Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Price of Your Shit

There is something regal about eating alone in a cafe. It requires a sort of poised dignity; you sit with your back straighter, your eyes carefully unfocused and concentrate more on pacing, for your bites are not punctuated by voiced observations or laughter. When you eat alone, the sound of chewing will be heavy in your ears. It'll remind you of that squishing sound your mother's tuna-salad made as she mixed it together with a rubber spatula on Sunday nights. You'd have tuna sandwiches all week at school for lunch and the noise your mouth made chewing those cellophane-wrapped sandwiches was the same as that stirring. You wonder if that's the same sound food makes as it moves through your intestines, as it's broken down by acids and turns into shit.

You're alone and suddenly eating seems foolish. You daintily dab your mouth with a napkin and push your plate, which still has half a frittata on it, toward the center of the table. The frittata was $9.50. $9.50 is the price of your shit. If your mother was here she'd tell you to finish eating, she's scold you for being wasteful. But eating alone has made you tired, each bite is exhausting. Besides, it seems indecent for a woman to finish a meal when she's eating alone, just as it's bad form to lick clean your plate on a first date.

You read a book last summer about the way people eat when they're eating alone. Surprisingly, some people go to great lengths to make themselves a meal. They light candles, open bottles of wine, let them breathe and then pair them with a carefully-prepared dish. Maybe they listen to classical music as they do this, waving their arms like the composer as they orchestrate their meal and work through various courses. When you eat at home, alone, you're lazy like a college-aged boy. You eat a lot of cereal, canned fish and fruit. Once you went the whole summer without using your oven or stove. You remember the words of a friend some years ago- he said, "Eat to live, don't live to eat," and you've thought about this advice often over the years, usually as you're eating rice right out of the pot in which it was made. After a couple forkfuls you put the lid back on and put it directly into the refrigerator with a potholder underneath. It's pathetic, and when friends come over you just don't let them open the fridge, or your cupboards, so they don't know how low you've stooped. Idly you'll wonder if these are the typical eating habits of a singleton.

The waiter at the cafe will come over and look concerned, will ask if everything was to your liking and if they can take away your plate. "Oh," you'll say, startled and fumbling to find your voice as if you'd just woken up from a nap, "Everything was great, thank you. Yes, yes, you can take it away." The waiter will smile gratefully and ask if they can get you anything else. You'll shake your head, put on your coat, leave twelve dollars on the table and leave.

Six hours later you'll be hungry again, and when you stomach grumbles you'll sadly wonder, what's the point?

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