Friday, March 5, 2010

Naked Lunch *

Earlier this week I took myself out to lunch, by myself.

Yes, I'm quite accustomed to taking myself out for solo meals. What makes this one notable, however, is that I went naked.

In this instance naked means without a book, a computer, my phone for texting or even papers to grade.

Anyone who regularly dines out alone knows that the experience is least uncomfortable and awkward when we take books, or work, or something to distract us from the fact that we are sitting at a table by ourselves, surrounded by people eating in the company of others. It's kind of like when we were little kids--if my face is hidden behind this book, you can't see me! I don't know about you, but often I'll just avoid it altogether and settle for something I can eat in my office.

But y'know, sometimes Indian food is the only thing that will do.

There's an Indian restaurant around the corner from the campus center where I spend a couple of mornings each week, and as I was leaving on that day I realized that my life would be incomplete without some naan and biryani. In my car, there was a book I've been reading, my computer, and a stack of papers to grade. I could take any one of those in with me to work on while I had lunch.

I parked and debated what to take in, and decided on: my wallet. Well, my wallet and my car keys (I don't carry a purse on campus center days, just shove everything into my rolly-bag, which is a whole other post for some day). I went in naked.

And it was so strange.

That I ate more slowly and enjoyed lunch more is probably a given. But more importantly, I listened to people interact with each other in a casual setting, picking out which groups were friends, and which were coworkers, and I noticed how much I liked the wall decorations behind the bar, and as I looked out the window, I noticed some topographical and landscape elements I hadn't seen before.

Initially, I felt desperately uncomfortable--no surprise there, really. But by the time I was finished, something had changed. It was as if I had been--for lack of a better word--rebooted.

Yeah, I think that might be the word that I want. So, I had reached a point, between the interminable winter, the adapting to a strange place and strange job, the learning what it means to be alone and to start from absolute scratch, where I was as disengaged from the world as I have ever been. Disengagement, by the way, is exhausting.

So I was rebooted by my solo lunch. Today, I'm having lunch with a couple of girlfriends, and tomorrow I'm going to a cooking class at the local culinary center because, well, I realized at my naked lunch was that although I may believe that I'm wrapping myself in the relative comfort of anonymity, what I'm really doing is condemning myself to a kind of solitary confinement. Because, guess what? Cucumber raita is way better when we focus on it, rather than whatever it is we're hiding behind.

*with apologies to the late Wm S. Burroughs