Dinner Despoilers

Damon Runyon

If the members of there-oughta-be-a-law association will come to order we will present a situation familiar to all that cries aloud for summary action.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are dining in a quiet restaurant with no sounds audible to the ear other than the normal noises incident on the inhalation of soup and the mastication of the more solid forms of sustenance.

Among you and around conversation is reduced to a low, genteel murmur. The waiters slip around with velvet tread. The atmosphere is orderly and restful. Then suddenly there appears on the scene a party of men and women who have been doing a little elbow-bending prior to their arrival, and who are, in fact, three or four or five sheets in the wind, as the saying is.

They enter in great confusion. The dames are giggling, the guys are laughing uproariously. One of them has perhaps just related a dirty story. They advance into the room still giggling and laughing, but in ever-increasing volume. One guy is sure to direct a few witticisms at the head waiter as he escorts them to a table, though he be a man of dignified demeanor, striving to perform his duty with dignity.

Now there comes the business of seating the party, which is usually directed in a loud tone of voice, and with frequent switchings of the arrangements, by one of the dames, presumably the hostess, and all this to the accompaniment of more of the giggling and laughing and wisecracks by the inevitable comedian or comedians of the group. Often there is more than one comedian.

Now that they are finally seated, after much disorder, the matter of preliminary drinks is taken up, and this leads to an almost endless discussion, all in loud tones, but it is not a patching to what comes when the party starts ordering the viands. There are frequent interruptions by various ladies discoursing on why they cannot eat this or that and what happened to them the last time they did, and maybe one of the comedians works in another dirty story, which produces gales of laughter and distinctly offends the sensibilities of the waiter.

Well, by this time the new arrivals are in complete possession of the premises, their noise wrecking the quiet and decorum like a bomb dropped through the ceiling. They are apparently unaware of the presence of anyone else in the place. They submerge even the low murmur of those at the other tables. They are impervious to the reproving glances directed at them, or of the helpless shoulder shrugs and eyebrow liftings of the boss of the joint as he stands regarding them in hateful aversion.

Presently you find not only your repose upset, but your enjoyment of your food seriously hampered. You feel an attack of indigestion coming on. And all the while the party gets noisier and more unrestrained and more boorish generally and you depart with a feeling that your dinner hour has been utterly ruined, and that brings us to the purpose of these remarks to this assemblage.

It is our suggestion that we pass resolutions directed to our lawmakers instructing them to forthwith produce legislation that will make it quite legal for docile diners to pass about among parties such as we have described with a stocking full of mustard and beat the bejimmy out of each and every one. And that furthermore it shall be mandatory on all restaurant proprietors to keep in stock a supply of Michel Finnbergs, otherwise known as Mickey Finns, to be administered at his discretion, and on request by his quiet customers, to the various members, male and female, of liquor-laden parties that seem to think when they enter a gustatory gaff that it belongs to them, lock, stock and barrel, to disorganize and disrupt to suit their pleasure.

We feel some reluctance about bringing charges against the fair sex, but we are commencing to suspect that many ladies take a sadistic pleasure in swooping down on a table at which gentlemen are seated at those inopportune moments of ingestion. The other evening we saw a lady in a telephone booth in Lindy’s watching a party of ladies and gentlemen of her acquaintance at a near-by table and we noticed that she lurked in ambush until the waiter served the goulash and then she rushed out and made for the table.

When a lady approaches a table at which gentlemen are seated, the gentlemen are supposed to rise and stand. So, naturally, the gentlemen had to leap up at her approach, being gentlemen, and as they all had their mouths loaded with goulash, a most painful scene ensued. Some of them managed to get the goulash down, but one of them was not so fortunate and stood there gulping like a boa constrictor suddenly disturbed while inhaling a sheep, and the lady watched him with an expression that indicated she was enjoying herself.

We do not have the faintest doubt that she carefully planned all this distress. She could have emerged from the booth before the arrival of the goulash or after it had been taken care of by the gentlemen, but no. She lingered until she could hit the bull’s eye. We have two witnesses besides ourself of the lady’s sinister actions.

The purpose of the lady’s approach may be to join the party, or it may be just to pause and exchange greetings with other ladies at the table, and this exchange is apt to take from one to ten minutes, during which the gentlemen are supposed to remain standing, although of course the lady always implores: “Please sit down,” just as she always says on approaching: “Please don’t get up.”

Now we are one gentleman who is inclined to take the lady at her word in both cases, but especially in the first instance, because nine times out of ten she seems to time her approach at the instant we have inserted a big hunk of steak in the kisser and commenced to masticate. Thus we are compelled to arise with bulging cheeks and stand there mumbling “blup-blup,” what with the stymie to speech imposed by the steak, and we are here to tell you that this is an embarrassing moment to us.

Well, then, you are saying as you read this, why do you get up at all? All right, we will tell you. We have tried remaining seated, but invariably we get a kick on the ankle under the table by way of a reminder of our manners, and we have come to prefer choking to death to sustaining a chipped ankle bone, which can be a very serious injury. Who kicks us? Ask any married gentlemen.

Another thing, when a lady who is a member of a party, quits the table for those purposes for which ladies commonly quit tables, including dancing, the gentlemen present are supposed to rise at her departure, and rise again on her return, which we claim is one of the most enervating customs known to society, especially when you get a lady who is constantly going and coming from a table. A gentleman can get himself all tuckered out with one of these dames in the course of an evening.

Personally, we have hit upon a compromise in this matter. We just sort o’ go through the motion of rising, occasionally going so far as to elevate the hip pockets about half an inch from the chair, but immediately dropping them back again, and we find that this satisfies the social amenities. However, we have come to the decision that if the ladies impose any more physical exercise on the role of a gentleman, we are going to quit trying to be one.

(Echo from the living room: “You are, are you?”)