Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Loser's Meal

They said it couldn't be done. Not for a man like me. Not for someone in my position. Not only that, something like this wasn't meant for a soul such as mine. And yet, it happened: I lived like they do.

My attire - both inside and outside - was impeccable. I glided into the restaurant - this place reserved only for whom fortune favored - and with one eye in the mirror I watched myself go by. The eating alone bit was difficult but I knew if I showed no qualms then no qualms would come to be. When one belongs, one merely takes one's place - it's expected. And thus, brilliantly, a homeless man arrived to expectedly take his place among the allegedly high and mighty.

It had been days in the making. Before I made my entrance I was going to need to move my mind to a better neighborhood. The zip code I joined was of the well-to-do professional. I could never fake having Old Money and besides, I saw those people as useless. My internal character was daring, scaring me to even think it. I was a hot, young writer - I had "it" - and everyone knew it. "Listen to this guy, he's got something." Most of all, I knew it too for my talent was no lie. Lord, does it feel better when you have something to bring to the table!

I didn't have to be super-famous but rather a star among my own colleagues, a man of respect. My air reeked of a bright, soaring future. My clothes were meticulously prepared and sealed in my rental storage unit. And while it's true that during these preparations a little voice was chiding me for my efforts, I merely smirked and put it down to jealously. This victory was going to be my own and not an ill-favored thing. Both the gods of earth's hell and God in heaven would taste the bitterness of my defiance. Sweet!

I have to admit, sitting at the finely laid table, despite my graceful entry and interaction with the waitress, I still held gnawing doubts as to the wisdom of ignoring the little voice. But I'm tired of hearing about all the things I don't deserve. Fuck you assholes! I deserve good things too. You sorry fucks are no better than me. I'm not fooled for a minute! You just think I can't see through you. I found out long ago, it's you who cannot see your reality - it's the one thing I can afford that you cannot.

I researched the menu online so I already knew what I wanted. My confident order was that of one who'd eaten here many times before. Mere routine. This is my world, honey. Heck, my act was so good even I started to wonder who I really am. I truly had slipped into this new skin and perhaps I found a part of me I never knew I had. "Maybe I really do have something?" If only I really was this person. If only I really did bring something to the table.

Surprised at my own easiness, my nerves dissipating completely for the moment, it got me to thinking. At first I was giggling. "How do you like me now, world? Eat it, you fuckers! I'm having everything you said I couldn't have! Like you deserve any more than I! Drop dead, bitches, turns out you don't know so much after all." I craved this. I want this meal every night and if I could get my hands on enough money, my victory would be permanent and irrevocable. Money is their hallmark of success.

But God has not lead me to money. Yet, neither has God delivered me from evil. For that, I cry out each day, to be lifted from the torments of the earth. But I have a pet theory about my conundrum. God knows I'm going to be faithful to whatever delivers me from this hell. It's a simple human condition. If money does it, I'll be faithful to money. If love does it, I'll be faithful to love. Because whatever delivers me is whatever I'll know truly works. And despite pretense to the contrary, every soul makes his choices based on two things: what it truly knows and faith. Problem is, both love and money require things I cannot provide.

My steak was served in full and glorious splendor. I had wondered if God were going to extract His revenge by fouling my food. But once again, I had victory as I savored every delicious bite - even though I still chewed on the thoughts of how I never wanted to be delivered from evil by just money and yet still could not ask to not be delivered. Yet with every passing morsel I laughed louder at my opponents seated around me. I mocked them and their exclusionary ways - ways that I defeated! Haha! "Fuck man, I'm doing this again. Money well worth gambled. It's not often I can give the finger to every god in the universe. At last, an outlet for my anger, for my living - if only a very occasional one."

I tipped generously - as every winner does - and even brazenly stopped in the bathroom on my way out. Bathrooms are a special place to the homeless, we use them as retreats and every homeless person instantly sizes up every one he enters. I tried to fight that - I was not homeless that night - but I was alone and I decided what the fuck. Look at that marble sink. The place was spotless and filled with air freshener. Just imagine if this were my own personal, private domain! I know, I know - true winners would not have gone through this thought process but I couldn't help indulging myself. I lingered a few moments before bracing myself to the return to my life of the public restrooms I normally endure.

I saw myself with a rare smile in the mirror as I washed my hands and exited. My calculations of defiance had been perfect and not one thing was to be found to quibble with on this near-magical evening. Next time, it would be magic because I had found a spot at last. And then it happened. "Dear God, Jesus!" I ducked back into the hallway leading to the bathrooms. "Dear God, don't let anyone see me now!" Shattered, sickened and destroyed, my body physically shook. And naturally some older businessman passes me by and I have to put up a failed smile for him. My facade has only seconds to remain. "Fuck, fuck, fuck! I should have known! You fucking idiot, moron fraud!"

Maybe it wasn't her. Maybe guilt has me imagining things. Safely after the couple was escorted to their table, I asked the hostess out of burning curiosity and fear: "That couple looks familiar to me. Do you know their name?" "Oh yes, that's Mr. and Mrs. Hanssen," - then the knife stuck in further - "They eat here quite often. Do you wish to sit with them?" I managed a "No, thank you," and took my pounding heart out the door and didn't stop walking until I found a nice, safe alley, back where I belonged; the restaurant now one more shameful stain on my resume.

The meal I pretended as routine, was routine for her. My stolen moment of victory was an everyday occurrence for her. Her life required no pretence. Who would want to pretend anyway? There is no defying the gods. Why do I keep searching for that as the answer?? Debby had done things right. I just hate admitting it. It truly, truly sticks in my craw. I looked down at my hand in the shadows and it was shaking. I wanted all the world to see me as a winner. But from somewhere up in the heavens, they could look down and see a scared, lonely man trembling in a half-lit alley, hoping to fool the world.

Post Script: Later, I realized my mistake. It was lingering in the bathroom that got me. Yes, I was alone and no one could possibly know I'd dropped my facade, but had I not spent those few extra moments, I'd have never crossed paths with the Perfect Pair and their royal procession. My illusion would have remained intact. But this is what happens when your "success" exists only in the minds of others. Once again, I sabotage my own efforts. But then again, illusion is so overrated.

No comments: