It happens sometimes that you accidentally star in a little public performance of your very own comedy, tragedy, or melodrama.
You’re running for your morning bus, briefcase swinging jauntily, when you trip and tumble playground-style to the footpath. You’re trapped in the heavy-breathing silence of a crowded elevator when your lover says something infuriating (What did you just say?), or your child asks a rather delicate question, or your mother calls on your mobile to shriek dire warnings. You’re shuffling past a row of knees in the cinema, caught in the spotlight of the previews, when you tip your popcorn into a stranger’s lap. You’re having one of those days of accumulating misery when you argue violently with someone in a position of power: a bank teller, a dry cleaner, a three-year-old.
You either ignore your silently grinning spectators, glower at them, or shrug humorously. If you’re a flamboyant type, you might even give a little bow! It doesn’t really matter much what you do, because you have no control over your role in the amusing little anecdotes they’re already busy composing; if it suits them, they will rob you of even more dignity.
It happened to three women one cold June night in Sydney. (Actually, it had been happening to them all their lives, but this time their performance was especially spectacular.)
The setting was a busy seafood restaurant endorsed as “full of surprises” by Sydney’s Good Food Guide, and their audience excluded only those suffering from excessive good manners. Everyone else witnessed the entire show with complete, bug-eyed enjoyment.
Within hours this little incident was being described and reenacted for the pleasure of baby-sitters, roommates, and partners waiting at home. By early the next day at least a dozen versions of the story were doing the rounds of office cubicles and coffee shops, pubs and preschools. Some were funny, others disapproving; many were censored, a few were spiced up.
Of course, no two were the same.
The Birthday Brawl
Last night? Eventful.
No mate, not that sort of eventful. The blind date was a disaster.
It wasn’t too soon after Sarah, I told you, I’m ready to get back out there. The problem was her voice. It’s like trying to hear someone on a bad line.
I’m not being picky, I can’t hear the woman! There’s a limit to how many times you can ask someone to repeat themselves before it gets bloody awkward. All night I was leaning halfway across the table, squinting my ears, making wild guesses at what she was whispering. At one point, I chuckled appreciatively at what I thought was a punch line and the poor girl looked horrified.
She could be really nice. She just needs someone with better ears. Preferably bionic ones.
But forget about the date. I’m sure she has. Actually, I’m sure she hasn’t because as I say, it was…eventful.
The restaurant was jam-packed and we had a table right next to three women. At first I didn’t even register them because I was busy perfecting my lip-reading skills. The first time I even looked over was when one girl got her handbag strap tangled around her chair.
Yep. Nice-looking. Although, I did have a preference for—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
So, at first these three girls were having a great time, roaring with laughter, getting louder and louder. Each time they laughed, my date and I smiled sadly at each other.
About eleven o’clock, we cheered up because the end was in sight. We got the dessert menu and she used sign language to suggest we share the blueberry cheesecake. Obviously I didn’t completely ruin her night by mentioning my missing sweet tooth. What is it with women and sharing desserts? It makes them so happy.
But we never got to order because that’s when the action started. The lights in the restaurant went off and three waitresses appeared, each of them lugging these three huge bloody…
…birthday cakes if you don’t mind!
And I said to Thomas, Well for heaven’s sakes! Three cakes! One for each girl! All ablaze with those noisy sparklers, which I personally think are a fire hazard. So then they sang “Happy Birthday”—three times! Thomas thought it was ridiculous. Each “Happy Birthday” got louder and more boisterous and by the end of it everyone in the restaurant was singing.
Except for Thomas of course. He’d been upset about the noise from the three girls all night. He even complained to the waitress! They seemed like nice, high-spirited young people to me. Well, they did in the beginning, anyway. The pregnant one smiled very nicely at me when she went to the Ladies.
They all had very generous portions of their cake! Not dieting, obviously! And they all helped themselves to spoonfuls of each other’s. That was nice, I thought.
Well, I kept a little eye on them. They had me intrigued for some reason. I noticed that after their cake they each took a turn reading something out loud. They looked like letters to me. Well, I don’t know what in the world those letters were about, but it was only a few seconds later that the yelling started!
Goodness me! What a terrible tiff! Everyone was staring. Thomas was appalled.
One girl scraped back her chair and stood right up and I’ve never seen anyone so angry! Her face was all blotchy bright red and she was shaking a fork and screaming, yes, screaming.
Well, I don’t know if I can say this part.
Well, all right. Come close and I’ll whisper it to you.
She was screaming, “You have both…
…fucking ruined my life!”
And I think to myself what the f**k is going on here?
I’d just been telling Sam that I was going to score a massive tip from Table Six because they were all having such a good time and they were all pretty drunk.