Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sparks


Seven years ago this evening, I was in a New York steakhouse with my husband, enjoying a rare dinner out. Somehow he had managed to unshackle himself from his four-star job for a night, and we went to Sparks on East 46th Street. I am pretty sure that my sommelier husband chose Sparks due to its wine list—a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner many times over. It was all the same to me. I like a good steak on occasion, but I confess that I have never really understood the steakhouse concept. Meaning that while I get that it's all about the cut of beef, behemoth-like on your conservative china patterned plate, I have always been offended that the vegetables are ordered on the side, charged separately. When you pay top dollar for a slab of meat, can't they just include the side dishes? And can't they be more inventive than sauteed spinach or a baked potato? Truth be told, I would have preferred going out for sushi, or to a great Thai or Vietnamese restaurant. But meat and potatoes suited my husband just fine, and since it was a treat for him to be the one served instead of serving, I deferred to his choice. I don't mean to suggest that the food was anything less than delicious. The steaks were cooked precisely to our specifications; they were tender and bloody within reason. But there was something about the experience overall that made me feel out of place. Maybe it was the decor: staid burgundy, dark wood, white tablecloths; very conservative indeed. I am much more excited about modern design—or else the kind of place with sawdust on the floor, where you can drop peanut shells as you swill a beer and wait for your table to be ready (a table that, if it sports one at all, sports a red and white checked cloth). Maybe it was just the feeling of being a skirt in an all-boys, old-boys network sort of place. I will say, the magnums of wine on display were interesting. The other factor I consider is this: our wedding had been less than a month prior, and really, the whole wife thing was still a bit odd. Or I was just still coming down from international wedding planning stress, which our honeymoon only partially alleviated. But on top of wife, as it turns out, at this dinner I was also asked to think about filling another role, that of mother to a hypothetical child. Something about sitting in a conservative restaurant with a slab of bloody meat alone on a plate in front of me . . . well, it just didn't reconcile with any notions I might have had about parenting—notions that were blurry at best, totally alien in fact. Meat is easier to eat when you objectify it; when you divorce it cleanly from what you know it is, or once was. Our society is so sanitized, really, so protected from the meaning of the blood and muscle and fatty tissue there for your chewing enjoyment. Maybe some part of me sensed that parenting would be the same: that my view of it could only be a sanitized view, protected from the harshness of birthing a separate body that would have a will of its own; shielded from the reality that there'd be a thousand ways blood could be spilled. And you would be responsible, always, forever. It's not that I didn't know these things intellectually. I am not a naive person; I know what's what. It's the "who" I couldn't wrap my head around: who, me? And yet, I remember the eagerness with which my husband started talking about creating a family (as though two people together can't make a family all on their own). I remember, practical me, thinking that I had exactly a week and a half left on my dial-pack of contraceptive pills and no refills remaining; I'd have to get another prescription if I wanted to continue. And it seemed so easy to capitulate—particularly since "common knowledge" held that it routinely took a year to conceive when coming off the Pill. So we talked about it, agreed to "leave ourselves open," and tucked into our beef. I bit, rolled the buttery meat around in my mouth, and didn't think any more about all the things that could—that would, nine months later, forever have to be—ordered on the side, in small portions, if at all.

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