Lunch with my college educated friend, David Brooks.
The first drops of coffee splashed against the bottom of the carafe with a gurgle and a hiss. I stood watching, clenching my mug and willing the drops to fall faster. I do this every morning, and it’s never any faster
“Big plans for the day?”
“Not really, I’m meeting David for lunch.”
I didn’t turn around. Maybe if I just kept my gaze focused on the coffee he would forget I had said anything.
“Not again! Why do you do this to yourself?”
“We’ve been friends for a long time, sometimes when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time, you have to actually, you know…see them once in a while. Otherwise you just stop being friends.”
“Some loss” he grumbled.
“He’s not that bad, he’s kinda sweet.” I said, mostly to myself, as I poured the coffee. “I think he’s just kind of lonely”.
I met David at this sandwich place near his office that he insisted on.
“You’re gonna die when you see this menu!” He said, in place of a greeting.
It didn’t really look all that special to me. As I scanned the menu above the counter, trying to decide which nitrate bomb would do the least amount of damage to my cholesterol, I could feel David’s eyes on me. I began to fear that he was really going to expect me to perform excitement about a sandwich.
Do you want to go somewhere else?
He was speaking to me slowly, like a child. I shrugged.
“I guess, if you want”.
For some reason that answer seemed to please him, so we left and ended up at the Mexican place a few doors down. We chatted about Wonder Woman as we nibbled on chips and salsa. David has just gotten around to seeing it, and he was…not disappointed really, just not as moved as he had hoped he’d be, but he couldn’t articulate why. I stayed mostly quiet, I had learned a long time ago that it was really important to David that his friends have the same opinions he does.
Suddenly, he buried his face in his hands.
“Shelly, I’m so sorry!”
“What? Sorry for what? It’s okay not to like Wonder Woman”
“No, I’m sorry about the sandwich shop.”
“David, you’re freaking me out. What are you talking about?”
“You must have felt so out of place! I am such an insensitive jerk”
I lowered my voice, hoping he would do likewise. Just once, I wanted to get through one of these lunches without an embarrassing scene.
“You’re not making sense. Why would I be out of place in a sandwich shop?”
“Be-because”, he stuttered, as the waterworks started to flow, “you never went to college!”
Jesus tap-dancing Christ. Not this again.
“David, is this about your column?”
No such luck about avoiding a scene. He was practically sob-shouting now.
“American middle class culture is laced with cultural and social signifiers that are illegible to people like you!
“People like me?!”
“HOW ARE YOUR CHILDREN GOING TO GET INTO THE RIGHT COLLEGE IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT CAPICOLLO IS?”
“Okay, well, I know what capicollo is. I’m from New Jersey. And Jason is starting Penn in the fall, we’re really excited for him. Really, everything is fine.
I could tell by the tears flowing down his cheeks that my reassurances were falling on deaf ears.
“You know, I was always a little disappointed that I had to quit college to nurse my dad through his last days, but if I had known that you were all learning about sandwiches …well, I would have signed up for night classes!”
I chuckled, pleased with myself, but David continued to sob. People were starting to stare. Shit, there was only one way out of this.
“Thank you for taking me here”, I said, forcing my voice to quiver, “You’re right, I did feel really stupid in that shop, surrounded by all those perfect middle class people who knew everything about interest rates and yachting and sandwich ordering. I just didn’t want to admit it because I was embarrassed.”
David brightened instantly, the blood rushing back into his cheeks.
“I really should thank you”, he said, sitting up a little taller, “you’re situation has given me an idea for my column.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. I can’t wait to read it. You’ll get the check, right?”