Menu Disorder – The Idea of the Dining Cabin

By Shawn Lomax

My first night as a flat-dweller in Barcelona, and I end up in an Eastern European Falafel house on the Ramblas.  Just me and five small pats of fried chick pea, a salad that I will let convince me I’m doing myself a favor, and pita bread over which a fly has made some progress.  This the result of a food faff of historic proportions.

That I hadn’t been ready to face up to postal-Hostal existence was one thing, and perhaps understandable.  After all these things take time, and someone else’s frying pan is the dark side of a non-stick moon, at least until you get to know him better.  But the near panic that had led me past one restaurant after another, wild-eyed and fearful was more difficult to explain.

I just didn’t want to belong in this over lit world of obvious tourists, girls too young to go out and livid with makeup, or the more respectable type of drug addict.  Such identity trauma had taken me past various Pizza houses, a Sub Way and a Pans & Co., without even pausing for a glance in the window of McDonald’s.  A little like wife swapping when you’re not even contemplating marriage, the giant M is for the out there, irredeemable and past it.  Even in the full incontinence of indecision, and hungry to boot, I wasn’t ready to eat in one.

Financial considerations aside, I knew of the sushi side of the city’s culinary life from its prettified arrangements in Sunday supplements.  What it had to do with me, however, I still don’t see; particularly when it comes to something that will shortly work its way through my bowels.  Freshly sun fried swordfish with dappling of Savannah splendor, and crowned with a single star fruit, meet single bloke really too lazy to cook who wants to stuff his face for a few minutes.  And have you met svelte thirty-something P.R. executive?  No?  How strange.

What I was looking for was the total anonymity of the solitary masticator. Protecting myself from observation of my inability to eat alone without spilling, in that half crouch that single men develop over Formica tables, shielding the food as we shovel it into our mouths, speeding though the process of graceless self-nutrition, perhaps you have seen us reading Caf World – a magazine for men who would never buy it. This week featuring the top five best-smelling industrial detergents and what their aromas add to the sprint eating experience, as well as a special article on why mustard has never been successfully mixed with tomato ketchup.

Of course that’s what the sports newspaper was invented for, as well as why its success is guaranteed.  As a gender we aren’t stupid enough to be concerned with Madrid’s or Barca’s bi-monthly crisis, but it is an accepted social fact that men read the sports paper in bars, and while doing so we may liberally distribute our meals over ourselves and a wide surface area.  And therein lies its real value.

Back in the Falafel house, I have been over liberal in my treatment of the spicy sauce, and can feel a horrid blush coming on. I’ve already burnt the roof of my mouth, incapable of waiting for the mush to cool, and there will be blood in the toothpaste tomorrow.  The fryer of chick peas is wearing a chef’s hat by way of loose association with the culinary arts, and the volcano of a waiter / manager shouts at the cash register operator, who is probably his daughter, to get me a drink, in what I assume to be Russian.  When she is less deeply occupied with a suitably dangerous character in Vaselined leather and his arm in a sling, who may well be her boyfriend, she brings me a glass of wine, which I pretend to enjoy.

The Idea

And there the idea occurs to me – the gap in the market that I represent.  Ladies and Gentlemen, but particularly single gentlemen; I present you with – the dining cabin.  A combination of partition and bar with optional newspaper within the reach of those for whom function has become a necessity, this development in western civilization is guaranteed to improve the quality of life of the sad bastard, and may even preserve what remains of his table manners.

The food will be ordinary; the cutlery uncomplicated, and each cabin will be equipped with rear-view mirrors enabling the occupant to watch girls passing on the street.

Although such comfort isn’t likely to facilitate communication, sociability or ultimately the survival of the species, I think it will prove to be a step forward, in the same way that the internet gave man uncomplicated access to pornography, and football gave us something to talk about.  And if any large multinational company is interested in developing the idea, I’m open to offers.

Shawn Lomax is a writer of sketch pieces and reviews. He lives and works in Barcelona, Spain.

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