Once upon a time, single diners used to take a book or a magazine into a dining room — God knows, I've done it myself — to pass the time while consuming a lonely meal. For some reason, having a "task" relieves the discomfort of dining alone. Now solo diners take cell phones into a dining room with them. And they talk.
I didn't experience much of that when I was a server, back in the day. But once I was a patron in a restaurant in a Los Angeles restaurant, and the man sitting behind me was having a cell-phone conversation — a very theatrical conversation — with Barbra Streisand. Or that's the impression he was trying to convey. I asked the waitress about the guy after he had paid and left, and she just rolled her eyes: "He sits there and pretends he talk to all kinds of people," she said. "But you should come back on Sunday. That's when he's in here talking to God."
As a waiter, I would frequently overhear tantalizing snippets of conversations as I checked on my tables. The problem was that a sentence or two, taken out of context, made it difficult to figure out what the conversation was really about. But not always.
There was the woman who abruptly stopped talking to her friends anytime I appeared at the table, but I did catch this line: "So I told him, 'Of course I knew you didn't love me when you married me. I didn't love you, either. And one more thing: I detest your horrible children.' "
I never ceased to be amazed by the number of customers I had who chose to break up during dinner in the middle of a crowded restaurant ("You said you loved me!" "I lied!") or used the occasion of an evening out to drop a particularly humiliating bomb: "Marvin is not your best friend, my dear. You've been having sex with him for years" or "Why didn't you ever tell me that you had been in prison?" (His answer? "I was waiting for the right moment.")
There was the sweet little old lady whom I overheard regaling her dinner companions with the tale of attending an orgy in the 1940s. ("During the war, my dear, San Diego was crawling with horny sailors") and the distinguished-looking gentleman calmly discussing how his leg had been amputated, all while carving his Kansas City strip into neat pieces.
There was the elegantly dressed woman who opened her purse just as I was serving dessert. She pulled out a foil-wrapped condom. "I always carry these with me," she said, giving her sheepish male companion a sly wink, "just in case." He gulped down his cocktail and asked for the check.
So what memorable conversations have you heard, Fat City readers, in a restaurant dining room?