by Bruce Boston and Marge Simon

Weary of the precise and efficient automatonic service of outworld eateries, bored with the sumptuous and ever changing feasts of interstellar cuisine, the teas and wines and aperitifs delivering specific varieties of intoxication, we decide to book an overnight transit to Old Earth.

Braving the scorched and polluted streets we enter a restaurant-bar’s dim and sparsely inhabited interior in the middle of the afternoon. We know it is essential to begin early if we hope to savor the experience in its entirety. Mind you, we are not traveling blind. We have chosen an establishment that has been recommended by friends.

When no one comes to greet us we seat ourselves at a corner booth. Even in this distended illumination we can see that the leatherette is badly slashed and awkwardly taped. The pink formica of the tabletop is covered with the crumbs and other postprandial debris of past diners. Something resembling music seeps from concealed speakers. It is so blanketed by static it is impossible to distinguish a tune, though it is clearly something sappy, full of strings, and centuries out of date.

Oblivious to our presence as he could possibly be without ignoring us completely, a waiter approaches our table at his own speed, his estimated time of arrival somewhere between the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the projected heat death of the universe. He circles several times in a protracted yet steadily shrinking orbit, a hornet preparing to strike.

‘‘Drinks?’’ he eventually mutters as he tosses down a single dog-eared menu for us to share. His vest is artfully spotted and his name tag is blank.

Despite my warnings, you order the house Merlot. Ever adventuresome and slow to take my own advice, I ask for a Bloody Mary.

‘‘Not too spicy,’’ I have the impudence to suggest.

Snorting his disapproval the waiter wanders off.

Eons pass. The other patrons seem as enchanted with the funereal gloom and lack of service as we do. Soon we are all the best of friends. Pooling our resources we form a consortium. We purchase half a dozen chimpanzees and chain them to keyboards. They have finished the Merchant of Venice and are nearly halfway through Hamlet when our drinks are suddenly served.

There are no coasters. No napkins. In these parts, swizzle sticks are a legend that few are foolish enough to believe.

You appear to have received a margarita sans ice. The rim of the glass is covered with old lipstick stains in place of salt. The greasy prints that smudge the rest of the glass are a crowning touch. It’s this kind of detail that really makes a difference.

My Bloody Mary looks as if it were concocted from green tomato juice. A single sip takes the flesh off the roof of my mouth.

Before our waiter can go off to bear children and found a dynasty, we order dinner. Or rather you order for both of us while I ring the blood and tears from my handkerchief and try to call the paramedics.

We settle in for a long winter.

Eternities unwind and there are rumors of glaciers descending from the north. The heat death of the universe does transpire. God points his finger ---- zap! ---- and starts the whole thing all over again.

Ultimately we are seated at the same booth in the same restaurant waiting for the same dinners. Through some cosmic quirk of fate beyond our limited human comprehension, this time around the food arrives.

The steak you wanted medium rare is nothing but a charcoal lump. My red snapper, served at room temperature, has clearly been snapped at before. The rice is barely cooked and the vegetables a soggy morass. We are slightly disappointed they didn’t reverse the surf and turf, but beyond that it is everything we could have asked for.

Once we have eaten what little we can, the waiter brings the check on a small silver tray ---- actually a piece of cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil ---- and refuses to budge until we have paid in full.

When I point out he has charged us twice for the drinks, he laughs uproariously. ‘‘It’s unhappy hour. What did you idiots expect?’’

We savor his insult. We bask in the glow of complete dissatisfaction. Our tip is generous. We’ll have to wait another year for such extravagance, yet the change is so refreshing it is worth every credit.

We only hope we haven’t helped launch a trend. Then again, it might prove fascinating to actually stand in line.

Contributor's Bio

Return to Table of Contents

Background by Zena's Dreams