I am minding my own business. Just standing in line at the gelato store, where I’ve dragged my husband, who inexplicably doesn’t like sweets. Eyeing the flavors, wondering how big a helping I can order without looking like a total pig.
(A month ago, I ordered two desserts at a restaurant. I wasn’t actually dishonest or anything. I just kind of implied the desserts would be for both my husband and me. “But I don’t want a dessert,” he said loudly. “That’s OK,” I said, speaking through my teeth, trying to smile at the same time and aim one of those long-married will-you-stop-humiliating-me-in-public, you-cad? looks at my husband. By this time, though, the waiter and half the room knew about my little dessert problem. I wanted to die, but managed to eat both desserts rather quickly. Later, my husband and I had a little talk.)
But, anyway. I’m still in the gelato line, salivating and minding my own business, kind of. But this is taking forever. That’s because the couple of in front of us seems to be having an impassioned, heart-to-heart talk with the server. I begin to listen to their conversation, since I’m so hungry and need to focus on something besides my growling stomach.
“I just don’t like Austin,” the woman is saying. “It’s just not intellectual enough. We’re from Boston. It’s a highly intellectual city. It’s very hard for us to move here.”
Oh, brother. Just what I need to be hearing on an empty stomach. I consider breaking into the conversation by saying, “Boston! Oh, my God! Isn’t that where they filmed Love Story? No wonder you couldn’t stand to leave! Go back immediately!”
But the counter guy is reassuring the two that he, too, is from another, better place. Europe! You can imagine how bereft he is, being in Texas, of all places! He’s used to culture, a certain je ne sais quoi approach to life, universal health insurance. Why, he can hardly wait to get back on the plane to London, where he can visit a doctor any time he wants. In the meantime, though, he must live and scoop gelato in the Land of the Dolts. He shrugs heroically and counts out their change.
They exchange a few more lengthy, heartfelt expressions of sympathy for each other — Horrible weather! Rubes! Idiocracy! — while I suffer gelato starvation and wonder how quickly I can manage to inject the word “Eurotrash” into the conversation.
Finally, the Boston couple leaves, heading out into the swampy darkness of the Texas summer, where I hoped their gelatos would melt quickly and permanently stain their clothes.
“Where are you from?” I ask the guy behind the counter, when he finally toted up the cost of my extra-large gelato.
He gets a tragic look on his face. “Marseilles,” he says. Then adds darkly, “I won’t be staying here long.”
I consider countering with some spiteful cliche about good riddance and not letting the door hit him on his way out. I think about saying I’ve been to the airport in Marseilles and it’s a real dump. But I say nothing. Rien!
Instead, I dig into my enormous cache of gelato, savoring it even more than usual. Because, I have learned, dessert soothes everything, no matter where you eat it. Even if you’re in the company of idiots who will always be unhappy and complaining, wherever they are.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)