I met one of my favorite boyfriends, “Paul” (not his real name) at a fancy dinner party in Hollywood. He was watching what and how much I ate. If that happened now, I would move my seat but he was so sweet and smart and funny and foreign that I found it sexy. It was like having someone be interested in me, exactly like that. Of course, we slept together almost immediately and the food thing was never revisited.
I’m only writing this because he emailed me the other day. About every five years he reaches out. I am aware that I’m ‘the one that got away’ for him and I sort of admire his loyalty and persistence. I know he would like to see me and there is a part of me that wants to catch up, but its not the part of me that…its not really the best part of me. It can’t go anywhere good although it could maybe go somewhere hot.
No, I want to write about a dinner party where one of the guests, unbeknownst to the hostess, is actually a restaurant critic and food historian. His name is Stuart, or Kevin, not the name of anyone I have ever slept with and this is only significant because of my utterly insane standards of loyalty. The main character, “Ellen”, is a very insecure hostess and cook. She invites her best friend…..Pammy (?) and Pammy’s new boyfriend Stuart/Kevin to dinner and, because she thinks no one will have a standard of excellence for it, she makes vegetarian Indian food, painstaking and involved, she grinds her own spices, etc. She does serve store bought naan and Stuart/Kevin catches that immediately. He even knows the Indian Spice Shop on South Vermont, the best place for naan in central L.A.. Ellen put slivered red onion in the raita, an unusual choice for raita which Stuart/Kevin points out before launching into a long monologue on the ontogenesis of both the word raita and its place in Indian cooking. He doesn’t wait for an answer but if he had Ellen would have said that it was in the recipe she found online.
The subtext of this dinner party is that Ellen wants to introduce her new boyfriend, Paul, to her best friend. Paul is from Austria. He is adorable, loving, smart, funny but Ellen finds something unbearably soft about him, as if when he smiles it is his mother’s smile, when he kisses they are butterfly kisses like your Grandfather gives you. He is like an 80 year old man except that he’s 27. It’s as if he totally skipped all the drunkenstoned mistakes everyone else his age in America made. He’s an innocent, that’s what, and Ellen finds it off-putting and uncomfortable. She hasn’t told Pammy all of that et but she did say she wanted Pammy’s honest take on him. Paul is a wonderful storyteller but Stuart/Kevin is such a bore, going on and on about some bullshit curry he had once in the Himalayas, which he pronounces Him-all-yas like the Brits do, that Paul cannot get a word in edgewise. Pammy hangs on Stuart/Kevin’s every word. She says that Stuart/Kevin makes his own butter because it’s so much ‘creamier’. Ellen wants to say, “Oh, who hasn’t?” remembering that one time in second grade when she had to churn for fucking hours before even approaching buttermilk but Stuart/Kevin is her guest and Pammy, for some unfathomable reason, seems to like him.
Ellen finally stands up and says that she’s very, very nervous because she is not a fancy cook just a regular working girl trying to get ahead in show business.
Pammy and Stuart/Kevin look up at her in horror. Why is she standing up?
“Why are you standing up, honey?” asks Paul but he, too, stands up as if this is some arcane American practice he was hitherto unaware of.
Ellen sits down again so that Paul will and he does. Everyone resumes eating but then Stuart/Kevin taps his knife gently on his wine glass and stands up.
“I have a toast,” he says, looking Ellen in the eyes. “My toast is to Ellen. Please don’t be mad at Pammy, she adores you and rightfully so. What I want to say is that I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in years because all of my friends are afraid to cook for me. I stand by my appraisal of your raita, improvisation is not always called for, but I find the rest of your dinner to be delightful in every way and you are most kind to put up with my droning on and on.”
Ellen starts to clear the table, tears in her eyes. She feels like a bitch for taking everything so personally, a fault she knows she is often guilty of. She murmurs her thank-you to Stuart/Kevin and toys with mentioning that dessert is Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream, Paul’s favorite, and store bought cookies but then decides to just serve it up graciously and hope for the best.