Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Well, I went to lunch as I had told you I would, and nobody else showed up.
So I made the best of it and had a good time anyway–while at the same time working out, I confess, a bit of “Post Being Stood Up By Friends Disorder” (PBSUBFD) LOL that I titled,
“On Dining Alone With Friends”
What bonded us together nearly weekly in the early days was close proximity to one another, babies and small children, church, school, and the prayer needs of life at that end.
What has brought us back together of late is more time as empty-nesters, retirement or close to it, and the prayer needs of life at this end.
However, and I should have remembered this, one or more of us in the old days was usually late or had to cancel, so in that way, nothing has changed.
But today I was the only one who showed up.
Text messages soon buzzed on my phone after I checked on the group to see who might yet make it.
Responses included the fact that K’s cell phone reminder app was a day late; J just, well, didn’t show up (“I bet you’ve guessed I’m not there either”), and another one, who didn’t get the initial message last month, or maybe didn’t check it, scolded the rest of us with “noon on Sundays are not a good day or time.” Never did hear from the, more or less, organizer. We are a casual lot.
However, as much as I dislike dining alone, I decided to switch to a smaller table and enjoy my solitary meal in this old gas station long since converted to a restaurant in the gentrified part of the town we all used to live in.
Of course I was not entirely alone, so to speak.
And, I confess, it did take me a bit to process some minor irritation…
But because of our old habits of not being exactly on time, all of us, at one time or another, I had brought along another friend, if you will: poet Billy Collins, at least his little book*.
After about fifteen minutes waiting at a big table prepared for a group, I informed the waitress it would be only lunch for one. I moved to the corner table with a good view of the place which is filled with artifacts of the service station era, and I placed my order.
Although what I wanted to consume were menu items like “The Hog (pork combo with ham, bacon, sausage, and cheddar cheese; your choice of home fries, or toast to go with)”; “Famous Raspberry Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast” or “Fat French Bread”; or even “Yo Philly (top sirloin steak sliced with sauteed beef, peppers, onion, jack and cheddar cheeses; your choice of soup, salad, or fries to go with)”; what I DID order, thinking I was likely going to fill you in later on about the get-together, was “Mediterranean Salad (sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, almonds, and fresh salad greens tossed with house vinaigrette and topped with feta cheese).” I added a side of rye toast. And decaff coffee.
I was good.
Still no sign of anybody.
Just then, the place began to fill up with smiling couples (well most of them), other groups of friends, young people…
Taking a sip of the coffee, I turned to Billy, so to speak–and what an amazing coincidence–I opened to his poem, “Dining Alone.”*
I would rather eat at the bar (it begins),
but such behavior is regarded
by professionals as a form of denial …
While I don’t drink except for an occasional glass of white wine, I had also considered adding a double-order of a house product called “Beyond Sausage, the world’s first plant-based sausage that looks, sizzles, and satisfies like pork,” but I resisted that, too.
And anyway, the little epigraph atop the poem reminded me, “He who eats alone chokes alone” (penned by a wise Arab who, one hopes, did not learn this the hard way), so I took it as: be careful what you order (and maybe work out your PBSUBFD a better way?).
Thus (nearly) satisfied, settled, and sipping, knowing that I would very likely fill you in on the surroundings as well, I took a closer look at the usual antique, time-and-work-rusted artifacts that fill the walls of such places.
I counted at least 9 old license plates from various U.S. states, 7 of which I’d either lived in (or do now) or had passed through once or twice on moves and/or vacations: WI, OR, WA, TX, CO, FL, and NE. And 2 of which, NJ and AK, I had not.
The states I’ve been in or live in now evoked instant memories: bitter cold, tornadoes, hail, babies’ birth places, moves west (then back east, then back west), sweltering hot summers, mosquitoes, cool clear mountains, and homes sweet homes. Not necessarily in that order.
Still nobody showed.
This being the Pacific Northwest, I also recognized the huge saw blades on one wall as artifacts from the logging industry. One of them was from the days prior to mechanical saws. It featured two wooden hand-holds at each end of a long, curved, many-toothed saw blade. One hoped the loggers on either end got along.
I also couldn’t help but notice the small Franklin Stove standing by itself in a corner, the broken door half-open, no plant or flower-pot on top, just sort of sitting there, forgotten, neglected, as if it were stood up. Of course I could have gone over and slammed the door securely shut.
My attention was drawn back to Billy.
I read his “rules” for dining alone, as it were, beginning with,
I have brought neither book nor newspaper
since reading material is considered cheating… (oops, broke that one), to
Nor do I keep glancing up as if waiting
for someone who inevitable fails to appear–
a sign of moral weakness
to those who take this practice seriously… (um, there goes another)…
And then there was the verse about leaving his pen uncapped because in the interest of truly dining alone, that, too, was out of the question….for writing, too, is frowned upon by the true champions of solitude… But of course I disagree completely with that one.
I skipped quickly to “the rewards” of dining alone such as taking time to contemplate (his) lifted fork (on which there was) a piece of trout with almond slices…
And I can enjoy swirling the wine in my glass (he continues)
until it resembles a whirlpool
in a 19th-century painting of a ship foundering in a storm…
But here is my favorite reward:
Then there are the looks of envy
from that fellow on the blind date
and the long-married couple facing each other in silence…
So there you go.
It could have been worse.
I could have been stuck eating a meal of wilted lettuce and rubbery chicken or burnt toast and bitter coffee with a disappointing first date or a grumpy spouse…
So I will have you know I conquered my Disorder quite well, thank you, while eating healthfully.
And I did take Billy’s advice home, as it were, when I finished, gathered my purse and keys and poetry book now all scribbled in with my notes and got in my car at mid-day and drove the twenty miles back to J. City, as opposed to Collins, who walked home in the evening, his collar up under the streetlights, until he
in a marbled notebook—
like the ones I had as a schoolboy–
my observations about the art
of dining alone in the company of strangers.
Only I, of course, had friends.
Oh. One more thing.
There was a rusty old sign hanging on the wall, too, that, I thought, might well apply to a lot of things in life: “Stop Engine When Fueling.”
Billy, I thought, might begin a whole new poem with some clever treatment of “engines” of irritation, maybe, or impatience–or even something akin to PBSUBFD–left running while a perfectly good meal and (at least some) fond memories and favorite poetry and thoughts of friends went unappreciated.
And I would never have noticed the little Franklin Stove in the corner.
But then again, the stove had its place.
And who knows, maybe they had plans for it. It was just waiting in an available spot, for now, and soon there would be a cheerful pot of flowers–or at least an old rusty lantern from the era with a half-burnt candle flickering inside–sitting on top and a small welcoming rug beneath.
*Collins, Billy. Aimless Love, New and Selected Poems. New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014. ©2013. 239-240.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.