Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Liberty

There is nothing I hate more than two people ordering the same thing at a restaurant.

Everyone I know well discovers this at some point. I acknowledge that it’s weird, but I’m also not particularly embarrassed by it. I guess you could call it a pet peeve, but a pet peeve sounds like a cute peculiarity that everyone laughs about at parties, the sort of thing that makes people chuckle and say, oh, Jon, as they playfully push me on the shoulder or stare tenderly into my eyes. But no this is not like that; if this happens with you at a restaurant you might be laughing but I will absolutely not be laughing, I will very seriously look at you and say, as calmly as I can (though I will feel like screaming), “Really. Are you sure?” And then I will grit my teeth and pray that you’ll respond, “No, I was joking about the mint ravioli; I’m having the veal.” And then we’ll have a pleasant dinner eating two different things, like normal people do.

If you decide that you are not joking about the mint ravioli, then we’ll move to stage two (second base, as it were). Stage two involves a complicated set of psychological maneuvers designed to influence you to change your mind. I may retract my initial idea and say that I was also thinking about getting the grouper, in the hope that you’ll switch too, just like you shamelessly copied the original mint ravioli suggestion. This is a dangerous gambit because if you opt not to switch, then you’re probably pretty set on the mint ravioli, just like I am. Then I have to move on to third.

Third base is an old-fashioned backstabbing operation where I attempt to get the waiter to ask me for my order first, so that you, asshole, are forced to “also” yourself, as in, “I’ll also have the mint ravioli.” Then, even though I haven’t actually managed to keep the dish to myself, at least it’s clear to the waiter that you were the imitator and not me. It’s usually pretty easy to get the waiter to look at me first by using a set of subtle sexual cues, as well as by just talking louder than everyone else and not being afraid to cut people off.

What’s surprising about third base is that everyone is really good at hiding their mortification when they have to say “also” during their order. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that they don’t really care about ordering the same dish as someone else at a restaurant, a possibility I reject as being absurd on its face.

One problem with living with another American in China for 10 months is that you end up going to a lot of meals together, and your tastes sometimes overlap. Which means that, despite my misgivings, sometimes Gus and I order the same thing at restaurants. I usually try to make him say also out of spite, but I also recognize that our options are limited and it’s not worth alienating my only friend by trying to go to third base with him just to feel better about my restaurant ordering choices.

The other day, though, Gus and I were at a restaurant and I decided to get the 蜜汁叉烧饭 (honey sauce barbecue pork), and he decided to get 尖椒叉烧饭 (barbecue pork with chili peppers) — both 叉烧, barbecue pork dishes. Gus knows about my feelings w/r/t identical meals, so when I told him what I was getting, he chuckled, said, oh, Jon, and looked tenderly into my eyes and told me that he was not switching, and that he absolutely would not fall for a second, third, or even home base maneuver. So I said ok, it’ll be fine.

The waitress came up to take our orders and we each told her what we wanted and then it happened, the Worst Thing In the World, the whole reason I have this pet hatred in the first place: the waitress looked up and said, “You guys both ordered barbecue pork! The same thing! You Americans really like barbecue pork, huh? Can’t seem to eat anything else!” Gus gamely explained that we just both felt like eating barbecue pork that day as I sat in my seat and tried not to cry.

And I haven’t spoken to Gus since.