After circling the crowded lot twice, we located a space, opposite the “green” where old films are shown on August evenings of dog –day afternoons. Crossing the street on our way to the trattoria/pizza parlor, I commented, “If you don’t like the menu here, we can still head to Firebirds.”
“Where is this place?” my husband asked as he scanned the storefronts. I pointed out the one I’d selected.
“Haven’t we eaten here before?” he asked.
“I read that as folks age they should try unfamiliar places and return home taking different routes. We haven’t been here.”
“If you don’t remember eating here, well, then I guess it is a new place.”
Before we stepped onto the sidewalk, a car stopped. A woman, about our age, hopped out and scurried in front of us to the door, yanking it open. “I’ll hold it for you,” she said.
“You can go in first,” I replied.
“No. I’m holding the door— for you.”
I said thanks. We entered and turned left toward the dining area, and she hustled to the right where the take-out counter is.
“She lives down the hill from us,” I whispered to my husband. “It’s what’s- her-name,” I added,
“I don’t recognize her.”
“Martha something or other?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know her.”
In response to the hostess’s question, I held up two fingers. She escorted us past a couple of tables where two folks dined at four -chaired tables and pointed us to a miniscule two-seater near the curtained window and an inch apart from another two-seater, where youngish women engaged in an animated tete- a- tete.
“Could we sit somewhere else?” I queried.
So, she grabbed the menus off the tiny table and took us to the back of the restaurant near a man with a huge, seeing- eye dog and put us at this Lilliputian table. My hubby faced the wall. I faced out toward the entrance. No sooner was I seated than I spotted a familiar face. Although I’d never met the man, I recognized him immediately. Thirteen years ago his boyish good- looks were plastered everywhere— in the news, on TV, and in the tabloids.
“Psst,” I muttered, to my husband. “Turn around discreetly. Tell me who that is.”
Laboriously, my husband obliged.
“Well?” I asked.
“A guy and his son?”
“No. Turn around again. Behind them.”
So, grimacing my husband swiveled around once more.
“The woman with a pony tail? I don’t know her.”
The waitress approached to take our orders. “We have a great bar here. The bartender can make any drink you want,” she said gleefully.
Not much of a cocktail drinker, I usually imbibe draft beer or Kirkland wine from Costco, although sometimes when out, I live it up a little. So, acting urbane I said, “I’ll have a pomegranate martini.”
“Sorry. We don’t carry that syrup,” she said.
“Then, give me a draft Carolina beer. Sky Blue or whatever you have similar to that.”
My husband always copies me.
“The same,” he answered.
“Some calamari, too?” I added.
Then, when she departed, I asked my husband to read the menu aloud because I’d forgotten my reading glasses, and, in addition, I was occupied spying on someone who might have become the leader of the free world.
“A pork chop with…”my husband read dutifully. I wasn’t listening to the condiments the chop was bathed in. Like an investigative reporter, I leaned forward to eavesdrop. The man with the recognizable coiffure gazed with good humor at his pony-tailed date as she prattled with some women on barstools, seated at the bar. These women recollected exotic places where they’d been to celebrate milestone birthdays: their fortieth, their fiftieth, and sixtieth. One asked the lady sporting the ponytail and short shorts where she’d gone for her fortieth.
“I’m 39,” she responded.
My husband continued to rattle off the entrees. I heard the word “grouper.”
“I’ll have that,” I blurted. Then, I tuned him out as I strained for snatches of the conversation between the famous man’s date with the dirty-blonde ponytail and the women on the barstools. I thought the lady said her name was Virginia, but then maybe that was where she had lived, but I also heard Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut mentioned before the women at the bar announced that they were Yankees, too.
Then, our waitress returned, and I had to pause in my sleuthing to redirect my attention to ordering. By the time she left, I noticed the chef at the table introducing himself to the celebrity who clearly said, “I’m John,” as he reached over to shake the cook’s hand.
“That’s him!” I declared to my hubby who munched on the calamari. “Turn around now and look!”
As soon as my better- half pivoted, the chef had shifted his position and stood in front of the notable patron.
“I can’t see,” my husband said, and I could discern this game was becoming noisome to him.
“He’s getting up. He’s coming this way— to the back of the restaurant,” I muttered.
John’s face has a few more creases now but is the same basically, and still he possesses a full head of perfectly groomed brown hair. Miraculously, he hasn’t aged much in 13 years despite all the misfortune, misery, and misdeeds. As he approached our table and then curved toward the men’s room, I noticed his gait— that of an old man.
Soon after returning to his seat John and his companion both causally attired, grabbed their doggy bags to- go and uttered their “farewells” to the bartender and barflies et al.
“He’s leaving,” I remarked.
My husband glanced out the big pane windows as they passed by.
“Does look like him,” he said.
Riding home that night I commented on how strange it is that someone can be so famous or infamous and in the span of a little more than a dozen years can become just an ordinary Joe out on an ordinary date in an ordinary restaurant near his extra-ordinary, mega-mansion in Chapel Hill.
Although I might resemble the busybody neighbor in that old TV show Bewitched more than I do Bob Woodward, I left not only satisfied with my delicious meal but also with my spying prowess.
And, once home, I reflected on why I wanted to dine somewhere different Friday night, and then I said aloud to myself: Better write this story down tonight because by tomorrow, I’ll forget it ever happened.