Friends have been asking me what I’m going to write about the NSA and Mr. Snowden and my concerns about privacy. Here’s the answer. Nothing. It’s not that I don’t care or have an opinion – god knows I have opinions about everything. But we’re hearing quite enough about it at the moment.
So tonight I composed something other, as Christopher Fry once wrote, something altogether else. Dinner. Because I was doing some cleaning and assorted other things today and it got late and – well, here goes:
I see by the old clock on the wall that I’ve now waited too long to cook a decent dinner and will be resorting instead to something from the reliable old freezer.
I’d go out but I’ve already used up my “damn-the-expenses-four-course-dinner-ahead!” money for the week. Actually, I don’t remember the last time I had a four-course dinner. I do remember a time, though, when I was traveling on business – a dreary activity most of the time – being served a four-course dinner all at once in a Holiday Inn.
I would not have chosen to dine in a Holiday Inn restaurant at all, but I was stuck halfway between Connecticut and some nuclear power plant, without a car and too tired to try to figure out an alternative. But let me give you the full picture. When I say the four-course dinner was served all at once, I am not exaggerating by one stale crouton.
Apparently the waitress disapproved of women traveling alone on business – so many did back then – and took it as her personal mission to make me sorry as hell for ever hanging up my organdy apron and hitting the road in a business suit.
She started by seating me at a tiny table about the size of a large TV tray smack in the middle of the dining room where I seemed to be the most interesting attraction to hit this Holiday Inn for some time. Now, that’s not saying much and you’ll understand why in the next paragraph.
This Holiday Inn was essentially under construction or some kind of ongoing remodeling, and the lobby was temporarily decorated not with chairs and side tables and attractive lamps and paintings but with upholstered bench seats apparently taken directly from a passing Greyhound bus and installed for the customers’ pleasure.
The only thing on the plasterboard walls were marks to let carpenters, if there actually were carpenters involved know where to drill or cut or pound. The bus seats and plasterboard went well with the area across from the lobby, an area draped in heavy, semi-clear plastic kept in place with two by fours. All the room needed really to make it perfect was crime scene tape.
But I digress. I was hungry after a day of travel and interviewing relatively boring executives for the project at hand, so I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner, small table be damned. The dinner special I ordered came with soup, salad, a main course with vegetables and some kind of dessert – now forgotten in the “let’s not think about that again” memory bank. I found a tiny place on the table for my book – always bring a book when you’re traveling on business and likely to dine alone – and I waited.
Nothing happened for the next twenty minutes and then everything happened. The waitress arrived with my soup and salad together which was odd, left for thirty seconds or so and returned with every single other item I’d ordered – main course, vegetables, roll and butter, coffee, and dessert. The entire table was covered with dishes – hot things getting cold, cold things getting warm. I didn’t know where to start.
I mean, I didn’t grow up with servants who came when you rang, bringing one lovely course at a time. But I also didn’t grow up with a family that wanted it all on the table at the same time. I mean, there are rules!
The only thing I could relate this dinner service to was lunch at the junior high school cafeteria where you only got one pass and the ladies in hair nets put it all on your tray at the same time. Iceberg lettuce that passed for salad, some kind of unidentifiable casserole, over-steamed vegetables you were never going to eat and the lumpy, crusty dessert called something exotic like Cherry Surprise or Butterscotch Delight.
I would have given a pretty penny for a nice Cherry Surprise that night, but there was no room left on my little table for anything but the check. Which came with the last item of my four-course-all-at-once dinner. A tiny after-dinner mint. There was no room for anything larger.
The next morning I skipped breakfast and took a limo into Manhattan and never looked back. I’ve also never stayed – or eaten – at another Holiday Inn.
The microwave just dinged. Dinner is served. One course of something resembling a junior high school casserole. If only I had a nice cafeteria lady in a hair net to add a dish of Cherry Surprise.