This story is by Seth Sehon and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I enter the imposing restaurant with a girl a friend set me up with, I study my surroundings. An esteemed bistro, Sophia’s was the destination for my first date with Jessica, a well-rounded yuppie who grew up in New York City. She’s 26, only a year or two younger than me. I’m told her parents have big connections all over New York, so I need to impress. I’m wearing a brand new suit that I had personally tailored for me and a $500 cologne I had to dig through thirteen different specialty shops to find. I even got a paint job done on my grandfather’s old Cadillac (a family heirloom) yesterday, God rest his soul. I brought out my best watch for the occasion, a twelve thousand-appraised Versace originally crafted for Paul McCartney (don’t ask how I got it). All this to show Jessica that I was up to her standards, a man in touch with the times who could provide for her and still show her a good night out.
The hostess shows us to our seats, a table against the wall of a quaint little room with two or three other couples already enjoying their meals. Strangely, every plate I see holds either a burger or some sort of pasta. Must be their signature dishes. A waitress approaches us shortly.
“Hi, I’m Evelyn, and I’ll be your waitress for the evening. Do you two know what you’ll be drinking tonight?” she asks. But we haven’t been given menus yet. Am I supposed to already know what they serve?
“I’ll have a glass of Sequoia Grove Cambium,” Jessica starts. “With an olive.” Okay, good. At least she’s not lost.
“Oh, good choice,” the waitress comments, taking a note. The two of them chuckle for a moment. “I’ll have what she’s having,” I add. The laughter ceases.
“Are you sure?” the waitress asks. Jessica face signals slight disgust. Shit. Did I miss something?
“On second thought, just make it a water.”
Jessica shrugs it off.
“He’s a quirky one,” the waitress whispers to her. Jessica smiles as the waitress goes off to fetch our drinks. She turns to me.
“Don’t get too wild now,” she jokes to me.
“Sorry, didn’t think that one through.” Close call. “So, have you been here before then?”
“No, just every place that’s worth any respect has a stash of Cambium in the back.” I’ve never even heard of it. Not off to a good start.
We continue with some small talk before the waitress comes back with our drinks.
“Are you two ready to order?” Still no menus. Is this a joke? I can’t ask her, because if she’s serious, which she probably is, I’ll look like an idiot. How am I supposed to order?
“I’ll let you go first this time,” Jessica says to me. Great. Can’t use her as a cop out again. And what’s worse, now I look like I wandered in here by accident, not knowing what wine to order, my date letting me order first. I need to get my head back in the game.
But how the hell am I supposed to know what to order?? Think, think. Everyone around me either has pasta or a burger. I’ll just get one of those. I shouldn’t get a burger, because my grandfather raised me to be a vegetarian. He always told me, ‘Life is precious. Don’t waste it.’ He was so adamant about that. And here I am, driving his car around, taking a girl out on our first date, debating whether to order a burger. Who do I think I am? What if I marry this girl? I can’t soil the memory of our first date by dishonoring my grandfather like that. I couldn’t live with myself. So a burger is out of the question.
But what would happen if I ordered the pasta? I’m already off to a terrible start tonight. I look like a wimp, with my date letting me order first, and ordering something light like pasta would only exacerbate that issue. I’m riding on thin ice, and I can’t risk any silly mistakes. As soon as she thinks she has to take care of me, the game is over. I’m out the window.
But look at her. She’s an activist, she knows what she wants. Maybe fronts like feigned manliness don’t matter to her. She seems nice enough, right? Maybe if I knew what kind of guys she’s dated before, that would make my decision easier. But I have to order now, so I have no way of figuring that out.
Maybe if I get shrimp on the pasta it wouldn’t be so bad? There’s still some protein in there, and it’s pescatarian which isn’t nearly as destructive as meat. I think my grandfather would allow that. So that’s that. Pasta with shrimp, and I can still honor my grandfather.
Jessica’s tapping her fingers on the table. I’m taking too long. Shit.
“Sorry, I’ll have your finest pasta, with shrimp. Chef’s choice.” That’s the ticket when you don’t know what to order. Chef’s choice. It shows respect to the house and the meal typically costs more in the end, and I need all the help I can get with impressing Jessica.
The waitress then takes Jessica’s order, and returns to the back.
“What took you so long?” Jessica asks me.
“I just couldn’t decide.” Shit no dammit that’s not what I’m supposed to say, now I look indecisive and confused. “There’s just so many great options here, you know? Hard to choose.” I can barely say it with a straight face.
Seconds pass like hours in between each sentence. Please let me play this off.
“Yeah, yeah, I totally get what you mean. Every time I go somewhere for sushi I order five different rolls because I can never settle.” Thank god that worked. I don’t care if she orders five meals here, or even fifty. That’s the least of my problems right now. But I can fix this. As soon as we get our food, I’m in the clear.
Here comes the waitress now. Empty handed. Double shit.
“I’m sorry, sir, but it looks like we’re out of shrimp for the night. Would you like to change your order?”
Of course. Of course they’re out of shrimp. My chances are ruined. I might as well give up at this point. So much for marriage.
It’s okay, though. I’ll just use Jessica’s order again. But wait, what did she order again? I wasn’t listening. Shit shit shit, I must’ve been caught up in the moment. Typical. But I can’t say ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ again. How moronic would that make me look? A guy who can drop a thousand bucks at the finest joint in the Bronx can’t make his own decisions. Just another trust fund baby. Jessica would probably walk out of the building laughing.
“Can you give us a few more minutes?” I ask the waitress, trying to hide how nervous I am. She hesitates. A little too long.
“Sure.” And she walks away. She probably thinks I’m an idiot at this point.
I continue racing through my options in this manner. I ask Jessica for her recommendation.
“I thought you were the one who chose this place.” Welp, there goes that idea. The disappointment in her voice is deafening
Before I know it, the waitress is back. She pulls out her notepad.
“Whenever you’re ready.” Here goes.
“Could I see a menu, actually?” A blank stare.
“Sorry,” I attempt.
“No, no, absolutely, I’ll have one right out.”
Moments later, she returns with a single sheet of laminated paper. She hands it to me.
Nothing on the back, two items on the front.
You have got to be kidding me. It doesn’t even say WHAT KIND OF PASTA THEY SERVE. This has to be a prank. There’s no other explanation. But as I look around, everyone I see is content, enjoying their meals, carrying on conversation with a straight face.
I never stood a chance.
“Any day now, please,” Jessica mutters. Why am I even trying? It doesn’t matter what I get, I’ll just look like a fool at this point. But even still, all I need is for this food ordeal to end and I can make a good impression on Jessica with an actual conversation. That’s all I need. I just have to order something and get it over with.
Cheeseburger. Pasta. Burger. Meat. Grandfather. Honor. Disrespect. Marriage. Kids. First date. Love. Hope. Future. Past. Fish. Shrimp. Pescatarian. Cadillac. Paint. Maybe I’ll just eat paint.
The clock’s ticking. Just get it over with, dude. Quit being such a pussy and order something. Just do it. Okay. I’m doing it. Here we go. I’ve made up my mind.
“I’ll have your finest paint.” Shit dammit cock bitch COME ON.
Well, I gave it my best. Better luck next time.
“…I’ll just have what she’s having.”