“Check, Please” – A Story of Perspective
At 8:12PM, a woman at Table 5, tall, slim, brown hair, ground zero, center-stage, stands and shrieks incomprehensible yet vulgar syllables at the man across from her. The restaurant pauses to watch. The woman launches the contents of her half-full wine glass at the man. The gentleman flinches his eyes shut and the Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2005 splatters across his face, his tie, his collar and dinner jacket, spattering the table and floor behind him.
Under her chandelier spotlight, the woman sweeps herself up and out of the room in a huff of anger, exit stage-left, tears imminent, purse swinging, hand up to hail a cab before she’s even out the door.
The room holds its place for a moment: silent and waiting, watching, and then like a record slowly resuming speed, it revs back up to its natural rhythms and clanks and heart murmurs.
At Table 7, Lynn Marshall watched the woman and her drama with extra interest. Lynn felt disgusted. Proud, independent, assertive, an activist bettering humanity, Lynn saw herself as all of these things. Lynn wouldn’t throw wine at a man; she’d throw the bottle. Her self-assurance in that moment would appear to others as strength and others as arrogance.
Lynn had thought about these things before. What Lynn didn’t think about in that moment were the neighborhood boys who threw rocks at her as a child, or the cousin who was raped but had been too afraid to report it to the police, or the way mom and dad always seemed to have time for everything except her or each other.
She also didn’t think of stellar grades in her Women’s Studies courses in college, or the way her activism brought out her independence and identity for the first time in her life; how her feminist professors gave her strong role models to look up to and something to believe in, something to care about, a worthy cause that she knows could make a difference in the world.
She didn’t think of the rape statistics or the theories on gender socialization or the patriarchy or the objectification of beauty or her apparent inability to feel much intimacy in her relationships anymore, man or woman. Instead, all she thought was, “Well, yet another asshole is in our midst,” and said as much to her friend across the table. The statement spoke all of these things so she didn’t have to.
At Table 11, the woman’s yelp almost made John Woodwin drop his neatly pasta’d fork onto his lap. John’s reaction to this unexpected jolt was the same reaction he had to most stressful events in his life: indignation.
When the woman threw the wine, John didn’t think of the wife who had divorced him for a guy who made half as much money. He didn’t think about the high school girlfriend who left him in an eerily similar fashion either, without calling him or even notifying him directly. Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t have been able to think about the way he poured himself into his work — code, systems, logic — because it was the only thing in his life he felt he could control and predict.
He didn’t think of the way his mother babied him and over-protected him, gave him everything yet smothered him, reinforcing for him again and again that isolation and loneliness are best found in the arms of a woman. That love is equal to a lack of independence.
His eyes did the thinking for him, as did the tingly sensation in his pants as he watched her ass bob up and down through her strong, angry gait out the door. “Women are so irrational. Entitled bitch, she probably deserved whatever happened to her.”
Marge and Bob Roland, an elderly couple, sat at Table 3. When the woman screamed, Marge’s body swiveled the full 180 degrees in her chair, like a cat caught off guard. Marge was attracted to drama of any sort these days. And she knew this. She also knew that little ever seemed to happen in her life anymore. What she didn’t know is what happened in the restaurant that night. “Ohhhhh my, what happened?” she said in an exaggerated tone.
To her it didn’t matter whose fault it was. It just mattered that there was a fault at all. These rare moments gave her a fleeting nostalgia for the passions of her past. It stoked a dark, unseen place inside Marge, a place that silently envied the woman in the black dress and her tears, a place that took a certain amount of excitement in viewing another in pain.
“I wonder what happened.” she said again as she turned back to Bob. Bob never even looked up at the commotion. Instead he kept shoveling risotto into his mouth. Marge would ask again, and then again, and then again, at least three more times before the night was over. “My goodness, what happened?” It was like the chorus to a song Bob had been listening to for 56 years; he could predict every rhythm and every note as it came. He had fallen in love with that song and been sickened by that song a hundreds times and a hundred times again. He had listened to it for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to not listen to it.
“Eat your food Margey” he said after the third chorus.
At Table 16, Charles Taylor, alone at a corner table, overweight, messy and bearded, looked up from his book — a recent translation of an old Chekhov favorite — to watch the commotion unfold. “For Christ’s sake lady, that’s a good wine you’re throwing out,” he thought, and then returned to his book.
The Maître D’ observed the events from the front of the restaurant. When the woman stood up and began walking toward him, his emotions swelled and his chest tightened. As she walked past, as if in slow motion, he could detect the bounce of every curl in her hair, the sway of each hip, the crest of every tear about to erupt and flood her carefully designed face.
His heart sped up. He himself began to find himself upset. In his mind, he was upset for the woman, that she was so hurt. But he was also upset about being ignored, the years and years of being ignored and passed over. The sacrifice. The nights laying in bed fantasizing, romanticizing about moments like this, moments where he could save her, be needed by her, where her head would fall on his shoulder and he’d tell her everything will all right and it would be true.
He was upset that the wine wasn’t thrown on him instead.
He moved. He followed her outside. As he ran after her, every dream and desire to fix her, to be the one to rescue her, to earn her love in a single dramatic moment, to finally earn what he’d spent his whole life believing he deserved, came to the tip of his tongue. And was then swallowed. “I can call you a taxi if you would like,” he said lamely. The tears told him “No,” and he lingered, ignored and forgotten. As always, ignored.
Inside, the waiter rushed to the man’s side to clean up the mess. While he wiped the wine off the man’s suit and tie the waiter bristled with a faint excitement. It buzzed and vibrated through his skin. Love, drama, anger. These moments were when he felt most alive.
In the waiter’s family, resentment and blame were how loved ones communicated; wine thrown on someone was called Tuesday. He saw a certain romance in the pain on the man’s face as he cleaned off his collar.
This, to him, was what love felt like. It was the same hint of romance he felt the time his boyfriend hit him out of anger. He felt it beneath the pain and the sadness and the unbearable disappointment of the man he had chosen to be with, but it was there. Barely. He felt it when he came out to his father and was disowned on the spot. The role of the martyr. The undeserved punishment, taken and carried for the sake of someone else. Thankless.
While being wiped clean, the man himself stared blankly ahead at the space which she had previously inhabited. Her space. It was hers, and now another space is hers and then another will be hers again. He could almost see the air rushing to fill the vacuum she left behind. The physics of it were just so perplexing. He stared on and on, into the space. She would never inhabit the exact same space again. None of us do.
Finally, after the wine was cleaned and the vacuum filled and the murmurs resumed, he calmly looked up at the waiter.