Friday, March 3, 2006

The Would-Be Sultan, Subverted

I once went to a rib joint with my friend Joe. We were waited on by a stunning brunette who seemed to be flirting with both of us rather brazenly.

When she brought our dinners to us, she offered us bibs with a wry grin and a tuneful laugh. Joe and I exchanged glances and almost with one voice said to the girl “Yeah, sure. Why not?”

It seemed a charming sort of a lark - an opportunity to demonstrate how game and secure we were and what keen, ironic senses of humor we possessed. Our confidence and joie de vivre would communicate amply what giving and lyrical lovers we would make, surely.

She offered to tie the bibs on for us. As she came around behind me I arched my eyebrow at Joe and gave him a lopsided smile, full of significance.

Having an attractive woman gird a bib onto you in a restaurant is a heady experience. More than any other service of modern life save perhaps the massage, it suggests a kind of opulent servitude. In the moment, it felt like nothing so much as having a harem girl in a diaphanous gown feed me grapes, or fan me with a palm frond, or fill my goblet with wine from a bejeweled decanter.

The dance of the seven veils bibs.

In short, I felt important and powerful.

But when she had secured the bib and moved from behind my chair in order to repeat the task for Joe, a curious transformation of my mood transpired.

I felt stupid.

It was more than that, though; in the split instant of time between the bib being placed around my neck and the waitress removing her hands from my person, I underwent a profound reversal of emotion. I went from feeling regal and pampered, to feeling emasculated and childish.

I was, after all, just fitted with a device designed to catch foodstuff that fell from my mouth accidentally as I ate.

The experience of having that girl tie the thing around me was exciting. The experience of wearing it in front of her was painfully embarrassing.

As I watched the waitress tie on Joe’s bib, I saw in his eyes the same sudden swelling of potency and then, as she completed the operation, the same deflation in his demeanor. The girl left us to our meal and Joe and I stared silently at one another for a long, awkward moment before removing our bibs.

The girl never said anything or gave any sign that she noticed or cared that we had cast our bibs aside. She continued in her flirtatious vein and was attentive in all the usual waitress ways, but Joe and I hadn’t the anima left for any flirting in return. At least the act of eating ribs was still masculine and primal. It was likely that fact alone that salvaged whatever could have been salvaged.

Oh, and neither of us dropped any food onto our shirts. We aren't animals.

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