Chapter 1: The Alley View Grill
Part 5: Something Very Film Noir
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table is ready, sir,” says the wrestler.
“Good. Fine. Good,” says Matthew. As they walk off he mutters to Belinda, “Is it just my imagination, or has sir become a sarcastic remark?”
On the way to the table, Matthew begins to get to get an idea for an angle on the place, an approach for BW to take in the review. Here it is: Despite all the effort put into making the place up-to-the-minute, there’s a kind of reactionism visible in the glorification of an old-movie sense of style and in the adoration of the low-tech gadgets of the past. In the bar there is an old neon-encircled clock, and conspicuously atop the little lighted table where the reservation book is kept sits an old telephone, with no dial, just like the phone Matthew’s mother had at home when he was a boy. The wonderful thing about that phone was that whenever Matthew lifted it an operator spoke from it and said, “Number, please,” and she was always there, at any time of the day or night. It was like having someone else in the house. Sometimes, when Matthew’s mother was at work downstairs, in the secondhand shop she called Lydia’s Antiques, he would lift the receiver just to hear the operator’s voice.
“Look at that,” Matthew says, “that old phone. We had one like that when I was a kid.”
“A classic,” says Belinda. “That odd matte finish they had. It always seemed worn-looking, as if it had once been shiny, but the polish had worn off. It was almost porous—probably absorbed the sweat from people’s hands. Those phones give me the creeps, really. They always remind me of Dial M for Murder.”
Matthew doesn’t point out that this phone has no dial. Since shortly after Liz left he has been trying to keep himself from correcting people.
“Yeah,” he says. “Or Sorry, Wrong Number. There is something sinister about those phones, isn’t there? Something very film noir. Oh, that’s good. That’s good. I can use that. Film noir. They’ll love it. Remind me.”
“Do you want me to write it down?”
“No, no, no. No notes. No notes. I’ll probably remember it anyway.”
Belinda looks at Matthew for a moment, deciding whether to ask something, and then she does. “What were you like as a boy, Matthew? When you had a phone like that? What were you like?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Normal. I don’t think much about that time. I didn’t have much fun as a kid. My mother was a widow. We didn’t have much money. It wasn’t a great childhood.”
He looks at the menu.
HE COULD HAVE said this:
BELINDA’S STUDYING her menu. Matthew’s giving the appearance of studying his, but actually he’s studying the room. Since every dish on the menu is, according to Boston Biweekly dogma, supposed to be an equally good representative of the quality of the food, what he orders is never terribly important to the review. It’s more important that he be aware of the context. Right now he would like his immediate context to include a waiter. He wants to order another martini. There are waiters in sight, but none is looking in Matthew’s direction, and none seems to regard Matthew and Belinda as his responsibility. Here is BW on waiters who do not deign to wait, from his review of Miranda’s Verandah:
They belong to the school of waiters and waitresses who take as their motto, “Circumstances may have forced me to take a job as a waiter, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to lower myself to the point of actually serving anybody.” Waiters of this school chat among themselves most of the time, and then, when they are good and ready, amble over to your table and drop by to see what you might want, manifesting in their manner the suggestion that they might exert their influence to have some lackey bring it, if you are found acceptable. Often they arrive at our table still chuckling over the witticisms of their fellows, and sometimes they share these bons mots with favored patrons, with whom they join in happy rounds of table hopping. To be accepted as worthy by a waiter of this ilk is to be considered one of the few patrons as bright and chic as the waitpeople and busfolk. Where this attitude prevails, it is much stronger on weekends, when outré suburbanites swarm.Those suburbanites do swarm on weekends, congregating in murmurous throngs at restaurants BW has reviewed, regardless of whether he praises the places or damns them. They will go to a place that BW has liked because they expect to enjoy it but will go just as eagerly to a place BW has ridiculed, because they expect to enjoy feeling superior to it. They seize the opportunity to assume BW’s attitude toward it, to wear his sophistication, thus to savor, if only for the space of a meal, a life lived with the savoir-vivre of Boston Biweekly and B. W. Beath. The casual observer, seeing that these vandals wear the clothes that Boston Biweekly’s fashion critic has endorsed and take the attitude toward the restaurant that BW has endorsed, might mistake them for sophisticated adults, but BW wouldn’t be fooled. He often takes a swipe at suburbanites in his reviews. It increases his readership. They all think he’s writing about their neighbors.
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Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin’s Press, at $12.00.
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Copyright © 1990 by Eric Kraft
Reservations Recommended is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Alec “Nick” Rafter, the author’s earnest agent.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.