I came for lunch, not a staring contest

I have many pet peeves when it comes to restaurants. I don’t like to eat in a place so dark that you have to use a flashlight to read the menu. I don’t like loud restaurants with bad music or acoustics that carry every conversation through the whole place. I loathe a restaurant telling me what sides come with an entree instead of letting me choose. And I especially hate paying more to get less.

I have a theory that the more exclusive and pricey a place it, the less food they put on your plate. It becomes mostly parsley and Swiss chard. When the cost of your meal tops $100, I suspect they just bring you an empty plate and tell you it’s something special.

That’s why I prefer mom-and-pop restaurants, meat-and-two eateries cafeterias, burger shacks and barbecue joints. I’m not interested in ambiance. I want good food at a reasonable price with no complications or aggravations.

There are a few stand-bys on my restaurant list — places where I know the food is good and I recognize the faces behind the counter. But that doesn’t mean these places never pose an aggravation.

I plopped down in a booth at one of my favorite barbecue joints to enjoy a quick lunch on Friday. It’s a small establishment with about eight tables. I sat facing the television, which was tuned to a channel that was actually showing the weather. It wasn’t The Weather Channel, of course, because they don’t have time for the weather, just like CNN, MSNBC and Fox don’t have time for news anymore, only perpetual punditry.

Anyway, I just wanted to see if we’d be getting more rain. I’ve rather enjoyed these few days of not having to water plants. Then, another fellow ordered and put his plate on the table in front of me. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll just have to look over the back of his head a little to see the TV.”

But nooooo. He sat at the other side of the table and faced directly at me. This is awkward because the TV is just over his head and I look like I’m staring at him. And he’s looking back at me as if to say, “What are you looking at?” He must be the kind of guy who walks into a men’s room with 12 empty urinals and picks the one right next to you.

So I quit looking at the TV and stared down at my barbecue chicken, which did not help me know whether it was going to rain or not. And it didn’t taste as good as usual because I could feel this guy looking at me the whole time.

I don’t like feeling like I’m on display. There are folks in my neighborhood who roll their grills out into the driveway and hang out there for all the world to see. I’m a backyard guy. I’m not interested in being seen. Occasionally I’ll even ask a nosy squirrel, “Ain’t you got someplace else to be?”

Anyone who’s ever worked with me knows that I’ll take lunch at 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. to avoid crowds. It’s not that I don’t like humans, I just don’t want to be around them when I’m eating, or reading, or writing, or sitting, or lying down or … OK, it does sound as if I don’t like humans but I’ll have you know that some of my best friends are humans.

I’m doing my part to avoid the crowds of people who aren’t hungry at 11:59 but one minute later have an intense urge to go get food with the masses. I’m letting y’all have your noontime crowds and lines and conversations. I’m going out of my way to enjoy a nice, quiet lunch with one of my favorite humans, myself.

So, if you find yourself having lunch at 11:15 and happen to see me alone at a table, don’t fret. I’m not lonely. And don’t sit across from me to get a better look. I’ve seen me in the mirror, and even I don’t want to look at me. And I definitely don’t want to look at me — or you — while I’m eating. This is between me and the chicken, thank you.

And if you see me at the urinal, the one next to me is out of order. Sorry.

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