Dining in a Sea of Character Actors
We were seated next to a table for two where an adult male was dining with a little girl. At first glance, the man reminded me obliquely of Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and I thought, “Wow, I sure hope that’s his daughter.” The girl was about 4 years old, blonde, and chatty. She was working industriously on a placemat drawing of an underwater scene, colouring the fish orange and the seahorse purple. It took great restraint for me not to show her the seahorse tattoo on my right arm. I figured she had all the creepy adult interaction she needed with Henry Lee Lucas posing as her father. “That’s really good, Emma*,” the ostensible dad said in whiny tones very much at odds with the “Henry” image I had formed, “you’re staying in the lines and everything.” The voice put a different but equally appealing movie image in Mama Dog’s head: Dylan Baker as the pedophile dad in Happiness. It soon became clear that this really was little “Emma’s” dad, so I started forming another theory: Divorced Dad Night. That theory got exploded when Henry/Happiness started droning on about what they should bring Mommy home for dinner. Later, Mama Dog advanced the theory that Emma’s mom was home pregnant with Dylan or Courtney or Jacob or Ashley and just wanted a break from Henry/Happiness’ whiny voice so she could concentrate on the new Nora Roberts book.**
He may not have been a serial killer or a pedophile, but Henry/Happiness sure wasn’t in the running for any parent of the year awards. For one thing, he was patronising as hell, and not just about the “Wow, you’re staying inside the lines and everything” crap. He never seemed to connect or even honestly converse with his daughter – he just mouthed a series of rote platitudes that he surmised were expected from him. “That’s really good, sweetie,” “Wow, that’s really colourful,” etc., etc. Worse, when he couldn’t resolve the question of what to bring mommy for supper, he decided to call and ask. He told Emma that he didn’t want to disturb the other customers – that’d be us – by calling at the table, so he told her just to go on colouring and took off to the payphone by the bathroom. I looked around uneasily, and found he was nowhere in sight. The payphone was down a hallway. He left his daughter alone in a restaurant out of his sight to make a phone call he could have made from the table. He was gone a good ten minutes, presumably continuing whatever argument it was that got him kicked out of the house for the night. He sure wasn’t taking that long to find out which salad would be a suitable substitute for the one no longer on the menu. For me, though, the capper was the dessert incident. He went through the dessert options with his daughter, carefully providing too many choices and too much information, so that she was effectively paralysed when it came time to make a decision. What’s he do then? He asks the waitress what his daughter would want for dessert. Her recommendation was that the ginger cake with pumpkin ice cream was “really good.” Doubtless it was, but little Emma tried about half a bite of the ginger cake and gave up on it in favour of the ice cream. “I could’ve told him she wouldn’t want the ginger cake,” I said to Mama Dog later. “She’s four years old: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, end of fuckin’ story.” I tried, but I really can’t imagine Baby Dog being four years old and me not knowing what she wants for dessert.
On our other side was another odd couple, a scowly computer geek boy with a face like a lobster trap and a woman who was presumably his mother but whom he lectured throughout the meal on the subject of his travels in Asia. They’re hardly worth recollecting except that computer guy also put me in mind of yet another pretend person: psycho boy from Desperate Housewives.
*Not the real name, but it might as well be.
**I’m assuming there is one.