Considering the resolve it took to pass on the Dough donuts in the office just two hours prior, it was with sorrow and remorse that I swallowed an unremarkable slice of chocolate cake at an empty table for four at the Il Forno in Hell’s Kitchen.
Il Forno is like Olive Garden except they don’t serve free bread. Instead, they exploit the undeveloped taste buds of picky tourists who cannot spend their limited time waiting for a table at the busier Olive Garden. A surprise visit from my mother placed me into the category with the time strapped tourists, and Il Forno was chosen for its convenient proximity to the John Golden Theatre, where my mother and her friend Marcy had tickets for Eclipsed. The show started in 1.5 hours. Plenty of time.
(Junior’s would have been just as expensive and equally close, but we were all trying to be our healthiest, and really, how can one go to Junior’s for salad? Unless it’s cheesecake salad.)
Il Forno had options for salads, but because it was Italian there were more options for rich pastas. I was an indecisive bundle of anxiety because of my desire to resist dessert while attempting to honor my values for value. Ultimately I chose the Chicken Prix Fixe, risking a self inflicted relapse on cake, but reasoning that I could share it with Marcy and my mother.
Dodging the evening’s first aneurysm I continued as casually as possible.
“Theatre District restaurants are not that good.” I blurted.
“Is there something wrong with the food?” my mother replied.
As it becomes increasingly difficult to bear the burden of my past behavior on my mother, I found that I could not be honest with her about Il Forno’s middling fare and slow service.
As a mother she would be sad if I was not satisfied, and I would be sad if she was sad because she is my mother and I should be making her happy…but everything makes me sad, even seeing my mother happy makes me sad…I couldn’t tell her that I sobbed last week when I uncovered a selfie she took with my sister in my phone, which used to be hers.
“No, not at all, the chicken is delicious, thank you so much! Would you like to try some!? How is your beet salad?! Marcy, your seafood pasta looks delicious! HOW MUCH DO YOU ENJOY IT??? WHAT A GREAT PLACE!!”As I have matured I realize that she will always care, and how much I need her to care.
Some of the tourists fell for Il Forno.
I overheard the squares at the table near the door asking the young hostess, “What’s the best pizza here?”
“I don’t know…a lot of people like Margarita pizza.” she replied.”It’s just a plain pizza.”
She doesn’t give a shit dude. I don’t blame her. Finals are coming up. And look at the wallpaper of this place. It looks more like the set of an Italian restaurant. I remember finals. This hostess has a future, she still has years ahead of her to make her mother proud. Life is so precious, mothers should be cherished.
A couple of sensible foreign tourists left after asking for the washroom and before ordering. (They’ve probably eaten in Rome.)
The man felt a need to inform the same complacent hostess, “…we wanted real Parmesan, this is what you do not have here.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied flatly, without conviction.
“It is not your fault, but we must leave.”
The service was slow despite the restaurant being mostly empty when we arrived and becoming emptier as we waited even longer for our meals to arrive. I looked into the beady eyes our waiter buried on a thick face beneath the hood of his brow. Possibly in his mid-thirties and early forties, with sausage fingers to indicate a lifetime of handiwork. Was he a freelancer too? Was I destined to share his fate? I’m not personable enough to wait tables though. Was his mother elderly? Could he afford to take care of her? I need to hustle through the present to avoid this ghost of my future, but will that be enough? Why am I having this mental meltdown? Why can’t I simply enjoy this generous meal from my perfectly merciful mother???
With panic I brought up politics and was relieved when we all disagreed calmly and amicably.
My mother thinks Justin Trudeau is good looking. She said he is ‘nice’. I suppose he is.
I promise I don’t time these things, but most of the wait staff stood idly around not refilling our water while our food was taking its time. When the food did arrive I fought my nature and spared my mother by bottling up my disappointment. My mother’s salad was an embarrassment. If she didn’t enjoy it she put on quite a show. Bless her heart.She knows how to make the best of things. I can make her the best beet salad she’s ever eaten.
But it’s not about the food as much as its about the precious time spent together.
A meal that should only have taken an hour door to door took Marcy, my mother and I all the way to showtime. Even though my mother gave them notice for the check and my cake they still dragged their feet. I took one bite of the cake, then leaving my coat and bag followed Marcy and my mother out for brief goodbye hugs. When I returned the bus boy was already clearing the cake away. I stole it back.
To honor my mother and my values I accepted this ascetic solitude and finished the cake by myself, drinking the remainder of my mother’s coffee and soaking in the symbolism.
I pondered the best ways to repent for my prolonged years of being an irresponsible brat, and wondered if there was still time to make up for it.
My birthday is inconsequential.
Sunday is Mother’s Day.
I love you Mom.