“Pull over here,” said Joey. I was surprised at his choice. The Terrace is a fashionable up-market restaurant, about 40 minutes out of town, just off the road. It has magnificent views of the surrounding canyon, thickly covered with trees. The walls on all sides are glass, floor to ceiling, with no interior walls, so wherever you sit you feel you are flying over a forest.
Joey strode into the restaurant, straight past the sign requesting guests to wait to be seated, with the air of a man who has just bought the whole place. He stopped at a table where a couple in their 50s were dining with a young man and woman. The young man looked impatient, brewing a fight for later. Had to be their son, the resemblance was striking. The older woman was obviously disapproving of everything. The young woman looked nervous, fiddling with a diamond ring, ready to do handstands at the drop of a hat, if that would help her chances of being accepted. Must be the prospective daughter-in-law.
“Are you enjoying your lunch?” Joey asked the elder lady. She assented dismissively, but that did not dissuade Joey. “How are the fries?” he went on.
“They’re just fine, thank you,” the woman replied curtly.
“Yep,” said Joey. “I like ‘em crispy. Now you look like the kind of woman who’s never going to be happy in a restaurant.” Everyone at the table tightened. “Because I bet you know you could always do better at home.”
The woman’s manner changed completely. She looked up into Joey’s eyes, as though he were announcing himself as her long lost brother. On he went, “I can tell a good cook a mile away, because all the men in her life look well-fed and well-loved. You could put these fries to shame any day of the week, couldn’t you?”
She flushed. Joey bent down and took a couple of fries from her plate and put them in his mouth. She looked up at him in wonder, and pushed the plate toward him in case he wanted more.
“She’s got a world of good things to teach you, my dear,” he said to the younger woman. “She knows the secret to making a man happy.” He did that funny thing with his eyebrow. The younger woman leapt into an animated monologue, as though she had been waiting for her cue at a school play. “Oh yes, Maude is a wonderful cook.” She flashed a nervous smile at Maude, and giggled. “Dan loves his mother so much, and I feel so lucky to be joining this family. She’s also a really wonderful seamstr—”
Joey moved on, leaving the table in electrified confusion. His next stop was a table where an overweight couple was sitting with their five overweight children, all fighting indiscriminately among themselves. Both parents looked exhausted, with each other, with the whole chaos they had landed for themselves. The man was wearing a very loud sweatshirt, Christmas greetings blazing from it in neon letters, in every language known to man.
“Now that, sir, is a magnificent garment,” said Joey. The wife beamed, as if to say “See, I knew it was a good choice.” The kids stopped and stared up at Joey in fascination.
“Your Dad is a great man,” Joey went on. “I admire him more than . . . ” he made big eyes at the oldest child, only about eight, “ . . . Superman.” The child took a sudden sharp in-breath. “Make very, very sure,” Joey bent toward the child in a conspiratorial whisper, “That you do everything he tells you to do. That’s important, if your mission here on Earth is to succeed.” The father straightened his back and knitted his brows, trying to remember where he had met Joey before, coming up with nothing.
“And,” Joey went on, looking at the wife. “He’s easily the best-dressed man in this whole joint.” She shuddered a little and looked rapturous.
And so we finally found ourselves an empty table, right in the middle of the restaurant, and sat down. Joey looked back at the five kids and waved. The table near the entrance where Joey had taken the fries was by now bubbling with animated laughter.
“Ah,” said Joey. “God I love humanity.”
Excerpt from Arjuna’s new novel, The Last Laugh. Buy your copy here
photo credit: http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/park-terrace-restaurant/, http://www.flickr.com/photos/donhomer/7130049599/, http://r2square.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/i-am-a-simple-housewife/