thrown. I was beginning to worry, not to mention, my hackles were rising and, well hell, I was starting to get pissed.

Ted used to be a pretty mild guy, at least he always seemed to be when I’d chance upon him in the hall or coming and going at the mailboxes. We’d never really become acquainted other than the perfunctory, hi I’m Ted, hi I’m Jason, at the first meeting then just a grunted hi on subsequent accidental passings. Two guys who happened to live next door to each other in what had to be one of the last reasonably priced apartment buildings in the city. Not really an “apartment building” in the modern garden apartment with patio or high rise with balcony sense, it was just an aging Victorianesque single family home built in the late 1800s or early 1900s and subsequently divided into four rather pleasant apartments. Ted and I had the two upstairs units. He never appeared to be the kind of guy who would flip off the deep end and begin having fits of rage, yelling at no one and throwing things at the wall. But do they ever? It often comes as a surprise to the neighbors when Mr. or Ms. So-and-so turns out to be a serial killer. Not that I thought Ted might be a serial killer, but as I said, his shouting and throwing things at my wall was starting to get to me.

The disruptive commotion had actually begun about two weeks ago, now that I think of it. About a few weeks or so prior to that another guy, who I’d only actually seen a few times in the two months I’d lived there and either shared the apartment with Ted or visited on a regular basis, had suddenly disappeared from the scene, moved out or whatever. Maybe they’d been lovers and Ted was going through separation trauma or something but this disruptive neighbor shit had to stop. It was time to confront Ted and let him know how I felt about him slowly demolishing my front room wall.

As I rapped on the door, which had been slightly ajar, probably for ventilation I guessed, it swung almost completely open presenting a clear view into Ted’s living room. There he was, sitting cross-legged on the floor, a hiking boot gripped in his hands. The second boot lay on the sofa where it had probably fallen after bouncing off the wall. One question answered, the what; but I wanted to know the why and I also wanted it to stop. However these weren’t the first thoughts to enter my mind as I took in the scene in front of me. Ted was not only cross-legged on the floor, gripping a boot, he was also naked except for a towel knotted around his waist. His apparently shower wet hair was plastered to his scalp. Not a pretty sight. He was facing away from the door. Maybe he hadn’t heard my knock.

“Hey Ted, what’s up,” I asked, “can’t remember where your comb is?” Feeling a bit uncomfortable with the scene I’d unintentionally come upon, I was a bit flustered. Then I noticed the blank stare as he slowly turned his head and seemed not to recognize me or perhaps he hadn’t heard what I said.

“I won’t need a comb,” he spouted, “I’m going to cut it all off.”

“What? You mean your hair,” I said, rather stupidly.

“Yes my fuckin’ hair. They’re everywhere now. I found one crawling on my head when I woke up and after I got out of the shower there were three of them dancing on the wall over there. I can’t stand it anymore. I swat them, I beat the living shit out of the ones I can,” he said as he pointed to two moist looking lumpy stains on the floor near him. “I’ve set out poison traps. I’ve sprayed and still they keep coming. Ever since that shithead was here, they’ve been just pouring out of the walls. You must have them in your place by now, or you soon will. Roaches, godfuckindamn roaches. They’re drivin’ me nuts.”

At this point I was thinking, oh yeah, I can see that the screws are starting to come a bit loose all right and was thinking about making a hasty retreat. Maybe I’d come back later at a better time.

“You think I’m kidding? Hand me those scissors over there,” he shouted, pointing in the general direction of a desk. “Come on, there’s a camera there too. You can be the official witness and record the whole thing. I’ll turn it into a conceptual art piece with the hair, pictures and fuckin’ bug carcasses.”

At this point he began to chuckle, then laugh, and finally he was in such a state of hysterics that I began to wonder if he’d been drinking or doing drugs. All of a sudden the laughter halted and quite calmly, Ted said, “Man, you looked freaked. I’m not really nuts but Jesus, I just don’t know what the fuck to do. Come on in, let me get a pair of pants on,”and he got up heading for the bedroom.

He was back in a second, zipping up a pair of jeans and beginning to explain.

“I let this son of bitch Jimmy stay here for a couple of weeks after he’d lost his job and was out of money and had been kicked out by his two roommates ’cause he couldn’t pay his part of the rent, or so he said.”

“The three of ’em were all losers. One had gotten kicked out of the Army with a DD for something or other, the second had dropped out of high school his junior year and was into petty thievery and sometimes pushing some weed. Jimmy was the least burned out of the three, ‘course that wasn’t saying much.”

“He’d kicked around in low rent jobs since high school, took a couple of classes at Rosemont. His last job had been clerking at Ranson’s Men’s Wear but he’d mouthed off to a customer and gotten canned.”

“Hey, you want some coffee or something?”

“Yeah, that’d be OK. I actually came over to bitch about the noise and you throwing things at the wall, but I think I’m beginning to get the picture.”

“Oh, sorry about that. I told the landlord about the problem and he’s supposed to be coming over today with a tank of some super insect spray. Hopefully that’ll be the end of the problem.”

Busying himself in the kitchen with coffee rituals, Ted continued. “Anyway, I’d sorta known Jimmy in high school but had lost track when I went off to school then I ran into him at lunch one day. He was working just around the corner from me so we began hooking up for lunch from time to time. Turns out he’d taken some art classes and was getting pretty good at drawing action comics.”

“Well, anyway, like I said, I offered to let him stay here till he could get his shit together after he’d lost his job. But the guy was a slob. I mean he’d leave dirty dishes all around. Spill shit and not clean it up. I told him if he kept that up we’d have bugs. And sure enough after he’d been here about two weeks, I saw the first roach. He must have brought the fuckin’ eggs with him from his old place.”

“I guess he thought I was just uptight and kidding when I told him he couldn’t stay if he didn’t clean up his act.”

“Funny how some people are just so inconsiderate, ‘specially when you’re trying to help ’em out,” I interjected. “So what finally happened?”

“Eh, it just got worse. He didn’t change. Did finally get a job at Burger King but, I mean his habits didn’t change. And the bug population just continued to grow. I finally kicked his ass out about two weeks ago. I just wish it were as easy to kick these damn bugs out.”

“Say, maybe you could send Mr. R over to do a preventive spray on my place, just in case when he gets here,” I said.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll tell him. Your name is Jason, right? I’m pretty whacked on remembering names.”

“Yup, Jason it is. Jason Gresham. Well, I’d better get going. Thanks for the coffee, it was good.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. I grind my own beans and keep them in the freezer. This is Columbian. I like good coffee so it’s worth a little extra effort. And I’m sorry about the noise and all. I promise to try and keep my pitching arm in check in the future.”

“OK Ted. Good luck with the bugs. Catch ya later.”

And that was my first real encounter with Ted. We’d got better acquainted as time went on.

Imagine

Imagine.

Standing against the railing with thoughts wandering all over his mental landscape, Jason was luxuriating in the experience of a late summer’s evening. The golden glow of sunset across the river cast a warm spell as he listened to the closing bars of a haunting blues tune flowing from the park’s sound system.

It was gentle, ever so gentle at first. He felt the whisper touch of hands resting on his back before slipping around the sides of his body.

Alone at the riverfront, lost in thoughts of Jane, he should have been startled, perhaps mildly afraid, maybe even panicked to feel hands, then arms around his waist. But these lovely limbs, caressing so softly and sensuously around him, hands slowly drifting up to glide across his chest, and then drawing him close to the warm welcoming curves against his back, were so hypnotic, that Jason could have no reaction other than complete surrender to the moment.

She whispered a low purr then spoke so softly Jason was not sure at first if he was imagining or truly hearing, “Forces we will never be able to understand, have drawn us together. I saw you standing here, silhouetted in the fiery sunlight, and I was overcome. Don’t reject me.”

As her embrace loosened and became a pair of wondrous hands generously kneading his shirtless back muscles, Jason slowly began to gather his senses. Turning, gliding against her soft hands until they rested on his bare chest, Jason found he was gazing into the deepest, most alluring green eyes he had ever seen. Her eyes seemed to be alight with the glow of the setting sun. Jason was entranced, at once dreaming yet vibrantly awake and alive. “Jesus,” was all he could manage to say…

“No,” she giggled, “my name is Amanda. What’s yours?”

“Amanda?” Jason repeated. “I’ve never met an Amanda before. I’m Jason. Did you mistake me for someone else?”

“No, Jason, there was no mistake. But you must believe me when I tell you this is as much a shock and surprise to me as it must be to you,” she replied.

“I don’t understand,” Jason murmured, “are you saying we have never met, don’t know each other, and yet you felt compelled to come up from behind and touch me like that?”

“It was a compulsion, yes, that’s the only description that seems to fit. I was walking along, enjoying the sunset, feeling somewhat lonely, my mind coursing over the recent senseless events in my life, when suddenly your form drifted into focus and all else faded into background. I was at once helpless to stop myself, like a puppet on a string, I found myself drawn to reach out and hold you.”

“But that’s completely nuts,” Jason said, “I could just as easily have been some crazed lunatic who would grab you and drag you off into the bushes to have… my way with you,” Jason replied with a slight grin.

“Perhaps, but you didn’t… well, not yet,” she responded with a barely noticeable rise in her shoulders and eyebrows.

“Would you like a cuppa coffee, or something?” Jason managed to ask.

“Ummm, I’d love one. Starbucks or Arts,” she asked, referring to Arts and Beans Espresso Bar and Dry Goods, a small, down-one-flight gathering spot just off the park on Fourteenth Street. The place was usually referred to as Arts by the regulars.

“Artss,” he responded.

“Nighthawks”

“Nighthawks” says it succinctly. Edward Hopper captured the loneliness of solitary eating. Eating alone in a restaurant is a different experience than eating alone at home. At home you can grab some food and still be involved in other things, listening to music, watching TV, even looking around and planning what you’d like to do to the place. But eating alone in a restaurant is more isolated, especially if there are other diners in pairs, or small intimate groups. Those folks are not alone. Maybe they just met there to have a meal together and then are going to be going their separate ways, at least while the loner watches, they are enjoying company.

Bill is eating alone tonight. He received a complimentary coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree. Bill had no plans and just didn’t feel like cooking. So here he is, the lone figure in the Hopper tableau, cutting a bite of steak, chewing, swallowing. Repeating. Have a forkful of mashed potato.

“Would you care for some more coffee?” the waitress asks, passing by with a quick nod in his direction.

“No, thanks,” Bill replies more from disconnectedness than from a thought out response. “On second thought,” he adds, “yeah, go ahead, top it off. Thanks.”

As his eyes wander around the room, Bill notices another lone figure being led to a table by the hostess. I wonder if she’s expecting to meet someone here. Their eyes catch momentarily and then the new arrival is seated with her back to Bill at an adjacent table. Shit, at least she could be facing this way. I could pretend we were together… for a while, till her friend or friends arrive.
Bill continues to cut, bite and chew with his concentration squarely on his meal. And then… and then, he looks up and the new “dining partner” has switched to the opposite side of her table so she is now facing him. He smiles, she smiles. Now what? Should I say something? What? Hi? Yeah, that’s a great opening! Do you come here often? Smiling to himself, oh my god, Trite is my middle name.

“Hello, are you eating alone?” the woman asks.

“Yes, hello, I am, but I’ve just begun. Would you like to join me?”

“Thanks, that would be nice.” She replies. “I really don’t like eating alone but my girlfriend just texted to cancel and I was already here.”

Bill stands as the woman seats herself across from him. When they’re both sitting, there’s momentary silence, then “Hi, I’m Bill,” “Hi, I’m Betty,” they say together. A bit of laughter ensues and they grasp hands to shake across the table.

“What are you having?” Betty inquires, glancing at his plate.

“Sirloin, mashed spuds, and a salad,” Bill replies.

“You seem to be pretty well into it, maybe I’ll just get an appetizer. I’m not really very hungry,” Betty says… and then…