Because it’s always a bit weird when two people having lunch together order the same thing, it is a great idea to use humour to defuse the innate tension.
“I’ll have the spicy beef pizza,” says my companion.
“Very good,” says the waiter.
“And I’ll have the spicy beef pizza too,” I say.
Here comes the humour.
“But make sure you tell the chef to make mine slightly better than his!”
Did you spot it? We all laugh, united.
“Classic!” says the waiter, and this makes me feel really good.
“I’m serious!” I say, putting on a serious face. “You make sure you tell him!”
No one laughs at this bit, which is a shame, but I don’t think I’ve ruined it.
“Love spicy beef,” says my companion, when we’re alone. I can’t tell whether this is just a small conversational tool to fill a gap, or whether he wants to actually talk further about spicy beef. I hope it’s the former as I’ve nothing to add.
In the corner of my eye I see the waiter returning from the kitchen. He’s chatting animatedly with the guy behind the bar. I think my savvy use of humour earlier has put him in a good mood. My companion has started to burble on about a hot pizza he once had in New York and I drift off. My mind turns to what happened yesterday: a woman I half-know who works in a shop asked to see a picture of my daughter. I found one very quickly on my phone and handed it to her. She zoomed in and said all the right things. Only later did I look back at that picture and realise that when you zoom in you see that my daughter is crossing her eyes and has her tongue half-lolling out of her mouth. She looks absolutely deranged. I have done my daughter a disservice. I must return to that shop and invent some way of showing that woman new, better photos of my child.
“How about you?” says my companion, and I have no idea what he’s asking me.
“Yep,” I say.
“Really?” he says, amazed.
“Well yes and no,” I say. “Depending.”
“Your pizzas,” says the waiter, suddenly sliding two plates onto our table. I really notice the plates, because the place next door has a new chef and he’s decided to serve all the chips in a very small bucket. I think he saw people doing it on Instagram. They put your peas in a gravy boat, and you have to drink your Coke out of an old jam jar. You have to worry what they’d start using if they fell behind with the washing up. You don’t want to end up eating carrots out of a toddler’s shoe or something.
We pick up our cutlery and I glance at my friend’s meal, because no matter what your friend has ordered, you’re supposed to say “Ooh, yours looks good!” before you start eating. Again, it’s about unity; a little pep-me-up to make them feel like they’re making life’s great choices. Sometimes, straight after, they might even offer you a bit, but this is rendered pointless when you’ve both ordered the same thing. So I just glance at his pizza and keep my thoughts to myself. But then I look at mine.
Is this some kind of JOKE?
I look back at my friend’s pizza. His has noticeably more jalapeño peppers and it’s not as burnt around the edges. In anybody’s book, it is superior.
No. This is in my mind. Pizzas will have slight differences sometimes.
Yet it does seem the chef has gone out of his way to make one pizza nicer. What kind of mind games is he playing in there? Did he take my moment of levity – clearly passed on by the waiter – and punish me for it, purposefully debasing my lunch? Unless maybe he took me seriously, and did make a better one which was meant for me, and now it’s ended up in the hands of this chump?
“Mmm, this is really good,” says my friend.
Well, I bet it is. Because YOU got MY one.
I take a bite of mine. It is also really good, but that’s not the point.
Well, I have to say something.
It is vital my companion knows he got a better pizza than me and that this is probably because I asked for it. If I can’t have the pizza, I at least deserve the credit.
“Funny,” I say, lightly. “Yours looks slightly better!”
I sound so bitter. It drips from me. It consumes me, the way a man consumes chips from a bucket. My “friend” agrees and laughs, and a storm cloud gathers over me. I may or may not – probably not – have been cheated, though cheated is a strong word, out of something that may or may not even have occurred in the first place. Why is there no word for this? I bet the Germans have a word for this.
As I munch my inferior pizza, I decide wisely that we must be careful in society of moments of perceived unity, for they can be the very thing that ultimately divide us.
But we can all agree that peas in a gravy boat is for muppets.
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