Why I dine alone
By David Agosta
A finely observed character study of a rather unattractive dining companion with an unexpected twist
I must begin by explaining that it has been my habit since childhood to sit with people who would otherwise find themselves alone. At first it was a mixture of pity towards these outcasts and recognition that I am an outcast myself that caused me to seek out the most disdained wretch in any society. In retrospect, I understand that this practice made me feel less the wretch myself. Later, it remained my practice simply because I find society’s outcast to be far more interesting than normal, acceptable people. It was this habit that led me to a peculiar friendship with Tony; a man with whom I had nothing in common and found rather loathsome.
On the first day of my employment at a particular company, I surveyed the diners in the cafeteria and noted that one individual sat unaccompanied. As is my wont, I asked that I might join him. From his mouth emerged both a guttural sound and an object that I imagined was the partially masticated charred flesh of some manner of ungulate.
If I were to judge his prosperity solely by the amount of gold that graced what would have been his neck, had he possessed anything resembling a neck, it might have appeared to me that Tony was a wealthy man. However, being an astute observer of the human race, I noticed that his shirt lacked several buttons, which forced him to wear it open nearly to his navel. Surely a man who could afford such finery could also afford fasteners for his garments. Hence, I detected something disingenuous in his dress.
I offered my hand and introduced myself. Tony, as I came to know him at that point, proved himself to be a moderately well-mannered individual, as he wiped his hand on his napkin after belching into it, whereupon he grasped my hand more firmly than it had ever been grasped before. Tony, as I came to learn, was a man of few words when in the presence of those with whom he was unfamiliar, and was only slightly more verbose when a greater degree of familiarity existed. Not much in the way of conversation passed between us on that day or for many subsequent days.
This presented me with a dilemma. Some wish no company when they dine. Some are simply quiet, but welcoming, or at least accepting of those who will remain relatively quiet as well. It occurred to me that I should seek another companion for my luncheon, but I worried that this might offend and giving offence was something that I always sought to avoid. I ruminated over this for quite some time because, as we were both males, it was simply unacceptable for me to attempt to determine the answer to this question by committing so bold a violation of gender etiquette as to ask him how he felt about my dining with him. I decided that I would avail myself of Tony’s company until he instructed me to refrain from doing so.
That instruction never came and as time passed, conversation between us became comparatively more verbose, if not any more intellectually stimulating. As I came to know several of my other coworkers, with whom I undeniably shared a greater commonality of interests, my habit of dining with Tony seemed more and more unusual. However, as these other coworkers had dining companions of their own and Tony had none, it seemed to me that I had forced myself into an obligation to maintain my daily routine.
My coworkers, as we became more acquainted, told me that they could not fathom my midday loyalty to a man to whom many referred with various, unflattering anatomical references. Tony possessed neither subtlety nor grace, was endowed with neither great intelligence nor kindness, and was neither cultured nor learned. He was universally disliked, even by those who had never made his acquaintance and was positively hated by the females for reasons that were unknown to me. I should note that I had no contact with him aside from our daily meal together. I knew little of his habits aside from the dietary and sartorial. I did come to know that he transported himself to and fro in a vehicle so powerful that it nearly violated the laws of physics and that he had violated several State laws in it. He was enamored of a particular sport in which men of large build wore layers of armour and chased an oblong ball back and forth across a rather large field.
After several weeks had passed, I learned that Tony kept a secret. I must admit that I was honoured when this man of few words shared his secret with me. Tony considered himself something of a ‘ladies man’, but that was not the secret. Several of my coworkers had remarked that his demeanour, manner of dress and attitude indicated that he thought of himself in this way. What my coworkers failed to grasp was that these qualities were not mere artifice. Tony, as I now learned, was more than moderately successful in his pursuit of female companionship. This, while not common knowledge, was also not his secret. His secret was his well-thought out, considered and diligently acted upon method of achieving that success. To the extent that his techniques may prove instructive to the anthropologically minded reader, I now relate them.
“Feminist chicks dig me.” Tony volunteered one day.
Taken aback by both this claim and its ironic phraseology I could only
utter, as was not my habit, a single-word response. “Really?”
I asked, rhetorically.
The scientist appeared to be a rather conservative woman. This impression was due mainly to her mode of dress. She wore long, pleated wool skirts, simple white blouses buttoned to the neck that were always covered, even in the warmest weather, by cardigan sweaters. Her hair was pulled back and tied in a way that accentuated her stern and serious expression. Horn-rimmed glasses hung on a chain at about what I imagined would be the level of her breasts, were it apparent that she had any breasts. Her apparel, except for the skirts, gave no hint of her femininity. I was, needless to say, shocked by my friend’s disclosure and wondered aloud why I had never seen any interaction between them.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked. “I’m
not her type in the cafeteria. Hell, I’m not her type anyplace
but the bedroom.”
Over the next few weeks, Tony provided many examples of his success, replete with rather specific details as to the particular appetites of some of my female coworkers. As our conversation progressed over several days, Tony pointed out several other women that he had allegedly 'nailed.' Sensing my growing skepticism, Tony one day provided explicit and convincing photographic evidence that he was telling the truth. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain any to include in my record. I should also mention at this point that my friend was a fortunate man, as he was impressively endowed with certain physical characteristic that would, I imagined, result in many return engagements with women enamoured of such superfluity.
He was very pleased when I asked if I might take notes (purely out of an academic’s habit of accurately documenting his anthropological investigations, I assure you). In fact, in response to that request, his countenance brightened in way I had not previously seen and his normally limited conversation increased considerably. It may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that I am a highly educated man. It may also come as no surprise that Tony is not. In this area, however, I was the student and Tony was the teacher.
After proving the success of his methodology, sometimes in recollections far too graphic to relate here, Tony inquired as to my opinion of the women he had pointed out to me. As I was sure that he had come to recognise my keen observational skills, he no doubt thought that I would be able to detect a pattern in their behaviour, demeanour or appearance. I had already mentioned to him that he had pointed out none of the more liberally dressed women at the company, nor any of those who would seem to my untrained eye to be more willing to engage in the activities depicted in his photographs, rather than those he had actually immortalised in the prints he had shown me.
I could easily tell what these women were not, although I knew them not at all. They were not of the type that exposes too much skin or the type that is flirtatious or gregarious in nature. Indeed, they all seemed rather humourless and, despite the activities depicted in my friend’s photographs, rather staid. Among them was the scientist I mentioned previously, an executive whom I had seen walking the halls dressed as conservatively as the scientist and a production worker whose short hair and mannish gait had convinced me that she was of the type that did not prefer men. Tony also drew my attention to a member of the custodial staff whose uniform denied any deduction as to her sense of style, but who I had noticed on some Fridays—the day of ‘casual dress’—wore bright, flower-printed dresses. Her dresses were long, but not long enough to conceal the fact that she was one of those rare American women who did not shave her legs.
“Feminists,” explained Tony. “They’re all feminists.”
I recalled the seemingly random, possibly sarcastic statement that began our now month-long conversation. Tony had not been joking. In his mind, at least, 'feminist chicks' dug him! Images of the women to whom Tony had drawn my attention ran through my mind. I knew little or nothing about their sociopolitical leanings or lifestyles. All I knew of them was from direct observation and from photographic images that told me, as you might imagine, more than I needed to know about their lifestyles, but only about one single aspect of those lifestyles.
I did not know Tony’s definition of 'feminist' or how his close his definition was to that of the educated world, nor did I know whether he knew or cared whether those women would define themselves as such. When I told him as much, he seemed rather annoyed with me.
“Ya know, I really don’t give a fuck,” he said. “I just know I got a way with certain kinds a chicks. Ya think you’re so fucking smart? I’m painting my mother’s house and I run out of cigarettes, so I go to this store that’s next to a strip joint. It’s hotter ‘n hell, so I figured I’d stop in for a beer. Well, when I get there, there’s this bunch of broads out front picketing. Now, my people are union people an’ I ain’t never crossed no picket no how, no where, no way an’ I ain’t about to start now, right? So I’m standin’ outside just watchin’ an’ I sees this chick holdin’ a sign and she’s got the hairiest fuckin’ armpits I ever seen. Now, I never knew a girl that didn’t shave her pits, so I’m like, intrigued, ya’ know. An’ she’s carryin’ this sign says something about degrading women or some shit. But she’s kinda cute, an’ she’s not wearin’ a bra so her nipples are fuckin’ screaming at me an’ I’m thinkin’, ‘what the fuck, I don’t need to go in, I’ll just see if I can pull one of these broads’, right?
Well, she sees me watchin’ her an’ I’m all covered with paint. I got the shit in my hair an’ I’m drivin’ my dad’s pickup, so I don’t look good like I do now, right? And she’s walkin’ around in a circle, carryin’ her sign and every time she comes around the circle, she sees me standing there just watchin’. Anyway, about the fourth time she goes around, I catch her look back over her shoulder at me. Now, ya’ know, I ain’t the brightest guy in the world, but I ain’t the dumbest either an’ I remember that I got my camera in the truck ‘cuz I was gonna take some pictures of the house to send to my sister in Florida after I got it painted.
So I grab the camera an’ start shootin’ these broads picketing the strip joint. Anyway, hairy pits comes over like she’s gonna ask me what I’m doin’. An’ like I said, I ain’t the brightest guy in the world, but I ain’t that dumb so I start doin’ this paparazzi shit, bendin’ down an’ turnin’ the camera. I’m bouncin’ around like I’m Muhammed fuckin’ Ali taking pictures of her while she’s walkin’ up to me. An’ then she asks me what I’m doin’. So I says, ‘I’m takin’ pictures, whachoo doin’?’ An’ she starts tellin’ me this shit about these fuckin’ strippers bein’ exploited an’ shit.
Now, I don’t know much, but I know strippers, so I tell her about my cousin Marie. Marie gets knocked up by this fuckin’ scumbag who leaves her and her kid an’ she ain’t got no skills—'cept she’s a slut, and she can’t feed the kid any way other than by swingin’ her tits around. Only I don’t say it like that. I say it like I’m this sensitive faggot artist. Kinda like you talk, but cool, ya know? Anyway, hairy pits damn near starts cryin’ an’ runs over to the other broads an’ then I hear them yellin’ at each other and half the broads leave an’ only the real dikey lookin’ ones stay and hairy pits comes back an’ asks me for a ride home.
She thinks I’m a painter an’ you can’t blame her for that, ‘cuz I got my paintin’ clothes on and, like I said, I got the shit in my hair and all over my arms and she asks me what I paint and I tell her I’m gonna paint her with the pictures I took. Anyway, we get to her place an’ I pull a chair into the middle of the room and I tell her to sit down an’ I start playin’ with the window shades like I’m trying to get the light right and I start taking more pictures. An’ then I start moving her hair and putting her arms in different places, shit like that. Then I tell her the dress is wrong, colour’s all wrong an’ can she take it off?
Well, I spent three hours bangin’ the shit out of her, took the pictures over to the art school an’ paid some kid fifty bucks to paint one of them. Then I go to Walmart, buy some cheap piece of shit paintings, kick the shit out of them and throw them out the window of my apartment so when she comes over to get her picture, I tell her I’m done. I don’t wanna paint no more. About once a month she comes over an’ I act all depressed an’ shit and she lets me do anything I want to her. Three months ago, she brought that scientist with her. Nailed both of ‘em. That’s how I got this job.”
It became my practice on that day, and has remained so ever since, to always dine alone.
Story © 2005 David Agosta. Picture: 'Lone Diner' © Jacqueline
Picture reproduced by kind courtesy of the artist, Jacqueline Crofton