Dine Out Dates

Submitted into Contest #140 in response to: Write a story inspired by a memory of yours.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction Coming of Age

Dine out Dates

This happened back in the days when dating someone happened face to face, you found special places to be together, ventured far from the maddening crowds. Sat quietly and partook of wine and food, exchanged small talk across a table. Before on-line-ville, drug addled dance parties, dating sites and being told to …get a room. Not so long ago I decide to ask the man I’d been part of this scene with, several decade ago, what he remembered.

I tried to see his point of view, invade his thoughts. He did assist by volunteering notions and minimal responses to questions. I used those to make a fuller story. Aware not everyone can produce multiple thousands of words about food memories. Maybe I’ll never be able to know what he thought. I resisted temptations to construct our early bonding, but some elements are readily recalled.

He remembered going down Swanston Street after evening shift to have dinner and the bottle of blue wine.

Whereas my recall involved walking to the Golden Tower Café, for a perennial favorite, steak sandwiches or burgers. Something obviously enjoyed and not just for delicious wafts of pan fried onion, charred meat and toasted bread. Sort of aromas which makes your mouth water. A treat previously eaten at desks cleared of messages, or straddled stools usually pulled up to keyboards.

I sucked juices off fingers, licked lower arm, near my wrist. With no idea my actions might embody a message beyond food consumption. Blissfully ignorant of the sensuality or erotic messages being exuded. From adjacent seats Michael took in the visual – reason he eventually asked me out. Oh great when I hear future questions –how did your parents meet? An honest response will contain the announcement, he liked what he saw as I ate a steak sandwich with the lot plus pineapple.

Regardless, or perhaps because of these beginnings, The Golden Tower, probably, definitely closed now was a favorite place, where staff warmly welcomed us. Voices thick with southern European accents similar to those common in Perth’s northern suburbs. Surely after finishing evening shift, usually around midnight we wouldn’t have dined? The bottle of blue wine I am sure was consumed in an upstairs café in China Town – Little Bourke Street. Where Michael admired my unconventional skills with chopsticks. Following which I displayed my typical elegance by misjudging my footing and slipping down the stairs.

Regardless of fine details, we quickly fled the bluestone walls of Victoria Barracks to find some personal space. 

He says, there are many things that come to mind about our dates. Yet provides no more specific details.

But he does recall, most of our early dates involved going out to different places for dinner using Dine-out Club passes.

Yes, I too remember using those two-for-one, or cheaper options, a free entrée, or discounts offered at particular restaurants, on slow nights. Places close to Watsonia Barracks like the Eltham Barrel, and in exclusive locations like Toorak and South Yarra. Thought myself so sophisticated. Even once ordered snails. Disliked both the taste and texture, and was confused about how to use, holding, and withdrawal of flesh apparatus supplied.

Fish, and seafood for my family, used to be a Friday night treat, Flake or later Mackerel and chips. After waves of immigrants changed, ever so slightly, our eating habits. Around the time my mother did a continental cooking course at the local high school and we encountered spaghetti. For me fish meals were eaten, still steaming, from paper wrappings. My father’s one pandering to Mum’s Catholicism. Yet here, dining out with Michael, I encountered a myriad of new tastes and elegance. While I am like a version of Maria in the von Trapp mansion my date seemed comfortable I wonder is this evidence of his background, so very different from mine. Am I social climbing.

Still a newcomer to with pubs, clubs, even restaurants, beyond the Boans’ cafeteria. A place you were taken by aunts, grandparents, women always with handbags and gloves, a bit like accessories for my army uniform. Or a newly employed older sibling might lash out and buy the standard lunch, a pie, served with gravy, mashed potatoes and peas. Lucky my high school deportment classes, helped to figure out cutlery, and being hounded to not chew with your mouth open meant I leapt from lining up for food in an Army mess, plate in hand, a server with cigarette dangling from their bottom lips, to refinement. Places where you aren’t expected to clear your own dishes, instructed to make sure and return dirty plates to area set aside. Strange you never see kitchen spaces in really fancy restaurants.

Dad isn’t around to pass judgements like with my dance partners. If he didn’t object to my first boyfriend, the son of a Cottesloe estate agent surely he wouldn’t have a problem with a Christchurch grammar old boy and member of the first eight rowing team. Sitting across a candle lit table from me. Although a little voice warned, while I realized I am growing beyond my father’s influence, being rid of my father may not really be possible. While vast distances, opposite ends of this continent, existed between us, I am still not quite able to shake off thinking about his influence.

My father would never have gone to such a place, as a tiny little café, almost under the Prince’s Bridge near Flinders’ Street Station. Too expensive. Especially when our bill showed, the total day’s takings.

‘Oh come on, it can’t be that much.’ I said.

As Michael passes the token to me, I shrink. Contemplate leaving without paying, when staff noticed our expressions, and corrected their mistake.

Dad looked down on people who were patrons of such swish restaurants. Often declared a lack of curiosity about such establishments. Would he have thought Michael above my station in life? Regarded his daughter as a carpet bagger. One of the reasons for my attraction to this dinner date was my father’s approval or even disapproval. At least the dining out club, would meet with Dad’s affirmation. Anything to get stuff half price.

Aside from being able to try different food, at the barracks there were limited locations to be alone and talk quietly. Crowds buzzed in and out of the little café below the Mactier club, dropping off dry cleaning, or getting a cold milk shake. Upstairs, a noisy, music laden place set aside for copious alcohol consumption, created shouting drunks. Euphoric patrons, as if there is no other place to let off steam, and certainly not convivial to quiet hand holding, or smooching, or waxing lyrical about a tasty entrée, or cream heavy dessert. Pool, squash courts and football grounds, nearby meant Mactier Club also functioned as a location to debrief from those activities. Best we distanced ourselves from such animation.

One of our favorite eateries was Mr. Bulls, in city Flinders’ laneway. No doubt closed now, quite the rage back in 1973, all white washed with writing on the walls. A pen, so you can sign. Steeped in nostalgia for his home, Michael draws a little map of Koolan and Cockatoo Island, in Buccaneer Archipelago. Steaks were presented on bull shaped sizzle plates. Or The Cuckoo, one of the many smorgasbord locations near or in the Dandenong Ranges. Here I learnt about leisure afternoons where multiple visits to elaborate serving tables are made, and how much the human stomach can expand when tempting delights are offered. I also recall being impressed with low cloud mists and how thick gum trees grew, lining narrow road with trunks impossible to span, low skirts of ferns or dripping tree ferns formed impenetrable barriers. Sticks in my memory along with a giant copper pan at the Cuckoo used for cooking multiple pancakes, served hot onto plates held out to a staff member charged with dolloping batter and flipping these morsels.

So we notched out way along a gentle romance, dining out, being away from all things army, enjoying moments of over-indulgence.

April 06, 2022 01:46

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