February 24, 2009

The Siren Goes on a Date.

Posted in Romance! at 11:20 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

Yes, you read correctly. It’s shocking, but true. In an event seemingly as rare as the most obscure planetary convergence, Mr. Unfocused and I went out for dinner last Saturday night, just the two of us. We have a pretty limited social life (perhaps because we are both Cancers, thus doubling up on the cocooning nature that must be overcome in order for us to leave the house). It’s not that we never, ever go anywhere, it’s just that the few times it does happen tend to revolve around work- or school-related socializing. Those things are not bad, and we usually have a very pleasant time, but the idea of just being the two of us was more than a little foreign. Not surprising, though; after thinking very hard we realized that it had probably been almost three years since our last evening out alone.

All morning and afternoon I was very skeptical that this event would actually take place, but at a little before 6 pm my mom arrived to hang out with the kids (thanks, mom!) and by 7 we were on our way. Before we left we explained to the kids that Grandma was babysitting because we were just going out to dinner. This was met with a clear statement of utter astonishment from Unfocused Junior: “WHAT THE HECK WHAT THE HECK WHAT THE HECK?!?!” Mr. Unfocused and I laughed, of course, because, when it comes down to it, what’s the point of crying? We really must get out more often, apparently.

So off we went. We escaped the house having gone through the checklist: kids bathed; video set; dinner delivered; allergy medicine administered. (I confess that part of my general lack of enthusiasm for leaving the house has to do with mustering the energy for the advance work.) I had initially been so defiant about the evening as to decide not to put on any makeup whatsoever, but lost my nerve just before walking out the door and succumbed to the lure of a little lipstick and some mascara. My purple glasses stubbornly stayed on, as I have all but given up on the contact lenses. Still, I looked far more pulled together than Mr. Unfocused has grown accustomed to seeing me.

At this point I should send you over to his blog to read about our date. It won’t take very long, for evidently he did not feel there was much to report.

Note the many things you do not find there, dear reader: no mention of either my sparkling eyes or my sparkling wit. No mention of how delightful it was to remember that his wife could be a dazzling enchantress and not merely an unbalanced hellion. Do you see why I had to start my own blog to say nice things about myself because Mr. Unfocused was doing an insufficient job of it? We go out for a lovely evening and the closest thing to praise I receive is the vaguely disappointed report that I laughed at the part of his novel-in-progress that wasn’t supposed to be funny (a mugging scene based on his personal experience). It was undeniably a thrilling tale, and I certainly was impressed anew at his bravery (I had heard it before, as is, perhaps, predictable when a couple has been together for more than twenty years). But I didn’t feel my reaction was inappropriate, as his recent foray into writing has added new dimension to the story. He was charming in the telling, and transformed the lead perpetrator from simple street thug into darkly comic figure; I told him later that it had elements of what I imagine Pulp Fiction‘s villains to be like, if ever I were willing to see that movie. I think it’s a very promising scene. But I suppose the girlish giggles which would have been appropriate twenty years ago no longer seem quite the thing once one has lived in the world and is pushing 40.

I am being quite hard on him now, I know. He prefers to be a bit more circumspect than I, and his blog reflects that preference. That is, without question, perfectly reasonable. I know he had a very nice evening with me, as I did with him.

His reticence, however, does little to discourage me from sharing my own perspective on the evening. For example: the conversation. It really was a pleasure to find that we did not need to discuss our children constantly in order to have something to talk about. We also for the most part avoided the other major topic dominating kitchen tables across the country; fortunately, the economic supercollapse seemed less real when we were snugly ensconced at a candlelit table in a cozy neighborhood French restaurant.

In part this was because the food was so powerfully good it inspired much of the conversation. Bread arrived with an unusual and brilliant tarragon-mustard aioli hummus. Marrow bones (that’s L’Os a Moelle to us Francophiles) are pretty humble by nature; despite their their shared origin, they cannot aspire to the lofty status of a T-bone steak. Still, they were the richest-tasting Depressionesque food we could have possibly asked for, thus negating any sense of their frugality (not that the price for four bones would have supported such an idea anyway). The cream of cauliflower soup was silken perfection, and I could have squealed in delight at the sight of the beautifully chopped chives sprinkled across the top. When I requested advice on the entree, our server steered me toward the chicken in mushroom and mustard cream sauce topped with onion frites, saying it was the most delicious thing she had ever eaten in her life, and I have to say I am pretty close to agreeing with her. The only “disappointment” food-wise was Mr. Unfocused’s determinedly steering me toward chocolate for dessert because he wanted to try both the soufflé cake and the pot de crème, when I had been leaning toward the lemon tart. Certainly the chocolate was wonderful, though; really, the only mistake was that we simply should have conceded defeat and ordered all three desserts. Ah, well, a lesson learned. When a dinner out fails to reach the status of an annual event, one cannot afford to compromise on the desserts.

Oh, and did I mention that we drank a full bottle of wine? After already having a generous glass apiece at the ultracool Book Cellar bookstore/wine bar/café (what a fantastically inviting place!)? It’s amazing how it can be possible to drink so much during the course of a leisurely meal and not feel tipsy, much less drunk, when a similar amount imbibed at home while rushing through another dinner punctuated with “more milk, please!” or “I need more pizza!” (or even, as recently happened at our house, a parental “Excuse me, Crazy Child, what are you hoping to accomplish by attempting to remove my socks under the table?”) will result in complete and total snockeredness.

But food and drink are unsurprising topics of discussion when dining out. What was quite genuinely unexpected about the evening was how reading and writing threaded through it in ways that never would have come up previously in our long and storied past.

Witness that previously described telling of harrowing tales from Mr. Unfocused’s pre-Siren days through the lens of a writer reimagining the context. I had heard the one story plenty of times before (although fortunately not in the “must you rehash that tired old moment yet again?” sense), but experienced from the perspective of a writer mining his life for material, it was very fresh. We discussed books (books! that topic so handily dismissed by Elizabeth Bennett as Mr. Darcy cast about helplessly for something they could talk about)—books from our pasts, books we hadn’t yet read but were curious about…it was almost as if I was once a reader in some vague dream I remember about my life long ago. And now that we have a new shared hobby in blogging, that added a brand new dimension to our twenty year conversation.

I could go on (as you well know, I find insufficient virtue in brevity) but as this post is becoming less timely with each day that I refine it—not to mention the fact that it has already passed my apparently pre-programmed 1,300 word mark—I will spare you every last detail. Instead, I will conclude by observing that I am amply pleased to have been so effectively reminded of the value of a two-hour dinner out with a handsome, lively, and intelligent companion. Hopefully it was a powerful enough reminder that I’ll be less of a stick-in-the-mud when my husband suggests that we do it again.

ADDENDUM (because 1,450 words were clearly inadequate): In the spirit of the recent Academy Awards, I must thank Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays for recommending Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, one of the books we picked up at the glamorous bookstore/wine bar. Mr. Unfocused and I were tickled that we each entered the store with that particular book in mind without any prior consultation between us, and I was thrilled to have a reading ambition which made me appear at least moderately literate in my husband’s eyes, starting the evening with a pleasant illusion of compatibility. We are looking forward to sharing an interest in fiction!

ADDENDUM DEUX: It occurs to me that if you are in Chicago you should go on a pilgrimage to the site of such an astonishing event. It’s Bistro Campagne in Lincoln Square, and you can tell them the Green-Eyed Siren sent you.



  1. Jeanne said,

    You’re welcome! I’m quite tickled that my discussion of the book had such an influence! Also I like the uninhibited way you can discuss aspects of your 20-year conversation. It is good to have new things to bring to it, separately. I’ll date myself by saying that our conversation has been going on since 1980.

  2. chel said,

    Girlish giggles during a rare night out are most certainly appropriate either side of 40. Moments of quality coupleness transcend both who we are and who we used to be. I’m glad you got the night out.

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