Obviously the holidays are over and all that “goodwill to men” business has expired. I went to lunch at Cheesecake Factory with my sister and our girls. After waiting—blinkers on—then pulling into a parking place, my sister was given the double-barrel bird by a spike-haired young man who gunned, then braked for the same spot. He not only attacked like Jasper-on-a-paper-cut but bore a faint resemblance to the bloodsucker from the Twilight series. I know because we got a closer look when he stomped toward the hostess shaking his head.
We had hoped he and his girlfriend had cooled off and were shopping somewhere in the mall for hair products or skinny jeans. Though my sister’s lane led to a better parking place, she lamented that she hadn’t taken the higher road. She had returned his gesture in kind. She wished she had handled his hostility in a different way, mostly as a better example to the girls but also because she feared he’d key her car. Now she wondered if he’d make a scene. Though naturally camouflaged by the post-holiday hoard that had left leftovers to eat out, we played it safe and took cover. We skulked. Peering at Huffy Britches through the fronds of a potted palm tree, we were relieved to see him roll his eyes at the waitress, throw his hands in the air at the 40- minute wait and stomp out, his female friend running to catch up. Good thing. Had they stayed, the scene that erupted next to us would have blown our cover.
A twentysomething woman in a tight sweater and tighter jeans grabbed the elbow of the manager, then folded her arms back across her chest. She was petite but buff—the image of (and I promise I’m not that into Twilight but my daughter is) another butt-kicking vampire. Shaking her pixie and tapping her foot, she demanded to know why three parties of two had been seated before her. Apologizing in a wearily mechanical, forced cheerful/self-deprecating voice, the manager explained that since she had requested to be moved from the table where she and her boyfriend had previously been seated, it might take a moment to work them back in and find a booth more to their liking. An explanation she did not like. As a Cullen clone she didn’t show fangs but ground out through clenched teeth: “We expect a table now.” Grabbing the menus from the hostess who had just taken the pager from another couple she was seating, the manager parted the crowd and showed Miss Feral to the table. Though relieved, I was confused. She first seemed more vampire than werewolf, but as she berated the manager all the way to their seats, her bark was as formidable as her bite.
At any rate, once seated, we used our napkins to wipe away the spewed venom and had a really great lunch. We wanted to get our college girls together before they headed back to their respective schools. My niece would be eight hours away until spring break. She and my daughter are four months apart. They’ve grown up one street from each other, our backyards almost meeting. Three streets over is the school they started as kindergarteners and left as high school graduates. I still miss seeing them in my senior English class. Last August seemed last week when we took them to Savannah for a graduation trip and to check out Emily’s art school. One last fling before they moved away but hopefully not apart. Over four kinds of cheesecake we reconnected over old times—family stories that made us who we are. We caught up on new adventures—recent experiences that make us who we’re becoming. My younger niece, a ninth grader like my son, was there, listening and laughing but probably not realizing how soon she will be where they are—grappling with adult decisions about majors and careers while living in limbo between a dorm and the place they’ve always called home.
Some have lost their festive faces. I did when I returned home to clean gutters. As I pulled out black hunks of rotted leaves—mulch really– I thought, “This is rich.” I remembered my broken stove. I wondered if the external hard drive I had bought and just hooked up actually worked…and why the 1-800 number for support was “out of service.” Maybe I should rename my blog. Maybe all that stuff about the joys of a rich life sound too Pollyanna—too hopeful romantic? As a throwback to the days I’d sneer at the “Life is good” sticker on my friend’s jeep (I wanted to snap that stick-figure-man like a twig), I remembered that life is good. I’m still on Christmas break, and that’s good. I can go to movies, be a Guitar Hero, and eat cheesecake. Because I’m not at work, I can shop for groceries really early in the morning. When the only other customers in the store are elderly couples still together after a lifetime of hating life and loving it. Couples who smile at me and say “Good morning.”