It ends up taking me over an hour to get to Demo, because the trains are all fucked up. However, it turns out Dennis is also running late, so we meet at the door at a quarter past six. He has already called, so they’re expecting us late, and all is well. When he walks up, he looks shocked. “I almost didn’t recognize you! Damn, girl. I think I’ve only ever seen you in your uniform or maybe jeans.”
“Well surprise, bitch. I dressed up nice for you, because you’re my sugar daddy tonight.”
“This is true,” he laughs. “I would order for you and all, but it’s a set menu, so that won’t be necessary.” I cringe, as I have flashbacks to my short time working as a server at a restaurant near my school, where some of the men used to order for their dates. Even though I knew it was well-intentioned, I also knew I would punch someone in the face if they tried to tell me what to eat. And if they ordered me a salad, they would be lucky if it was a punch in the face instead of somewhere else. “Let’s go in,” Dennis opens the door with a dramatic gesture, clearly reveling in our momentary swankiness.
We walk in and up to the host stand. At first, no one is there, but then a guy walks up from the dining room. “Oh my god, dude…talk to him when he gets here. I have to look away.”
“Just do it.”
“Welcome, Mr. Smith?” Of course they know who he is. Good old top restaurant hospitality. Is it hospitality? Stalking? I guess semantics don’t really matter. The host brings us to our table as he makes some small talk with Dennis, whose facial expression is starting to resemble that of a dog who spots a bag of treats. I can’t help but catch a little of his enthusiasm, skeptical as I am. The dining room looks cool and understated without being stark or too modern. We sit, and I manage to avoid all eye contact with the host.
“What the hell was that all about?” Dennis asks.
“Um…I think I fucked that guy at my friend Sasha’s Hannukah party.”
“Him?” Dennis looks entirely confused.
“Wait but he looks gay.”
“Yeah…but like pretty sure. I fucked him.”
“Wait what the fuck…you mean with a—“
“Wait I thought—“
“The theme was ‘Eight Days of Drag,’ OK? It felt right at the time.”
Just as I’m starting to feel pretty awkward, a server comes to our table to take our drink order. Thank fucking god. “I’ll have a Brooklyn Gin and tonic, stirred, with olives. Really fucking dry. Er—sorry. Really dry.” Dennis orders an Old Fashioned. “I can’t curse in this nice of a restaurant! Jesus. I do not belong in this kind of an establishment.”
“You’re fine, Griz. Chill the fuck out.”
“See? Neither can you!” Our server comes back with our drinks, and right after we take our first sips, a runner arrives with two small plates.
“Here we have our bay scallops with bacon powder, Meyer lemon, and frozen brown butter.” We each eat our first bite, and it’s tasty, even if the powder seems awkwardly gummy in the presence of the other components. We nod to each other in approval, neither blown away nor distraught with our choice of restaurant, which is a strong start in my book, anyway.
“Grizzly, you have a tattoo? I never knew that. Who is that?” Dennis stares at my arm, trying to discern the likeness of the portrait that occupies my inner bicep.
“First of all, it’s Miss Grizzly Smith, to you, on this special occasion,” I start. “Secondly, it’s a portrait of Jesse Tuck, from ‘Tuck Everlasting.’” I answer.
“No…when I was younger, and I wanted a tattoo, my mom used to always say that any tattoo I chose would get old to me over time. So in rebellion, I chose to get a portrait of someone who would never grow old.”
Dennis laughs, “you’re fucking ridiculous, you know?”
“Language, dahling. That’s no way to speak to a lady,” I joke. Soon, another runner comes back with two tiny bowls and places them before us.
“So here we have our purslane with mint emulsion and pomegranate.” As she walks away, I peer into my bowl of slowly deflating, verdant foam. At first I recall the day our cat clawed my inflatable Kermit when I was a kid, but my curiosity soon trumps all other thoughts. I take my spoon and draw up some of the bowl’s contents to my mouth for the first bite. Dennis does the same. We both crinkle our noses a little; although the flavors aren’t terrible, the texture of plants floating in frothiness is awkwardly violating.
“Meh,” Dennis concludes.
“Meh,” I agree. The rest of the meal continues this way, with some of the courses impressing and some distressing. By the fifteenth and final course, I am full and confused. Especially because we split two bottles of wine among us. As we’re signing the bill, our server comes to the table and drops a small tray with two pieces of woody looking substance.
“We end our meals here with some Birch bark,” he says, as if that’s a normal statement.
“Pardon me?” Dennis says, “What do we do with it?”
“You just lightly chew on it, and its medicinal qualities aid digestion. It’s also very delicious.” He walks away, and we look at each other in disbelief.
“Should we do it?” Dennis looks conflicted. I nibble on the corner out of curiosity, and confirm my suspicion that it is in fact just tree bark. Nothing special.
“Here.” I take our barks and draw faces on them with the Sharpie in my pocket. “They’re like Plank from ‘Ed, Ed, and Eddie!’”
“I’m pissed they want us to eat bark,” Dennis looks pained.
“Dahling, don’t fret,” I say. I put our bark friends on the table cloth and pen a speech bubble between them.
“Holy shit, Gretchen! I think I read the table cloths here are like a grand!” I am unfazed. Bark is not for lovers. I write in the speech bubble.
“Let’s bounce. They deserve that shit. Tree bark is not food.” We stand up and stroll out into the night. “That was fun, but let’s never go to a restaurant ever again, OK?”
“OK. But then what?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t think I like them anymore.”
“Hm. OK.” We get in a cab back to Queens, and while the driver beings to swerve through traffic, I start to doze. As sleep takes over, I enter a place where chewing on bark is not a pricey activity for fancy people, and my existence feels briefly reconciled.