Chapter 1: The Alley View Grill
Part 6: The Height of Contemporary Sophistication
YOU CAN READ
AT THE TABLE to Matthew’s left is a trio of young women. One is very
young, a girl, still in her teens, delicate and lovely, dressed in a boxy
black dress. She has pale, pale blond hair, almost white, long, smooth,
and even, with a black velvet bow in it. On a banquette beside her
is a small woman, Chinese, her black hair short on one side, shoulder length
on the other. She’s wearing an oversize silk jacket, black, and her
brow is furrowed with apparent worry. The third woman is sitting
across from the other two, at the seat corresponding to Matthew’s.
She is a redhead, large-boned, wiry, striking. She is tearing bits
from the edges of the paper napkin under her drink. The tiny table
keeps them close enough so that they could hold hands or touch knees if
This is what Matthew thinks about them:
The redhead seems annoyed. She must be jealous. She wants the delicate girl for herself, but the Chinese girl is winning her away. The redhead is strong, independent. At one time, the delicate girl was attracted to the redhead’s strength. She needed someone to lean on. But time passed, and the delicate girl grew tired of being dependent on the redhead, being under her thumb. She wanted to be the strong one for a while; she wanted someone who needed her. Along came the Chinese girl. The Chinese girl wanted the delicate girl, and she saw that the delicate girl wanted to feel that someone needed her, so she used a pretense of frailty to win the delicate girl from the redhead. The redhead had no defense. Maybe, in her own way, the redhead needed the delicate girl as much as the delicate girl needed her, but the delicate girl was convinced that the redhead was strong and independent and didn’t need her at all. That’s probably the way it was with Liz. I would have been playing the redhead, Liz the delicate girl, and someone I don’t know would have been the Chinese girl. It must have been something like that. There must have been someone else, despite what Liz says.
If B. W. Beath agreed with Matthew, he would find some brisk way to sum it up, something like this: “We all need someone to lean on, but we all want someone who needs to lean on us.” Something like that.
With the neighbors all figured out, Matthew turns his attention to the menu. The food, he knows from his lunch visit, is interesting and good.
“The hamburger is good,” he says. “The veal-and-pancetta hamburger. I had it for lunch—delicious.” Belinda doesn’t seem to hear him. “Belinda?”
“Hm? Oh, I’m sorry. I was—ah—daydreaming. The truth is, I just can’t get my mind off those guys. They’re so gorgeous.” She pauses. “Matthew?”
“Do I look dowdy?”
“Dowdy? No. Not at all. You look wonderful.”
She does. The drink has relaxed her. The light is good for her. She looks her age, but she looks good, and, to tell the truth, every now and then Matthew sees a little Leila in her and it makes Belinda seem to him youthful and naïve. This isn’t something that he thinks it wise to say to Belinda, so he says, “I was saying that the hamburger is good.”
“Oh, but I don’t want a hamburger. I want something a little more—grown up,” says Belinda.
“I’m just so depressed,” says the Chinese girl. She lets her head fall onto the shoulder of the delicate girl, and the delicate girl strokes her hair. “Just everything is upsetting me now, you know? It’s like I can’t even drag myself out of bed, I’m so frightened. Everything just frightens me. Like today I was afraid of the ozone layer? The ozone layer, you know? It’s like a torn curtain. It used to protect us, but now it’s being like dissolved by gases and exposing us to all these harmful things, rays from the sun and like that? I just think we’re all going to get these like awful cancers. Everyone will be so hideous. It makes me feel so awful, just so awful. I know I probably sound ridiculous, but it just makes me aware of how like vulnerable we are.”
“I’m going to the bathroom,” says the redhead.
A waiter arrives. More accurately, a waiter who happens to be passing stops at the table to see how Matthew and Belinda are doing.
“Hi,” the waiter says. He smiles. “How you doin’ tonight?” He could be an old pal who spotted Matthew on his way to the men’s room and stopped to chat, but Matthew is virtually certain that he’s a waiter because he’s dressed as a waiter and is holding an order pad.
“Fine,” says Matthew.
“We have some specials tonight,” the waiter says. “As an appetizer, we have a salad of grilled wild duck and papaya on a bed of braised endive, and that’s served with a mustard vinegarette.” Matthew winces at this mangling of vinaigrette. “For an entrée, we have a grilled pork tenderloin, and that’s served with an onion relish and a kind of a garlicky mayonnaise—”
“Aïoli?” Matthew asks.
“Is it aïoli? The garlicky mayonnaise?”
“I’m not certain. I’ll have to ask. That’s also served with a melahng of sautéed vegetables.”
“Are you all set for cocktails?”
“Do you want another drink, Belinda?” Matthew asks.
“Not as strong as a martini,” she says. “Do you have sherry?” she asks the waiter.
“Just Amantadillo,” he says. Uh-mon-tuh-dill-oh.
“Ah-mahn-tee-ah-doh,” Matthew says, slowly, sighing.
“No,” the waiter says with a smile. “Sorry. Just Amantadillo.”
“I’ll have that,” says Belinda. Only her eyes laugh.
“I’ll have another martini,” Matthew says. “Bombay, straight up, with an olive. Just one olive.”
“Very good, sir,” says the waiter.
There it is again, Matthew thinks, that use of sir as a code word for shithead. He believes he can hear in the waiter’s voice, see in his eyes, that he considers Matthew an old poop with yellowing teeth—so derrière garde that he isn’t familiar with Amantadillo sherry and can order a martini without irony—whose tie and socks betray a hopeless struggle against age, a pitiful yearning to be young.
“I’ll be right back,” says Belinda. She leaves for the ladies’ room. Matthew tries a mental draft:
The waiters mispronounce the names of the foods they serve, and the menu misspells them. Perhaps this is all that contemporary sophistication amounts to—the conviction that one knows more than one does.No, that’s not quite it.
Perhaps this is all that contemporary sophistication amounts to—ignorance denied.That isn’t it, either.
Quite possibly the Alley View represents the height of contemporary sophistication, which is to say the flaunting of ignorance as if it were a virtue. The staff here doesn’t really know anything about food or service or dining or the luxe life to which they pretend; all they’ve done is replace their parents’ paltry small-town ignorance with a paltry urban ignorance.It needs work, Matthew recognizes that, but now he has a theme, and that’s the key.
Here are a couple of swell ideas from Eric Kraft's vivacious publicist, Candi Lee Manning:
Tip the author.
You can toss a little something Kraft's way through the Amazon.com Honor System or PayPal.
We'll send you notifications of site updates, new serials, and Eric Kraft's public lectures and readings. Just fill in this form and click the send-it button.
Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin’s Press, at $12.00.
You should be able to find Reservations Recommendedat your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from:
Bookbound at 1-800-959-7323You can order it on the Web from
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.