Monday, March 18, 2013
In Which We Are Unjustly Judged and Subjected to the Stinkeye
Last Friday, some friends and I converged upon a certain pan-Asian North Park eatery, whose exterior wall is adorned with a mural of a hipster gremlin riding atop a pink Tyrannosaurus-Rex, where we enjoyed refreshing cocktails along with zesty noodles, savory won-tons, and spicy chicken. Despite the rain outside, it truly was a lovely evening, as everyone in our party of eleven deported themselves in a convivial and garrulous manner. In fact, even before the appetizers arrived there were moments when, I admit, some of my dining companions became a bit over-animated and perhaps unnecessarily clamorous, as passionate as they were about their conversation.
More than once, eyes turned toward our table, but we paid them no mind. It’s a capacious space, where the music and the chatter from tables merges to create an ambient hum that dulls the impact of all but the shrillest outbursts.
As the dishes were passed around the table and the drinks refilled, my cohorts became even more rambunctious. They gesticulated wildly, and brayed at each other across the table. They clumsily switched seats with one another, upsetting cups and dragging their sleeves through saucy platters in their urgency to interact closely with this diner or to escape the attention of that one.
When they began crawling under the table to switch positions or chase down a reluctant companion, I reached my limit. I hissed at them to please exhibit some decorum, despite their high spirits. As I said, the atmosphere in the restaurant was lively; but we were now drawing unwanted attention, and more than one look that could be described as “the stinkeye.” I was sure that, were the hour later, the very patrons who now cast sidelong glances would have been far more boisterous than my young compatriots; nonetheless, I didn’t want to create any ill will if I could help it.
As more diners arrived and the noise level relative to our table ascended, I ceased worrying about our party creating a disturbance: in any case, my previous admonitions, and those of other, more sober, companions, seemed to have had the desired effect on the rabble-rousers among us.
A contingent of the most ebullient of the young ladies in our group announced that they needed to retire to the restroom: so my male friend and I escorted them, lest they become distracted, lost, or simply begin eating off the plates of strangers. As my friend and I prepared ourselves to subdue them, they gamboled to the restroom happily, hand-in-hand. Adorable.
Their business in the lavatory having transpired uneventfully, we set out on our return trip to the table.
And then it happened: the aforementioned shrillest outburst. It arose first from the lungs of one of our three petite companions like the mighty cry of a sea eagle. Then it escalated as if the sea eagle were joined by a fire engine. Finally, when it seemed that the shriek could get no louder, the third girl opened her mouth, and an air raid siren wailed loudly enough that I was concerned about the plate glass on the storefront.
As the three tiny banshees synchronized their battle cry, they took to their heels, sprinting the breadth of the vast floor of the department-store-turned-restaurant. My male friend lit off after them, chanting, “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!” But it was too late. Every eye in the restaurant turned toward the tiny procession that somehow produced the sound of a ship’s whistle trying to drown out a foghorn.
As for myself, I took quite the opposite tack of my friend. I strolled casually toward my seat, and when diners craned their necks to see whence came the bedlam that disrupted their repast, I contorted my face to mirror their grimaces, shrugged my shoulders in empathetic bewilderment, plugged my ears, winced, and said loudly, “I’ve never heard such a racket! Whose children are they, anyway?!”
I may have fooled some of the customers, but the waiter rolled his eyes: he had seen the culprits sitting on my lap and eating from my plate. The diners in adjacent tables, several of whom happened to be acquaintances, also recognized me as the father of two of the three feral children. There was no way I could get away clean. So I sat back down with my family and our friends, and told my daughters that they were never again to play “Satan’s Fire Truck” in a crowded restaurant. Did they take the message to heart? We shall see, the next time we go out to dinner.
Some of the parents in our group were mortified by the spectacle our girls had created, but soon enough, a rowdy group of adults on the other side of the restaurant started shout-singing in the most cacophonous manner—something about “Happy Birthday to so-and-so,” followed by a cheer that reminded one of the drunken bellowing of spectators at a cockfight.
“Ugh,” I said. “What do those people think this place is? Charles Cheese’s Pizza Theater, or whatever that dreadful place is called?”
Anyway, I felt vindicated that the so-called grownups proved just as disruptive as our little darlings, and not nearly as cute.
This silliness originally appeared in our hyper-local newspaper, San Diego Uptown News.
I also have a piece up on The Atlantic right now. It's about sex and household chores.
Here's a teaser:
This is perhaps the most crucial lesson I’ve learned from my parents’ marriage, now in its 55th year. I didn’t actually hear it articulated until after I had already been with my wife for over a decade; but I had apparently absorbed the lesson through the years, because by the time I heard the formula expressed, I realized that I had been applying it in my own relationship all along. And, like my dad, I cared the most about very few potentially contentious issues.
When I read Alexandra Bradner’s “Some Theories on Why Men Don’t Do as Many Household Tasks” on the Atlantic, particularly her bullet points enumerating the “categories of invisible labor” that couples should be striving to divide equally, it struck me that the “Whoever Cares Most” maxim determines most of how the labor is split up in my own marriage, and—I assume—in those of many others. It would seem that, based on the scores of conversations I’ve had whenever one of these articles about the glacial progress toward labor equality in the home makes the rounds, women tend to care more about many of the issues these chores address than men do. For their passion about these elements of household governance, they are awarded the dubious victory of being in charge of them. And in being in charge, they tend to follow another, sometimes self-defeating axiom: “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”