Here's what we planned: Dinner at Buca di Beppo, a fun Italian restaurant our teenaged son discovered. Bocco di Beppo serves "family sized" entrees "family style". This is perfect. The adults can have a bottle of wine and the family can choose just one entree for three to share. My son said Buca di Beppo's cheesecake was the best, so that was part of the plan as well. After supper Mel and I would walk to a 7:30 movie and David would go home to meet his friend for their endless computer network project.
My son and I were meeting Mel at the restaurant. We left five minutes late. Then we went back home for an unlocked door. We exited the wrong end of the train and walked the wrong direction for five minutes before walking five more minutes in the correct direction. Once at the restaurant there was an obligatory "tour", part of the Buca di Beppo experience. We saw The Pope's Table, The Cardinal's Table, The Kitchen Table and a photo of the world's largest bowl of spaghetti with a man diving into it.
Settling into our table, the family fun begins. My son wants both baked rigatoni and chicken parmesan. For an appetizer he wants either bruschetta or garlic cheese bread (I'm allowed to choose). I remind him about the "family sized portions", diplomatically stating my preference for one entree and one appetizer. SOMEONE suggests, "We can just bring home whatever we don't eat!" (The noodles with a dab of riccotta, mozzerella and sauce cost $16.95.)
I resign myself.
Next on the menu is dinnertime conversation. My son can transform any bit of friendly chat from debate into a full-fledged argument. We dabble with various topics - chain restaurants vs. independent restaurants. We discuss different types of food and learn that "Jewish Food" is not possible because it's a religion and not a country. Following futile attempts to explain the diaspora, I sputter, "I think we should talk about something else."
The servings of garlic cheese bread, chicken parmesan and baked rigatoni come. We eat everything in sight, and I am left with double defeat. My caloric intake has been tipped ominously over the recommended daily allowance, and, worse than that, I was WRONG about the portion sizes.
When the server asks if we would like dessert, my son says,
"Three cheesecakes, please."
"No. No. Two cheesecakes."
"I want you to try it. It's the best cheesecake."
"I want to try it too, but I just want one little bite."
"We can take it home!"
"I don't want to take it home. In case you haven't noticed, one slice of cheesecake costs $11.45."
All the while I'm holding two TWO fingers up for the server to see. Back in my day a piece of cheesecake cost 75 cents. I can't bear that it's $11.45. My bathroom scale can't bear that a slice of cheesecake weighs one pound. SOMEONE looks at the server and says,
I hate this family.
I insist the server bring the cake in a box.
The cheesecake arrives. I try a bite. It's good. It's better than the rigatoni and would have been a more satisfying main course. My son doesn't think it's as good as the last time he had it. He doesn't think it will taste good the next day. Melvin says, "I can bring it to work for lunch!" I forbid him to put it in my kitchen refrigerator. It must be kept in the one in the basement where I won't mistake it for my morning cereal. At this point we have a heated discussion about whose refrigerator it is and what rights I do and do not have about its contents.
My son's cell phone rings. It's his computer date. He's late for their appointment. It's now 7:40, ten minutes past when our movie, a 30 minute walk away, begins. I roll with it gracefully.
"I wasn't that interested in the movie anyway. Really I just wanted a nice dinner with you guys and to try this fun restaurant."
We go to the subway together. When the crowded train arrives, Melvin and I instinctively grab the only two available seats. One wordless glance from our son conveys: What am I, chopped liver that I don't get to sit down? If you really loved me you would not be so selfish and leave me standing in this aisle.
"Well, you could sit on my lap..."
Immediately, all 6'3" of his loving 18 year old man-self plops into my lap, his arm gently brushing the Wall Street Journal of the man sitting next to us. My son has a gynourmous head of fluffy red hair. He is not a person to overlook. Every passenger of the subway car directs his vision to their books or telephones or shoelaces as my son rests his head on top of mine. At the next stop some seats become available.
"There's a seat behind us. Would you like one?"
"No. I'm perfectly happy right here."