It was the eleventh commandment in my parents’ home that we all dress for dinner. This meant at age ten and up I had to wear a coat and tie, beautifully pressed shirt and slacks to a dinner that usually included three to four people (my mother, father, sister and myself).
We would all sit down together at this very formal table, and like German clockwork, Martin, my parent’s Butler, would serve food to this bunch of elegant misfits, from a beautiful first course to an elegant desert, interlaced with finger bowls and towels.
My father and I were always in a rush to go nowhere, and by the time the first course had made it’s way around the table, he and I were through, and ready for the next course. No leisurely dinners for us. We went from start to finish in Grand Prix time, excused ourselves and went our merry ways, before my mother could even collect her thoughts and admonish us for our bad behavior.
She tried; she really tried to civilize these two hyenas who consumed elegant refined food as if it were two Big Macs with fries. My father would be in a hurry to end the meal without too many words, grabbing his enormous cup of tea and exiting to the library for T.V. or phone. I, who would follow him anywhere, was simply just rushing with no place to go.
The idea of enjoying a meal, or of sitting gracefully while others ate, and leisurely commencing in conversation never entered my consciousness, it was simply eat and run. By not talking, none of us were any wiser at the end of our meal, only fuller. This beautiful highly polished table, with beautiful silver and setting, could not have been given to two less appropriate people. We all liked the table and what it meant, and the companionship it was supposed to provide, but for some reason none of us could enjoy it.
So having been shipped off to boarding school at age fifteen, I without realizing it, became equipped to handle some of the roughest details a young boy could face.
I have already described how 200 boys in the early years of the 1960′s could eat dinner by candlelight dressed immaculately in blue suits and ties, in a refectory that looked like it was right out of Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s.
What I have not described is how my life was fashioned, or fixed permanently from what began as small habit I had learned at home, into what I later found had developed into an permanent disgrace. This habit, by the time I had graduated from boarding school had twisted itself into my psyche and had sat down right beside me at every meal I consumed.
At boarding school every boy had to take his turn as a waiter. This would occur for a week at a time throughout the year. On one occasion you would be an A Waiter, which meant that you had to get up at 5 a.m., set the table for breakfast and come to dinner early to set the table for dinner. If you were the B Waiter, you would have to consume your food in one gulp, continually running to the kitchen to get seconds and clear the table. The B Waiter though, could sleep a little longer in the morning.
So for whatever crazy notion that filled my pea-sized brain, I decided that I liked being the B Waiter so that I could sleep a little longer, and throughout my four years of boarding school I traded whenever possible with other students so that I could be the B Waiter when my time was called.
I had already learned since childhood to finish eating before anyone began, to have seconds waiting before they had even finished their firsts, and with four years of this dutiful training I have perfected the art of eating without tasting, thinking, looking and definitely without enjoying anything.
Today I am the world champion consumer of food. Before you even realize your food has been served, I am finished. I don’t even taste what is before me. I am still ready, like my father, to complete the meal way ahead of schedule. I have learned not to talk to anyone, as I am so busy eating and running. So next time you sit down to a meal with me and it looks so beautiful, the flowers are arranged, the silver and glassware are perfectly in place and you are expecting to have a leisurely meal with great conversation, remember who you are dining with. Before you know it, perhaps before you have even taken your first bite, I’ll leave you to your meal. See you next time.