By Tom Cardella
The Palm Restaurant reopened recently after almost a two-year absence. During July and August, Palm offers a lobster dinner special. Two people can share a four-pound lobster with the fixings. Fran loves lobster. I do, too. And I love this deal. Fran is a disciplined diner. In my world, that means more lobster for me.
On a recent Saturday night, we were early for our reservation so we took a seat across from one another in a booth in the crowded lounge and ordered drinks. Palm used to be famous for the caricatures of local personalities on its walls. The caricatures are all gone now except for one of Rocky raising his arms high on the steps of the Art Museum.
One thing you notice about the crowds at steakhouses in town like Palm, Capital Grille, and Del Frisco’s is that the people all look as if they just flew in from Vegas. Some of these folks give narcissism a bad name. These guys could all be nicknamed “The Mooch.” The gals overdress by being underdressed. Capital Grille even has personal lockers where the vanity crowd can store their expensive wine or vodka. Ruben Amaro and Vince Fumo once had their own lockers. Both no longer do, although for different reasons.
In the lounge, Fran and I are minding our own business. She checks her iPhone. Me? I’m lost in thought about whether I like my lobster steamed or broiled. Sitting across from us in the lounge, on high bar stools, are two guys and a gal. One of the guys suddenly jumps up from his stool and slides into our booth alongside my wife. “Take our picture,” the guy says and hands her his iPhone.
Fran is nothing if not obliging, so she gets up and takes a few pictures of the trio. The guy is not happy with the picture. A woman suddenly appears out of nowhere and claims to be an expert at taking photos. Maybe she’s one of those famous paparazzi. Who the hell knows? She takes a photo of this annoying group. Me? I’m still fixating on the lobster dinner I wish I didn’t have to share.
Fran’s pride is hurt. She is not normally one to suffer a bruised ego easily. I would’ve seen she was upset, if I wasn’t busy thinking about dipping some claw meat into a cup of drawn butter. She demands to see which photos are better — hers or the pushy self-proclaimed expert’s. It turns out Fran took the better pictures. The guy who started all the fuss originally now agrees with Fran. The self-styled expert is nowhere around to offer a countervailing opinion. The guy — who I swear must be one of those guys who refers to himself in the third person — jumps back into the booth alongside Fran. He begins high-fiving her just as a hostess shows up to seat us in the dining room for the long-awaited lobster dinner.
I dart ahead to wish the new manager good luck on her promotion and to get a head start on the lobster. Fran, still flush with the knowledge that she took the superior photos, stops to chat with the now-infamous three. The annoying guy — I swear he could be Trump’s next director of communications — makes a few comments to her, unbeknownst to me (I’m already busy choosing my side dishes and tying on my lobster bib).
I’m trying to cool off my lobster bisque when Fran tells me that “Mr. Pushy” had said to her, “How long are you married to that guy, and why?” I think it was the “why” that got to me, even as I tasted the really excellent lobster bisque. After she replied to him by saying, “Fifty-three years”, and going on to extol my virtues (one of which is I’m springing for this lobster dinner, he followed up by asking her if she still felt the same way 30 years ago. Her reply is that she would never have stuck around for the full 53 if she didn’t like me when we hit 30. You must admit that my wife does have logic on her side. By now, I’m steaming more than the lobster that has now been delivered to the table in all its glory. Call it retroactive indignation. I’m finally realizing that this Mooch-wannabe was hitting on my wife. I am not upset enough, however, to put down my fork and return to the lounge to give this guy what for.
The story ends happily. First — the lobster was terrific — and Fran, bless her heart allowed me to eat the much larger portion. Secondly, we were able to hail a cab that had a working air conditioner and no empty bags of Fritos in the back seat. And finally, I got sweet revenge on the freaking wise-guy who had hit on my wife. In a manner of speaking, of course.
I had a dream that night where I beat the hell out of this guy. I mean I grabbed him by the neck and threw him out of our booth. I think I may have told him where to stuff the photos of his group. And I must say, I looked dashing doing so in my navy blazer.
I promised Fran that I would always protect her honor this way. “In your dreams,” she said!