Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Steak n' Shake incident.

Even though the Steak 'n' Shake near but not too close to Scotty's apartment is a truly terrible restaurant, I still find my way there when it's late some nights. I go there when I'm a distinct mix of lonely, hungry for junk food, eager to see some weird people and/or want to read a book. Last year, Scotty and I used to meet up there on nights when we couldn't sleep alone, didn't want to merely talk dirty on the phone and didn't feel like just going directly to his apartment for the generally remarkable, supposedly meaningless sex. Lately, I've been going there by myself, for, even though Scotty and I ended the relationship we were never officially in back in December, I've not found an eatery near my apartment where I feel as comfortable reading a book after midnight. The Waffle House across the street smells like homeless drunks, and I can't find an all-hours place in Buckhead that's not too kitschy, too crowded on weekends or just too expensive.

I'm a late-night diner dweller, and I have the waistline and bags under my eyes to prove it. Before this Steak 'n' Shake, I frequented one in Duluth because I went to high school with Nancy the waitress, who was actually too brilliant and funny to be working there but nice enough to memorize my orders. (Beyond that, Nancy was incredibly cool both during the time I brought a date in there who'd just jacked me off while he drove 80 down the interstate AND the night I had her send a dessert to a cute guy I sorta knew. I loved Nancy and tipped her often and well until she got fired.) Before that Steak 'n' Shake, there were Waffle Houses and Huddle Houses that I've written in and written about in the hours after midnight.

Scotty and I were at the Steak 'n' Shake near his apartment often enough to develop repoire with some of the waitstaff.

The large kid who used to sing to himself would often forget our orders, and we secretly hated him. Thankfully, he was replaced by Alicia, a skinny, 22-year-old girl with thick red hair, glasses, pale skin, freckles, a warm smile and lots of Southern-fried secrets to confess.

She would dote upon us and remember our orders and be completely oblivious to our entwined legs and wandering hands underneath the table. Thus, we loved her so much that we'd request specifically to sit in her section. Upon sight of me, she'd fill a Diet Coke and bring it to the table. Scotty'd order his usual array of too much food with too much ketchup, and I'd usually tell him that he'd get an upset stomach later. And he'd ignore my criticisms and get his food (and, later, his stomachache). He'd always tell me that the chili was too watery. But we wouldn't tell Alicia.

We'd wait for her to come by and refill drinks, and we'd talk to her about her life. She'd mention about how she was working to get her kids back. About how, in her hometown, she only ever dated self-proclaimed rednecks before, to her shock, finding the love of her life in, gasp, "a Mexican" who apparently badgered her into going out with him.

The last time I saw Alicia was in January, after the second attempt at a breakup between me and Scotty. We met at our usual restaurant just to talk, to see if we could in fact go back to being the friends we used to be before the Fourth of July kissing. Sitting in that booth, though, our legs rubbed together in the same accidentally-on-purpose way. And he told me that I looked really good that night. Still, we talked about other dates we'd been on, and I started to talk to Scotty about how I was confusing intimacy and friendship with another friend of mine.

Alicia caught the vibe I was giving off, and she asked the two of us what was wrong.

"I'm just having problems with someone I'm dating," I said. "Or not dating. I can't tell."

"Well, what's wrong with her?" Alicia asked. (Scotty and I both flinched at the pronoun. I mean, how on Earth could our favorite waitress not know that, when we were there together, we were together?)

"He gets this way," Scotty explained to Alicia. "Everything has to be defined for him."

"Huh?" Alicia asked.

"Well, she says we're just friends, but I think we might be dating," I explained.

"They are just friends," Scotty said matter-of-factly. "They're not dating."

Alicia said that seemed easy enough to understand.

"Yeah," I said, "Except when we make out for a couple hours or hook up or something, then I get confused."

(Somewhere, Scotty and I both started talking about our own relationship to Alicia, rather than my thing with my other friend.)

"Look, you can just be friends and hook up with someone," Scotty said.

"How does that work?" Alicia finally blurted in her delicate Southern drawl. "Seems to me, if she's sleeping with him and kissing on him, then they're a hell of a lot more than just friends."

"It's not like that," Scotty said.

"Why would you want to be with this girl?" Alicia asked me. "I mean, is she retarded or just dumb?"

I smiled big and agreed, "That's what I'm saying."

Scotty just glared at Alicia as I got up to go to the bathroom, glancing at my ex while victoriously pumping my fist in the air like an ARSENIO audience member.

As I walked away, Scotty looked at Alicia, no longer his favorite waitress.

"You've just undone all of my teachings," he spat.

And when I got back to the table, Scotty told me that Alicia's opinion didn't count because, in defining relationships, "it's different for gay men."

All I knew was that, if Scotty and I weren't labeling our relationship because we didn't want things to be that complicated, it didn't work. Relationships, whether you label them or not, are complicated.

I felt like I'd won that night's battle, but Scotty deserved to know that I do understand his side of our relationship, which I explained to Alicia while we were paying the tab.

The video feed for the security cameras at that Steak 'n' Shake lies directly above the register. While I'm paying, I always look at the bald spot on the crown of my head to see how much it has grown. At the point where I last saw Alicia, the bald spot seemed to spiral out from my cowlick like an expanding galaxy, what once were natural parts in my hairdo now seem to me like canyons.

I adopted a reasonable tone of voice, telling Alicia what I understand about my relationship with Scotty. Of course, so as not to confuse her, I still called him "she."

"She's been going through a lot lately," I said. "She just got out of a relationship, and she's not sure what she wants."

"Oh," Alicia said.

Then I added, "And she just doesn't want to want me."

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