Four of us entered an Italian restaurant.
“I tell you this is a great restaurant, really authentic, just like my nonna cooks”, said my friend. I don’t think he could speak Italian but he still insisted on pronouncing words with an accent and gesticulating a lot.
The waiter greeted us and my friend shook his hand. “For the love of god,” I thought, “I didn’t realize I was friends with Don Corleone’s consigliore.”
They spoke to each other in hushed tones, the waiter gestured with his hands together in prayer position. My friend shook his right hand beneath his chin, his fingers pinched together.
“Okay okay,” my friend turned to us, he put his hand on my shoulder, “gentlemen, we can only get a seat at the bar, will this be satisfactory?”
My other friends nodded their heads. I nodded too, while in my mind I screamed, “no, no, no”. Eating at a bar is bad enough, four people at a bar is a complete shipwreck. It is impossible to converse laterally across four people, impossible.
Nonetheless, my inability to dissent from majority opinion meant we were now threading our way through the restaurant towards four seats at the bar. I was at the back of the group, the worst place to be, it meant I would get last pick of position. When we got to the bar I jostled a little with my friend for the third seat.
“Hey, watch it wiseguy, this is an Emporio Armani jacket” he said straightening his blazer by the lapels. I capitulated and resigned myself to the fourth seat.
“Okay Rupert,” I thought to myself as I sat down, “the only way to win this social situation is to draw the attention to your end of the bar. It will be a conversational tug of war and it will take all your charisma for it to work.”
I steadied myself and turned to my friends, “hey guys –“ Too late, my neighbour had his back turned to me, they were already locked in conversation, and I remembered that I didn’t actually have any charisma.
A woman sat on my other side. She had her back to me also, talking to her friend. I sat wedged between backs. I craned my neck as best I could to see over my friend’s shoulder.
I heard the fourth-generation Italian alpha male order us an antipasti platter without any consultation, “you gotta try the salami, just like at home?” He said in his affected accent, punctuating his statement with a loud kissing noise.
I wondered if I could get a better view of the conversation if I ducked a bit lower and went in over my friend’s arm, which was resting on the counter.
I bent my neck down and leant forward, slowly inserting my head into their huddle. I watched my face float in, reflected on an iPad screen. It was playing a YouTube video of a cat sitting on a dog.
“Hey get outta here wiseguy, we can’t see the funny video,” my friend pushed my head away, locking me out again.
They all laughed, “that’s actually a really clever video,” said one of them, “do you think the kitty was real?”
The antipasti arrived. It was placed among my three companions. They began eating everything. I couldn’t see what was happening, but I was hungry, and I wanted some goddamned antipasti. I would have to go in blind.
I thrust my arm into the group and felt around the bar with my fingertips. I grasped something, just the saltshaker, my hand crept onwards, I reached the edge of the antipasti plate and felt my way onto it.
I picked up a handful of something, “olives, I don’t like olives” I dropped them back onto the plate and continued exploring. The next thing I picked up was soft, I squeezed it squishing it into a runny mess between my fingers, “gross,” I dropped it.
Someone grabbed my wrist, “whatsamadda wid ya? Puttin’ ya hands on everythin’, you ruined the bocconcini ya big idiot, mama mia!” He slapped my hand away. As I retreated I grabbed at whatever I could, scoring a stick of grissini. I nibbled resentfully at it, wedged between backs, as my friends devoured the antipasti like vultures to carrion.
Then, all of a sudden, my friend who had had his back to me the whole time leaned away from the bar, expanding the circle to include me.
“About time,” I thought.
But the antipasti was gone, in its place: the bill.
“Okay should we split it fellas?” my friend asked. They all nodded. Unable to dissent from a majority opinion, I nodded too.
As I reached for my wallet I asked myself, “why am I friends with these people?