Back when I was waiting tables, which seems like a lifetime ago at this point, I’d often hang out at bars, by myself for two reasons: 1) I got free meals at work and was too lazy to cook the rest myself, and 2) What is at one moment a quiet, thoughtful afternoon of solitude can become an afternoon filled with bemusing stories of camaraderie. 100% of the time if I’m dining alone I will take a seat at the bar instead of a table for one. It’s so much more entertaining. Which is part of the reason why this woman dining alone at Caiola’s was so fascinating to me. Her back to the room, facing the window, she almost mocked me and my need for togetherness.
I took Mandy out to Caoila’s for her birthday. She’d never been, and I decided I’d rather spend an evening enjoying outstanding food and drink rather than take a chance on a gift that she’d feign excitement over and consign a respectable 12 months later. We had an amazing time! The food was decadent and complex, but not so complex that I couldn’t understand the menu, if you get my drift.
It was a Wednesday night, and we were in the back room, through the kitchen. Being the sous chef that has to stand near that door must be the worst. There was a group of three respectable upper-middle-aged guys in the corner to my left, one had a Southern accent and I heard them talking about Marketing, television, and the Bangor Daily News. (Hmmm). Behind Mandy was a younger couple who left shortly after we arrived. Then a woman, about 62ish, waltzed in and sat at a two top against the wall diagonal from us, facing the window. The waitress only put down a single place setting, water glass and menu. Table for one.
I knew almost immediately that I wanted to be her. She had a black cardigan, a simple canary-red blouse underneath, with a mid-calf ivory colored a-line skirt that had, like, ribbing or piping instead of stripes throughout. It was a beautiful skirt- hip, yet age appropriate. Her ballet flats, undoubtedly leather, matched her blouse as though they came together. Perhaps they were in fact ordered from the J.Crew catalogue at the same time. Dark framed reading (?) glasses hung low on her face, probably Michael Kors or Kate Spade or some designer brand. My favorite part about her was the bag she carried. It was my dream bag. A caramel leather tote whose sides slouched in around the handles the same way my canvas bags do. It was my dream bag. I think if Diane from Cheers was a real person and lived to be 62, this woman is what she would be like.
Out of the bag she pulled a pristine hardcover book, and inevitably tuned out everyone except for the waitress, who was forced to break into her line of vision when she brought yet another Grey Goose martini with a twist. Or maybe this woman opted into the Buy Local movement and ordered a Cold River martini. I liked that she didn’t like it dirty. I tried a dirty martini once, it was like salty... salty... it was like drinking the ocean if the ocean was made out of olives.
Occasionally she’d pull out a legal sized pad and take notes. On what, I’m not sure. By the way, I wasn’t trying to stare. She was directly in my line of vision.
I imagine after her iceburg salad, steak or bacon wrapped scallops and three martinis she probably pulled out of the parking lot in her 1992 Volvo Station wagon. Although her 3,000 square foot home with its commercial-grade kitchen was only 1/6 of a mile away, you know she didn’t drive because you never see fancy women like that just walking around the West End. Her youngest daughter usually uses the Volvo but she’s WOOFing in France now. It had better visibility than the Mercedes anyway, plus she liked the sentimental value of driving it. Yeah, she was a little tipsy but it was a very short drive if cops are going to venture into the West End, they don’t make it past Brackett, Spring, and the hospital respectively.
One thousand feet later, she pulled into the secret road between Carroll and Vaughn Streets in the West End that connects all of the garage/back entrance/guest houses and settled in for one more cognac in her fucking jacuzzi tub.
Or maybe she was just too exhausted from running her law firm all day to prepare herself a meal. Maybe she didn’t want to sit at the bar because she wanted some peace and quiet for a change. Maybe she was supposed to meet up with the Oshers and they’re still in San Francisco, or the Hagges, but they were at a fundraising dinner and this was her back up plan. All I know is while she was sitting alone at that table, with the dim lighting, Amelie soundtrack and blowing $65 before tip on a meal for one person, I wanted to be her. Minus her imagined kids.