Liver Lady And Anything Man, part 4

“There was another regular at Nick & Eddie, that last summer it was open, who we called Anything Man, and he came on Tuesdays. At first we had wondered about him but we quickly stopped. Anything Man was just another weeknight eccentric, and not a very interesting one; another lonely character the city used to reveal more regularly. Anything Man seemed to be in his late 50s, was dressed like a professor who never achieved tenure, or like someone trying to keep up the appearance of sanity, or like a lonely old guy who desperately sought out ways to seem interesting. Maybe he worked at the post office or a bank or a drug store.

The first time he came in he said, “I’ll have anything, surprise me.” No dietary restrictions, he said, the world was his oyster. When whoever his waiter was that time pressed him for more specificity he refused to say, but smiled inscrutably instead. So of course after conferring with the manager we gave him the more expensive of our two steak options. He asked for wine that went well with it and we gave him the fancy Australian Cab. He paid in cash, smiled suspiciously and refused to say whether he liked it. He didn’t read during his meal, didn’t unbutton his old tweed sports coat.

Restaurants design their nighttime lighting to soften the edges off dates, to gauze some of your day from your face, to try and make everyone feel a bit like Sigourney or Drew, if not Anthrax. Nick & Eddie made Anything Man seem pretty close to normal, and perhaps even content. But after three or four Tuesdays we realized he was less than normal and also less than interesting. He twitched almost imperceptibly when he answered a question. His smile seemed plastered-on, utterly unspontaneous, exactly the same each time. We put him into our file of evidence that Nick & Eddie clearly had sunk from its former glory. Even if we wanted to be somewhere else, while we were there we wanted it to be a place people wanted to be, where you had to know someone to get a table on a busy night, where the prices were worth it because you were paying for a little bit of glamor.

So each Tuesday he’d get something different. He started in March, I think, and by the time June came around, we were running out of options, reduced to mixing the sides from one entrée with another, despite Kevin the chef’s protests that the tomato-onion salad was specifically designed for the Angus Steak, and the smoked trout appetizer shouldn’t be paired with the chicken shnitzel and spaetzel. We hoped he wouldn’t notice. He never let on if he did.” (c) 2010, all rights reserved.