Last night was an extremely auspicious occasion. For the first time EVER, Otto and I went out for the evening and left the kids to make their own dinner, finish their homework, and put themselves to bed. ON A SCHOOL NIGHT. (Not that we’ve ever done it on a weekend, either, come to think of it. But doing this on a school night seemed particularly weird, somehow.) The fact of the matter is that they’re plenty old enough, I am just overprotective and also once Chickadee almost burned the house down with a lamp (reading after hours! my little nerdling!) (the house wasn’t really almost burned down, but she did burn a circle on her headboard), so leaving them alone with the oven on felt like a leap of faith. (Chickadee: “Don’t worry! I’m sure the pizza only needs three hours or so! KIDDING!”)
Anyway, it was time for another Fancy Shindig because my husband’s employer likes to have these things. So we gussied up and headed out, making the children promise to call 911 if anything caught on fire while we were gone.
I wore my new(ish) platform stilettos, which caused Monkey to say, “Whoa. You are REALLY tall now!” I had to promise it was temporary before we left.
So it was with a moderate degree of trepidation that we headed out, because I am a worrywart and I was concerned about the children. (“They’re not going to burn the house down,” Otto assured me. “Well, probably not,” I had to agree. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t end up beating each other senseless or something.”)
I had already completely forgotten that going out into public all dressed up usually involves some degree of my proving that you can’t take me anywhere.
Off we went. We got to the venue, parked, walked in, and began the arduous process of “mingling” at the cocktail hour with a few hundred of our closest friends who we barely know. I got a glass of wine and was about halfway through when I realized that 1) I’d never had lunch and 2) all of the circulating hors d’oeuvres were in puff pastry or otherwise coated in wheat. Me + wine + no food = cheap date.
So a colleague of my husband’s walked up and started talking to him, then turned and shook my hand and said it was so great to “finally meet” me in person. Before I could think better of it, I said, “Oh, we’ve met before.” And then I proceeded to blithely recount the time that I came in to give a guest lecture in another colleague’s class, and he (the guy standing there) sat there reading a newspaper the entire time. (Which I, of course, had found so odd, I’d asked the professor who that was.)
“Oh, yes, I often observe in other classes,” he said, smiling perhaps a little uneasily.
By this time, Otto looked rather alarmed, so I decided not to say anything else, like, say, asking him how I look THROUGH A NEWSPAPER.
He wandered off shortly thereafter and Otto said something to me about how I am cute but I maybe shouldn’t talk to anyone else. And I told him that the last time he took me to one of these fancy things, I had waited until dinner to stick my foot into my mouth, and really, wasn’t it nice that I’d gotten it out of the way so early this time?
It turned out that our dining companions were delightful and I was able to keep from accidentally insulting anyone, even though there was a nice gentleman from the governor’s office at our table, and I think our governor is a total tool. No, see, I didn’t need to focus on our dinner-mates for entertainment after we sat down, because there were SPECIAL CARDS and hilarity therein.
The SPECIAL CARDS were to denote those of us with specific dietary restrictions. So I had a card that said “Gluten-free” and the woman beside me had one that said “Vegetarian.” On account of… uhhh… I am gluten-free and she is a vegetarian. And that makes us SPESHUL. So when we were ushered into the dining room, everyone else at our table had a small salad, but the vegetarian and I each just had a card and no salad.
I looked at the salad. It had some crab meat on it, so I guess it made sense that the vegetarian didn’t have one. But it didn’t have any croutons, so I was perplexed as to why I didn’t have one. Huh.
A server came by and examined our cards, and then said she would go get our salads. “Would you like one without crab?” she asked me.
“Does the crab have gluten in it?” I countered, and she was so flummoxed you’d think I’d just asked her to defy gravity. We concluded the crab was gluten-free and that was fine. Our salads came and everyone ate them. (I couldn’t help noticing that my spot at the table still had… a dinner roll. Right above my SPECIAL CARD.)
Then it was time for entrees, and that’s when things got interesting. Dinner was: prime rib with gravy, salmon with hollandaise, whipped potatoes, asparagus and carrots. I know this because they started serving everyone else at our table and P.S. this is what they serve every single time at these things. I figured I would get a plate without the gravy, because that was probably thickened with flour.
First the server came and asked if I wanted the vegetarian entree. I blinked at her a couple of times and explained, AGAIN, that I could have anything but wheat, so the regular dinner was fine, probably minus the gravy. She said she’d be right back, and she brought my vegetarian seatmate a dish that involved flour tortillas (oh YES, please give me THAT! Oh wait…), then brought me… a plate of gravy-free prime rib, no salmon, and a mountain of carrots.
“Does the salmon have wheat in it?” I inquired, because I happen to quite enjoy salmon. She froze, deer in the headlights. “It’s just,” I continued, gently, trying not to startle her, “I think the salmon is probably fine. it’s grilled.”
“I don’t… know?” she stammered. “This is what they gave me? Do you want me to go back…?”
“No, nevermind,” I said. “This is fine. Thank you.”
I honestly do not understand what is so complicated about wheat that causes otherwise reasonably intelligent people to freak out and become confused. ZOMG SALMON IS WHEATY! Because, no. But whatever. We ate.
Bonus can’t-take-me-anywhere hilarity: My cocktail dress was shiny/satiny and somehow that fabric and the napkins provided created a frictionless void in the space time continuum where I could place the napkin in my lap and then if I so much as BREATHED the napkin would immediately slide off onto the floor. About the fourth time I had to lean over and pick it back up, Otto offered to find me some duct tape or a stapler. Because he’s a gentleman.
Our intrepid server came back around with wine, shortly thereafter, and when I asked for some white she got all frozen and weird, again, and then the vegetarian asked for red, and she said she thought they were out (out of wine? during a gala??) but would be right back, and finally we both had wine and I asked the nice vegetarian if the red was sufficiently meaty for her, and she said yes, and asked if my white was good and wheat-filled, and I said of course, and we giggled because what else can you do?
Dessert was a mango mousse which I’d been thrilled to see on the menu because NO WHEAT, but then it turned out to be on a crust of some sort, and the server plunked one down in front of me and tried to leave, at which point I’d kind of had it and said “OH HEY could you maybe find out what this crust is for me?” and she offered to just take it away and bring me a fruit plate, instead. I just gave up and said no, don’t worry about it, and I contented myself with the top 1″ of mousse and a cup of coffee and called it a day.
These things are long and—let’s fact it—kind of boring, but a favorite colleague of my husband’s got a standing ovation (twice, actually), and that made the evening worth it. We finally escaped when it was all over, and when we got home, it kind of looked like a small tornado had whipped through the kitchen, but the house and children were otherwise intact.
I have assured Otto that the third time’s the charm, and maybe the NEXT time we head out to one of these things, I might not embarrass myself. Though I think we all know that’s unlikely.