I’m 30, single, and living in Los Angeles. Thanks to my foray into online dating, I feel like I’m living my own version of Sex and the City. Except instead of going to Fifth Avenue parties with Mr. Big, I find myself on many awkward dates with engineers at the Macaroni Grill.I bring this up not to brag about my popularity as the thinking man’s mid-life crisis date, but to illustrate the point that as a single woman dating in a very metropolitan area, it is easy to understand how I am up late on a Saturday night alone worrying about my future.
I turn off my cycle of worry by watching a Ron Popeil infomercial. From GLH spray on hair to the Mr. Microphone, I love all things Ron Popeil. Through many sleepless nights, Ron has been there for me offering life solutions to problems I didn’t even know existed in three easy installments of $39.95. Tonight’s episode is one of my favorites: the Showtime Rotisserie. There’s something oddly soothing about the spinning chicken and the friendly, eager crowd chanting along with Ron, “Set it and forget it.” I watch two episodes back to back until dawn, and go to bed.
Come 2 p.m. the next day, I occupy myself with my regular Sunday afternoon pastime: staring at the ceiling and trying to think of a compelling reason to get out of bed.
By 3 p.m. a compelling reason to get out of bed actually does come to mind, which is that I have to pee. Then, as the Monday day job dread sets in, I decide that I’m going to do something nice for myself. I’m going to take myself out to dinner.
I decide on the chicken place on Laurel. It’s not a fancy dinner place; it’s kind of like a Boston Market or a Kook-a-roo, but a bit heavier on the Kook and light on the “a-roo.” I secretly hope that the live chicken will have the same soothing effect as last night’s televised entrees. It isn’t likely, but a girl can dream.
After I make my decision, I fall into a time warp. Two hours fly by, and all I have to show for it is a cup of coffee, and an imaginary argument replay over something that happened at work three years ago. Then, I put on my shoes, and head out.
When I enter the chicken place on Laurel, the smell of chicken reminds me that I haven’t eaten in over 17 hours. The dining room is deserted just the way I like it. My Sunday is really coming together.
I walk up to the counter and order a combo meal “for here.” The woman tells me that since they close at 6 p.m., I can only have my order “to go.”
I glance at my watch and see that it’s only 5:20 p.m. and tell her, “But that’s forty minutes from now.”
“Yes,” she answers. Then, she stares blankly at me as if what is happening isn’t crushing my soul.
There is only one thing that is more depressing than a single woman trying to cheer herself up by eating a chicken dinner alone, and that is that same single woman eating a chicken dinner alone in HER CAR. And I’m not doing that–again.
I realize that the amount of disappointment I feel is way out of proportion to the situation at hand. This tells me that this just isn’t any meal. It’s symbolic. This meal is a metaphor for my life. What I do here will tell me who I am and what I’m like in the world.
So, I do something I almost never do. I ask to speak to the manager. In my head, the words will come out in a strong and powerful way. In reality, I squeak out, “I’d like to speak to your manager,” and then I stare at the napkin holder very intently to keep myself from crying.
The manager waddles out of the back room with a very annoyed look on his face as if I’ve interrupted incredibly important chicken business. He leans over the counter in an aggressive manner, and growls out at me, “What seems to be the problem?”
There is something about the way he leans and his condescending tone coupled with his orange chicken smock that hits a chord of rage deep within my meek and hungry soul. And I let him have it.
And by let him have it, I mean I let out thirty years of pent up rage, impotence and feelings of futility in the form a few sentences spoken kind of loudly. I don’t know the exact words I said, but the intent behind them was, “Look here chicken man. I’m not afraid to be kind of impolite on this particular Sunday, because I’ve had it. I’m not taking it anymore, and I fully intend to eat my dinner indoors.”
The manager looks at me, and I wait for the result of my big stand. I find out what thirty years of rage spoken somewhat sternly at a chicken manager is worth in this world, and it is worth a free cole slaw side.
As I balance my dinner on its plastic tray and turn away from the counter, I turn a corner in my life. I leave behind the acquired habit of taking what life hands me without question. Even if it’s uncomfortable, awkward, or seemingly unimportant, I know that I am back to being a person who can ask for what I want. Despite the embarrassed flush on my face, I triumphantly take a seat at a table. “I’m treating me better from now on,” I think to myself as I unwrap my plastic utensils, open the styrofoam container, and enjoy a heaping spork full of cole-slaw flavored redemption.