Dinner Plans

It was a crazy sunset on the Gulf Coast of Ocean Springs, MS.  There were hardly any clouds in the sky and, against the backdrop of the ocean, you could almost feel the curve of the earth. We watched sun sink lower and lower towards the city of Biloxi which lay across the bridge.  It looked like a neon-lit peach that would squish the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino at any moment. The wind blew chilly, sandy air towards our ankles as we sat on the stone wall which divided the road from the beach, and my handsome husband excitedly snapped some photos, occasionally muttering, “I could kill myself for not bringing my telephoto lens today.”  We waited for the moment when the sun would finally disappear altogether (eagerly anticipating the green flash, which we did not see). Then climbed into our red Vibe, “The Firebolt” and thought about where to go for dinner. It was Valentine’s Day, and we had planned to have a nice dinner out.  We wanted it to be somewhere good, but we also hadn’t really been to eat anywhere in the area before and hadn’t thought it through too much beforehand. We had eaten burgers for lunch, and while Dane had absolutely loved his, mine had just felt heavy, greasy and flavorless on stomach.  Half of it sat in the white box in the backseat. I blame pregnancy, but my taste buds and tummy have been picky lately. I was also really sick earlier this week, so that’s made it worse. Feeling very princess-and-the-pea, I knew I didn’t want anything oily, fried or  heavy for dinner.  Then, a hormonal woman miracle!!!  I breathed the comfort of  the salty-sea smell still in my nostrils, I (for once!) suddenly knew exactly what I wanted. Something I’m trying to learn after almost three years of marriage: When you know what you want, and your husband wants to know what you want, you better just tell him instead of hinting around.  I, like a lot of women, find want- deduction/anticipation incredibly romantic, but the simple fact is that most  men-folk can’t usually read minds. I’m not always good about telling him what I want, but I decided to go for it. “Ok,” I said, all business. “We’re on the coast. I don’t really want anything heavy.  But I do really want some fresh seafood with lots of flavor.” I was  thinking steamed mussels in sauce, something like what we would get on a beach vacation. Something we couldn’t get in _______(small town where we live), a town where there are more fried catfish restaurants than all the other restaurants put together. “Yeah, that sounds good,” he said,  “I couldn’t eat something huge after that burger today anyway. I think there is a good seafood place on Urbanspoon. He checked his phone, typed in an address on the GPS and off we whizzed down the sandy road. It was getting dark. “Is that it?”  He asked, turning into a downhill drive off the highway. It was a beautiful place: a gorgeous old home nestled under massive oaks which dipped down, giving it a mysterious, romantic quality. There looked to be a smaller business or two further down hill. In front of the parking was a pretty, well-lit sign listing a few names of establishments with the largest words reading, “Anthony’s: Steak and Seafood.” “Wow.” I said. “Wow.” he agreed. “How many expensive stars  did they have?” I asked. “This place looks really nice.” “I don’t remember, two out of four price signs, something like that. We can look again.” My phone showed the place to have excellent reviews, mid-range prices and a great-looking menu. My stomach was rejoicing.   My only concern was that we were dressed for a day of window shopping and looking at the ocean, not necessarily fine-dining, but after watching (like creepers) the customers who were entering the building, our attire seemed to fit right in. I was feeling really excited. “Let’s go for it?” asked Dane. “Yeah, totally!” I grinned, feeling like I’d hit the jackpot. The second we entered the building, I felt a little confused. It was very, very casual in here, a stark contrast to the exterior. And bright. And loud. Not really what I was expecting, but the menu had looked so good. Beyond the entryway, the door to the restaurant had a vintage-looking picture with a woman’s profile on it. “Aunt Jenny’s” I read, quietly. Huh, maybe a historical thing. “What?” He replied, obviously being lead by his nose into the Place of the Food. I shrugged. Now that we were in here, it smelled vaguely like cigarette smoke. And the food smelled good, but definitely like a lot of people were ordering fried entrees. Not for me!  I thought, gleefully, as I daydreamed about my mussels or clams or shrimp. The woman at the counter wore a t-shirt and jeans under her apron and walked us through the very-busy and loud room to our table.  I was surprised, again, by the atmosphere which seemed different from what the reviews had implied. Still, there were some very cool windows looking out on the bay, and it was better that it was casual, in a way.  I looked down at my feet as I walked, noticing the rug there…. It said: “Aunt Jenny’s Catfish House.” Dane was striding forward ahead of me. “Uh, Dane….” I said quietly, hoping our hostess didn’t hear. “Aunt Jenny’s Catfish House?” He didn’t hear either, and pretty soon we were sitting at  small table in the middle of the busy room,with menus in hand and a promise that our waitress would be there momentarily. “Wow, it’s really cool in here!” Dane said, looking at the windows, “Smells good, too!” I looked at the menu in my hand and back up at him, my heart sinking inexplicably low with the feelings of my tummy. “Aunt Jenny’s Catfish House.” I said quietly. “What?” he asked, confused. I showed him the menu with what was probably a pretty downcast face. It sounds really stupid, but I actually felt like crying at the thought of eating fried catfish. It was probably the last thing I’ve wanted to eat since being pregnant, and the most common type of eatery near where we live. “Oh.” he said, he looked confused and obviously stuck in a bind between pleasing his wife and behaving in a socially appropriate manner.  My husband is a rule-follower. “What should we do?”  He asked. “Ummmmmmm….”  As a woman, I willed myself to follow the tell-your-husband-what-you-want rule. I also didn’t want to act like a picky little kid. He sensed a dilemma: “Let’s just check out the menu. Maybe we’ll want to stay. We don’t have to, if nothing looks good. But it does smell good in here.” “Um. Okay.” I said quietly, scanning the menu. All you can eat fried catfish…..fried grouper… fried chicken tenders… french fries.. fried hush puppies.  The thing is, I’m sure it was good food. It was obviously busy and it smelled like good quality fried catfish should smell. If you wanted fried catfish. Or fried anything. I looked up at Dane, shaking my head. “I’m sorry. But no.” “Yeah, ok.” We looked for our hostess, but didn’t find her, so we bolted out of  the world’s fanciest-building-to-host a catfish house. We laughed as we exited the parking lot.  I felt incredibly relieved to see that “Anthony’s” was just down the hill a few feet, nestled directly above the water. From the outside, it was much less grand than “Aunt Jenny’s.”  It still looked nice, though. As we walked up the walkway, the view from the windows showed dimly lit rooms looking out to the water, tables dressed with white tablecloths and candles and just a small crowd inside. It definitely looked more intimate and formal. I was hoping we were dressed ok, but I was also feeling romantic and excited. “Ohhh no.” Suddenly Dane was turned around and walking quickly in the opposite direction. “Wait, what’s wrong?” I asked, following. “It’s too fancy in there.”  He said, sounding stressed. “There are napkins arranged so that they stick up. Men are wearing suits!” “I didn’t notice any men wearing….” I leaned over to glance in one of the windows and noticed that the bartender had on a white suit.  “Oh, well that’s fine. It’s Valentine’s Day, they are probably just setting the ambiance. I think we’re ok.” “I don’t know.” Dane’s voice reminded me of my own tone when I agreed to scan the menu of fried entrees. “Ok,” I agreed reluctantly. We held hands and walked back to the car. “Wait,” I said, before we left. “See that couple?” They were headed up the walkway toward “Anthony’s”. “He’s got on jeans and a button down shirt, like you, and she’s got on black jeans and a red shirt, like me. They are dressed just like us, so if they feel comfortable then we must be ok!” We agreed to wait before deciding. The couple disappeared around the corner, and then five seconds later they were headed back down the walkway. They could have been a recording of us just a couple of minutes ago. “Well…” we were both laughing. “I guess that’s a ‘no.'” So for Valentine’s Day dinner, my husband effortlessly broke the rules to make me happy. I was proud of myself for telling him exactly what I wanted, twice, instead of sulkily sitting through a meal that I didn’t want to try to eat. I was also glad that he told me the formal atmosphere made him uncomfortable, because while I enjoy “fancy,” my husband does not always feel relaxed in those environments. There have been times when that difference between us has messed up our experiences, too.  Mind-reading gestures can be romantic and so can fancy restaurants, but not if you can’t enjoy the person you’re with. Because enjoying who you’re with is romantic. Oh and you know what else was really romantic? That sunset was romantic. (By the way, we did finally grab some dinner, but that’s not the point.)

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