Maureen raised her eyebrows across the table. "A bacon cheeseburger?" she asked incredulously. "Is that really what you're going to have? And do they still make Tab? I had no idea."
"It's a sorry state of affairs when a bacon cheeseburger becomes the ultimate sin left in life," I said. "Never mind her," I told the waitress. "You just bring her little salad with the dressing on the side. And I'll have an Anchor Steam instead of the Tab."
Maureen was an old restaurant crony, from the days when I worked in the high-profile eateries run by celebrity chefs. No matter how long I stayed out of the food service industry, I had to check in with all the gossip. Restaurants, as I saw it, were the last frontier -- a land curiously untouched by the political correctness of the day. Temper tantrums, sexual hi-jinks, drugs, narcissism run amok: You'd find it all behind the Staff Only door. Behind every $22 seared halibut served on a bed of basil mashed potatoes and drizzled with arugula pesto lay more intrigue and ego than a Donald Trump divorce.
"You know, one thing about these trendy open kitchens is that the chefs can't abuse you like they used to," Maureen was saying. "Now they just seethe and mutter instead of throwing things. Anyway ..." She was rearranging the cutlery on the table. "Well, I'm committing an ultimate sin," she confessed.
"Well, you're still not eating meat," I observed. "What's left? Anal sex?"
Maureen made a face. "Ick. No, I'm seeing a 22-year-old guy. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is so embarrassing. The good thing is he's too young to be neurotic yet, and too naive to see how neurotic I am."
I took a swig of my beer. "I'd be embarrassed, too," I said, thinking of the Hercules I met at my sister's graduation. "Of course, you can't bring him around your friends, because you'll never hear the end of it. This is one of the bad things about being 30."
"Maybe the only bad thing. But, I really like him. He's cute, he's sweet, he's got the little-boy grin thing that melts me -- he's a waiter, too. But, God -- talk about young! Why are women so much more mature than men? When does that gap close?"
"In the 30s," I said. "Even then, don't count on it." Maureen was looking demurely down at her fork. "But really, who cares about age difference? Is it just that he doesn't get your cultural references? Does he know who Jan and Cindy and Marcia are?"
Maureen sighed. "Believe me, I would kill for one 'Brady Bunch' reference. Courtney, the boy doesn't even know who the Go-Go's are! Do you know how old that makes me feel?"
I drank some more beer. "Come on, Maureen, you're not Methuselah. So there are some gaps. But, seriously, you can't bring him around your friends?" Maureen shook her head vigorously. "Is he really that bad?"
The waitress set down our plates, and Maureen smiled at her. "Could I have some coffee?" She whispered, "He was at my apartment last night. I am totally, totally exhausted, but I have to tell you, it'll be worth every order that I screw up tonight at the restaurant. Jesus! On and on and on it went last night. Passionate, warm, intense -- the boy never gets tired. It's a cliché about those young 20-year-old puppies, but it's true." She stabbed a radish with her fork.
"Sounds great. If you were a man, this wouldn't even be an issue."
"But I can't take him seriously! I feel wiser than him -- I'm one step ahead of everything he says. I have to restrain myself from finishing his thoughts! All I see is the age. And it's not that he's stupid, it's just that I've been through all his little dilemmas, and they seem so insignificant." She took a swig of my beer. "I was telling him about opening up an IRA, and how proud I was that I finally had enough money ..."
"And he asked, 'Who's Ira?'" We nodded sadly, in unison.
"Have you ever gone out with someone younger?"
I lifted up the bun and methodically began piling tomato slices on the side of my plate. "Well, it's sort of like dog years, you know? It may only be eight years between the two of you, but in reality it's probably about 56. So, the answer is no, I haven't." I remembered how absurd I felt lusting after the barely post-pubescent pups at the graduation, and shuddered. "But, remember when Kevin went out with a 21-year-old chick? The one who still lived with her mom?"
"Yes, I do," Maureen said slowly. "We girls all got really angry at him. Like, why couldn't he handle going out with a woman his own age, what threatened him about that?"
"Not only that," I said, "we weren't very nice to her, either. But you do realize that among his male friends, she was a trophy. There was the back-slapping, the high-fiving. And believe me, your young puppy's male friends are probably doing that to him right now when they hear about The Older Woman."
"Oh, no." Maureen rolled her eyes, then brightened. "Another cliché -- about hitting our sexual peak in our 30s? Well, he's the only one I've met who's been able to keep up. And he's so open to new things ..." she drifted off. She finished the rest of my beer and sat up. "I know he's just a distraction, that it's all just a meaningless experience to keep me from getting serious about my life."
"Don't knock it, Maureen. As Woody Allen would say, as far as meaningless experiences go, it's right up there."