We saw a movie years ago in which a housekeeper, played by Helen Mirren, dryly notes that she has the “gift of anticipation.” She knows what people need – or will need – long before they do and is attuned to the next requirement, be it refills or discretion. As she resigned herself onscreen, I grabbed Greg’s arm in the theater, whispering “it’s me, it’s me!” Like Helen, Greg had seen it coming. “Mm..okay.” But the recognition was inspiring. “No, I mean it. I have the gift of anticipation.”
“I have it!”
Later, he would propose that what I shared with the housekeeper was not anticipation, but martyrdom. “That’s not how she described it,” I said, “and you know, everyone in the audience felt bad for her.”
“Yeah,” said Greg, “exactly.”
Whatever the name, it’s always present: a bride will demand more icing, sleepover child won’t like onions, and wait, you’ll need water with that pill. Over-thinking, yes, but a particular brand, one of cause-and-effect, and a mixed blessing. Being ready makes life smooth and being kind makes life good, but the constant pull of awareness can, and will, set you apart.
It will poke you in small ways at the wrong times. At a recent dinner event I was seated between Greg and a smiling corporate publicist. She had blinding teeth and a still, groomed ponytail; she chatted left to right about running her last 10K, but I suspected that within the hour, she would need chocolate.
The first course was served in a synchronized flourish of plates. This was a very fancy affair, with predictably affair-tall food, but I’m no easy target. Done right I’ll eat both high and low, and though I’m not quite what you’d call jaded – more like hugely jaded – one day after chef school I stopped ooh-aahing every garnish and leaf. Still, this course was lovely, and the servers met a room full of stylish diners, feigning indifference to their glee.
Here is what they saw: chic edible puzzles arranged on white rectangular plates.
They saw two ceramic squares with wasabi and lemon herb sauce, and next to them, a Tiffany box-sized ice cube. A well down the center burst with upright crustaceans – one lobster tail, two speckled crab legs and two meaty prawns, fat as steaks from the sea. A twiggy iron fork harpooned it all together, and that was the first course. Gifts from the deep, one raw bar per person.
Here is what I saw: a waiter’s worst nightmare.
Even as oohs and aahs were stifled, I saw what hell this course would bring. The plating was so precise that it left no room for shells, lemon rinds, or tails. The rectangles were shallow, and it didn’t take a chemist to see that giant ice cubes, already glistening, would soon melt across the dish and leave a small but briny sea. I glanced around the table; my well-heeled seatmates were diving like ice fisherman, cracking shells and dipping chunks. Water began to seep past the plates and down the napkins, toward all those pressed pants. I turned to Greg – who was waiting for it - and leaned over.
“It’s really nice…aren’t they nice?”
“But…kind of a mess.”
He was pulling crab meat.
“The ice cubes. They’re melting all over. The plates are filling up.”
“The waiters won’t be able to pick them up. They need room on the edge. The…crab shells are spiny.”
“They’ll hurt their hands.”
He blinked. “The shrimp are great,” he said. “but there’s so much here.”
Why. Why? No one else was thinking shellfish cuts, or sodden linens, or how to balance a dish full of arctic melt. They were just eating. My PR neighbor cheerfully spooned drowning wasabi, but professed to a severe obsession with chocolate. Seated among them I wished for a different head, oblivious and nicely level, but it did not come. Resigned, I picked up the skinny wet spear and ate my beautiful seafood, and since it wasn’t exactly tragedy and since I am no martyr, I did not further discuss what might happen.
Even though, of course, it all did.
* So – what’s with the slobby sketches? Well my friends, turns out there are some places where it seems – gasp – inappropriate to photograph food, and this was the best I could do. Given the end scene of struggling waiters and dirty sea water, I kind of wish I had.