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Dinner Al Fresco

Dear Sis,

Thanks for inquiring about my health and state of mind. The former has been surprisingly good based on no coughing, don’t think fever (wouldn’t I know a fever if I had one?) and red Cab and dijon mustard still taste wildly different. My mental health? Must be the same as millions, maybe a billion people worldwide feel: bored with shutdowns and social distancing and the repletion that every day is just today. Can’t and don’t want to think about tomorrow, it’ll be just another today. Not a future entry in my calendar.

But last evening, a break in the routine. Born again. Joy and some hope.

My favorite restaurant in the next town had been open for takeout. Pick up orders at the front door where a week ago I saw the sign on the door Open for Dinner on the Terrace June 2. I had called the day before and spoke to Donna hoping for a table, worried that management would want to fill every chair and I was a one for a table likely set for two. She said she’d get back to me in an hour or two.

And, Sis, when she called to confirm I was in if I could be there at 6pm I felt the surge of life returning. The feeling was like that I had in 4th grade when I, after a few minor crashes, I was finally able to ride my two-wheeler, that Columbia bicycle you may remember. Freedom to leave the gloom of home. 

I arrived at the restaurant early, at 5:45, so eager to see what living was like again.

I was delighted to see the smiling faces of the wait staff and the customers. About 15 total tables, ten, twelve feet of separation set on the terrace, overlooking the creek below. Three tables with parents and two or three kids, the chairs separated by maybe 6 feet.

I had taken my first shower in ten days and decided to spruce up like I might have two decades ago. My fanciest summer attire: midnight blue dress shirt with small gold stars and button down collar, white summer slacks I used to wear at the country club circa 1983, and red cloth shoes from Brighton, and the topper, what got so many looks from the look-starved customers, my Tommy Bahama Panama wide-brim hat. Sometimes it’s good not to clear out the clothes closet. 

I was greeted with "Hello, Bill" from Donna the owner. I couldn't wait to taste some booze that took skill and care to make: a real live cocktail made by a professional, hoping Mauricio was inside at the bar. Since at home for 80 days with only cheap yellow wine or Kaptain Kettle One on the rocks, I had been thinking all day of something exotic to drink, something to take me out of covid-19.

Mauricio, the bartender pal of mine, was here walking my way. Hooray, I said leaping to my feet to greet him three minutes after being seated.

I said "Mauricio, my man, I am so fucking happy to see you". We fist-bumped. He was wearing a black face mask and white rubber gloves but feeling flesh, or almost flesh through his glove, sent a 5G signal, hand to my brain and back. This was as much living as legally permitted.

"Mauricio, I want something to drink I've never had before, please. A fancy cocktail with vodka at the base. You are already in my bartender Hall of Fame but this will cement your legacy with Senor Grimez."

Five minutes later the waitress, Sexy Susie, arrived with a Cucina (restaurant name) Cosmos--straight up like my peacock posture at the table. The drink was the color of the devil's tail and tasted like God guided Mauricio in its creation. Oh may the moment last.

I sipped while watching two ducks swim in what water remained in the creek below. The sun was behind the hills and I fancied myself in an outdoor Rick's Cafe where a few years ago I watched the movie in Casablanca in an exotic restaurant with the same name. 

People around me smiled either forlornly, feeling sorry for such an old man by himself, or a look of poorly-disguised envy--that lucky coot not having to listen to what I have to hear for the 81st consecutive dinner from this loved one sitting across from me.

SS was back asking me what I want for dinner. I said no dinner yet. I want to consume the atmosphere and work hard but slowly on a carafe of Pinot G. 

It'd been so long since I felt free, youthful, in the game again. 

I began after glass one to sing Doo Wop songs in my head, "Oh, What a Nite" by the Dells, "Earth Angel" by the Penguins, and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and his Teenagers from the Bronx. 

I changed stations and heard the words of Rachel Cusk, a highly acclaimed contemporary novelist, in book three, Kudos, of her trilogy, " started to feel my whole life as an adult had been a dream. I almost felt myself disappearing though that place could simply take me back into myself." 

Now, Sis, see what you've done. Got me to write again. Thank you.

Stay safe and lots of love


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