The guidance office in my high school used to have a pamphlet about dating roles, or dating rights, or date rape or something. All I remember is that one of the pages featured a cartoon of a man and a woman eating dinner together at a fancy restaurant. While the oblivious woman tossed her head back and prattled on about nothing (her speech bubble only contained the word “blah” repeated over and over again), the cartoon man contemplated her sternly, with diagonally downward-pointing eyebrows.
“I bought her dinner,” his thought bubble said. “She owes me sex.”
So last week I decided to take a girl out to dinner in New York. She had an extra ticket to “Aida” at the Met, and I pretended to know about a “great little Italian place” nearby (when you go on dates, you call restaurants “places”) so that she would invite me to join her. She did. We took the train in early, and I wore a blazer and wrinkle-free pants. It was going to be really classy.
When you go on a date, it’s important to do your homework. That day I found the name of an actual Italian restaurant in Manhattan, rehearsed pronouncing its name with an Italian accent over and over again “Via Quadronno” “Via Quadro-nnn-o” and Googled my date to see if there were any naked pictures of her on the Internet. Then I got dressed, parted my hair and pointed at myself in the mirror while winking. I felt good. I was ready.
The train arrived in the city about an hour before our dinner reservations, so we had time to walk around. Unfortunately, after five minutes in the city we ran out of things to talk about. Or rather, she ran out of things to talk about with me. I continued bantering about every thing that came into my head, from “I think it’s best to get a haircut every six weeks” to “I hope they have camels in the opera” to “Why are the cars here so shiny?”
After about 20 blocks of this we arrived at the restaurant. It was very small and romantic-looking — it had only four or five tables, lit by candlelight — so I tried to stop smiling and look suave for my date.
“Table for two, please?
The waiter led us to our seats.
“A booth!” I said. “I love booths!” and handed us menus. The menus, however, were written completely in Italian.
Now at this point the road divides into two paths a guy can take: the smooth, and the not-so-smooth. The not-so-smooth guy asks the waiter in a nasally voice what all the words mean, what is on what, and what the waiter thinks he should get. The smooth guy (me) pretends he knows Italian, and uses his fake knowledge to guide the girl into buying the cheapest things on the menu.
“No, you don’t want that,” I said, “it says it’s cooked in lard. The tagliatelle is gross too. You know what sounds wonderful? The penne all’arrabiata. Get the penne all’arrabiata.”
The penne all’arrabiata cost $11.
Then she suggested we get some wine.
“Of course!” I said. I looked briefly over the wine list — then at the prices. The bottles started at $40. The glow from my penne victory quickly faded.
I am not always a cheapskate. There are specific occasions when I do spend money; I just have to feel like there is a real reason, something important.
That’s when I came to the $70 champagne on the list called “Ca’ del Bosco BURT.”
“Emily!” I said.
“Yes?” she asked listlessly, expecting to hear more of my thoughts on haircuts or camels.
“There’s a wine here named after me. We’re getting it.”
“It’s champagne. Do you want to get champagne with dinner?”
“Is my name Burt?”
I called over to the waiter enthusiastically.
“Ca’ del Bosco Burt, please!” The evening was really picking up.
“The Ca’ del Bosco?” he responded.
“Yes, Bosco Burt, that’s right” I prodded the list where my name was written with my index finger.
The waiter nodded and left. I smiled at Emily.
“Isn’t that crazy?” I said.
“Yeah.” She said. “It’s nuts.” As we waited for the champagne I continued musing.
“It is crazy! I never thought the name Burt existed in Italian. We had an Italian exchange student in high school, and it was always really hard for him to pronounce. I think it means Champagne of the Burt Forest.” Emily shrugged and nodded. We were quiet for a while. I took a deep breath, and my excitement subsided a bit.
Then, like the montage from “The Usual Suspects,” it hit me: the waiter’s repetition of my order. The exchange student’s pronunciation difficulties. The absurdity of the name “Champagne of the Burt Forest.”
It was a typo. They meant to write “Brut.”
“Waiter!” I yelled, my voice cracking.
“What is it?” Emily said. I looked at her, almost frantic.
“Brut, Emily, Brut! Waiter!” I was about to spend $70 on some bootleg wine.
He came over, and I changed our wine selection to something cheaper.
“You know this is a typo, right? It’s very misleading.” The waiter apologized. I sighed with relief. Emily just sighed.
The rest of dinner passed uneventfully, except I got spaghetti sauce on my shirt. Afterwards I paid the check and we caught a taxi to the opera. The opera was nice I guess, but whatever. That pamphlet was totally wrong.
Burt Helm vorrebbe pizzicare la tua fondeschiena.