My wife and I were dining at a popular Italian restaurant the other night. As I worked through my third bowl of salad, I learned from my wife, who in college had minored in eavesdropping, that the girl in the booth next to us was 13 years old, and had accidentally been served an alcoholic beverage. She was with her mother, who was standing up and looking around as if waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The girl was fanning herself and looking like she wished she hadn’t said anything.
I tried to imagine what it would have been like to be 13 years old and consume an alcoholic beverage. I became Bar Mitzvah at 13, and after the ceremony one my peers became inebriated by consuming several of the plastic thimbles that the congregation used to sanctify the Sabbath. He spent the next few hours pretending he was a helicopter. I think he does something with computers now.
The mother at the Italian restaurant, however, was clearly not at any Bar Mitzvah. Eventually someone came and talked to her, a manager-type dressed in plainclothes and who looked like she was in the position to authorize free meals. She looked to be about 25 years old. She spoke to the mother while the teenage daughter fanned herself and tried to piece her life back together after a few sips of a weak strawberry mojito. After a few minutes the manager left, and I figured that the woman would probably get a free meal out of the deal. Good for her, I thought, as I signaled for another strawberry mojito.
Then another manager came and talked to the woman and her drunk daughter. “Probably trying to get a dessert to go out of this, too,” I mused as the front-end loader lowered my entrée onto the table.
I was absorbed in stuffing my face for a few minutes, and forgot about the underage drinking at the adjacent booth. But when I came up for air from my lasagna-cum-linguine alfredo-cum-chicken parmigiana, I saw that the mother and her daughter were still there, and that the mother had moved over to her daughter’s side of the booth, so that both were facing in my direction. I was a little surprised they were still there, since at this point the girl must have been sober enough to drive.
Then the first manager came back and spoke with the mother for some time, and then the mother and her daughter got up and I figured, “Okay, that’s really it then. The manager was just making sure the girl was sober and did not sustain the kind of damages that would lead to diminution in future earning capacity.”
Then a police offer walked through the front door. And then another police officer. I couldn’t see what the officers were doing, but I imagined it was not choosing two of the four listed sides on the menu.
I didn’t see the ambulance pull up in front of the restaurant, but we passed it on our way to the parking lot. As we walked by, the back doors of the ambulance opened and the mother, her daughter, and a man with a button down shirt and a clipboard alighted. I took the man to be a doctor or perhaps an adjuster from the insurance company.
My eyes locked with the mother’s eyes for a moment. In that moment I tried to communicate all my respect for a parent who was so concerned about her child that for even a few sips of alcohol arranged for two sheriffs and an ambulance. I tried to tell her that she was the embodiment of the rugged individualism that made this country great.
And in return, her look said to me, “Go eat your salad.” Only not in those words.