Once a month, the St. Agatha Club, in Niantic, holds a dinner for its female members and their friends. For $20, you get a four-course meal, wine and soda, and each table is served by a male member of the club. Other male members do all of the cooking.
The hall is usually jam-packed with women, ranging in age from early forties to late nineties and beyond. Some of my friends go every month; others go once in awhile. I’m not a member, but I attend a few times a year.
Tonight was the last dinner until September, so I made a point to make it. This evening, at our table, there were seven of us (we all belong to the same church), and one sister-in-law of a member.
I got there a few minutes late and everyone was eating salad and ziti and talking about our table’s waiter, Mark. He was a handsome guy, about 30 years younger than our usual waiters. Five of us — Netta, Ginny, Marsha, Talia, and I — were married and three — Maddie, Karen, and Rosalyn — were single.
Maybe their wedding rings gave them the confidence to ask personal questions of Mark, because the married women were the ones who decided to grill the poor guy … all night. When Mark returned, the single women were noticeably silent. But that was because several of the married women had decided to find out if Mark was single — and available to date one of the unmarried women in our group.
Who we were going to offer up to Mark was determined by age. He appeared to be youngish, so Netta announced to the table, “Maddie and Karen, you’re both in your fifties, so you’re out. That leaves Rosalyn, who’s in her forties.” Everyone just stared at Netta, especially Maddie and Karen, who had just been summarily eliminated from the non-existent competition. Rosalyn looked shocked, and a little nauseous.
When Mark came back, he was all smiles and graciousness. He couldn’t do enough for us. While everyone complimented him on his service and friendliness, they all avoided asking him what they really wanted to know. Because I like the direct approach, I decided to get involved, but just once. When Mark had cleared the salad and pasta dishes and was on his way to get the main course (steak pizzaola, potatoes, and green beans), he turned and asked, “Does anyone need anything else?” I answered, “Just your number.”
He turned beet red and my friends all laughed nervously. One of them jumped in, “It’s just that you’re so nice and some of us have young daughters whom we’d like to fix you up with.” Rosalyn breathed an audible sigh of relief that she was no longer the sacrificial lamb (excuse the metaphor, but we were a church group, after all). Another one chimed in, “How old are you? Are you married?”
Mark, who was still bright red, and sweating a little, began to laugh. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “I’m 32, but I’m taken.” He then made a quick exit to the kitchen. “Well,” said Maddie, “we still don’t know if he’s married.” “True,” said Karen, “but he made it clear that he wasn’t available.” Rosalyn said nothing. She probably hoped that we had forgotten about her.
When Mark came back with the main course, he announced that he was really enjoying serving us. Throughout the meal, he returned again and again to see if we needed anything and to accept compliments on whatever we could think of complimenting him on. It was right about this time that the dues-paying members in our group decided to use him as their messenger to the kitchen. “Please tell the cook that the string beans and potatoes had too much pepper. Oh, and while the gravy was very tasty, the meat was tough in places.” He accepted all of the criticism with humor and promised to tell the kitchen staff.
As he left to relay the messages, Rosalyn announced that she was sick and had to leave. We were so surprised at her sudden illness and felt terribly for her. She seemed fine at the beginning of the night.
After Rosalyn left, while we were awaiting dessert, several members at our table started advance-complaining. “If we get that plain vanilla ice cream again, I’m refusing it,” said one. “Yeah. We had that same dessert the last three times we came. I hope they get more creative this time,” said another. “I’m sure we won’t get that boring ice cream on the last dinner until the fall,” said another.
Soon after, Mark returned with a large tray filled with individual servings of … vanilla ice cream. Only three of us accepted it. The rest of the group very nicely told Mark to please take the rest of the servings back to the kitchen and let them know that serving vanilla ice cream four times in a row is not acceptable. Everybody assured Mark that they weren’t holding any of the kitchen’s faults against him. He just laughed and said that the kitchen staff was very busy, but he would pass on their comments. Then he walked off with the mostly filled tray.
“Oh my God,” I said. “You are all such complainers! ‘The meat’s tough, the potatoes and beans have too much pepper! The ice cream is boring.’ I’m going to blog about this dinner,” I said. “Maybe I’ll call the post, ‘The Complainers of the Round Table.’ ” Karen piped up, “Don’t forget to mention the person who complained about her friends’ complaining!” “Fair enough,” I said.
Just then, the president of the St. Agatha Club asked everyone to please stop talking so that she could make a few announcements and then draw raffle tickets for prizes. She doesn’t like this part of the night, because silencing 200 women is no easy task. She usually makes three or four calm attempts to quiet the room before she raises her voice and tells us how rude we are and that she needs a few minutes of silence. Then she says it again, and again.
While the president called for quiet, Ginny whispered, “What names are you going to use for us in your blog post?”
The noise level around us was still high, so I answered, “Why don’t you all pick the names you want to be called?”
The room suddenly quieted down at the exact minute that Ginny said, “Let’s use our stripper names!”
We all sat stock-still to see if anyone had heard her. The noise level rose again, so we relaxed and started figuring out our stripper names by using the name of our first pet and the first street we lived on. Marsha couldn’t remember her first pet’s name, so she opted out. Rosalyn had already left, so that left six of us. Our names were Chico Walnut (Talia), Stanley 135th (Maddie), Toby Kettle (Karen), Scratchy Roman (Ginny), Trixie Highview (Netta), and Pegleg Angus (me).
“Some of these names sound like stripper names, and some sound like pirate names!” Talia announced. But the die was cast. And, the noise had finally died down, so we turned our attention to the president, who had begun her announcements.
After the raffle tickets were pulled, the president announced that most of the winners came from the table that didn’t complain. Either she had overheard our conversations, or we were in similar company.
As the evening wore down, Mark reappeared. He gushed all over us and said that we were the most fun group he had ever served. He promised to arrive early at the first dinner in September so that he could wait on our table. He was probably telling the truth, because we weren’t allowed to tip him.
“Maybe he’ll be available in September,” someone said, after he had gone.
I’m sure that he’ll be just as available then, as he is now.