Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why I cried in the parking lot of a buffet restaurant: the conversation

Scene: An all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

Characters:

Bing: a 40 something woman with graying hair cut short. She is fit, walks like an athlete. She has a no-nonsense voice and a matter of fact manner. She is wearing jeans and a gray sweatshirt. You couldn't pay her to wear makeup. She was itching to bring the Sunday paper with her, but decided at the last moment not to because she knew Maria would tell her that it was rude.

Maria, Bing's partner: She is medium height, medium weight, medium good looking, medium everything. She has on a forest green sweater and blue jeans. Hoop earrings. Minimal makeup, eyes are puffy from sleeping in. She hates buffets because she once saw a child pick his nose and then finger some rolls at one and since then, gets queasy at buffets. She has only consented to come to this one because Bing wanted to go really badly and she couldn't think up a good excuse fast enough.

Our scene begins as they both return to their booth after loading up their plates. Bing's plate is full of fresh fruit. She has also been unable to resist getting a big bowl of grits, a nod to her southern heritage.
Maria's plate has only products on it that she thought nose picking children would avoid: a poached egg, hash browns, a prune danish, and two sausages. She has a large cup of coffee too, heavily loaded with cream.

They sit.

Bing: So, did you find good things?
Maria: Yeah. It was fine.

Bing doesn't say anything more. She digs into her food, isn't big on conversation. She is sorely missing that newpaper right now.

Maria eats small bites, looks around at the other patrons, mostly older people.

M: Did you ever notice that these buffets are largely frequented by old people?
B: Uh, yeah. I guess you are right. Old people and big families with lots of kids. Basically people who like to save a buck.
M: Did you see that hunched old man who walked by just now?
B: Um. yeah. He looked pretty old.
M: Just think, once upon a time, he was probably some handsome guy who played football in his backyard, had an eye for the ladies. I wonder how he did in school?

Bing doesn't answer. She is used to Maria going on tangents like this and finds it particularly boring, but is not going to say so unless Maria starts going on and on about it.

M: All these old people have a story. I wonder what they are.
B: Why would you care? You don't even know them, honey.
M: I know. It just makes me think of Orna, ya know? She used to be so productive and now she is at home right this minute, probably laying in bed bored. I hope that her weekend caregivers are making sure to give her pain meds to her on time.
B: I'm sure she is fine.
M: I don't want to die like she is, Bing. Promise me that you will shoot me if I get to the point where I have to have my family wipe my ass.
B: I promise. If I ever found out that I was going to die like she is, I would take Susie Q (her motorcycle) out and run her hard into a tree.
M: When I was there on Friday, she was craving pudding. Maybe when we get home, I will look up some good pudding recipes. She likes mangoes. Maybe I can find a mango pudding recipe.

Bing doesn't answer. She REALLY wants that paper now. Maria always does this, always goes off on tangents.

Another old humped over man walks by. Bing thinks to herself, "Shit!" Now, Maria will go back to feeling bad about old people and wanting to know their stories.

M: I wonder what HIS story is?
B: JAYSUS, Maria! Can't we just have a nice breakfast? Must we sit around stewing about old people?


Before she can answer, Maria's cell phone rings. She fumbles for it. Bing sighs. Why does she ALWAYS keep her cell phone in a hard to reach place? Why not just clip it to her jeans like she does? Instead, Maria is fumbling around in her purse while that stupid thing keeps blaring out some song about girls just wanting to have fun.

Maria finds it and looks at the caller id.

M: It's Liv!

She snaps the phone open.

M: Hi, lovey dove. What's up?

A pause.

M: Okay, sure. We will bring you home a doughnut from Krispy Kreme. Are you having fun at Aunt Hildy's? Yeah, see you soon.

Maria hangs up.

M: Liv wants us to stop at Krispy Kreme and pick her up a long john.
B: She doesn't need all that sugar.
M: No, she doesn't.
B: Why don't you just say no then?

Maria sighs deeply. This is an old tired argument.

M: Can we just enjoy our breakfast?
B: Yeah. Sorry.

Another old man walks by. He is helping an older woman with a cane. Bing sighs. Mentally asks the gods to please not let Maria start up again about old people.

M: Wow. They look as if they have been married for two hundred years.
B: Or maybe it just feels like it.

Maria gives Bing a long look, but doesn't answer.

They finish their breakfast in silence. This is not unusual. At the beginning of their love affair, Maria thought they would never run out of things to talk about, but sometimes they do now. She reminds herself to bring the newspaper along next time so that Bing won't get so crabby. Maria takes one long last drink of coffee and stands up. She digs in her purse to find a couple of dollars to leave the woman who has been so good about taking their dirty plates.

B: WHY are you tipping? Good god, Maria....it isn't as if they have to serve us here.
M: I know, but look at her. She is so young and I bet she is a single mom. She has that look. She must hate working here and she was so nice to us. I'm going to tip her.

She does. The woman thanks her and then she and Maria actually begin to have a conversation about their kids. The woman mentions that she is taking her 2 kids to see a movie today when she gets off of work. They discuss the movie Miss Potter. Should they go see that one? Bing is rolling her eyes. Why does Maria do this? Why can't she just not care what everyone's story is?

They begin walking out the door. The song Yesterday by the Beatles comes on. Maria stops about a foot from the door.

"Oh, God...I love this song!" she exclaims.

Bing takes Maria's elbow and ushers her out the door. On the way to the car, Bing finally has had enough.

B: Why are you so fucking sentimental about everything? People die, Maria. They get old. Orna will die soon. Liv will grow up. Hopefully, she won't grow up fat since we seem to ply her with too many long johns. If you want to be happier, stop CONNECTING so much to everyone. Stop caring if Orna wants pudding. Stop giving in to Liv's long john addiction. Stop wondering if old hunched up men were good in school. How about the next time we go out for brunch, we discuss the Husker's 2007 football schedule? I am sick to death of all this touchy feely shit!

Maria doesn't answer. She privately would not mind one bit if Bing tripped over her shoelaces right now and fell flat on her face. She gets in the car and stares straight ahead.

Bing, by this time, is feeling guilty. For the record, she loves Maria and most of what she loves about her is that she often pretends to be tough, but is actually very sappy on the inside. Maria only shares these sentimental things with her and Bing knows that she has ruined everything now. Battlestar Galactica is on tonight and she was really counting on some cuddle-under-the-blanket time while they watched it together. She has jeopardized this now because she can tell from Maria's jaw that she is pretty damn mad.

Bing attempts to apologize in the car. She hugs Maria, tells her that she is the best thing that ever happened to her and she is so, so sorry for being so bitchy. Maria snorts and looks out the window.

And then the song Goodnight My Angel comes on over the radio. This song reminds Maria of Liv every time she hears it and she starts blinking fast, but it is too late. Her throat is hot and tight and she knows that she is going to start crying.

She does.

An old couple walks out of the restaurant together, holding hands, walking slowly and gingerly over the ice.

Bing watches them for a moment and sees her chance at salvation.

B: That is going to be us one day, darlin. And I promise you, I will be right there with you, holding on tight, never letting you fall.

Maria is crying. Not blubbering. Just silently crying. Bing reaches over and holds her hand. Maria lets her. This is a good sign. There will be cuddle time tonight.

B: God, I love you. Do you know that?

Maria nods.

M: Don't forget to stop at Krispy Kreme, okay?
B: Yeah, okay.
M: And Liv is NOT addicted. For god sakes, she is too skinny if anything. So, lay off on the sugar bitching, okay?
B: Okay.

Maria snaps on her leather gloves.

M: What are we waiting for? Let's ride, woman.

They do. Bing is relieved that Maria's sappy mood seems to have lifted. Maria is feeling sheepish for being such a drip. She leans over and plays with the radio, looking for something upbeat.

The song Afternoon Delight comes on. They listen. Bing drives and leers at Maria.

M: Don't get any big ideas there, cowgirl.

Bing laughs. And the day is getting better already.

7 comments:

Queen of the Mayhem said...

I get like this from time to time......I can't stand it when I feel a cry coming on that I cannot stop!

Proxima said...

Ah, that's sweet. I'm like you Maria, always trying to figure where other people's lives are taking them. Hoping I'll go out like a lion and not like a lamb.
-P

Jill said...

Just another day in paradise, right? ;-) Sometimes you learn so much about each other through arguments like that that only last for a few minutes. Hope your cry was cathartic and that Bing did something nice for you this afternoon to atone. :-)

PBS said...

I'm like that too, to the annoyance of past partners. I can't not connect, can't not care. I think it would be much easier to be like Bing...but maybe the grass is greener.

Kelley said...

I saw a lot of myself in this post. My husband is kind of like my version of Bing, in that he's always telling me not to work myself up about those things or worry about them. It's not that he's not sentimental, it's just that he doesn't want me to depress myself. (He's realized that I happen to be very good at depressing myself!)

Lainey-Paney said...

I think about everybody's story too.
I'm a social worker. I can't seem to stop myself. It's just the way my brain goes.

And it's okay to be sentimental & sappy & "touchy-feely"!!!!

And it's okay to make mango pudding for someone who may die soon. Or hell, make it for anyone if you want to!

...and no, I don't think Bing is a terrible person. It "takes 2 to tango", it's differences that make it all spicy. and it's appreciating those differences & loving them...embracing them...that can make it all work!

And for Bing...good save when that little old couple came out!

My husband & I like to make up stories for people. (okay, okay, I started it.)
But...we may see somebody walk by...and I'll say: "she just got kicked out of college. Her parents took away the beamer, and she's mad as hell. she thinks a little retail therapy on daddy's am-ex will make her feel better. she doesn't yet know that the account is closed. she's spent all that time carefully picking out very, very expensive things here at Barney's...but when she gets to the counter..."
Oh, it's fun.
Now that I'm referencing it...all of our scenarios are hateful & "tragic" for those that we are people-watching.....hmmm....

Carrie said...

i'm just like you. Sometimes I just don't look at that helps.