Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Presentation

Today is Fathers’ Day. With one son living in Albuquerque and the other at an Internet Conference in Florida, I gleaned that my celebration would probably consist of telephone calls from my sons at non-specified times. So I decided to treat myself to a late lunch at one of my preferred local hangouts.

Besides wanting to somehow celebrate today, I really needed to get away from the house for a while. For the past week I’ve been receiving daily (or more often) phone calls from a friend who wants me to drive 1,376 miles and bring her and her son back to Louisville to stay in my guest room. It isn’t that I don’t want to talk to her or even that I don’t want to bring her back here; the problem is that I tire of trying to explain to her my present peculiar pecuniary situation—I have no money. With gas now hitting $2.25/gallon and still rising, the cost of the trip is at the moment prohibitive.

The café where I celebrated Fathers’ Day (or is that “Father’s Day”?) has quite a few new staff. Since most of them are rather young, I assume they are college students with summer jobs. There seem to be so many of them that they don’t recognize me as a regular patron. Of course, the manager does. And he’s the one who greeted me this afternoon with: “Smoking section, last table on the right by the window. Right?” For me, that’s a much preferred welcome than when I’m not recognized.

My waiter was one of the young men who began working at the resturaunt a couple of weeks ago. I had seen him before, but he hadn’t yet been my server. He seemed to have more server skills that the other young folk who had waited on me in the past couple of weeks. His demeanor was first-class and he did all of the right things that I, who have never been one, believe that a waiter is supposed to do.

Yet, when he placed the plate containing the open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes before me, there seemed something not quite right about it. The food looked good and, as I discovered moments later, tasted fine. It was something about the presentation of the plate that bothered me. I gazed at it a few moments and then I turned the plate around. That was better: the open-faced turkey sandwich needed to be in front and the potatoes needed to be in the back.

You are probably thinking, “What’s the big deal? It really doesn’t make any difference.” And you’re right. The food was the same no matter how the plate was oriented. However, the little change in the presentation of the plate made a big difference to me. A very big difference.

I began thinking about that difference as I dined. And I have continued thinking about it since I returned home. The way something—or someone—is presented does make a difference. When my friend telephones me and demands that I immediately drive the 1,376 mile round trip bring her to Louisville because she has gotten herself into another appalling situation, I find myself reluctant to talk with her. I have been rescuing her from dire situations for most of the thirteen or so months I’ve known her.

This one finds her staying with a guy she just met (and doesn't like), trading sex for food and a bed. And I know she doesn’t like it and I know she wants out of it. Yet, when she presents me with the situation as getting more terrible by the second and I must drop everything and immediately come and get her, I find myself backing off. I have rescued her from even worse situations. And, yes, I may rescue her from this one, too; but not until I can afford to do so.

It would be nice if, when she contacts me because of the dreadful situations she’s gotten herself into, she would at least mention that she would like to visit me. That small change in the presentation of her state of affairs would make a big difference in how I feel about her requests. The situation would be the same—the turkey and potatoes would still be on the plate—but the orientation of our discourse would be different. Much different.

And if she added that she planned to get a job and not be entirely dependent upon my support, it would be like the cherry pie alamode with which I ended today’s Father’s Day meal. It would make all of the difference in the world!

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