September 4, 2000
A Dinner Is Just A Dinner


The older I get, the more I realize that nothing is ever as bad as I think it's going to be.

ALMOST nothing, anyway. Some things are exactly as bad as I expect them to be. Gray hair. Fat-free milk. AOL 5.0. Bus rides in downtown Oakland traffic. (And "Big Brother" is actually even worse than I'd expected.) But for the most part, these days, I am routinely -- and pleasantly -- surprised by the difference between my expectations and reality.

Dinner with David's parents last night was a piece of cake.

Or -- more precisely -- it was two cheese enchiladas, three RC Colas and forty-five minutes' worth of totally innocuous conversation ... 99.9% of which did not even include me/involve me/revolve around *me* in any way.

(Or my children.)

(Or my breasts.)

(Or my website.)

I sat there, squeezed into a booth seat next to David, positioned directly across the table from Mr. and Mrs. Ю僱êrvØ¡, and quietly forked enchiladas and rice into my face while they talked about David's promotion at the newspaper, and about the Margaret Lescher case, and about whether the tamales at The Acapulco were as good as the tamales at Mr. and Mrs. Ю僱êrvØ¡'s favorite Mexican restaurant in Walnut Creek. (They're not, apparently.)

Once in a while a question or comment was politely aimed at me: How is the job going? Have you enjoyed the weather this summer? What is the principal agricultural export of Portugal? ("Frisbees?" I asked, hopefully. ) But for the most part, I was the attractive-but-largely-function-free garnish on the plate of this particular social occasion. Sort of like the little sprig of cilantro, floating uselessly on top of the bowl of salsa.

Which of course was fine with me.

The whole evening, in fact, was remarkably painless. And abbreviated. David and I arrived at The Acapulco at 6 p.m. His parents weren't there yet, so we reserved a table and stood outside on the sidewalk in the Alameda sunshine, waiting for them. By 6:15 the four of us were crowded together at our teeny-tiny table, munching on warm tortilla chips. (I reluctantly avoided the drippy salsa altogether: I knew it would just be asking for trouble. Instead, I picked up a tortilla chip and delicately broke it into teeny-tiny pieces, nibbling it plain. I noticed Mrs. Ю僱êrvØ¡ doing the same.) By 6:20 our waitress was setting lava-hot combination plates down on the table in front of us. By 6:40, we were spooning the leftovers into little cardboard containers. By 6:50 we were all standing outside on the sidewalk again, politely saying goodbye and thank-you and let's-do-this-again-sometime-soon.

By 7 p.m. David and I were back in the Subaru, talking about how the whole thing went by in the blink of an eye.

"I get the impression," I said carefully, "that whatever it was they wanted to talk to us about never came up."

David nodded. He had the same feeling. Apparently dinner invitations from His Parents are not a regular occurrence: he, too, had been half-expecting denouement ... inquisition ... parental attack of some kind or another. "Maybe this was just their way of saying, We acknowledge the two of you as a couple," he speculated. I said that maybe they were just curious about me. I have declined so many invitations to their house over the course of the past couple of years ... mostly because they always seem to fall on Sunday, my beloved *Alone Day* ... that they probably think I've been avoiding them.

(Which of course I HAVE been. For all of the reasons mentioned yesterday. But that's beside the point.)

Or ... who knows? ... maybe they just wanted to have dinner with their son and his girlfriend. No specific reason. No ulterior motives. No subtext. Maybe once again I'm looking for something to be dark and deep and filled with hidden meaning, when it is really nothing but dinner.

"Let's call them in a couple of weeks and invite them to get together again," I said, barely believing that the suggestion was coming out of MY mouth. "Our treat."

David seemed surprised and pleased. "Yeah, I think that's a good idea," he said, patting me on the knee. I went home feeling all warm and fuzzy and relieved and pleased with myself ...

... and already dreading that next dinner.

I expect it's going to be a nightmare.

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