For Patrick, from Erie, Pennsylvania
A young man struck up a conversation with me as I was waiting outside by myself for a table at a very tiny, very crowded Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville.
He looked a lot like a young Jason Bateman (not that I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman – it just bugged me so much that I couldn’t think of what actor this guy reminded me of that later that night, I thought of a movie trailer I had seen that guy in, and Googled it by the little I remembered of the plot, even though it wasn’t the type of movie I’d ever go see, and I lucked out by finding it on the first try).
We’re going to let it slide that the younger-Jason-Bateman-look-alike’s initial purpose in talking to me was to encourage me to accept a table outside on a hot, muggy night, so he could show his visiting Dad and Uncle the very quirky décor inside the crowded little place. He was afraid they wouldn’t get in, and because his visitors were from out of town and might not have another chance, he wanted them to see the inside. Fair enough.
I didn’t care, because I was just hungry, for Thai food specifically. I’d sit anyplace if I could get fed. The hostess was true to her word in seating me in about five minutes. During that five minutes, another nice couple put in for a table and waited, this young man showed up with his guests, and two huge parties of 8 or so all left simultaneously – so the other couple, the young man and his guests, and I, all got to sit inside, under the impressive collection of toy robots, street signs, Cubs paraphernalia, etc. And I ended up sitting at a two-top right next to younger-Jason-Bateman guy, diagonally from his Uncle, who sat opposite his Dad.
After checking with me to see if I was a person who liked to talk (HA! Ok, stop laughing now, followers who know me) he skillfully apportioned his conversation between me and his Dad and Uncle, and managed to engage all of us in comfortable conversation for the duration of our meals.
I introduced myself and he told me his name was Patrick, that he was from Erie, Pennsylvania and had been in Chicago for about two years. The rest of it was pretty light stuff – how he ended up here, his educational background and job, and then mostly baseball and other sports, recreational opportunities on the lakefront, the relative severity of winters in Erie (regular snowfalls of 6 feet or more) and Chicago (regular bouts of subzero temperatures) etc.
When I had finished my meal and settled up, I told Patrick as I was leaving that it had been nice to meet him and wished his Dad and Uncle a pleasant visit.
And as I did this, Patrick stood up (well, sort of half stood up, but hey, it was a tiny, crowded restaurant) and shook my hand good-bye.
Let that land for a minute.
When was the last time you met a young person (I’d say he was maybe 26?) who had been raised to observe often forgotten courtesies, like rising when a lady (or anyone older than you) was arriving or departing? I was touched, and charmed, especially because it seemed like an unconscious habit – this is something Patrick does for ladies and his elders, I suspect, without really thinking about it.
But what really made my day was that Patrick saw me – he treated me like I was actually there, not as if I was an invisible woman. He just marched right up to me and started talking (about me maybe sitting outside, but we’re letting that slide, remember? He was gracious enough to keep talking to me once everyone was seated.)
I’ve seen posts by women my age, or even quite a bit younger, who wrote that they felt a kind of freedom in their invisibility, knowing that because of their, erm, maturity, nobody would really pay much attention to them in public (unless they made a spectacle of themselves, and as we know, I’m the one who specializes in that – see the latest episode related over there in the “Snark Tank”) and they could go about their business without worrying about what anyone thought and without being accosted for attention from others. They were fine with whatever attention they got at home. From their still-living husbands.
Invisibility doesn’t work for me – while I have always enjoyed my own company and have been happy in solitude when I have chosen it, I still crave social contact with adults who are not emotionally dependent on me to help them cope with shared grief. So a casual conversation with a good-mannered person (ok, man, but as the supply of them is inverse to the age of the woman, I’m trying to enjoy the company of women, more, too) who may only have been talking to me because he had good manners, can make my day.
So thanks for treating me as visible, Patrick. It made the difference between a day that might have included weeping and a day that didn’t.
(And thanks also for seeming genuinely surprised that I was old enough to have had my heart broken by the Cubs in both ’69 and ’84 – things your Uncle remembered in detail, but that certainly occurred before you were born).
Looking forward to my next encounter with a nice man (ok, person) with good manners and the grace to seem surprised by my age, I remain,
Your humble, devoted, lonely but hopeful,