Sunday, August 10, 2008

Table for One

hopperI’m a fan of the occasional solo dinner or night out, alone. Maybe my plans have fallen through, maybe I just feel like channeling my inner Garbo, but from time to time, I want to be alone, in public. I’m not talking red dress, martini sipping and eye contact with a handsome stranger across the room clichés. (Though I’d welcome the scenario!) More like: see who you might meet, if you’re out in the city, solo, open to learning (or inventing) someone’s story who happens to cross your path. I’ve befriended a lonely old man in a worn out cap who wanted to show me pictures of his grandchildren, a Cuban version of Jack Nicholson who invited me to smoke pot in his limo outside Employees Only, and a gay bartender who introduced me to a great new sherry and ended up crying on my shoulder later in the evening about a gymnast who’d recently broken his heart.

A little after my own recent breakup, I found myself at Balthazar, having taken my tattered copy of East of Eden out for a late lunch date after location scouting for an upcoming Dinner Belle event. I was reveling in this treat: sitting alone, alternately reading, then people-watching, over my cool, summery crab mayonnaise and creamy glass of Chardonnay. I was sitting near a gorgeous older woman who was without Steinbeck or any other kind of man to keep her company. She had perfect, “just from the salon,” dark, gray hair with a single streak of silver right in front. (I find that Cruella deVille look quite beautiful but my mother assures me I’ll dye it religiously when my hair starts to turn grey…we’ll see). This distinguished lady had huge rings on her fingers, one emerald and one ruby, neither on her left ring finger. She looked very Chanel, very “huge apartment on the Upper East Side all to myself, thank you very much.” But the twinkle in her eye and the grilled octopus on her plate said she ventured farther outside her comfort zone than just down to SoHo for an occasional, solo luncheon. As she departed, she smiled and nodded, and in a cool, smooth voice she said, “Have a good afternoon.” On the table, she left what looked like a sizeable tip and in the air, a hint of musky perfume.

The image of this, the classiest of classy women, has been stuck in my mind ever since I saw her. Maybe it’s Nini’s wedding invitation staring at me from the front of the fridge, or my disappointment that the Italiano still can’t seem to show up when he says he will (even just to return some DVDs), but this elegant character, this woman comfortable enough with her own company to dine out without even a novel, makes me hopeful that I can be as breezy and independent at any age. When I don’t have a man, I’ll take a book to bed, and when I don’t have a good book on me, I won’t sweat it, I’ll take my chances on dining truly alone.

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