It seemed like such a good idea, going to a real Italian restaurant in South Philly where the waiters and waitresses sing opera. Our 17-year-old niece was in town, and we wanted to take her some place Philly-y. We'd already done the Pats/Genos cheesesteak stand-off for lunch, plus pasta was the one foodstuff that both Blair and Drew actually ate (provided it had no sauce, no spices, and nothing "slippery" on it, like butter). Victor's Cafe had pasta. And entertainment. And white tablecloths. And wine. Lots of wine.
I thought it was very wise of the hostess to seat us in a corner, as if she knew what I knew: that my 4- and 2-year old, upon hearing music of any kind, were accustomed to singing along. And making up their own words. And occasionally shaking their butts a little. But wasn't this what it meant to be good parents? To expose our offspring (including our niece from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania) to the world? To fine dining, and culture, and cloth napkins? To make sure they knew that there was more to music than "Big Red Car"?
When the girls first heard the bell ring--the signal that someone was about to sing--they got so wiggly and bubbly I thought they they might knock over their Shirley Temples. Throughout the entire aria, they stared at the waitress singing, completely still and quiet, totally awed but the very fact of it all. When the waitress hit the ridiculous high note at the end, Blair turned to her cousin and made a face that I can only describe as, "Holy Jesus!" I was proud.
And then he came in.
I thought it was very unwise of the hostess, in a room filled with empty tables (besides one four-top of gray-haired ladies who were exchanging gifts) to seat The Man, his wife, and their two friends next to us. But they seemed grandparent-y enough. They were my parents' age--in their late-60s. Or, at least, he was. They saw us there. They knew what they were getting into.
But, the next time the bell rang (and our meals had still not arrived), Drew was growing a little tired of her crayons (which I'd brought), and her Shirley Temple (which she'd spilled half of), and her bread (which I was feeding to her like it was Valium). She started whining.
The first time during the song that The Man turned around and gave Drew the stink eye, I ignored it. I decided he was looking over to see the sweet sisters dressed in sweet twin sundresses, inspired by the wonder that is a child experiencing something for the first time.
The second stink eye pissed me off. Granted, Drew was now fake-crying and trying to climb onto me, but not very loud. I knew she'd calm down in a second, once the food came. She leaned into me and started talking. I shushed her. She wouldn't be shushed. Finally, I translated what she was saying to me: "I want sing, mommy! I want sing!" Unfortunately, at the exact same time she was saying this, the man was stink eye-ing her, straight on, while simultaneously shaking his head. I should have controlled myself. I did not.
"Stop shaking your head," I whispered to him. The Man turned and looked at me as if he just discovered I was topless.
"Why don't you take your kid for a walk?" he whispered back, spitting on Drew a little.
"Why don't you go f@*k yourself?"
[Note: When I relayed this story to my friend April the next day, she said, "Boy, you went there fast." She was right. I knew it even then, at that moment, as the words were coming out of my mouth. But, no matter how many times in the days after The Opera Incident that I come up with comebacks that were far more eloquent and biting (i.e. "I brought my kids here to learn about opera but it seems they're learning much more about crotchety old men"), the words were already coming out of my mouth.]
"Wha..." the man said, his mouth literally hanging open, looking around the room, as if he was trying to find someone who had heard me so he would have a witness. There was no witness. "You are such a lady," he said. The first thing I thought? This is the first time in my life anyone's ever called me a lady.
After the song, as he was regaling his dining companions with the play-by-play (which ellicited at least one, "No she didn't!"), I turned back to him and said: "I'm sure the hostess would be more than happy to move you to another table."
"You can go to hell," he said.
Thad (finally) piped in: "Sir, our daughter's only two."
Me: "Are you saying that we've done a bad thing by bringing our children here to hear opera arias?"
Man: "You really are quite lovely."
Me (in my head): "Don't make me have to kill you...you son-of-a-bitch, bastard, poopy-diaper, jerk-man."
And that was the end of it. The Man stomped to the hostess, she moved them to a completely different room, and I sat there for the rest of the meal, dazed. What was wrong with me? Why was I so angry? How did I accelerated so quickly from "zero" to "homicidal?" What kind of lesson did that teach my girls?
One of the women from the table across the room started walking towards our table. She was older than The Poopy-Diaper Man. She was wearing a pink shirt. And she was clearly prepping to say something to us, probably about the fact that Blair was moaning, loudly, about how she wanted Drew's pasta (which was exactly the same pasta she had). I steadied myself. I would not attack her. I would not scratch her in any way. In fact, I would not say anything at all. I would just nod. And smile. Pleasant and neutral,Vicki. Be pleasant and neutral.
"I have to tell you," pink-shirt lady said, "your girls are so well behaved. They're just delightful."
I should have felt vindicated. Instead, I immediately formed a fantasy in my brain, in which I picked up my plate, walked into the next room, located The Poopy-Diaper Man, and poured the remains of my Linguini with Clam Sauce on his lap while simultaneously giving him the finger.