I recently went out to dinner in a nice restaurant by myself. As I settled into my chair in a dark, quiet corner of the restaurant, which I had requested, I experienced a thrilling moment of gratitude. Of all the people in this world, how was I lucky enough to be eating alone in a good restaurant that evening? The waiter would be nice to me, because that was his job. I started to read High Country News. I consider reading High Country News in print while drinking wine to be the very height of luxury.
Then the woman seated next to me started getting texts.
She got one text and then she got another. She had an iPhone; it seemed to be set to the sound “chime” as well as to “vibrate.” She held the phone in her right hand, about nine inches away from her face. She held it there and stared at it as it chimed and chimed. She wrote back, and seconds later—chime! “Excuse me,” I said, “Could you—please—turn off your phone?”
She gave me a dirty look and then fiddled with her phone. A few seconds later, it vibrated. “Your phone’s not off,” I said.
“I’m allowed to get texts on my phone,” she said.
She brought to mind all the men who are worried that they are not going to be able to hug women anymore now that sexual assault is being recognized as “a thing.” Probably she would have denied being like them.
“You are,” I said. “We’re not talking about whether or not you are allowed to get texts. We’re talking about if those text notifications are allowed to disturb me. Plus, you’re staring at your phone. As long as you’re staring at your phone, I don’t anticipate your missing a message.”
At that moment, a woman walked up to her table, and the two embraced. They were both very pretty, late 20s, long dark hair. They were probably Israeli. A lot of Israelis come to Nevada County for seasonal work trimming marijuana.
They began speaking in heated tones, as if picking up an ongoing conversation. After about five minutes the phone started vibrating again, and the woman, once again holding it up to her face, re-commenced texting.
“Can you please just turn your phone off?” I said. “I mean, like, all the way off.”
Her friend looked at me in astonishment. Oh great, I thought, now she was going to yell at me. But she put her hand on her heart. “Oh my God,” she said, “Oh my God, thank you. Thank you so much. I always try to tell her. Turn it off,” she said to her friend, “just put it away.” Once more she turned to me. “Thank you. Truly.” she said.
I didn’t say anything to her. They continued to talk but I couldn’t come to any conclusions about how they knew each other. There was a strong possibility they were sisters. I ate my meal in silence, except for the pleasantly unintelligible murmur of their voices. I read an article about the destruction of land at the hands of certain people, and the other people trying to stop it. The people who wanted to destroy the land thought it was their right to do so. As I at that moment thought it was my right to drink my glass of 2015 Marselan Reserva from Uruguay’s Bodega Garzon in peace. When the waiter first poured this wine, I thought it was too weird. I thought it left a dark stripe of bitterness on the back of my tongue. But I ordered it, because I wasn’t sure. As I drank, I liked it more and more. It felt interesting, but classic.
For one hour of pleasure I would pay an amount of money equal to what the average Indian makes in two weeks. I ordered another glass, and it did what I wanted it to, which was to make reality strange and interesting rather than merely horrifying.