To Bait Fish Withal

      Geoff will be our server this evening. He is resplendent in his tan
Dockers, Lands End desert orange polo and sockless Topsiders. He is the font
of haut cuisine knowledge as he explains this evening’s specials. Leslie and I
are overwhelmed by the terminology—a reduction of this, an infusion of that. He
kisses his fingers and rolls his eyes when he gets to chef’s newest appetizer of
roasted giant bacon lardoons with a gratin of jumbo diver select sea scallops,
spring peas with tarragon and a red wine mousseline sauce. I count the
adjectives describing the menu’s salmon dish. There are eleven. The only one
I’ve heard of is soy sauce, Tamari soy sauce at that.

      Leslie and I are dining at Le Hommage because we are getting divorced.
Neither of us has said so, but deep down we both know it. We’ve been seeing a
marriage counselor, Rita Feinberg, who’s drawn up a six week plan. We are in
week three. Week one was intimacy without sex. This week Leslie used a
three by five card to jot down six activities she’s wanted to do; things I’ve always
balked at. Spending this weekend in the city, eating at the most expensive
restaurant and staying at the Four Seasons (including an afternoon of pampering
at the spa) is number one on the list. I think that’s really three or four, but who
am I to quibble. Next week will be devoted to my list.

      Geoff leaves us to ponder the menu. No starter is under twenty bucks.
Leslie suggests I order the oysters. She hates them but is trying to be pleasantly
helpful. Geoff has recommended the Spinney Creek variety, but there may be a
few Pemaquid Points left which have a “brighter” flavor. At eight dollars a pop (a
sampler of five for thirty-eight) I’ll pass. I can tell Skippy peanut butter from Jif
blindfolded, but that’s the extent of my discriminating palate.

      Les makes tactful mention of my so-called frugal nature. It has come up
several times in our counseling sessions. She is fond of the phrases “You only
go around once in life so you might as well enjoy it.” I suspect she and Dr. Rita
are in cahoots, piling up the extravagances this evening to see what my breaking
point will be. I’m sure the hotel (forty a night just for the parking garage!) and
restaurant will merit a call from my Visa card watchdogs to check whether it’s
been stolen.

      Leslie is enjoying a “special” martini. It has several ingredients, none of
which is gin or vermouth and is $15.75. It looks pretty, but I suspect the Hong
Kong Garden back home could serve up the same thing for $4.50 and toss in a
cute parasol to boot.

      I tell Leslie that I bemoan the loss of a fine, old American drink. The word
“martini” has been rendered meaningless. She thinks I’m on again about the
price of things. I explain that my philosophizing is a cultural observation, not an
economic one. She counters that I am using my usual condescending, academic
tone and talking down to her. I’m about to deny it when she says we need a time
out before the evening is ruined. Dr. Rita feels that during these time outs we
must concentrate on saying something positive about each other. Leslie tells me
I look nice in my suit; I should wear it more often. It’s my wedding and funeral
outfit. Since this is a high class place, Les felt we should dress up. As I look
around, I’m the only one with a suit and tie. I count the number of men with
tennis sweaters loosely draped over their Nautica or Tommy Hilfiger shoulders
and almost get to double digits before Geoff returns to answer any questions.
My wife thinks everything looks so good and wants him to recommend
something. She displays her flirtatious body language and facial expressions.
Geoff is a vegetarian. He hasn’t sampled all the dishes but loves the skate
wings. They are done with an orange gastrique, extra virgin olive oil with
crushed pink peppercorns, butter lettuce cups, wild spinach gnocchi and shaved
Parmagiano Reggiano. It is, in his view, a dish to die for.

      She springs for it. I order a salad, explaining that I’m not very hungry. I’m
very excited that the greens are bathed in aged balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with
Hawaiian red sea salt, Fleur de Sel and then infused with hazelnut oil. Geoff
inquires as to what I want to drink. I mention that water will be fine. He counters
with a bevy of choices, some sparkling, others merely imported. I ask if they
have regular water. He wants to know if I mean tap water, uttering the word “tap”
as if it referred to something from the Ganges during the monsoon runoff.

      When he leaves, Les is furious and embarrassed. I’m accused of
“cheaping” out by going the twenty dollar salad route. When I don’t reply she
begins to free associate, a time-honored habit, enumerating my many flaws. I’m
like an outmatched boxer on the ropes who has quit punching in the late rounds,
hoping the ref or my corner man will stop the match. Where is Geoff when I need
him? Evidently I think nothing of spending thousands on TVs, computers and
airline tickets to stupid Ohio State alumni sporting events, but won’t let her redo
the carpet in the upstairs guest room. And I won’t even answer the phone at
home. My parents call, and it’s always embarrassing for her to tell them I’m out
and then listen to their health problems.

      Her tirade is interrupted by an obsequious busboy who pours my water,
replete with lime wedges and then deposits a horse turd-shaped roll on my bread
plate by deftly wielding two spoons. I seize the moment, get up, place my napkin
on the table and ask after the restrooms.

      I marvel at the marble interior which has a Roman theme that seems odd
in a predominately seafood restaurant. But then I see the ceilings are frescoed
using Poseidon and his minions so I guess it fits. I wash my hands with soap
that comes out as a lavender-scented, puff ball of foam. I am taken aback by the
hot air dryer which I always hate, but see they also have paper towels which
come from a motion-activated dispenser. When I finish, I take out a three by five
card and print “My Wish List for Week Four” at the top. I leave the bathroom and
spot Geoff as he is returning from our table, probably delivering a status report
on how soon our meals will be out. I hand him the card and ask that he deliver it
to my wife. He looks puzzled. I debate whether I should tip him but decide not
to. He stares at the card.

      “Sir, there’s really no list on here.”

      “She’ll get the message, Geoff, trust me.”

      If I can make it to the parking garage before eight, I might save going over
into the next hour. Sometimes this entails an animated debate with the non
English speaking booth attendant, but, tonight, I’m up for most anything.

D. E. Fredd has been published or will soon appear in The Transatlantic Review,
The Southern Humanities Review, Rosebud, The Armchair Aesthete, Word Riot,
Prose Toad, Tribal Soul Kitchen, WriteThis, LitVisions, Grasslands Review,
VerbSap, Bullfight, The Pedestal, 3711 Atlantic, Megaera, Double Dare, Slow
Trains, Pointed Circle, Raging Face, Cautionary Tales, Slip Tongue, Anti-Muse,
Wild Violet, Poor Mojo and SNReview. Poetry has appeared in The Paris Review,
The Paumanok Review and the Cafe Review.

© 2006 Underground Voices