It was just one of those days when you had a big wad in your pocket and a nice heap in the bank too; the day after payday. Our stomachs were empty, our wallets full, so we headed to a corporate burger joint where they serve booze and allyoucaneat fries. We dined al fresco, and neither my friend nor the waitress - a large black woman with an appreciable gap between her teeth and a name that mutilated several of the early romantics - knew what that meant. 'It means outside,' I explained to them as the waitress placed my abominable drink in front of me. I looked at my friend's giant glass of Oktoberfest beer shining like ambrosia, then back again at my frozen raspberry margarita. It tasted of fake sugar and sat, pink and lewd, in a rainbow splotched glass: a severe blow to my already fragile masculinity. I looked at my friend and shook my head, granting him permission to laugh. 'I can't believe you got a margarita!'
But this story isn't about us. Sometime after our drinks had arrived, but before our food came (which, by the way, took a very long time, especially considering they were veggie burgers) a couple showed up. Quite possibly the most tragic I've seen in all my life. To the right of our table - if the story is being seen through my eyes, which, so far, it is - sat a cute little family: cranky mom, impassive dad daydreaming in his nachos, two little siblings fighting over a balloon, and widowed grandma getting toasted on vodka or gin behind her big cataract shades. To the left of the table sat a nondescript couple of forty or so: your runofthemill Polish blobs working on their fifth or ninth basket of fries and still pleading with the waiter to 'cook the fries a bit longer; don't be afraid to burn 'em.'; and a middle-aged, fairly normal woman with a man I'm assuming was her elderly father, who sat with a fixed grimace aimed at his empty beer glass. Also, somewhere in that golden light of the downing sun which only occurs during especially nice and calm weather in certain hours of the day at certain times of the year there sat a group of three high school girls gossiping with pursed lips so as to not cut themselves on their braces, nonplussed by my predatory stares.
These groups might as well have been framed pictures adorning the walls of the patio as commonplace and uninteresting as they were. And with no fodder for the conversational fire, my friend and I were running out of topics, having already exhausted the band, the movie we both just saw, girls, god, and drugs. But just as an interminable silence was beginning to creep towards our table, the tragic couple was led onto the patio by their mildly attractive waitress. I saw the girl first: greasy brown hair pulled into a tight, very tight, headache inducing ponytail (the tail of which was only about three or three and a half inches long, like a limp muskrat pecker hanging from the back of her skull), wireframe glasses resting dirty and smudged on her pale, misshapen face, wearing an ill-fitting black babydoll tee with hearts of various colors and patterns stretched and wracked by her many folds and flaps, and dark metallic blue jeans that fell too far below her hanging spigot-like navel and hung too high above her black and purple Sketchers. One could quickly perceive by her countenance and walk that she hated the light, hated public and absolutely hated herself.
Then out came the dude: her date I proposed to my friend upon seeing them settle down uncomfortably across from one another at the table behind my friend's right shoulder; where I would spend the rest of my meal gazing with indelible curiosity. Her 'blind date, or internet date,' I pronounced more specifically, as I intimated with a quick point, a mere flick of the wrist to any suspecting onlooker. He casually glanced behind him and got a read on the situation. The guy - I should tell you - was totally average, and besides a sharp, lacquered fauxhawk had almost no characteristics worth mentioning. He was of average height, maybe about twenty pounds overweight, but he wore it well thanks to his broad shoulders and outfit of shorts (khaki) and a tee shirt (dark chocolate) of neutralizing and slimming colors. My friend said: 'No way. That's no date. Those two have a standing relationship, I guarantee it.' We had ourselves a bet.
She sat with defeated posture, her forearms resting on the edge of the metal table, her wrists on top of one another, with folded hands like a dead bird lying prostrate in front of her. She glanced around nervously, as if ribaldry lie in waiting from any one of the eating patrons. Her date (or boyfriend if you - at this point - are ready to align yourself with my friend's opinion) sat with clasped hands as if silently praying, and stared at his feet, or his phone, or at the smirking abyss; shading his eyes against the mild sun any time he would look up to acknowledge one of her mumbled comments. My friend was talking to me about something he'd heard about the upcoming G-20 Summit the city was soon hosting when the tragic girl's date excused himself and left her sitting there alone, probably wondering if he'd even return. I interrupted my friend and said: 'He just got up and left!' My friend seemed uninterested, said he probably just went to the bathroom, and continued talking about what he'd heard on the news about the G-20 Summit. A little girl gawked at me with unfledged curiosity through a window all over which she'd left tiny, greasy paw prints. I contrived a hateful glance and tried to get her to look away, but she just giggled and stuck her tongue out. I turned my attention back to my friend, but he was staring pensively out at the river peeking through the line of trees that stood just beyond the patio.
The tragic girl's date returned - a little to my chagrin - wearing sunglasses; and the tragic girl flashed him a half-hearted half-smile. I told my friend: 'Maybe they've known each other for a long time, but there is definitely no romantic past between the two. But I still believe this is, like, a Craigslist date situation.' He shrugged and offered a plaintive whatever. I was growing perturbed with his disinterest when our waitress arrived with our poorly assembled burgers and mushy, pallid steak fries. I told my friend I didn't know the allyoucouldeat fries were steak fries, that I hated steak fries, and he agreed that steak fries were not the best but the fact that you could eat as many of them as you wanted made up for it. 'Just because there's a lot of something,' I told him, holding a limp, ketchup-tipped fry in my hand, 'doesn't mean it's good, or worth it. Take the girl behind you, the tragic one, ' - pointing with the fry now - 'I wouldn't want to eat her.' I laughed unabashedly, and my friend looked at me with furrowed brow. 'Are you drunk off half a margarita?' 'No,' I said, defensively, but had no excuse for actions.
We ate, for the most part, in silence. At several points I brought up things I'd observed the couple do like when they both reached for the ketchup and the tragic girl recoiled quickly and her date shyly gestured 'no, by all means, go ahead', but these observations were dismissed or flat out ignored. My behavior, it seemed, had become priggish and I hate the idea of spoiling someone's meal, so I talked of things I knew my friend was interested in and made no more mention of the tragic girl and her date. The waitress arrived just as my friend was finishing my second basket of fries and asked us how everything was. I replied by asking for the check.
'I just gotta go to the bathroom,' I said, signing the check and throwing a five dollar bill onto the table, 'I'll meet you out at the car.' My friend said okay and got up and left, his pockets bulging with napkin-enveloped fries. I lingered at the table and watched him leave. The moment he was out of sight, I walked over to the table where the tragic girl and her date were sitting, chewing silently on their massive, bloody burgers. 'Excuse me,' I said in my most polite manner, 'I hate to bother your meal, but there's just something I dying to know.' They both looked up at me: the tragic girl still chewing, a look of absolute horror in her eyes, her date gulping down a bite that wasn't quite ready to be gulped down. They said nothing, so I continued: 'You see I'm in grad school for Sociology and I'm currently writing a paper on internet dating. You two didn't happen to meet on the internet, did you?'
My friend was leaning against my car smoking a cigarette when I came out twirling my keys on my finger. 'Well?' he asked. 'You owe me a beer.' 'Sure you wouldn't prefer a margarita?'