My dad gave me some advice for my first date. Compliment her on how she looks. Help her on with her coat. Open doors for her. Remember manners. There wasn’t much pressure because my “date” was Sari who I’d been hanging out with since we both wore diapers. Our mothers were best friends. I happened to be home from the yeshiva-seminary and she happened to have no date lined up for her homecoming dance. This was more of a practice run for a fifteen year-old who was sequestered from any kind of normal social life while living in a boys’ dormitory.
Everything went very smoothly – even the dancing – though it had been two years since my eighth grade graduation dance. A friend from my grade school invited Sari and me to join his foursome for an after-dance dinner at Agatucci’s Pizza Parlor. He had a car, so I called my dad and told him we wouldn’t need a ride home. The three boys sat across from the three girls in a red upholstered booth at Agatucci’s. The girls looked great in their fancy dresses. Sari’s dress was some kind of dark velour or velvet. Everyone ordered a pizza with lots of toppings, but since I kept kosher, I ordered a spaghetti marinara dish for myself.
The spaghetti arrived first and a moment after the waitress put it in front of me, I dug in – I mean really dug in – with the voracious appetite of a teen-age boy even more famished than usual after a night of practicing good manners. A few bites into my meal – my face only inches from the noodle-nestle I was audibly suctioning –it dawned on me I was acting rude. The others had not even been served. I thought that a quick apology would right things and I pivoted my face upward to re-engage with the group. I started to apologize, but forgot to factor in two variables. First, my mouth was pretty full from my last slurp of spaghettis, and second, that apologizing for eating was going to ring so absurd in my own ears.
I got out the words, “excuse me”, but the rest of the sentence got mixed up with laughter as I heard the silly supplication issuing from my mouth. Unfortunately, about a hundred little chewed-up bits of pasta marinara shot out in unison with the garbled words and laughter, like kids pouring out of a school building when the recess bell goes off. The scatter-shot spaghetti bits managed to tag all three girls. The little white projectiles dotted Sari’s dark velour or velvet, presenting quite a contrast. One of the girls held up her napkin as a shield in front of her in case there was another round left in my big mouth. Sari methodically and wordlessly picked off the bits and put them on the table in front of her.
In about ten seconds, I had more than canceled out all the suave, grown-up behavior, and had created a huge deficit to boot. My cheeks burned fire engine red while I imagined what the others were seeing. Probably I seemed like somebody’s kid brother who had to be dragged along because no babysitter could be lined up. I transferred every ounce of my concentration from etiquette to prayer that the waitress would bring the pizza, the silence would end, and the girl would lower the napkin from in front of her face.
Four and a half decades have past. Last week, Sari turned 60 as I did six weeks earlier. For the past six years, we’ve been getting together in Cape Cod every summer for a few days of vacation with our spouses and another couple. A few years ago, I brought up the “spaghetti-incident” and Sari had no recollection of it. That mortifying moment that is so vivid to me probably faded from the minds of the other five witnesses within weeks. When my son, Alex got all dressed up and bought a corsage for his first homecoming date, I just clicked a photo and told him to have a great time.
(photo is of me and Sari sometime around that era)