Dinner with Strangers

We were having dinner by the pool of the restored Sunset Towers Hotel in Los Angeles. Capote and other celebrities once enjoyed basking in its art deco elegance.

From the hotel's hilltop location, Hollywood's lights twinkled below and behind the Chateau Marmont's Parisian roof nearby. The once-chic Marmont is now known as the site of John Belushi's fatal drug overdose. That's Hollywood.

The chef fired up his poolside grill on which this evening's fare would be meticulously cooked. Tables filled up quickly. Under a green canopy on a couch-swing, a young, overly-amorous couple struggled to keep their bathing suits on.

Casually chic middle-agers, all sun-glasses and Ralph Lauren, urged their waiter to hurry so they could make "curtain."

Beyond the pool, an emaciated yuppified biker drank shots and beers, amazingly out of context here. He smoked endlessly. When a waiter clumsily poured his second beer straight up, creating a six inch head of foam, the smoker complained firmly and got a complimentary brew.

Halfway through our own dinner, two gentlemen took the last two terrace seats behind my chair. One was a tall, lean man whose dyed hair did not hide his advancing years. His dinner companion, a handsome 20-something stud, seemed all fawn without depth.

The elder man had a deep voice that rolled over us from his perch less than two yards from our table. His companion spoke is a softer tone, but audibly nonetheless. Other terrace diners, like ourselves, tended to eat quietly, enjoying the view, the night air and the breathtaking landscape. But the two men carried on a streaming dialogue, fueled by lots of wine, flirtatiously dancing around and toward the night ahead of them.

The young man spoke of his roots in Battle Creek, and his plan to leave his current lover. The older man praised being "open to new experiences," then allowed that they might get together in Battle Creek sometime, on one of his "business" trips. I wondered if he trafficked in corn flakes. Mostly, I sensed the bluesy sounds of loneliness behind this chatter.

The stud suggested he could probably eat "about half an entrée," so they ordered a hamburger plate to share, and, predictably, another bottle of wine.

During lulls in our own conversation, we continued to hear occasional bytes from the neighboring table. The guy from Michigan told the sexagenarian how much he enjoyed him because, "you've had so many experiences." Feigned modesty and giggles replied.

This could just as easily have been an older man speaking with a much younger women-of-the-evening. It wasn't about sexual orientation or about age but about the commerce that springs from aloneness.

As we prepared to leave the terrace, my shawl fell. The gentleman with the big voice picked it up and graciously handed it to me. Our eyes locked momentarily as I thanked him.

I shall never forget those eyes, begging me not to judge.

This piece originally appeared in the Keene Sentinel 8/29/2006

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Mary Ann Sorrentino

Mary Ann Sorrentino
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