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Like a Fish Out of Water

Went to McCormick and Schmicks for dinner last night. Erik and I hadn?t been out for a while and we fancied a white tablecloth and free bread kind of meal.

Our waiter was one of the local Austin comics doing his day (night) job. I know him reasonably well, he always greets me with ?alright guvnor?, delivered in a chim-chiminy bad British accent. Never gets old. Nope. Not even after 18 months.

But he didn?t do it tonight and this break with tradition felt quite awkward.

I’m always slightly uncomfortable in smart restauarants. Something about being waited on in a polite fashion that I find embarrassing. And when there’s a separate person to refill my water glass and clear my plate I just feel lazy and waited upon, which of course I am. But they don’t appreciate it when you try and stack up your tables plates. I did it once and the guy carefully unstacked and restacked them without saying a word. Never done that again.

While I was never a waiter, I did work behind the bar in a lot of restaurants and hotels and I know how rude and unpleasant customers can be. And I remember our petty acts of revenge on those who were.

So I probably overcompensate and go out of my way to be as friendly and easy-going a customer as I can. Pathetically grateful for the kind of service other people take for granted. ?Oh you?ve brought both our appetizers at the same time, how incredible kind and clever of you?. The exception would be Adam, the lazy tosser from Trulucks two months ago, whom I hope has since been fired. Besides him though.

When my comic friend/waiter came over to greet us, it was odd. It would be overly dramatic to say that two separate worlds collided. It was more like one of those venn diagrams from school where there’s two separate circles and a shaded bit in the middle where they overlap. Although, as I recall, with venn diagrams the shaded area is normally used to represent similarities rather than a slightly stiff social moment. Maybe a fish out of water would be a better analogy, especially as this was a fish restaurant. Not perfect, but I think I’ll use it as the title. Anyway, our normal meeting circumstances would be me pacing around in the back of the club, trying to remember my set. And him trying to bum a cigarette of me. What was I expecting of him as he approached the table? ?Hey folks, thanks for dining out tonight. How you all doing. So did you hear about the new Pez dispenser??*

And of course being my socially awkward self, I was unsure how to act. Whether to be all pally and chatty as if we were in the club, or more aloof and customer-like, given that I was out having a nice quiet dinner with my husband.

I doubt he felt the same, but I was very aware of my conduct all evening. First of all, I couldn?t choose between the 20 or so fish dishes for my main course (as I mentioned, this is a fish restaurant, it?s not some bizarre obsession of the chef) and kept asking my comic friend/waiter about different sauces and what he?d tried. To his credit, he was honest about the things he didn’t like and his recommendations were spot on. Then Erik suggested we share oysters as an appetizer. I’ve never been all that keen on oysters, it’s always seemed like a bit of a waste to swallow something down that fast. I just thought about changing that line, given the subtle trace of innuendo, but screw it. But more so, I wondered what kind of message we would give out by ordering oysters. That we were planning a night of hot sex or that our sex life was at the point where we needed oysters to add some frisson of excitement. Neither is true in fact and probably the thought hadn?t crossed my friend’s mind. Hopefully, he?ll never read this entry because I?m sure he doesn?t need this kind of thought, especially given the ‘just on-the-edge of-queasy’ themes of his stand-up material.

I’m also very aware of my body language in restaurants. Erik and I aren’t generally very touchy kissy in public and last night we weren?t even drinking that much and the conversation felt a bit stilted. If I?d been watching us in a play, I?d have thought our performance was a little wooden. Did we just look like a boring middle-aged couple to my comic friend/waiter? Don?t waiters love the tables that have a little bit of drama – tense words, stoney silences, some under the table groping. Aren?t the ones that have long periods of silence punctuated by a ?how?s your salmon taste?, just a little on the dull side?

Maybe it was a night like this that started the rumor among comics that Erik and I were getting divorced. Or maybe it was just the drunken night when I told some comics I was getting divorced. I still don’t know how the rumor started that I’d been deported, when I had to go back to England recently. Wishful thinking on the part of the comic that got my place in the semi-finals of the Funniest Person in Austin contest perhaps.

But limping on to the finale. (How fortunate that my blog isn’t like stand-up where you build up to your big closing laugh). After my fish – I went for the wild salmon – I was half in the mood for dessert but a little reticent to order because this is one of those restauarants where a dessert menu is apparently passe. No nice printed menu, just a huge bloody trayful of desserts which the waiter has to carry around the room and hopefully find a place on the table to balance it while rushing through the description of each item. You, having patiently listened and looked at the items being pointed at, feel obliged to order something having put the waiter to all that trouble. I have a strange mistrust of this dessert system, always imagining that I’ll be served the stale, poked at one from the tray while a fresh new dessert is put in its place. I don?t know why, I just do.

I don?t even know why McCormick and Schmick does the tray thing. It?s not as though their dessert list changes, we go there every few months and it?s always the same.

So we shared a plate of upside down inside out apple crumble and ice cream and paid the bill. I at least felt comfortable about this. I think we’re decent tippers. Not high roller loadsamoney types, but within the upper limits. I?m damned if I?m going to play up to that British stereotype.

And that was it. A perfectly pleasant and uneventful evening. Dinner with my husband. A mildly amusing situation of being served by a stand-up comic friend. And a ridiculous minefield of rules, insecurities, pointless observations and imagined scenarios inside my head.

* sorry, it’s one of those annoying and alienating in-jokes