"Yes?" I play it cool.
He just stares. This is accompanied by an abnormal silence. His ponytail, gray and oily, hangs like some kind of malignancy below his collar.
"You know," I finally say, somewhat suavely, "I happen to know the chef."
He continues staring. So, no doubt, does the couple behind him.
After another long pause, for no real reason, I ask, "Is he... in Aspen?"
This is getting nowhere. I sigh and turn to Jean, who looks completely mystified. "Let's go, okay?" She nods dumbly. Humiliated, I take Jean's hand and we get up - she slower than I - brushing past the maitre d' and the couple, and make our way back through the crowded restaurant and then we're outside and I'm utterly devastated and murmuring robotically to myself "I should have known better I should have known better I should," but Jean skips down the street laughing, pulling me along, and when I finally notice her unexpected mirth, between giggles she lets out "That was so funny" and then, squeezing my clenched fist, she lets me know "Your sense of humor is so spontaneous." Shaken, walking stiffly by her side, ignoring her, I ask myself "Where... to... now?" and in seconds come up with an answer - Arcadia, toward which I find myself guiding us.
After someone who I think is Hamilton Conway mistakes me for someone named Ted Owen and asks if I can get him into Petty's tonight - I tell him, "I'll see what I can do," then turn what's left of my attention to Jean, who sits across from me in the near-empty dining room of Arcadia - after he leaves, only five of the restaurant's tables have people at them. I've ordered a J&B on the rocks. Jean's sipping a glass of white wine and talking about how what she really wants to do is "get into merchant banking" and I'm thinking: Dare to dream. Someone else, Frederick Dibble, stops by and congratulates me on the Larson account and then has the nerve to say, "Talk to you later; Saul." But I'm in a daze, millions of miles away, and Jean doesn't notice; she's talking about a new novel she's been reading by some young author - its cover, I've seen, slathered with neon; its subject, lofty suffering. Accidentally I think she's talking about something else and I find myself saying, without really looking over at her, "You need a tough skin to survive in this city." She flushes, seems embarrassed and takes another sip of the wine, which is a nice sauvignon blanc.
"You seem distant," she says.
"What?" I ask, blinking.
"I said you seem distant," she says.
"No," I sigh. "I'm still my same kooky self."
"That's good." She smiles - am I dreaming this? - relieved.
"So listen," I say, trying to focus in on her, "what do you really want to do with your life?" Then, remembering how she was droning on about a career in merchant banking, I add, "Just briefly, you know, summarize." Then I add, "And don't tell me you enjoy working with children, okay?"
"Well, I'd like to travel," she says. "And maybe go back to school, but I really don't know..." She pauses thoughtfully and announces, sincerely, "I'm at a point in my life where there seems to be a lot of possibilities, but I'm so... I don't know... unsure."
"I think it's also important for people to realize their limitations." Then, out of the blue I ask, "Do you have a boyfriend?"
She smiles shyly, blushes, and then says, "No. Not really."
"Interesting," I murmur. I've opened my menu and I'm studying tonight's prix fixe dinner.
"Are you seeing anyone?" she ventures timidly. "I mean, seriously?"
I decide on the pilot fish with tulips and cinnamon, evading the question by sighing, "I just want to have a meaningful relationship with someone special," and before she's allowed to respond I ask her what she's going to order.
"I think the mahi-mahi," she says and then, squinting at the menu, "with ginger."
"I'm having the pilot fish," I say. "I'm developing a taste for them. For... pilot fish," I say, nodding.
Later, after a mediocre dinner, a bottle of expensive California cabernet sauvignon and a crime brulee that we share, I order a glass of fifty-dollar port and Jean sips a decaffeinated espresso and when she asks where the restaurant got its name, I tell her, and I don't make anything ridiculous up - though I'm tempted, just to see if she'd believe it anyway. Sitting across from Jean right now in the darkness of Arcadia, it's very easy to believe that she would swallow any kind of misinformation I push her way - the crush she has on me rendering her powerless - and I find this lack of defense oddly unerotic. I could even explain my pro-apartheid stance and have her find reasons why she too should share them and invest large sums of money in racist corporations tha-