Natalie had one of her extracurricular activities last Friday. Something to do with Feminist Fridays or something. I never really know, not that I wasn’t told, just that I wasn’t paying attention. Outside of her day job, I really couldn’t tell you what Natalie does in these groups she’s involved with. I picture them in a makeshift bunker somewhere below the streets of Gainesville where you have a secret knock to gain admittance and first-timers are brought blindfolded.
And everyone wears berets. I asked her once, for assurance, if she would ever participate in a violent overthrow of the government.
After a very long pause she said, “… no,” and then quickly broke eye-contact.
This event also included the birthday of Natalie’s good friend, Stephanie, who was turning thirty-one. Natalie asked me if I’d like to come and named all of her friends that I like who would be there (and the ones I don’t like… you know who you are*). I agreed. I try to go to these things when I am invited. It’s food and I like food. I often feel I have little to contribute to the conversation but i don’t want to be the jerk boyfriend who never leaves the house. I used to go to a Tuesday Trivia Night at Kazbors and one of the girl’s always came alone because her boyfriend was home playing World Of Warcraft. He did this every evening for four to six hours. He didn’t keep that girlfriend for long. I don’t want to be that guy.
The plan was to meet for dinner at The Top. This was decided by Stephanie, from what I have been told, under duress.
I hate The Top. It’s just not my kind of place. Lots of young kids work there who make me feel old sporting their sleeve tattoos and enough hoop earrings to easily be mistaken for a spiral notebook.
Look at me. I have a spike in my lip and and enough eyeliner to be mistaken for a racoon… would you like some curly cheese fries?
None of the furniture matches (the same for another Gainesville favorite, Satchel’s) which is fine for eclectic design but plays havoc with my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Instead of what should be a Hostess Podium is a glass showcase full of kitsch late seventies and early eighties shit like Viewmasters and Six Million Dollar Man action figures. All this yard sale stuff has price tags so I guess it’s for sale.
It makes me feel like someone opened a restaurant in their garage after a yard sale that didn’t work out.
There is no employee uniform so unless they’re holding a notepad I never know who works there. I can name you all twenty-two James Bond movies and can’t remember my waitress five minutes after she walks away if she isn’t in a uniform. Oh, and for some reason all the young men in Gainesville seem to feel the need to grow these amazingly unruly beards. Not the kind of beard that says, “That guy must be an authority on something because clearly he looks like he’s writing a thesis paper,” but instead, “That guy must live in a shack in the woods where he’s clearly he’s writing his manifesto to the government.”
They take no reservations so if you have a large party (ours was nine) then good luck with that. Oh yeah, and they won’t split a check. Everything goes on one tab if you decide to use plastic. Natalie and I always forget this and had to walk a block to the bank and withdraw fifty bucks. I knew a guy who was a complete tool to his wife throughout my youth. Eventually, after decades, she told him she wanted a divorce. It later came out he’d been miserable for years but never left her because he didn’t want to be the dick that left his wife and their three kids. His solution was to make her life miserable so she’d leave him and he wasn’t the bad guy.
I feel The Top doesn’t really want to be a restaurant so they just try and piss me off enough so that I’ll never come back and they can say they gave it the old college try.
And they don’t have enough pagers so when they run out they take your cell number down and call you. This crap never happens at Chili’s.
So we stood outside on the sidewalk for an hour starving like hostages. Our crowd kept getting bigger and when our table was eventually called we’d gone from nine to nineteen. Suddenly we start discussing how we’re going to break our group up into smaller groups so we can get seating which defeats the entire point of being here together anyway. I kept my mouth shut and was quiet when Natalie asked me if I planned on ordering food.
JIM: I’ve been standing here for an hour. I’m ordering food.
NATALIE: We can go somewhere else.
JIM: We’re already here.
NATALIE: If you order food it’s going to take them another hour to get it to you.
JIM: If my ass hits that chair I am ordering food.
And Natalie pulled the plug. She gave Stephanie a hug and we wished her well but told her we had to go. We still had an hour drive home to Ocala. Natalie offered some drive-thru and I wasn’t interested in eating in a dark car on the way home. I would tough it out until we got home and I did.
Some people don’t like chain restaurants but I do. I like predictability in real life (not however, in movies). I like going into any Perkins in America and knowing what’s going to show up on my plate. Knowing that the Long John Silver’s in Seattle is probably exactly like the Long John Silver’s I had that night on Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala where I am pretty sure they’ll deep fry your cole slaw if you asked them nicely.
* I am kidding. I like all of Natalie’s friends except that one who’s name I can never remember.