Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Sociophobe Orders an Omelet

The Sociophobe was not feeling his most chipper. He certainly had occasions to feel chipper before, so he knew what it was like.

This was not it.

He forked a sausage and lifted it to eye-level. He noted all the little dents in its surface, and what appeared to be a liberal sprinkling of pepper cooked right into the meat. He wondered if it really was pepper. It looked like pepper.

He ate the sausage. Tasted like it might be pepper in there after all.

Chewing, he wondered why when he got depressed he always noticed things like that. The texture of his sausage.

Or the little embossed designs on his napkin.

He wondered if anyone would notice if one day they suddenly stopped embossing the napkins. Or if they did, would they care? The Sociophobe thought that people would probably care. The napkins wouldn’t look as fancy, and people would complain that they were sub-par. They would look down on the plain, unembossed napkins, despite the fact that they were probably every bit as good as the embossed ones.

The Sociophobe ran a finger across the little bumps on his napkin, like a blind man reading Braille. Yeah. If they were just smooth, people would think they were cheap. Even if they worked just as well as the bumpy ones.

He pulled himself out of his daydream with a shake of his head. Here he was, sitting at a restaurant, feeling sorry for napkins, for Christ’s sake. He’d never even seen a restaurant napkin without embossing on it, but he was feeling sorry for any unlucky plain ones out there. That was kind of pathetic, so he opened up the lid of his ThinkPad laptop computer and launched his word processor. This way, he would look like he was doing something important. Perhaps he was a student, working his way to a prestigious degree in being a rich guy. Or maybe he was already a rich guy who just came to this restaurant when he needed to get away from his crowds of friends.

Or maybe he was just depressed, and it seemed fitting that he should come to an empty restaurant and get a booth to himself.

A grey cloud of carcinogens drifted unimpeded over to the Sociophobe’s table and settled in a haze around the ineffectual ventilation system.

He coughed and looked back down at his laptop. Its screen, which was a nice wide model capable of displaying two documents side-by-side, according to the box it came in, was displaying zero documents.

The window was maximized, showing clearly and full-screenly that there wasn’t a single word not part of a toolbar on the barren expanse of LCD white. The Sociophobe pointed at the blinking cursor. “Any moment now, a torrent of brilliance will fill the page and make me rich,” he fantasized aloud.

“Sounds exciting,” said a female voice to his right. The Sociophobe jumped. “Can I start you out with anything to drink? Coffee, iced tea, Pepsi products?” his waitress asked sweetly, hand poised over one of those waitress notepads.

“Oh, coffee, please.”

“You want cream with that?”

“How about your telephone number with that?” the Sociophobe imagined himself saying, gesturing suavely out the window to his Porsche with a nod.

“No thanks,” he said with a nod that made his sunglasses fall off the top of his head and into the booth behind him.

“Okay! Do you know what you want yet?”

“A Porsche.”

“Heh. Don’t we all? If you need a few minutes, I can go get your coffee while you decide.”

“That’d be spiffy.”

“I’m Megan, if you need anything else, okay?”

“I know,” the Sociophobe muttered quietly as she walked away.

It was the Sociophobe’s habit to lope into this Bob Evans location with his laptop at least once a week to look interesting. At least that was the plan. Anyone in a restaurant by himself without a book or a laptop computer was probably a stalker or some sort of sex criminal. The Sociophobe was neither, and since he fancied himself a writer, he toted his laptop under his arm whenever he ate alone.

This is, of course, what his brain told him.

“You can’t go in there by yourself, man! It ain’t done that way ‘round these parts.”

“These parts? You think West Michigan is some sort of giant, multi-county cult?”

“Yes. A conservative one. Look out for the Christian Reformed Church and their arsenal of lame white person food!”

“Okay. You have a point there. A cynical one. But still…what’s wrong with going into a restaurant by yourself?”

“People will look at you.”

“They have to. Otherwise, they’d bump into me.”

“Aww! Lookit you trying to be witty! You get a gold star for effort. What I meant, though, is that they’ll suspect you.”

“Of what?”

“Oh, you know. The kinds of things you hear about on the news when people are being interviewed about a serial killer the police caught in their area. ‘He was a quiet man. Always ate at Bob Evans by himself. Good tipper, but he liked mustard on his pancakes. That was a little weird, now that I think about it.’”

“That’s ridiculous.”

It was, of course, but what started as a laughable little seed of a scenario had grown into a festering social anxiety bush, complete with suspicious berries and teeming with awkward squirrels.

The Sociophobe looked around the restaurant and saw an elderly couple standing at the pulpit thing by the doors, doing what the sign on it told them to do. Waiting to be seated. He looked back down at his LCD before they could make eye contact. It had powered itself off to save battery power, and he poked the TrackPoint nubbin to wake it back up.

“Here’s your coffee!” said the returning Megan. She set a white mug with a blue stripe around the inside of the rim down in front of him on a napkin. Next to it, she set a little bowl of tiny garbage cans filled with Half and Half. Waitresses always asked him if he wanted cream with his coffee, and he always said no, but they always brought him some anyway. There was perhaps something telling about that, but the Sociophobe couldn’t think of what it might be. Maybe he just looked like one of those guys who enjoyed lying about wanting cream.

“Do you know what you want? There’s a special today on pancakes with stuff in ‘em. Do you like pancakes with stuff in ‘em?”

The Sociophobe preferred pancakes with stuff on them. He deftly avoided conflict by ordering an omelet.


  1. Good post. And don't give the napkin manufacturers any ideas. If they thought they could get away without embossing the napkins, you know they would. And then the 'kins wouldn't clean as well, because there'd be less friction. Think how dirty people's faces would get after awhile. Old mayonnaise spots all over their beards. Well, maybe that wouldn't be so bad, but the leftover crumbs from the pancakes would be horrible.

  2. Great post. Allways be wary of the old people. waitress don't really think that you know what you want, so they bring you what they think you want.

  3. JW: Yeah. I'm guessing the embossery could be considered a surface-area increasing measure, but it's probably just to make 'em look "deluxe".

    CCG: Then the waitresses should be bringing me big plates of money and electric razors.

  4. I think the embossing keeps the layers attached as well. Just think of all those napkins peeling apart layer by layer in two-year-old hands and spreading round the floor. Though, come to think of it, embossing doesn't really present much of a challenge to two-year-olds.

  5. The two-year-olds I'm familiar with (or were, as they've all, inexplicably, continued to age) were more likely to put the napkins in their mouths, cementing them together permanently.

    I think it's too much to ask for something to be both functional and decorative.

    No. I take that back. Cats are both. They're like throw pillows that eat ants!


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