Separate checks, please

I cherish the woman’s movement. Gloria Steinem did and continues to inspire me.

Women hide their age because they’re afraid they won’t keep or get a man. Some women still define themselves by men. They lie about their ages, over-inject their faces to look younger.

“Men don’t like wrinkles,” a woman recently told me. Men discriminate women who are over 50. Ageism is rampant.

Anyway, it’s a Saturday afternoon, Joel Blumberg and I are at the “ Saturday Special Lunch” at the little Indian restaurant on Polk Street for the all–you-can-eat buffet. Joel is 76, a shlebby but smart and good news reporter. We met at a writer’s conference and we spent hours drinking stale conference coffee and talking about the glories of writing. He seems real smart and I love talking to writers. Maybe because then I don’t feel so bad about myself, the insulated years writing, the small royalty checks, my family whispering that I’m a “weirdo “ and “too bad she doesn’t have a husband.”

Anyway, Joel is slight, wears a Sam Spade type hat and thrift-store clothes that look very retro and smell like dusty boxes. He invited me to lunch today. There is a long table with various Indian dishes inside deep compartments and all the freeloaders are pushing to get to the buffet. He steps ahead of me, stepping on my boot and grabbing the jumbo-size plate.

He piles his plate high with tiers of lamb, curry, rice, cucumbers and yogurt. And though very slender, he pigs out on three giant helpings. Between huge mouthfuls of curry, he complains about his life, that he could have been a “great news journalist.”

“You are. I read all of your clips on Google,” I assure him, scarfing up the delicious curry.

“Harry Reasoner noticed my work.”

“Wow,” I say, tasting the rice. Little does he know that I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

“I could have been a …”

“Contender,” I finish.

He pats his eyes with a paper napkin. “Now I have to write about socialites for throw-a-way papers.”

“Ageism,” I say.  “Gotta keep your dream. Push on.”

“To what? To death?” he shouts, rice stuck to his froglike lips. “To more rejection? Do you think I need that?”

“No, of course not,” I say, feeling really depressed now. He’s about to cry. There goes my fantasy of long Sunday afternoons with this man, discussing Roth’s narrative, Woody Allen’s capacity to bring us deep into the character, watching films and munching on eggplant casseroles. He looks melancholy now. A layer of gray fog floats by the window. Then he starts reciting the names of the women he “should have married.”

“The past is the past,” I say, popping a Tums in my mouth. “Each day anything can happen. Keep your dreams,” I insist. But he’s crying and stuffing his mouth with more curry. I feel so sorry for him, not for his worn leather coin purse or tattered clothes, but for his lost dreams. Now I’m feeling really depressed and I try to give him a pep talk.  “You’re an excellent news reporter,” I repeat. “Go on the street, find a story.”

“I’m too old!” he shouts. “The paper throws me the fluff stories no one wants.”

“No such thing as too old.”

He pauses, looking at me with his fish-color eyes, his hat pulled to his eyebrow. “You’re old. Never have I dated a 75-year-old woman. But I think I could go for you,” he says. “We could live together, pool our resources.” He hesitates. “You’re on Social Security, aren’t you?” he asks.

“It’s not that. I have a career. I’m optimistic. You’re very nice. Very smart, but I’m not interested in that kind of relationship,” I lie, not wanting to hurt his feelings.

“If you’re not one for relationships, then you’re a gold digger.”

“Excuse me?” I say.

“You heard me!” he shouts, everyone looking at us. “You can pay for your own lunch. You Jewish princesses never change. No thank you,” he says not caring that people are staring.

“Waiter,” he shouts, “Separate checks, please.”


Barbara Rose Brooker
Barbara Rose Brooker

Barbara Rose Brooker is a native San Francisco author. CW is making a pilot for a TV series based on her book "The Viagra Diaries."