I try to save money. I rarely drink alcohol or coffee, I hardly ever take cabs, I rarely buy clothes and when I do they’re cheap and made to last, I don’t have a gym membership, I buy generics and get bulk discounts on household goods, I prefer cheap entertainment. But I do like to occasionally spend money on a good meal: high-quality Sichuan, a hanger steak at a reasonably priced bistro, that sort of thing. The amount of joy, energy and stress relief I get from a good meal beats pretty much anything else I could use money for.
Today, I was walking down Flatbush looking for a place to get a nice lunch when I saw a french place called “Graine de Paris.” The awning had a picture of a wheat grain along with the Eiffel Tower. I had high hopes that they’d have a nice streak-frites, or something else satisfying and reasonably priced.
When I got closer, I saw that the names of some items were written on the window, and it didn’t seem like a French place at all. I don’t remember all the things, but one of them was “BBQ Chicken.”
I looked inside, and there was nobody there except for one man sitting by the window with a table full of paperwork. There was a menu board outside, with a bunch of cardboard menus underneath it. As I picked one of them up, the man who was eating inside gestured at me, and hurriedly moved to open the restaurant. At the same time, I saw that the menu had just a list of several foods, without descriptions or prices or seemingly any organizing principle, and decided it wasn’t for me. I waved him off, and he didn’t give up, gesturing at me to come inside and eat. I turned to try to make eye contact and show him that no, I really wasn’t going to eat there, and he began clearing off a counter near the front of the store.
I just kept walking down the street, figuring that I had done all I could to be polite. Or, at any rate, that I had done all I would.
I’ve been hustled into restaurants twice. The first time was when in my freshman year of college. I was going to school in New York, along with a friend I’d met at a journalism program, and two other people from the program came to visit. As out-of-towners, they wanted to go to Central Park and eat at Little Italy, and when we went to ask to see menus at one place, they quickly whisked the other two to a table and brought out water and bread. We talked at the table, and decided that none of us wanted to eat there, and so we told the waiter we were leaving and left. Nobody ate the bread. It felt a little like Persephone’s escape from Hades, except that in this case we avoided eating the pomegranate seeds.
The other time was a few years ago, when I was doing standup comedy. I walked around the block, looking for something to eat before the show, and while I was looking at a menu for an Indian restaurant when someone asked me if I wanted to eat. I told them it needed to be quick, and they rushed me into the restaurant, asking me if I wanted to eat outside, and I told them I did, and I ended up in the restaurant’s backyard under a tent. I ordered quickly and the food was reasonably priced and pretty good. I might have ended up ordering there anyway. But the fact that I might have not, and that I let them get me, bothered me.