Dinner and No Movie

This is part two of an unplanned “dining out” series.  Tonight, Nancy and I went out for pizza. What I didn’t realize upon entering the pizza place was that I had just entered…The Twilight Zone.

Picture this:  It’s a Saturday night, a night like any other night, in a restaurant that could be anywhere…in any time…in any universe.   You arrive, and there are four other occupied tables and booths. Nothing out of the ordinary. Or so you think. Before you sit down at your table, you position yourself so that you can see everything in the room.  You like to observe, don’t you?  You look around at the other tables and booths. Each one has at least two kids. One of them has four boys, another has two girls, a grandparent, an aunt, and a mom. You scan the room. Another booth  appears to have two moms and their young daughters. Just an ordinary family-and-friends  dinner. Now, a young couple arrives with their two young boys, one a toddler riding in his father’s arms; the other looks like a preschooler.  It’s just an ordinary evening in your hometown, Anytown, USA…or is it? Cue theme music.

As you settle into your table and browse the menu, everything seems ordinary to you.  Slowly, though,  you begin to sense that something is just slightly off.   What is it? You see and hear animated conversations  at each table.  That’s not it.  Then, suddenly you realize what it is. You ask your dinner companion if she notices anything unusual about the scene.  “They’re all talking?” she asks.

“Well, yes,” you respond, “but there’s something else…”  Dramatic pause. You look directly into the camera then, in a look full of meaning, you turn to your dinner companion and breathe these words. “Don’t you see?  Don’t you understand? Not a single child in this restaurant is playing a video game or looking at a screen?”

[Cue dramatic music. Short shrill violin strokes? I don’t know. Close up on dinner companion’s shocked expression.  She scans the room and nods.]

You look over at that table with the boys.  They’re all talking to each other AND to the adults. Still in disbelief, you jerk your head toward the table with the toddler and the preschooler. The family has arrived with a canvas bag of provisions. There has to be a device of some sort…Iphone?  Ipad? God, at least a Galaxy? But no, not on this night. The toddler has some kind of wind up toy that fascinates him. The preschooler pulls out some sort of blocks or tracks that he assembles into a course for a car. It’s so strange. You are barely able to comprehend it.  He’s playing with something that has…THREE dimensions.

At the table with the two girls and the aunt and grandmother, they are sharing some sort of eggplant appetizer.  The children are eating the same thing as the adults…and they’re all talking together, kids and two generations of  adults. 

Now the boys’ table grabs your attention. There are four of them, boys, that is.  They seem to be different sizes, so they might be different ages, but they are all talking with the two adults. They seem to be working on one of those mystery stories, because the kids are asking questions and the adults are pausing, thinking, and then responding.  

Later, when it is time for them to leave, three of the boys get up from the table.  Each one hugs the fourth boy and says happy birthday before  leaving with the woman.  The birthday boy stays behind, sitting in his dad’s lap. While they talk, the boy kisses his father’s cheek.

After the meal, as you get  ready to leave, two more parties enter.  One is a group of five, composed of four girls and a mom.  The girls appear to be about the age that you teach, fifth grade.

“This could break the spell,” you think to yourself.  You did just think that didn’t you? Of course. It’s only natural to wish yourself back to the familiar. “I’m guessing we’re going to see some serious texting,” you chortle knowingly to your companion.  But your companion is not smiling.

“I don’t see any phones,” she says.  “You may be wrong.”  In fact, you are completely off base.  This episode is not yet over.

Two of the girls sit next to each other and play that game where they hold out fingers and then tap the other person’s fingers to try to eliminate their “hand.”  In all your years of teaching and watching, you’ve never learned that game, have you? Now, suddenly, you wish you knew how to do something useful with your hands besides pressing on keys? The other two girls are not playing.  They are talking…to each other. Face. To. Face.

As you rise to leave, the people in the booth with the grandmother and aunt have also paid their bill and are readying for departure.  One of the girls stands up, slides past her mom, and walks over to her grandmother. She reaches out her hands and helps her grandmother out of the booth.  When her grandmother is on her feet, they hug…in public.  Shrill violins play that Psycho music.

You scan the scene one last time, fixing it in your mind.  As if you could ever forget it. It occurs to you that you should probably take a picture, so you’ll remember it always.  You reach into your pocket for your phone…but all you find is a small spiral sketch pad. You race for the door. Pull. Wrong. Push. And you’re out in the fresh air, gasping.  You look up at the waxing crescent cradling the less lit moon.  You inhale deeply, glance back at the pizza restaurant, and wonder if you’ll ever get back to…The Twilight Zone.   Roll credits.
Thank you to the families who made this episode actually happen tonight. Like a Johnny Depp or Christopher Walken performance, it was…delightfully creepy.

15 thoughts on “Dinner and No Movie

  1. Brilliant and beautiful! Arnauld will often play this game. If our life was a tv show… he talks to the camera all the time. I’m always saddened by screens in restaurants or other places that they really don’t belong. This is an episode of hope for the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love how you observed all that and connected it to the Twilight Zone! This line in the middle, has you talking to your reader which captures the whole point – ” In all your years of teaching and watching, you’ve never learned that game, have you?” This slice was really fun to read and YAY YAY for all those families for having good ole conversations and bringing 3 dimension toys BACK! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes!!!!! Thank you, families, for making this possible. Loved your blog. I just started a board game lending library to encourage families to play games together. Last Friday, we had about 40 students check out everything from Connect 4 to Monopoly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sure, sure…it actually happened. My cousin swears he saw a UFO one night. He blacked out as it landed in front of him, and he woke up in a field in Norway three weeks later–according to him. Then there are the Bigfoot stories. “Really,” the narrator always says, “my friend was with me. We both saw it.”

    Seriously, though, as much of a stretch as this seems, I do know it can happen, and I am pleased you could witness it. Moreover, I enjoyed the entertaining manner in which you related the events. Serling himself could not have done it better.

    I hope one day to witness something like this myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What an awesome time at a restaurant watching children and families interacting with each other. I am so used to families having phones, or ipads to play with. Cheers to those families you were watching.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the way you narrated this (ahem, I mean the narrator from the Twilight Zone, of course). What a great series of observations. And when you reached into your pocket at the end, I laughed out loud. A sketch pad. Of course. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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