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© St. Petersburg Times, published September 1, 2002
You go into a restaurant, smile at the person seating you and say, "One, please."
"Just one?" he or she says pityingly, leaning toward the microphone to say, "Is the Loser Table clean yet?"
As that happens, all the food servers just dying to take up their time waiting on a table for one, with its promised diminutive tip, suddenly find other places to be.
Okay, its not quite that bad, but dining alone, out or at home, as pointed out in our Seniority section a couple of days ago, is a pain.
Still getting used to having people read about our private lives, my wife is ever sensitive that when I write about some things, some people will think we are separated, so I hasten to state here that we are still happily married, but we still also spend most of each week living in different towns, so I eat alone a lot.
And, before we were married six months ago, I was a widower for five years and dealt with the problems that confront many seniors when a spouse -- and dining partner -- dies.
I don't really mind eating alone; during a few single periods in my life I have come up with several recipes that can, A) be cooked in one pot and then, B) eaten out of said pot with a large tablespoon while in your underwear leaning over the kitchen sink. Seniority, for some reason, has never encouraged me to share the recipes, which, if not visually attractive, are at least hearty. They stick to your ribs, and to the pot, and to the sides of the garbage disposal.
I don't mind eating alone in restaurants. I am just as happy with a book as I am with a lot of what passes for dinner conversation with some people, and I've found that when I am alone, nobody slaps my hand for using a salt shaker as a paperweight.
Like anyone else who ever worked for tips, I sympathize with food servers. I overtip and try to bring a little pleasantness into what can sometimes be a tough day or night for them.
And now I have another senior quality to appreciate.
Something strange happened to me on vacation this year.
I lost my appetite.
It's not any great medical emergency like I'm going to slowly fade away while all of my friends agonize over the days when I would go to Hooters for 50 wings and a pitcher of beer and then ask whoever I was with, "Did you want anything?"
I just got to a point where I sometimes don't eat because I am not hungry, or find that a piece of bread and a chunk of cheese satisfy me rather than having to prepare or pay for and then eat a full meal.
You don't have to look long and hard at me to see that I can stand to miss a few meals, so the loss of appetite is, so far, a good thing. I can eat a full meal and sometimes do, but I am just as apt to ask for a carry-out container (thank heavens we stopped pretending it was for our dogs) and make a second full meal out of the leftovers.
I can already feel the fingers of the nutritionists out there telling me that a piece of cheese and a piece of bread do not constitute a proper meal, and I assure you and them that I also take vitamins and sometimes substitute a piece of fruit or a slice of turkey or a salad. My diet is probably healthier and more balanced now than it was when I was packing away three squares a day.
My wife is also not a sit-down dinner freak, so the two of us, on our evenings together, frequently get away with snacking rather than gorging.
And I have learned to avoid, for the most part, all-you-can-eat buffets. When I was younger and ate more, it was people with appetites like mine who subsidized the massive meals I used to put away in those places. These days I no longer make mealtime an economic challenge in which I try to "save" money by eating my weight.
So far I have lost weight, saved money and found out which stores have the best deli sections, and I can live with dining alone, at least occasionally.
P.S.: None of the above applies to expense-account dinners, because I have an obligation to generations of future columnists to maintain certain standards.