I was held prisoner at lunch yesterday, and I could only beg privately for my release. Here's what happened:
A while ago, a woman from Small Town Next Door called me to introduce herself and to tell me how much she appreciated my editorials in the Small Town Newspaper. Who doesn't like to hear a compliment? So, I said "thank you" and chatted for a few minutes. The woman, it turns out, occasionally writes poetry and wanted me to read some of it, so I agreed to meet her for coffee. Normally, I would be leery of meeting strangers who call out of the blue, but the woman is elderly and an active citizen with a compelling personal story, so I saw no harm.
We met for coffee, and I read her poetry which I will not condemn because I couldn't write a decent poem for anything. Since then, the woman has been persistent in asking me to meet for lunch, so we finally met yesterday at a place she chose, one of the worst restaurants in town by my judgment.
This woman can be a sweetheart, and she calls me "kid" or sometimes "lady." She can be funny, and she has an interesting story. I have been intrigued by her because I don't have friends her age (70-something), and she has different life experiences from mine that she is eager to share.
But it turns out my new friend has a mean streak, apparently, that I wasn't aware of until lunchtime. It started when the hostess tried to seat us at a roomy table for two. It wouldn't do but for no explainable reason, so the woman walked around the restaurant hoping to spot just the right table. The hostess glared at me, and I shrugged and said "whatever she wants," and we settled on a booth. The light above the table was an odd height, and it shone directly in her eyes. "Well, I didn't know they were going to seat me under such a bright light, I'll tell you that right now! I can't stand bright lights, kid!" And the server wasn't allowed to substitute a baked potato for the fries, and the bread came late, and there was no coconut in the batter on the shrimp, and the owner would give her whatever she wanted if only he were there, and God knows who to give things that need fixing to he just gives them to me 'cause I'll fix it you bet, and the cocktail sauce was half-frozen (she had a point with that one, but it's not a good restaurant, so you can only expect so much) and the server accidentally charged her $2 for a glass of chocolate milk which she had not ordered.
The poor server suggested she just deduct the $2, but the woman shoved the ticket back at the her and said, "You go ring that up right and bring me back a new ticket!" But the server was slow to return with a revised ticket, and how long could it take to do something right the first time anyway?
You know how it is when you have an itch but you don't want to scratch because it's impolite to do that in certain public situations even if the thing needing scratching is only a big toe, or your ear? So, you sit there with a polite smile on the outside, but inside you're screaming, and you wish you could gnaw off your own leg. That's how I felt throughout most of the lunch meeting, trying to snatch a glimpse of my watch without being rude and remembering how Archie Bunker used to mime his own hanging when Edith wouldn't stop her clamouring. I wondered what would happen if I were to just stand up and walk out, shake the dust off my feet at the door, and drive away.
Bad things would have happened, so I stayed put, and I thought about what I would say the next time the woman calls me for lunch. She's already planning it—she wants Chinese.