It was Saturday night, 6:30, and we still hadn’t figured out what we were going to do for dinner.
“How about Chinese?” I asked my wife.
“That’s not a night out,” she said, “that’s more like take-out.”
“How about that new Mexican restaurant?” I suggested.
“It’s Saturday night,” she said with disdain. “Eating burritos and black beans doesn’t put me in the mood for romance.”
As always, it fell to me to win the game of twenty-restaurant questions. “How about Protestant,” I said, struck by inspiration. “We haven’t eaten Protestant for awhile.”
“Hmm,” she hmmd. “I could go for some mashed potatoes,” she conceded. “But it’s so hard to find a parking space in Honky Town.”
She was right about that. Most of the meters had been handed down through the generations, starting back when the cows walked off the Mayflower and first came to a stop.
“We could go to the The Busy WASP,” I said. “They validate your ticket and when you get back to the lot you get six months commissions free on an exchange-traded fund.”
“We were here first!”
“Okay,” she agreed. “Let me throw on something pink.”
I called and made a reservation for 7:30 and we headed out to the cute little suburb with great schools where we used to live, a place where “starter” homes begin at around $1.3 million–nice start. We’d escaped from its mean streets when we became empty nesters, although we still bore the psychic scars deep inside.
“Lock your door,” I said to my wife as we pulled up to the first stoplight off the highway.
“Why?” she asked, but before she had the question mark out of her mouth we had already been set upon by one of the town’s infamous “squeegee” men, who began to wash our windshield.
“Hey,” I heard him say through my closed window. “How’re you guys doing tonight!” I could tell the guy was a pro from his infectious smile. Thankfully, we’d been able to get our anti-WASP shots the week before.
“Fine, fine,” I said, lowering my window just a crack. “Say, I . . . uh . . . don’t really need my windshield washed.”
“Actually, you do,” he said, scrubbing hard at one particular spot. “You hit a bug, you’ve got a yellow goopy mess here.”
I was hoping the light would change, but the guy had hit the “Walk” button before he stepped into the street, and the extra time the town had added to allow toddlers to cross all by themselves put me at his mercy. I was stuck.
“Who’s this for?” I asked with resignation.
“The Linden School PTO,” he said as he finished off the corners with what I had to admit was admirable technique. “Give whatever you can,” he added, “anything over $5 is tax-deductible!”
I handed him a $10 bill and the light changed. “Thanks a lot!” the guy exclaimed as we drove off. “Don’t forget to vote Yes on the school bond issue!”
“I see what you mean,” my wife said. “I’d forgotten how dangerous trips to the outer-city can be.”
“Damn honkies!” I said, disgusted that I’d let one cajole me into parting with my money.
“Uh . . . I don’t think they like to be called ‘honkies’ anymore,” my wife said hesitantly. ”They’re ‘WASPs’ if you want to be politically correct.”
“I’ll call them whatever I want,” I said. ”Remember, my mom’s ancestors came from Virginia where there was a whole lot of miscegenatin’ goin’ on. For all I know I’m part Protestant.”
We drove into the restaurant district of town and I parked in the well-lighted lot off the main street. I marked our spot on my ticket–for some reason all of them were painted “A-1″–and headed towards the restaurant. We rounded the corner and, as soon as we hit the sidewalk, walked straight into my worst nightmare–one of the roving street gangs we read about in the paper, but always assume we’ll never encounter.
“Hi there!” a perky woman with frosted blonde hair said as she stepped into our path. I looked at the embroidered monogram on her cable knit sweater–”LWV”–the most notorious suburban gang of them all, the League of Women Voters!
“We’re not from around here,” I said as I tried to shield my wife from the three women who emerged from the shadows of a Talbots awning. Gang members are permitted only 2.3 children, and accordingly have to depend on intimidation to fill their ranks.
“We don’t want any trouble,” I said. “We know your lives are hard out here without diversity.”
The three looked at each other, held their collective breath for a moment–then burst out laughing. I suppose it was better than getting roughed up, but still, my face turned red from shame.
“It’s no trouble at all!” the shortest of the three said. “We just want to make sure you’re registered to vote!”
I was skeptical but my wife, perhaps sensing it was the only way we were going to get rid of them, agreed to take some literature.
“Thanks, I’ll be sure and read this very thoroughly,” she said as she gave me a knowing look out of the corner of her eye. “You are . . . non-partisan, right?” she asked warily.
“Absolutely,” the gang leader said. “We support goofy policy positions on both ends of the political spectrum.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as we walked away. “I thought you handled that well,” I said to my wife.
“I could tell they were all pumps and no Pappagallos,” she said with a little snort.
“So–just preppy wannabes?”
“Right. I coulda taken them all out with my Kate Spade handbag.”
Our two encounters with the wilder side of the suburbs had delayed us, and as we entered the restaurant we were dismayed to see a line, four couples long, ahead of us.
“Darn it,” I said with disappointment. “I hope we didn’t lose our reservation,” I said. I went up to the hostess and gave her our name. ”We had a 7:30 reservation.”
She looked down at her computerized seating chart and made a little moue with her mouth.
“It’s 7:35,” she said. “We had to give your table up.”
“I’m really hungry,” my wife said. “I was looking forward to something cheesy, with spinach on the side.”
I heard a guy behind us clear his throat. ”I guess some people don’t know about WPT.”
I got the sense he was talking to me, so I turned around with a self-effacing grin. ”Were you . . . uh . . . talking to me?”
“Yeah,” he snarled. ”White People Time. That means when you have a 7:30 reservation, you show up by 7:25–at the latest.”
“Sorry,” I said. ”I hope we didn’t get your expectations up.”
“No problem,” one of the women said. ”We’re WASPs–we’re used to deferred gratification.”
Another man in the group was looking me up and down with a contemptuous smile on his face.
“I can tell you’re not from around here,” he said.
“Right, we came out from the city,” my wife said.
“I figured as much,” the guy said. ”Look at those pants.”
I looked down to my cuffs which fell to my shoes with two breaks in the fabric, just like Enzo, my Italian tailor in the city recommended. ”What’s wrong with them?” I asked.
“You should be showing at least one–maybe two inches of sock,” another man said. ”It’s the WASP way.”
I had no idea I’d made a fashion faux pas, and I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. ”I guess we’ll head back into the city and try you some other time,” I said to the hostess.
As we turned to walk out a guy stood up and blocked our path. “Hold it right there,” he said firmly.
I’d had enough of the rough stuff for one night. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I decided I wasn’t backing down.
“Outta my way,” I said, and at that the three other men who were waiting jumped up as well.
“No, seriously,” one of them said. “We know the Jacobs from hockey . . .”
” . . . and we know the Jennings from lacrosse,” another added.
“We’ll take two tables of four, or one of eight,” the leader said to the hostess. I could tell he meant business–he pulled a major credit card out of his wallet to seal the deal.
I looked him up and down. There were too few of us, and too many of them. Sometimes it’s better to run away, and live to dine another day.
“Thanks,” I said grudgingly. “We appreciate it.”
“No problem,” he said with a sneer, taking no small delight in having faced me down.
The hostess picked up two menus, and we started to follow her to our table, when I felt the hard grip of someone’s hand grab me from behind. It was one of the women, a tough-looking broad with a David Yurman sapphire bracelet on the hand that squeezed my shoulder–hard.
“Wait a minute,” she said, as she reached into her purse.
I’d left my Glock-19 in the car. We were defenseless. “Hit the floor!” I screamed at my wife.
“You’re not going anywhere,” the woman said menacingly, “until you buy a chocolate bar for my daughter Courtney’s soccer team!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs from the Burbs.”