At the Restaurant

by Stephen Dunn

“Life would be unbearable
if we made ourselves conscious of it.”
— Fernando Pessoa

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you’re thinking–

stop this now.

Who do you think you are?
The duck à l’orange is spectacular,
the flan the best in town.

But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.

And there’s your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you’ll dare not say

without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It’s part of the social contract

to seem to be where your body is,
and you’ve been elsewhere like this,
for Christ’s sake, countless times;

behave, feign.

Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan’s

black dress, Paul’s promotion and raise.
Inexcusable, the slaughter of this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent man.

8 responses to “At the Restaurant”

  1. Mona Roberts Avatar
    Mona Roberts

    Good to know I’m not alone….the “parties” particularly get to me….I’ve stopped going…I’ve always hated parties…the mundane conversations leave me watching the clock and asking myself if I stayed long enough to make a graceful exit…as to not offend. At my age I do not care anymore if I offend people because I refuse to go to their parties…I simply do not have a good time. Often I do not know many (if any) of the people there (barring the hostess)…at least not intimately…knowingly…they don’t care about my life and I not theirs.

    I don’t want to look at their vacation pictures…I’m tired of a life time of oooing an awwwing and feigning interest in:……..”here is the mountain we are going to hike that day from across the city… it is 20 mi away…here it is 5 mi away…here we are at the foot of the mountain…here we are 1/4 way up….oh…that is my aunt sally an her 2nd husband Rick and their 4 children….two from a first marriage…etc…etc…etc” and if I try to go through them too quickly…to end the torture I get…”NOT SO FAST….I need to explain….bla bla bla…..” ….no my head is not where my body is because if it were I would slit my own throat. Survival instinct kicks in and is a priority.

    The hostess of these events is sometimes a long time friend (aquaintenece) of mine….they invited me personally…insisted I come….and when I did a hostess has no time for one individual (understandably so) …so I’m left with my own devices…bored to the point of depression. They often just want numbers…numbers somehow assure the success of the party…however, if it is a shower, wedding or even birthday party…assure more gifts. I don’t want to be a number…I’d rather be nothing…and I can send a gift without being there. In the end it’s all the same to them.

    My son has paranoid schizophrenia …..a mental illness that is highly misunderstood…on many levels. In his younger days he did drugs….many attribute that to his illness…when I tell them the disease is genetic…they say…without fail…”well the drugs couldn’t have ‘helped’”……I tell them…no the abuse of drugs didn’t “help”…neither did him taking a shower every day…”help”…they look at me like I am nuts. I like that now…when people look at me like I’m nuts. 🙂

    Any how….how does one bring that up at a party? The things that really concern me? The things that really matter? The things that occupy my mind to the point of madness….without total ostracization?

    I listen to how well their children are doing….their grandchildren and I can’t relate. I will never have grandchildren….I don’t want grandchildren…my son’s disease is genetic. The thought that he would have off spring terrorizes me. I can’t go through this…yet again.

    I once brought up to a few people…when they questioned me about grandchildren and when I’m going to have them. That is always such a odd question….as if I could bring such a thing about…as if it’s my responsibility..even if I had a healthy child. Any how…I tell them I don’t want grandchildren ….one woman said to me, “Why not? So you won’t be old?”….hahaha as if me not having a grandchild…would keep me from being old. Funny 😀 When I explained my situation (during a time I used to explain) they looked at me oddly…pityingly….and recoiled from me. I am now glad they do…I expect it….I welcome it…and they never disspoint me 😀 One less “party” I won’t be invited to…and have to turn down.

    One woman asked me if the disease is genetic…then why on heavens earth did I have children. I told her I had no idea this ran in his father’s side of the family and even if I did…33 yrs ago…in my ignorance had no idea it was genetic. However….I love my son so very much…would I not have given birth to him if I had the fore sight? I can’t answer that….oh never mind…she answered it for me….”she” would never have!

    This being said…I don’t hold myself above these people…in many ways they are better then me…more motivated…more ambitious…more happy. It is not their fault I see life for what it is….that I no longer live in the myths and delusions they do. Tragedy does that to one…I don’t wish it on them just to be understood. I wish them all well…hope they can continue in their fantasy…and never see the light….that brings the darkness.

    But socialize with them? I cannot…I live on another planet.

  2. henitsirk Avatar

    I love this: “It’s part of the social contract / to seem to be where your body is.”

    I have a hard time with that one quite often. In my case, escaping reality is somehow appealing far too often.

  3. Irene Avatar

    I just wanted to smile in resonance with your post, and Deb’s comment. Not a smiley smile, just a slow smile, an understanding, glad-I’m-not-alone smile.

    Happy New Year, with love.

  4. The Librarian in Purgatory Avatar

    Reminds me of a quote that I have always loved from Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness”:

    “I found myself back in the sepulchral city, resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces, so full of stupid importance.”

    Tomb of the Unknown Complex

    Thoughts that go
    too far
    are never at home
    when they return.

  5. orwhatyouwill Avatar

    This ability to be interested in endless talk about nothing… is this mainly an introvert/extrovert thing?

    Are there more extroverts than introverts? I feel like it’s almost like left-handedness… like most people are extroverts (and willing to endlessly talk about nothing, a la FB and twitter and texting and blah blah!).

  6. Deb Avatar

    This is why I have such a hard time with socializing because I want to talk about more than the raise or the dress. I want to find out what you really think about the unrest in the Middle East or the treatment of women in third world countries, or how your children are really doing. I want to know my friends, not just their surfaces but most people skitter away from this knowing.

    My mother is always aghast that I tell people that my son was in prison, but it’s part of my life. I am not ashamed that my son made mistakes, that I made mistakes. It’s how we grow, how we all grow. Do I have to be perfect for her to love me? I guess that’s the real question. Seems you’ve opened a can of worms Eve.

    Tell your children it’s snowing here as I write, great huge fluffy flakes, the driveway is piled high and the streetlights just turned off at 9am because it’s so dark out. I can feel the earth slowing down, not yet spinning towards spring yet. It’s time to wait, to be still.

  7. Eve Avatar

    Hahaha, this is fabulous, MJ!
    Holy cow, take a bow!
    But… let’s not get messy. ;o)

  8. Mary Jane Hurley Brant Avatar

    We look at our plates, we look at our mates, we look at our fates.

    We say what now, we say holy cow, we say take a bow.

    We say scotch and soda, we say martini dry, we say I often disliked him he rarely could fly.

    We say hello words, we say hello paint, we say give me fab movies and I know I shall faint.

    We say let’s be grown up, we say I thought I was, we say oh no baby, there was never a prenup.

    We say oh it’s okay, we say I am blessed, we say let’s not get messy, it’s really enough.

    We say this year’s over, we say that’s okay, we say God’s in charge now, we trust come what may.

    Peace and love to Eve,
    Dec. 31, 2010,

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