I like to choose my relationships.
I’ve never been a guy who was comfortable with just anyone on five minutes’ notice. If you’re my kind of person, it doesn’t take too long for me to warm up, but I’m not like Will Rogers: a stranger isn’t just a friend I haven’t met yet. Strangers are strangers. Then they become acquaintances and maybe, a goodly distance on down the timeline, I’ll begin to think of them as friends. Relationships aren’t easy for me, and I tend to put a lot into them. I don’t do it lightly.
I do not, for example, want to have relationships with the people who wait on me in restaurants — the soi disant waitstaff. Hypercaffeinated young men and women are not, generally speaking, the sorts of people I choose to hang out with, and there are reasons for that. They tend to be intrusive and usually talk too much, too often, and about subjects that fail to interest me. I want my waitstaff to wait. When they see I’m ready to order, I want them to wait on me; ditto when my food is ready, or if I seem to be looking around as though I need something. And I don’t want to have to do the waiting. That’s not what dining out is about. Or tipping.
By the same token, I have no interest in even beginning a relationship with my food. If I have to walk past the lobster tank, I don’t order lobster.
I distinctly remember one time in Jamaica when, all primed for a couple of pounds of the delightful prawns that are, in the islands, called Caribbean spiny lobsters, or langouste, I wandered into a little storefront cafe. Lacking claws and closely resembling a shrimp aficionado’s worst nightmare, “goosters” can grow to nearly two feet in length, excluding their extravagantly long antennae, although you rarely see them that large any more due to overfishing. They carry in their muscular tails perhaps the best-tasting source of protein on the planet.
I ordered two tails and a rum and Coke with lime, and was happily looking across the road at the beach while contemplating the possibility — nay, in those days the virtual certainty — of a few more libations when, from behind, the well-meaning proprietor of the establishment thrust two HUGE langouste no more than eight inches in front of my face. “You like dese, Mon?” The jolt of adrenaline negated the effects of that Cuba libre and a couple more, and — although I devoured the critters with gusto — the fine edge of appreciation was definitely dulled.
I have caught many dozens of goosters, mano-a-crustaceano. I have eaten many self-caught goosters. But meeting two strange ones that I hadn’t honored by at least a good workout in the water — well, it just didn’t seem right. It took me several more libres to get over it.
I don’t frequent stockyards or ranches. I don’t fish. Call me a weenie, but I got tired of killing the things I eat back in the Seventies, when I got pretty sick of killing in general. I don’t feel strongly about the dispatch of living creatures to create my repast, I simply don’t care to reflect on their contributions during my preprandial reverie.
In the same spirit, I don’t want Lori or Bret hanging over my shoulder or reciting a two minute long list of entrees du jour. I’ve been a reader for more than half a century. Give me a menu. I’ll figure it out.
And if I decide I want you to be my friend, trust me — you’ll know.