Well! I think I have my routine at restaurants down pretty well. Here’s how it goes.
I am seated.
I look at the menu.
I get a boring beverage like water or Diet Coke.
Then I ask the waiter or waitress as nicely as possible, since I am semi-screaming already, “Can you please turn down the music?”
You see, it’s deafening in there. Hell, it’s deafening everywhere these days. I think they want it loud, because that shows a place is happening and successful, full of people screeching important things at one another, their voices ricocheting off the concrete, their silverware clattering, their goblets overflowing, their laughter raucous and high-pitched.
And the music? Jesus, the music. I have no idea what it is, since I am a musical dolt, the kind of person nobody wants in a happening restaurant, especially in the Live Music Capital of the World. All I know is, the music is ear-splitting, pulsating, relentless. It assaults your ears, it vibrates through the floors, it takes up cacophonous residence in your head like one of those old Excedrin commercials.
“Can you please turn down the music?”
I say it nicely. Firmly, but with a breezy we’re-all-in-it-together bonhomie. Surely the waiter or waitress is sick of it, too. Weary of all the screaming and pulsating and aural gyrations, trapped like a rat in a lab experiment testing how much racket it takes to make a rodent non compos mentis. Surely!
Sometimes, yes. Yes, of course, the music will be turned down! Pronto! Bien sur! Oh, and do you want your water sparkling or flat?
Sometimes, no. Rolled eyes, subtle smirk, just a soupcon of ageist condescension. “We’ve already turned down the music once,” a waitress announced recently, which made about as much sense as a filthy child telling you he just took a bath last week, so what are you freaking out about, you old bat?
But never mind. I am getting a headache. I am tired of being patronized and deafened. I don’t care how great the food is. I am already looking forward to leaving, to that transcendent moment when we step outside and the roar subsides and our ears cease ringing.
My husband and I muse about a restaurant that would be perfect for people like us, people our age — a quiet and hushed space with soft music, bigger lettering on the menus so you can read it in the candlelight, servers who are respectful but not overly unctuous, who like us because we’re polite and presentable and not overly demanding and we always tip 20 percent unless they’re total dicks. Oh, yes, the kind of place where the hum of quiet, intense conversations and shared and muted laughter — which is music to me, music I do appreciate — lingers in the background.
This isn’t the Early Bird special — not yet, anyway. I prefer terms like quiet and sophisticated and elegant.
But then (I lecture myself), I don’t want to get too hyper-sensitive, too defensive about this whole aging business. I don’t want to assume a waiter or waitress isn’t thrilled to serve me because I am of a certain age and bitch about the volume; maybe it’s really because I’m a Sagittarius and a left-winger. I want to be open-minded, after all. Open-minded to the point of porousness.
But then (I go on), maybe this is all how it happens as you get older. The world gets louder and faster and more frenzied. Or maybe it’s always been that way and you’re finally noticing it, you’re finally falling just a step behind.
So what do you do? You speed up, of course. Apologize when you slow the pace. Push yourself more. Ignore the loud music; pretend you love it; beat your foot in time to it; grin like a half-wit.
Good grief, who are you kidding? This isn’t enjoyable. This is uncomfortable, this is hard work. To hell with trying to catch up with the loud, spinning world, you decide peevishly; you will go your own (increasingly poky) speed and let it blast and spin and gyrate past you. You will take your business and go elsewhere (where? you don’t know). Good riddance; so long, suckers; don’t forget to text.
But — niggling questions sprout like weeds. Is this how you grow old, withdrawing a little more each year from the world? How often do you keep venturing into the world and asking to be accommodated (turn down the music, slow your pace, quit mumbling)? How often do you just suck it up and hope nobody notices? Were you really there and does it count if you always leave early? What’s the difference between being a realist and a surrender monkey?
My husband thinks I take things too hard, analyze them too much, overreact. I have no idea what he’s talking about. Just because the music is too loud and I’ve been launched into a full-blown existential crisis — you call that overreacting?
We’ll have to talk when we finish our meal and go outside.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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