The day before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails me: Are we on for tomorrow night?
A few hours before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails again: Did you make reservations or did you want me to take care of it? Also, any idea what the parking situation is? I get very stressed by parking.
No, I didn’t reserve. There is parking over by the mall. It is a block away from the mall.
Thank you, he replies politely. It would help to have your cell phone number, in case anything comes up.
I send it, and when I’m en route, a text arrives: There’s parking behind the restaurant. Take a left turn when you get there. Two hours free.
I hear the ping, but don’t reply. I’m driving.
I’m sitting at a table by the window, in the back.
I don’t reply. I don’t even read. Unaided, I find the parking and him.
For some reason, the restaurant’s website and menu suggested a small place, dark and rustic; it turns out to be a modern place, all angles and surfaces and perfectly groomed people wearing neutral colors. I feel a bit awkward until the waiter arrives, dressed in an incongruous bright blue polo shirt and not a hint of attitude.
The waiter makes helpful cocktail suggestions, and I order something he suggests is light and summery. The Former Australian attempts to order an orange Fanta; he doesn’t drink alcohol. The waiter doesn’t have Fanta, only some blood orange soda; it’s a brand I’ve had before, so I recommend it, and after a detailed three-way discussion of the pros and cons of blood oranges in general and this brand of blood orange soda in particular, The Former Australian orders one.
The waiter brings the drinks quickly.
I talk a bit about my day at work, then ask about his business: He owns and manages several commercial buildings, which he inherited from his father. You must be doing well, I say, the Seattle rental market is hot right now. True, he replies, but these are older buildings and we have to compete with newer buildings and large corporate owners. It’s very hard to compete these days.
The waiter appears, inquiring if we’ve had time to check the menu, so we do. Nearly everything on it is a mystery to him. What’s carpaccio? He asks me. Kimchi? Harissa? Gruyere? Emmentaler?
I explain what I know and he rejects the unfamiliar, which is pretty much everything. I order some shrimp and fritters made from beets and Emmentaler, and as I do, a thought occurs to me. Didn’t you live in France for a while?
Did you try the cheeses while you were there?
I like plain things, he says. I eat salmon a lot. Usually I have rice with it.
Do you cook?
No, I’m afraid to learn. It seems hard. I hired a private cook, though. She’s the daughter of a friend, she’s going to come over and cook for me a couple of nights a week.
What will she make?
Probably salmon, I guess, with rice.
There are services that will deliver meals to your house, I say. You can cook them, or some of the services will deliver gourmet meals already cooked.
I know, he says, but she’s going to keep me company, too. I don’t like eating alone, it makes me sad.
The Child texts me: she forget her key and can’t get inside our house. My friend up the street has a key, but isn’t home, but she can drive by, and so as our food arrives – rather quickly – I am coordinating a key delivery via text message. Finally, The Child is inside the house, and I receive multiple texts to that effect, and am ready to begin eating and resume conversing.
He asks what I think of Jdate, and I say not much. They’re good at luring you in for a subscription, he says. He tells me about another jdate he went on, with a woman who was very determined that they meet for an elaborate dinner date for their first meeting. I don’t have much to say about it, since I can only assume he asked her to suggest a place and then didn’t like the place she suggested, so I sip my drink and contemplate ordering another.
He asks: Have you heard of It’s Just Lunch?
I relate my experience with them, and he thanks me for saving him the money.
The food arrives, and I sample the beets, and don’t like them, and the shrimp, which is quite delicious. He picks a bit at his food, and eats so little the plate looks untouched.
He wants to know if I’ve tried any of the dating apps, and I think perhaps this is a conversation he should have with someone else after I’ve left, which I’m ready to do.
I glance up for the waiter but he’s already there, leaving the check on the table exactly between us.
Let’s just split the check evenly, suggests my date.
I make no objection, but as I open my wallet, I have a moment of clarity: His company isn’t company I am willing to pay for.
The waiter brings our charge receipts with the same magical speed as everything else he’s brought, and smiles as he hands mine to me. I smile back and write in a large tip, enough to ensure he’s been tipped for the whole table, with a little extra to say thanks, from me.
I end up walking to the parking lot with The Former Australian, since we both parked in the same lot. As we approach his Prius, I reach out to shake his hand, and he pulls me in for an awkward hug.