‘I just want someone to spill a beer on me’
As I sit at the dining table, which is also my desk, I wonder what to dig out of the nearby freezer for dinner (right at this table) and have indulged in a lingering daydream.
I’m in a dimly lit steakhouse with a crowd of other patrons around me, their voices and the clink of glassware blending into a convivial hum, not seeing masks or observing six feet of social distance. Jazz or maybe a piano player is playing softly in the background – yes, that’s it! – and I’m wearing red lipstick from a tube that is gathering dust in the bathroom cabinet.
It’s the kind of place where the waiter cooks things at the table, e.g. For example, mixing a Manhattan so cold that a layer of ice floats on its surface, or throwing a Caesar salad with silver tongs.
I am not alone in such fantasies. With the vaccine in our arms, many of us are finally looking forward to the end of coronavirus sequestration and a return to normal times. There is still a long way to go as new variants of the virus emerge and worry about the vaccine distribution. But right now there is enough glimmer of hope on the horizon that we dream of what it could be like on the other side – and many of those fantasies seem to focus on eating out again.
Rachael Narins, a Los Angeles cooking teacher, has conjured up the image of a buffet of Indian food stretching out in front of her. “Sometimes the idea of the abundance of a buffet can be overwhelming, but now I think this would just be a dream,” she says.
She envisions stacks of pillow-shaped idli bread and pans of fish curry with noodles, dishes she wouldn’t make herself, that she missed in those seemingly endless months of home cooking. “You choose anything you want – you don’t have to cook it, order it, wait two hours or pay a delivery fee – you just take a plate and climb it.”
Of course, many people couldn’t stay at home with jobs that required them to be out in the world. And some have eaten in restaurants; Those restaurants that still serve indoor dining operate under various constraints of reduced capacity and the wearing of masks.
However, our fantasies are that the restaurant experience has returned to normal. Some people even crave things that previously seemed unattractive: crowds, noise, waiting times for a table. As a caterer I recently interviewed, I said wistfully, “I just want someone to spill a beer on me.”
Channing Pejic, a fundraiser for a trade association in Washington, DC, longs for the noise. “I miss being grumpy that the person at the next table speaks too loudly,” he says. He understands the restrictions restaurants currently have, including group size limits and the need to make reservations. But sometimes he thinks of things that used to seem commonplace: pulling up a chair for a friend who was late for the party, or crossing the dining room to greet another table.
In Narins’ fantasy about the buffet, she is on lunch break and has to hurry up a bit to run errands, a feeling that used to bother her. “I miss places to be,” she says.
Some of these post-COVID-19 dreams are about food: the stuff we don’t make at home because we don’t have the skills, ingredients, or patience. But mostly it’s about the ritual of everything and the other people with whom we share the space. It is the otherness of the culinary experience.
And in some of our post-COVID-19 fantasies, we’re not ourselves. For example, I’m not usually a fancy steakhouse, and I certainly don’t eat like a modern oil baron. I usually like cozy, casual neighborhood spots, and an expensive platter of beef with a vat of bearnaise sauce isn’t my usual jam.
Vanessa Santos does not recognize herself in her post-COVID-19 presentations either. Usually the Bethesda publicist hates crowds. Concerts make her nervous, and she and her husband often make reservations for 4pm to avoid the rush that often occurs in trendy, crowded restaurants. “I love privacy and I like literal freedom of movement,” she says.
But recently she spied on an old flyer for a salsa dance night at Cuba Libre, a rum bar and restaurant in Chinatown, and something clicked. It suddenly occurred to her that she wanted a rum drink and plantain chips and wanted to lose herself on a sweaty, packed dance floor.
“I think I just want rum and I don’t care how it’s served,” says Santos, who says she and her husband have never been dancers and that she has “two left feet”. Regardless, the fantasy remains.
What we miss when we go out to eat often makes no sense to us. Patrick Nolan, a law student in St. Louis, doesn’t exactly understand why, but he craves something seemingly mundane: getting his bill at the end of a happy hour or meal and signing it. “It’s totally stupid, and if you’d asked me two years ago if I was going to miss this thing, I’d say no way,” he says.
He thinks it might just be such a familiar rite – one he has done hundreds or thousands of times because he really enjoys eating and drinking. He fondly remembers the dance: the check often arrives in a black plastic book; They calculate the tip and then sign.
He laughs and thinks about how he sometimes signs the wrong copy. “There is only something beautiful.”
It turns out these daydreams aren’t just distractions. They are an “emotional association” that can temporarily lift your mood, says Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking”. She says it’s okay to indulge in these fantasies a bit, but she cautions that research into daydreaming shows that the more we imagine something – like losing weight or getting a plum job – the less likely we are to take action seize it.
And the imagination about something beyond our control, like your team winning the Super Bowl or ending the pandemic, can lead to frustration, she says. Since it might take a while to get to these crowded dining rooms, Oettingen suggests that we might also try to dream about dining experiences that we can achieve in the near future.
“You could imagine setting a nice table for dinner or trying a new recipe,” she says. “It is important to find daydreams for your daily life because you can act on them.”