b e n d

multiple highlights from trip to central oregon this wknd - watching climbers at smith rock, ski-lifting up mt bachelor and learning about subduction, great meal on mirror pond, good progress w/ lennie briscoe and his training, the weather, the 360 degree stunning photo-ready landscapes, and on and on - but as documenting each moment in travelogue form would be a prohibitive time constraint, and further of more interest to me than you - i'll center focus on one particular aspect, a lowlight in fact, but no less memorable.

here are some backstory elements that may inform the narrative: my parents and margaret's mother left early friday morning for bend. m and me and LB were to follow after i got off work - around 230ish - and meet up w/ them. since m had to juggle multiple errands in preparation for trip she arrived closer to 315, which is of little consequence except as relates to traffic on I-5 on friday afternoons, which is to say, an urban clog of frustrated drivers, smelly trucks and the like wherein it took 1 hour to get from the tram in portland to the edge of wilsonville. meanwhile in bend, the parents unpacked and got settled in their rooms in the late afternoon, and expecting us shortly, headed to the bar - w/ it's riverside vista - for a cocktail. as they enjoyed frolic and good cheer, m and i were out of cell phone range in the mtns en route, and so thinking again we were close by, they all enjoyed another cocktail. at last we arrived, threw our stuff in our room, left LB in the car (no unattended dogs in rooms) and went to the riverside bar wherein we found our parents in a well-intentioned but hazy fog of alcohol. m and i sat down and the bar waitress came out. we elected to step to the hotel restaurant next door given the general fatigue and condition of our party. the bar waitress disclosed how she'd gotten to know our parents over the past couple hours and told them of her approaching nuptials and her multiple emotions she was experiencing about getting married, which is all fine and cute, except she wouldn't stop talking really and it began to verge on inappropriateness and it dawned on me that the bar waitress seemed a shade or two shy of stone drunk. My parents and m's mother were in no condition to detect her state themselves - encouraged her banter. We collected ourselves and went thru the bar to the hostess station of the neighboring restaurant. end of backstory narrative.

begin main narrative. We tell the hostess that the 5 of us would like to sit down and eat please. She says 'just a sec' and runs off. Because part of the restaurant is sunken, we can see that it appears to be a slow night, only a few tables are filled. A couple minutes tock by. m's mom leaves us and finds her way to the restroom. we make small talk and another couple minutes tock by. It starts to feel like something is wrong operationally speaking since there's no real visible cause for delay. at long last the hostess returns and says 'is your whole party here?" which seemed mildly ludicrous since the five of us were just minutes ago assembled in front of her and to which i said 'um, yeah. one person's in the restroom'. the hostess grabbed menus and said 'well let's just walk really slow then' with a sort of smirk meant to indicate that we were somehow violating a restaurant dictate b/c our party wasn't all there, even though it was.

we were led to a sort of empty banquet room at the back of the restaurant and shown to a table with 4 place settings. "There's 5 of us" I said. The hostess looked annoyed though whether at us or at her own failure to properly convey the information to the table-setting crew i don't know. she grabbed a chair from a nearby table and put it at the edge of our table and quickly set a fifth spot. I sat on one corner, across from my dad and next to my mother. m sat at the new setting w/ her mother on her left. (The specifics of our seating arrangement was of consequence later as you shall soon see).

After a strange duration - given the emptiness of the restaurant - some menus appeared. We scanned them and awaited the arrival of the waiter and made small talk. After a strange duration - given the emptiness of the restaurant - the waiter appeared. He was a tallish doughy sort in black shirt, black apron, black pants and a kind of faux-chummy waiterspeak that was probably meant to convey confidence. He said "How we doing? My name is Brad I'll be your waiter. Can I get us started with some drinks?". Wine was decided on - despite several members of our party requiring no further alcohol and Brad disappeared for five minutes.

When he reappeared he was holding a small cutting board with three raw unappetizing chunks of meat on it. He launched into a presentation that had all the patina and charm of a powerpoint in a 2nd-tier corporate office park: "Now we are primarily known as a steakhouse and we have three prime cuts tonight, the new york strip, the porterhouse which has both a strip and a filet of course - and the bone-in ribeye...". He continued to discuss some of the significance of the "marbling" but by this time after looking at bloody meaty chunks most of us were leaning away from any of those options. Brad said "Does anyone have any questions?" and one member of our party drunkenly said "talk to me about fish" (i won't name names but it was m's mother) by which she meant talk to me about your fish options but since it came out funny it caused a brief moment of levity wherein m being kind and compassionate as she is wont to do, apologized to the waiter for the hassle and may have inadvertantly touched his arm or looked him in the eye.

Brad disappeared for awhile. We could see him thru the windows tending to a blond couple on the deck romantically sharing a the view and bottle of white wine. When he reappeared he said "Okay, we ready to order?". By this time we'd been seated for about 35 minutes so we emphatically answered his query in the affirmative. One member of our party drunkenly said "talk to me about fish" which added a surreal dimension to the proceedings since she asked the exact same thing verbatim minutes earlier. The table howled as m in turn apologized again to brad, perhaps with more enthusiasm this time.

Our food came out. Predictably it was on the unspectacular side but by this point we were all winding down, contending with various states and stages of exhaustion, talking out the plans for tomorrow and the rest of the wknd so it didn't really matter. The entrees were all served w/ a decorative orchid which m at one point stuck behind her right ear. We continued chatting. Eventually, the blond couple on the deck were gone and we were basically the only people left in the restaurant. My dad leaned over to me and said "did you see that?" motioning thru the windows outside. "What?" I said. "The waiter just took a shot of something. Whiskey I think".

Moments later Brad reappeared. "How we doing? We thinking about dessert?" None of us were, so full of food and alcohol that the impending walk across the parking lot to our rooms seemed like a feat. My mom said "Maybe tomorrow night" at which point Brad seemed to light up thinking that we would be back which we would not. We would never be back. Brad - standing at the foot of the table next to me and my dad - looked across the table at Margaret and the orchid behind her right ear. He said "You know, what is it, in Hawaii, they have a thing, what is it, where the women put an orchid behind their ear on the right side if they're taken and on the left if they're available".

A long interminable second slowly ticked off the clock. An exhaust fan kicked on somewhere.

Margaret said "Um, what?".

Brad continued "Yeah, in Hawaii. The right side means the woman is taken and the left means she's available".

Margaret, as politely and directly as her character allows said, "yeah, it's on the right side then".

Brad wanted to make sure she understood what he was driving at so he said "Right is taken"

Margaret replied "it's on the right side".

There was heavy silence as the table considered what we had just witnessed. A quick constellation of alternating despair and hope flashed across Brad's face. He attempted to regain his footing and managed, as casually as possible "So we'll all do dessert tomorrow night then"?


mogomom said...

absolutely surreal and awesome. must use in a movie some day.

CarrieP said...

"Talk to me about fish" is now my new waiter pickup line. Maybe we should go back to Lauro and I can try it out :D

Gigi Little said...

Amazing. I feel funny about all the glee surrounding this story - on facebook and here - but sometimes a gunky evening can make for a fabulous story. Thanks for the capper.

ms. yvon said...

"organic marionberry compote..."

good gravy, what a cheesy restaurant experience.

i agree with carrie: "talk to me about fish" has some legs. :)