Monday, January 11, 2010

An Acquired Taste by Penguin Scott

Photo by Penguin Scott

There goes an old man shuffling down the street. You've seen them a hundred times. If you live in certain parts of the country, maybe more. I've often wondered about that old man shuffle. How long have you had it? How did it come about? Did it start slowly or was there some traumatic event involved. One day you walk with majesty, the next- after some terrible accident, or finding out your hero is gay- the shuffle.

I recently had a bad bout and was taken to the hospital where I was told I had some unknown viral infection. With a fever of 107, sore, red spots all over my body, fatigue and achyness, I've been starting to feel my age, whereas, before getting sick, I felt about 7 years younger than I really am. But the latest thing is, I can drive for as short a distance as 10 miles, and when I get out of my car, I shuffle into my house; just like an old man.

So recently, I asked a friend of mine if this was going to be the start of how I look old to others. Will I have this shuffle from now on? Will I no longer be able to run up a flight of stairs? Will I now be taking the phone of the hook between 2-3 for my daily and quite necessary nap? Oh, wait, that last one, I've been doing it for years now.

When I was in high school, I remember a neighbor of mine in the condominium complex in which I lived. I didn't really know the guy well. I would run into him as I picked up bags of trash . I had a job with the complex office and twice a week they would let me drive around in their electric golf cart and collect the trash people put out by their back door. By the time I would get around to servicing the buildings in my part of the complex, it was usually getting to be dinner time, and I would see Mr. Napier leaving for his car. He was a classic looking man, meaning he always wore slacks and a button down shirt with a tie and a hat and all very well coordinated. I knew so little of him but that he lived alone. One day I came to find out from him that his daily excursions were to go to various local restaurants for dinner. I got the impression that this man has never dirtied a pan in his life. Why, his countertops must be free from any scratch marks, burn marks or stains.

There have been times when I've been in eateries and I'll see a man eating by himself and wonder if he was not similar to Mr. Napier, heading out each night for sustenance. What a life, I think, to always have the luxury of eating out, to always be waited on and to be able to afford it. It's never like Mr. Napier was always going for the dollar menu, to be sure. He was going to nice sit down places, please wait to be seated, why, Mr. Napier, so good to see you again, would you like your regular table?

With my recent illness, I've not been much in the mood to do any cooking. Not to mention that where I currently live, decent cooking is made difficult by the fact that I only have a kitchenette; a small fridge, a sink, a few cabinets, a microwave and a toaster oven. These are hardly the tools with which to make a roast chicken or a succulent casserole. I eat a lot of frozen meals, stuffed in my small freezer. I also make a lot of sandwiches or little concoctions in my nifty omelet maker that I found in the aisle of the store that shelves the, "as seen on TV" items. It's not usually too bad, what with my travels all over the world. I eat a few meals on the plane, or I eat out; in the airport, in the hotel restaurant, in the downtown mall food court. I don't see that as luxurious, as it's the only thing I can do, really.

But being home and unable to work for the last six weeks, I'm eating out more at home than normal. And what with my feeling my age, or older, and my newly acquired, and hopefully temporary old man shuffle, I've been feeling more like Mr. Napier than ever. Is this what I have to look forward to? Forever the bachelor who can't cook for himself, for whatever reason, and eats out for his dinners. Why, Mr. Scott, so good of you to join us this evening. Would you like a menu or will you have the special, as usual?

A few nights ago I was trying out a local restaurant for the first time. It was fairly crowded, which was a good sign. It always seemed empty to me, so I never entered, thinking, well, if no else will eat there, I surely won't. But I'd heard good things about it so I found myself there with a table for one and with quite a few others but all in groups of 2's or 4's. As I sat there, I had nothing to do but watch the other people. A young couple came in and occupied a booth to my right. They were in their mid thirties and once they took their seat, they both took out their portable communication devices and starting thumbing at them like they were covered in ants. They remained silent, a mirrored image of one another; head down at the same angle, same postures, holding their devices identically. Their only interruption was to give their dinner order, and then they returned to the silence and to the invisible ants.

They must have known one another for a long time to be so comfortable with that silence, I thought. I felt badly for our society when this is acceptable behavior for two people in a restaurant. Was there nothing they had to say to one another? What was so important out in the world that they couldn't tear themselves away from it for 40 minutes while they enjoyed a meal, each other's company and remembering what the other's face looked like, or how they each laughed. From where had they just come that they seemed to now be so out of touch? The woman finished with her project and I even heard her ask a few questions, each one answered by moans and grunts, while the guy continued. The only time he put that phone down was to shove a sandwich in his mouth. Then the phone came back up to his face, the bill was paid, and the two left- in silence.

Today I went to a fast food place for a burrito. Next to me a guy sat down. For a moment I thought it was one of the Baldwin brothers, the more famous of them. He hadn't shaved in a few days and he wore baggy blue sweat pants and a baggy orange shirt. His hair was mussed and I thought had I been close enough, he probably smelled as if he hadn't showered in a few days, either. On his tray were 8 food items, wrapped in various colors of the restaurants food wrappers, indicating that not only was he hungry enough to order so many items, but that he enjoyed variety.

I looked away for only a minute. When I looked back, there were now 7 items and one balled up piece of paper. I thought little of it, looking out the window to the surfers visible in the ocean just beyond. Now the man had 6 items and 2 balled up pieces of paper. Another glance around my environment and there were 3 items left. Amazed at how quickly his food was vanishing, I found that I simply had to watch. He opened the next item and I saw a taco emerge. It was gone in only 4 bites! His first included a good third of the crunchy treat. I thought, well, he could buy smaller clothes or try to fill out into what he already had. I also imagined that a few years prior, this was a good looking young man, busy in college with an active social life, an active sex life and a healthy interest in a sport or two. But now, here he was, looking like he was on a fast track to becoming the local town hobo and shoving food in his mouth like it was 2012 and the world was about to end.

As I got up to depart, I saw that he was again at the counter and was being handed a plastic bag quite full of more food which he followed me with out the door. Now I thought maybe he was one upping on me. He'd go out for dinner like the rest of us going down hill, but he'd at least take some home as well! Bon appetite, sir.

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