Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How I Met Gloria

The Gloria Stories, Part 1

Before we had our get-acquainted lunch, sometime in the early 1980s, Gloria and I had only met long enough for me to buy a copper-colored, miniature poodle from her. She had had to give up the puppy as a result of severe marital problems, something about her always being out of the house, playing tennis and swimming and attending coffee klatches and book clubs and something about her being Jewish. All I knew was, she clearly needed a friend. I didn't have any inkling about her sense of humor, and it caught me completely off-guard.

My first clue of what was in store ought to have been when I arrived at the restaurant and gave the hostess my name and she said, “Oh, yes, your date is already here. Follow me,” but I didn’t pick up on that odd way of putting it.

My next clue ought to have been our order, by the time we were finished giving it. There was only one serving of carrot soup left, our waiter informed us, so Gloria said fine, we’d split it, please. Just bring two soupspoons. We split the salad, too, just because neither of us liked it all that much. The crepes (for the restaurant was a creperie) we couldn’t decide upon, so she ordered hers filled with strawberry and I ordered mine filled with chocolate (of course!) and we agreed each of us would give the other half.

But that clue by-passed me, too. I was all oblivious to the bated trap until she sprang it. “Oh, and we’ll take the discount, too,” she told the waiter.

“Discount?” I said, pleasantly surprised. “What discount is that?”

“Its Valentine’s Day,” Gloria replied, and then waited.

I shook my head. So it was. “And--?”

“The restaurant is offering all Valentines ten percent off.”


“Lovers,” the waiter clarified.

My mouth fell open. My face burned. My stomach lurched. “No, no, Gloria! Don’t tell this man that!”

“You see how hard it is,” said Gloria, “just to tell you these things? I think we deserve the ten percent discount for our courage alone!”

“Oh, but it isn’t like that!” I protested. “We aren’t lovers, no; in fact, we are married women!”

“That’s right,” said Gloria.

“No, not that way!” I cried, in desperation. “Not to each other! We have a husband - each of us has one, I mean! Two different men and... ”

The waiter wasn’t listening to my babbling. He stared at Gloria and said, “Far out!” which back then meant, “Totally weird!”

“No, it isn’t!” I shrieked, causing several heads to turn among our fellow diners. “I mean, we are normal women!”

“If you say so…”

"We consider ourselves normal," said Gloria. “So you’ll give us the discount?”

“I'm not sure. Because, you know, how am I supposed to know whether you two really are…you know…”

“How are you supposed to know we’re lovers, you mean?” Gloria bellowed. “Look at that couple over there!” whirling around and pointing. “They’re man and woman, for ___ sake, and you don’t know whether they really are lovers, either, yet you're giving THEM the discount! You didn’t ask them, did you?” rising to her feet, pounding the table. “No, you did not! So why are you asking us? You wanna know what this is? This is discrimination!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll ask my manager…”

I groaned. “Please don’t. “Ten percent isn’t all that important.”

“Yes, it is,” said Gloria. “Tell your manager we demand the discount!”

He departed, and I slumped forward, head in my hands, elbows on the table.

I stayed that way about thirty long, silent seconds and then, suddenly, a giggle escaped me, and then another.

Gloria nodded, her satisfaction evident.

“Now that we’ve got everyone’s attention,” she said. “Don’t you think we should give them a show?"

It was true. The diners around us were staring openly, not even making any pretense at eating; some of them had actually laid down their forks. "Well..." a smile spread across my face as I toyed with the idea.

“They’re all staring at us, so we may as well make the most of it.”

I nodded, weakly. "I'm in."

“Wanna play footsie?”

“Who’s going to see that, under the table?” I squeaked, my voice still having not recovered from the shock.

“Shall we hold hands?”

“Definitely not.”

So we settled upon looking googly-eyed at each other across the table. We couldn’t do it with a straight face, so we beamed as if adoringly at each other.

Our carrot soup arrived, which we shared, still gazing at each other. Then the salad, also shared, and the crepes…

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted two women from my (Episcopal) church, no longer eating, but it was too late to do anything about that.

“Do you want to hear my news about my husband?” Gloria asked.

“Yes. And if you please, I’d like to hear that word, ‘husband' very loudly.”

“Okay. My HUSBAND is very unhappy with me. He doesn’t APPROVE OF MY EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. So I have to figure out whether to separate from him or divorce him or make up with him.”

From my left came a high-pitched, raspy voice. “Do you mind if I put in a word?”

Eyes wide, jaws agape, we turned toward the speaker, an elderly woman at the next table with a kind smile. Reaching over, she patted Gloria on the knee. “Make it up with your husband, honey. Make it up!” Her elderly companion nodded.

The subtotal on our check was ten dollars, minus the ten percent discount, for a total of nine dollars, with “Happy Valentine’s Day!” written beside it. All that for one dollar! Gloria shrugged. "A dollar's a dollar. Plus all the fun we got out of it."

“I'll call you,” she said. “We’ll get together again sometime.”

I said I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to speak to her again, but I already knew that wasn’t true. And I was already looking for sweet revenge.