The clock on the minivan radio read 4:59 p.m. as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. One minute to five?
“Wait a second,” I said to my wife as she opened the door.
“It’s not five o’clock. … OK, now it is.”
Five p.m. is not a normal time to be in a restaurant unless you work there; with these exceptions, 1) you have a senior discount, 2) you have children, and 3) you’re already at the bar.
My wife and I were Number 2, had a coupon so we were nearly Number 1, and if the children behaved like they did during The Dinner of Doom, we’d wish we were Number 3.
A shiver ran through me just thinking of The Dinner of Doom. The Boy was four, the Girl two, and I was one step closer to death. They jumped on every empty bench, they spilled every water glass. Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure the hostess dialed 9-1 and kept her index finger over the 1, just waiting for us to leave.
Maybe things would be better this time. I mean, that was three years ago.
“Good evening,” our hostess said, her smile meaning our pictures weren’t tacked up behind the station under a handwritten notice reading, “Do NOT serve these people. Immediately call the National Guard.” That was a good sign.
My wife said yes, and we followed the hostess into the dining room.
People sat a two other tables, one single man and a couple with a senior discount. The hostess seated us dangerously close to the single man, who immediately ordered another Budweiser. I don’t know if that was because of us, but I wouldn’t doubt it. Word gets around.
Well, we were seated. In a restaurant. With the kids.
Children come in two types, polite, and feral. The problem for parents is the types coexist inside the same child and we never know which one is going to be the dominant personality in a given situation. I always brace myself for feral.
“Have we decided?” our waiter asked.
“I would like chicken nuggets, please,” the Boy said.
“Yes, chicken nuggets, please,” the Girl squawked excitedly. “With French fries.”
Two pleases? This dinner outing had already gone better than I’d hoped.
Of course, we all knew the food would eventually come. Back during the era of The Dinner of Doom, my wife and I ate in shifts. One fielding the children while the other ate like we’d been lost in the forest for a week. Now …
The children ate without complaint. I could taste my food. And … OK, so that was just one glass of Sprite spilled onto the floor. Oh, no. The Girl said she was full. And, yes. She shot out of her chair and landed with a plop onto the empty booth opposite ours.
“Can I take this home?” the Boy asked, pointing at the food remaining on his plate.
My wife and I looked at each other. It was time; we were just minutes away from a nice family dinner devolving into something from Animal Planet.
We paid and left.
“The couple is still there,” my wife said as we stepped into the parking lot. “Why can’t we stay in a restaurant longer than 30 minutes?”
“Because,” I said, “they’re a couple, we’re a quadruple.”