Eating alone

I mostly eat alone. There are semi-regular meals with my children and grandchildren, yes, which I enjoy, and coffees on patios with friends, but I’m still wary of having people in on account of Covid. So, I eat alone. I’m eating well, thanks, taking care of myself, thanks, and I usually keep company with a book while I eat so eating isn’t actually the loneliest part of living alone. I know some people think reading while eating is a bad idea, one ought to be concentrating on chewing, I suppose, but that’s boring in the extreme. Eating alone, a book is a fine substitute for conversation. 

The other day, during that awful heat dome that pressed over the northwest of the continent, I decided to have supper at the local White Spot. My apartment doesn’t have AC, and I was managing with fans, but by the afternoon of that day it had gotten just too hot. I was compelled by the AC of a restaurant and the food would be a bonus.

“Table for one,” I said to the attendant at the front desk when I came in.

Slight pause. “One?”

“Yes, one.” She wrote it down and I sat down to wait. The place was full and more people were coming. Obviously I wasn’t the only one longing to cool down in an eating establishment. 

When it was my turn, I sensed some slight confusion, or perhaps dismay, by the front staff, perhaps as to where I should be put, one person taking up a booth when up to four might be seated, and that many more orders and income etc. etc. I had this weird fleeting wish to say that my husband had died, as if I needed to explain why I was eating alone, or as if to say, well there’s just one but actually two if you know what I mean but only one of us is visible. But that would have been awkward for them, and disingenuous on my part, for I was there specifically because of heat, not grief.

I had a better idea, though: I quickly offered to eat at the bar counter, which was empty due to Covid restrictions, and they thought that was just wonderful, to allow one person there. Their relief –honestly, it was palpable, I don’t think I was imagining it. I felt happy to do it too, for them and everyone behind me, also wanting to eat in a cooler place, so I’m not recounting this with indignation. It was interesting, though, to pick up these various vibes about “one” and also my own sensations in those exchanges.

The White Spot folks were super attentive to me after I’d made my “sacrificial” suggestion, and though I did feel a little conspicuous perched at my bar stool with my meal and water, without the protection of a booth, it was okay, I had a book, and also there was a hockey game on if I wanted to look up from the book, and the bartender and I had little bits of conversation about the game (like sports fans do, ha ha, after I’d asked what TB stood for and learned it was Tampa Bay playing Montreal). The manager bustled over at one point to ask about dessert and was perhaps overly enthusiastic about my choice of cherry pie, as if I’d pulled a winning ticket or something, though I believe it was because they were out of apple, which I’d actually wanted at first.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve eaten in a restaurant alone, and I’ve never been self-conscious about it, but this time I was, and I think it’s because in fact, I now mostly eat alone. As of course many do, regularly, but it’s newish for me, that’s what I mean. It wasn’t an exception being marked as much as an extension of personal reality into a public space.

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To mark Sundays, I use my china for breakfast.