Saturday, October 20, 2007

Noticing and Understanding

For quite some time, now, in a bid for greater health and better weight control, I have lessened my going out to eat. However, last night, I just felt like I had to go out for some Mexican food, so went to a Mexican restaurant in North Hollywood on my way home from work.

For some reason, even though the restaurant was far from crowded, I was seated way back in a seldom-used room. Did I look like I might cause a scene? Even the guy who sat me back there apologized for "the long walk"; but I wondered why he sat me there, then. But in my experience, single diners get treated weirdly in restaurants sometimes, quite a lot of times, actually, as if restaurants resent the fact that a diner alone is using up a whole table or booth for four. Maybe they knew that the restaurant was going to get very crowded very soon and so they were starting to fill themselves up from the back? Oh well, I don't know, and that back room is fine and the food is the same, so what's the difference.

When I was first sat down there, there was just one other booth occupied, with two fat young men who looked like they were settled in for the long haul, and I don't mean for eating, exactly, but more for their "writing by committee" "story conference". This is a very common scene in L.A., by the way, although I haven't seen it in a while since I haven't gone out to eat in a while, but it consists of two or more young men working together in a restaurant "creating a script" bit by bit. Instead of sitting down alone in front of a word processor at home or in an office, which is how I would do it, these kinds of people hash it all out in a conversation, deciding together plot points and dialogue.

"I think he should try to pick up a hot chick in a singles bar," said one of the guys.

"A bar in the Valley?" questioned the other guy.

"No, I think maybe in a more trendy location," said the first guy.

"Oh," said the second guy, "he will have to dress better, then."

"Yes," said the first guy, "he should dress better. Well, we want him to pick up a really hot chick, I think his character would want that."

And so then they discuss it a while further, determining what kind of hot chick the guy should go after, blond, dark-haired, tall, short, what kind of dress she would be wearing, etc. They droned on and on as the waiter kept bringing them more chips.

Then the first guy said, "After he talks up the hot chick for a while and he thinks he is making some headway with her, she gets up and asks the guy sitting behind him for his phone number."

"Very sad," said his companion.

Very sad way to write a script, I thought...tedious beyond belief and, again, NOT the method I think I would use. I wondered if those guys ever managed to sell a script, or any of the legions of guys I have witnessed following that same pattern. Who knows, maybe it actually does work. But I hope not. That, to me, would be discouraging, that this kind of boring, tedious method of pushing a heavy stone uphill actually results in a movie.

Then there was a commotion as a group of people were bought into the back room. This group consisted of two women, a little boy about seven years old, a little girl about three years old, and an elderly couple. As they were coming in, the boy was saying, "I want to sit next to Mama Bear," but the little girl was also saying, "I want to sit next to Mama Bear," while the two women were constantly going "Shhhh", "Shhhhh" to the two kids. I thought these two kids were very cute and endearing, and "Mama Bear" was obviously the elderly woman, whom I took to be their grandmother, perhaps visiting them from afar. I thought it was very endearing how the two kids wanted to sit next to their visiting grandmother. As it was, kids being kids, they couldn't manage to sit still for very long, so they kept changing places all over the place and each one managed to have a portion of the meal where they were sitting with "Mama Bear". That's how it sounded to me, although it could have really been "Mama Behr", or "Mama Bayer", and they had mutated into an endearing name that stuck.

I'm actually kind of fascinated by what names children call their grandparents.

For a while, I couldn't figure out what the deal was with the two women. Were they friends, were they sisters, was one woman the mother of the boy and the other woman the mother of the girl, or was one woman the mother of both of them? The kids were quite talkative (which constantly elicited "Shhhs" from both women throughout the whole meal), and I heard the word "Mama," quite a bit spoken by both kids. "Mama, I want to eat a tortilla," "Mama, can I sit next to Mama Bear?", "Mama, do they have French fries here?" And each woman seemed to mother each child equally.

I am very amused watching and listening to children in restaurants or other public places, and here I had a box seat on the proceedings where I couldn't help but see and hear all that was going on, even to the extent that when one of the kids would say something very cute or funny, I couldn't help but give out a little appreciative chuckle. I didn't want to invade this group's privacy (which I think a single diner is wont to do by default, as they aren't there with any other person to hold their attention), but I couldn't really help it.

The two women were perhaps overly-aware that they were in a public place, and they seemed to feel that their kids might be a bother to the other diners, which was why they were contantly holding them down with "Shhhs". I wanted somehow to let them know they needn't have worried on my account (I doubt if the two guys hashing out the script were the least bit aware of them), that in fact I rather liked their kids and thought that the family dynamic was appealing.

The little boy was well aware of the fact that he was in a Mexican restaurant, and considered it appropriate that he demonstrate the words that he knew in Spanish that went beyond mere food names. So he said he knew cabeza (head) ("Shhh!"), nariz (nose) ("Shhh!"), ojos (eyes) ("Shhh!"), pelo (hair) (Shhh!"), and several others (I think these are right!). I thought it was marvelous that he enjoyed so much his "learning", and I wished that the group would have been able to enjoy this boy without having to feel like they had to shut him up all the time.

Then the little girl said she had to go to the bathroom, so one of the women took her. When they came back, the little girl announced in quite a loud voice to the other woman, "Mommy! I went POTTY!", and "Mommy" looked absolutely mortified, said "Shhhhhh!" once again, and then looked straight at me and said, "I am so SORRY!", as if what the girl had said was just so offensive and maybe my whole dinner had been ruined because of it.

I laughed and said, "You don't need to worry, they are so cute!" I think she was relieved to hear that and the two women quieted down on their shushing of the kids while I made a more conscious effort to look like I really wasn't paying all that much attention to them (which I knew was a losing battle). In a time where a lot of parents do not seem to discipline their kids at all, in this case I really wanted this group of people to enjoy their dining out experience without worring about what impact their kids were having, because I thought their kids were wonderful and must have been quite fun to be with, short of this unnecessary social worry. Sure, they were kids and I know full well that children aren't going to behave like adults, they squirm, they ask questions about everything, sometimes they get upset or offended by something and so they cry for a while, they want to get up from their seat, and sometimes they want to interact with other diners--all this is acceptable and understood behavior, I feel, and it is necessary for children to have experiences out in public, that helps them to grow and to learn, and other adults have a social responsibility to accept this and not interfere with it, even if it somehow invades or violate their idea of a "perfect" world. Children, all children, other people's children, should be a joy to others.

I was much amused by the boy's attempt to use Spanish as much as possible with the waiter. Every time the waiter brought them something, the boy would say, "Gracias!", to which the waiter would respond, "De nada." The first time the boy heard that, his eyes opened wide and he said to one of the women, "Mama, I KNOW that word, too! It means 'you're welcome'!" How could someone not enjoy that? And he was experiencing that learning has impact on the world and I was thankful the waiter played along with the boy (I ended up giving him a larger tip, although he wouldn't know why I did).

Finally, when my meal was finished and I had signed my credit card slip, I stopped at that table on my way out and said to the women, "Your kids are very, very cute, and SMART too...am I right?"

Both women looked at me with faces glowing with appreciation and when I said the kids were smart, they both nodded and said, "Oh yes, and thank you so much for noticing." Relief seemed to flood both of their beings, as if some terrible burden had been momentarily unlocked and released. Then as I turned to go, I said to them all, but most pointedly to the boy, "Adios!" The women both made an "Aww" sound and the boy looked at me with astonishment, as if maybe some tiny bit of magic had just occurred.

As I slid into my car in the parking lot and turned the ignition key, I finally had an "aha!" moment--those women were "two mommies" and both children were theirs, which was why they were both mothering them both equally. No wonder they were especially sensitive to public notice.

I was then thankful that what they got from me at that moment had been an even greater appreciation and acceptance than I had known I was expressing. I was also thankful that in general I have the courage, or assertiveness, to tell perfect strangers what it is about them that I see as appealing. I wish people did it more. Don't we all wish for this kind of recognition and appreciation?

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