You know when your face is downwards into a great book, you only notice things around you in a peripheral, half-hidden, inattentive, way?
There I was, the book was drawing me into its vortex.
In this state, I half-noticed a woman sit down at the table across from me… no, I only ONE-QUARTER noticed, I barely noticed her at all. I kept reading, acknowledging nothing other than what John Irving was trying to tell me.
By the way, what a tremendously engrossing novel!
At some point, the woman got up and walked away. Again, I did not really notice this, it was just a smudge on the outer fringes of my peripheral consciousness.
All of a sudden, a guy walks by, scruffier than last week’s hailstorm.
My eyes lift, for about half of one second.
He sits down in front of the plate of steaming food!
Takes his jacket off.
Now I look up, and try to concentrate, calling all of my recollective powers to the foreground.
Owen Meany, Owen Frigging SHMEANEY!
Wasn’t a woman just sitting there, before this guy?
He seems to be salivating over this windfall… this sudden, unexpected, good fortune… and he is just as oblivious to my squinting eyes as he is to the fact that he did not order, nor pay for, any of this grub… this → manna from heaven… and just as he reaches for the fork…. the woman returns!
Looks at him!
She has chopsticks in her hand.
She only left her meal for a few seconds to go back and get some chopsticks, and in the meantime, Johnny Anonymous has usurped her meal!
He mumbles something like…. “Oh, umm, crap, hello, bye, yeah, umm, errr, whatever..." grabs his coat and runs away!
[I’ve forgotten all about Owen Meany now.]
I want to see what this woman is going to do.
She looks around.
I look down at my book…. I’ve been reading the whole time.
I’VE SEEN NOTHING!
She sits down.
Looking at her plate of sprouts and rice and noodles and broccoli florets.
Glances at me as I look at my book, which is totally upside down by now!
And she digs in.
My question is simple.
I mean, here, some total other person, [a homeless vagrant, no less….. and we all know, these have the worst germs of all] this total stranger who had those sort of radiation fumes coming off of his body, the same kind that you see on the highway ahead of you on the hottest day of last July… THIS guy was just sitting at your plate of food!
Are you going to eat it, now?
What if he burped on your broccoli?
Spit on your sprouts?
Touched your tabouli?
She waited a while.
She weighed the medical possibilities.
And then dug in, with the sticks.
I kept reading my book, but all the while, I was wondering what I would have done.
What would you have done?
Would you have sat down, as though this was totally acceptable behavior?
Some sort of excusable societal misdemeanor?
Would you have thrown the stuff away, and ordered some more?
Or… pretended that YOU were returning to the wrong table?
Taken those chopsticks, and stuck them each into this guy’s eyeballs, left and right?
I mean, the options are plethora!
As for me?
The question does not even apply.
I would never have left the table in the first place.
Because I don’t even know how to use chopsticks.