Eating at a restaurant alone is never fun. Lonely dinners make me really self-conscious, as though everyone else in the restaurant is looking at me and pointing. This, of course, isn’t true, because everyone else has someone to talk to. The only person who would be bored enough to pay attention to me dining alone would probably be somebody else who has no one to eat with.
The other night I had a lonely dinner at a little noodle place in Korea. The place seemed perfect to me because there weren’t many people there. I sat at a small table made of wood and poured myself a cup of water. I like when wood is left looking like wood, unpainted and unvarnished. Although my table was definitely varnished, it still maintained an excellent deep brown wood color. I understand that there’s nothing interesting about this, but I didn’t have anything better to think about. It was, I guess, the thinking equivalent of a really boring conversation.
French songs played on the radio. Later, I heard Maria Carey sing “I’ll Be There.”
“Why am I hearing this?” I wondered. There was no reason I should be hearing Maria Carey. I flew over an ocean to escape the likes of her, and here she was. I imagined some lonely Korean guy in an Applebee’s in Pennsylvania, hearing Big Bang play and feeling a similar sense of frustration.
The woman working there came up to me. “Take out?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “Here,” and I put my palm down on the table to show her I meant business. There was a menu already sitting on the table, as if it had been waiting for me. I looked through and swiftly ordered cold noodles in beef broth. After ordering, I sat and waited. “I should do something,” I thought. “What should I do?” I looked through the menu again. Then, having exhausted its four pages, I just sat there until the noodles came.
I mumbled a half-hearted “thank you” in Korean and fumbled with the chopsticks. They were made of thick blue plastic, which made them easier to use than the Korean metal chopsticks. I don’t hold chopsticks exactly the right way, and sometimes Koreans will correct me. It doesn’t matter to me because I’ve never held my pen properly and I’m quite comfortable writing, all the while enjoying a chaotic vision of a world where no two people hold their pens the same way.
Back to dinner. My noodles were hair thin and grey. The broth was brown and had ice in it. I love ice, and will never refuse it. In water, in soda, in soup…anything but beer, unless the ice cubes are made of frozen beer. While I ate, a young couple came in and sat near me. They spoke Korean. I wondered if they were watching me eat. My teeth were incapable of cutting the noodles and I found myself having to let some noodles flop back out of my mouth from time to time. I felt embarrassed and didn’t look over at the couple. I assumed they had sharper teeth and couldn’t empathize.
There was a hard boiled egg in my soup. I tried picking it up with my chopsticks but dropped it, splashing beef broth up into my face. Did anyone notice? I hurriedly looked straight down. I could hear the young couple talking and laughing. Were they talking about me? I stabbed the egg in a fury until it broke into bits, then ate them. I had to show everyone that, in the end, I was the one in control and not the egg.
After finishing, I got up to pay. My knee hit the table hard, but I made sure to show no signs of pain as I hobbled to the cash register and then limped out.