Tonight I emerged from my head-cold stupor to go out to dinner with L. We went to a restaurant that opened next door to us, Commerce, in the space formerly occupied by Blue Mill and Grange Hall. It seemed to be the kind of high quality restaurant where real adults go to have meals with multiple courses and glasses of wine -- in other words, the kind of restaurant I walk by and glance into wistfully as I carry my burrito and soda back home from Chipotle. The reason we were able to pretend we were real adults, though, is that all the food was 20% off in celebration of their opening weekend. Sensing an opportunity that rarely presents itself, I took a night off from beans and rice and we had a date.
The restaurant lived up to our hopes. The interior of the place was rich and warm and oaky, the food was creative and artfully plated. I had homemade cavatelli with walnut pesto, then a roasted chicken breast along with potato puree and some other things I couldn't identify, and then I had a chocolate mousse with some little gelatin cubes. L had a warm roasted salad, and then spaghetti carbonara with an egg yolk nestled in there, and then a bizarrely good rice pudding with kaffir and something else.
The restaurant was packed, though, and we were sitting near the bar, so there were many people (trendy, adult people) swarming around. I was sitting in a banquette in such a way that the guy at the table behind me was sharing a seat back with me, so our chair-unit would occasionally shift around. As the meal progressed, I realized the guy behind me was slouching with his arm slung across the back of his chair, so that it was in my space. He kept doing this, and eventually I unthinkingly leaned back and he retracted his arm. Moments later his arm was back in my space. This guy is kind of a dick, I thought.
Then, a few minutes later, there was a weird, fast rush of events. Amid the din of the restaurant I could hear yelling right behind me, then all of a sudden the guy behind me was darting up from his chair and yelling at some other man passing through the crowd by the bar; as a result of the quick motion, my seat shifted violently forward into the table. I turned and saw the two guys having a weird confrontation. "Are they fighting, or are they laughing?" I asked L. She couldn't tell. Things simmered down, so I pushed backward to scoot the chair back, so that our table wasn't hitting me in my gut.
There was a bang on the table behind me, and the guy turned around to face me, and suddenly his small, leathery face was very close to my own. "Is everything all right, my man," he said in a broad New York accent. "Because you just pushed my chair back, it's very cramped now."
"Yeah, you pushed my chair forward so we had no room," I said, my heart pounding. This kind of confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. This is not how I engage people.
L chimed in, "It's a very tight space, we have no room over here."
Across the table, the man's wife let out this weird wail; she looked utterly humiliated. She started yelling at the man, who turned back around. I could hear him over my shoulder, barking about how I had slammed my chair into him. The woman was embarrassed, the guy was livid. The man suddenly got up and stormed out of the dining room, and L said the woman looked like she was about to cry. It seemed as though the man had been fighting with that other random guy, and then when he sat back down and I pushed the chair back, it just set him off again.
As the man returned to his chair, I was half-convinced I was about to have a wine bottle broken over my head. But nothing happened, thankfully, and the man became loud and boisterous and happy, yelling at the waitress jovially and making jokes that didn't make her laugh. As we left I told L not to look at them as we walked by. We made it out of the restaurant, and back to the relative safety of Commerce Street. When we passed by the window we could see the man sitting there, still, with his arm slung over the chair yet again.