People Sitting Next to You in Restaurants

David Kirby

They’re not bad. They just laugh and make too much noise.

                         But look at the fun they’re having! Maybe you’re not mad

but jealous. Actually, some are bad, like the bigot

                          in the pretty café in Venice who was paying

and used that leverage to browbeat his guests into silence, calling one

stupid and telling another he was a traitor because

                          he didn’t agree with his host on foreign policy.

So what? If your friends are dumb or unpatriotic,

                          you should either treat them kindly or get new friends.

You should certainly treat them kindly if you’re sitting next

to other people, i.e., me. And sometimes you are

                          the other person, as I was in that snout-to-tail restaurant

in London where Barbara ordered something sensible,

                          like a piece of fish, whereas I got the pig’s head.

I thought it was a metaphor. It wasn’t. It was a pig’s head,

with flappy ears and slits for eyes and little teeth

                          you could see because its mouth was slightly open

in a little piggy grin, as though it was glad I wanted to eat it.

                          There were three rail-thin folks one table

over, arty types dressed in black who looked as though they lived

on air and lettuce who kept pointing at the pig’s head

                          and jabbering away in a language I didn’t understand;

I had no idea what they were saying, but I bet it wasn’t,

                          “O that lucky man, to be eating such

a delicious pig’s head!” And “O that lucky pig, to be eaten by

such a distinguished gentleman!” Once a couple sat down next

                          to us at a restaurant in Florence, and it took me a while

to realize the man was a famous TV actor, but I knew

                          you never got anywhere by saying

“you’re a famous TV actor” to anyone, whether they are or not,

so I (a) addressed myself to his wife and (b) asked her

                          how she liked her meal, not whether or not it was fun

to be married to a famous TV actor. Very much!

                          she replied, and from there we went on

to talk about Italian art and actually made a date to meet the next

day at the Uffizi and look at the Botticellis.

                          I’m thinking that, the next time I order something

unsightly, I’ll only do it if the people next to me

                          have ordered something unsightly

themselves or seem about ready to do so, though how I would

know that is beyond me. Appearances are so

                          deceiving! The bigot in the Venetian café looked

like a nice fellow; certainly his suit was expensive.

                          Not everything in life is a Botticelli.

Maybe we should pretend that it is, though, that all people are nice,

all dishes appetizing, If you find yourself sitting

                          next to me in a restaurant, please come over

and introduce yourself. “David!” you’ll say. “It’s me,”

                          and state your name. You’ll order

one thing, I’ll order another, and then we’ll go look at the Titians.

about the author