The weekly dinners to California Pizza Kitchen are a tradition with my Fairfax Highschool friend Sy. In 2019 we’ll have had a fifty-years-of-friendship. They began with our friend Paul who died in 2008 of colon cancer. Our waiter Nate comes toward our table. We anticipate the comfort in his voice. A bellowing deep soulful vocalizing. He could be a DJ or a male Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air. Nate dreams of a career as a music manager/producer populate his non-waiter hours. His irresistible voice enhances his prospects.
This 28-year-old wrinkle free blonde exudes a masculine twinkle. The silk driven hairs on his forearms long to be held. We innocently tease him and play with his youth.
He treats us like royalty. Catering to our every whim. Never blinking an eye lash with our neurotic food requests. My gluten free pizza must be prepared flawlessly. We never use menus. Our choices never change. When we enter the restaurant, the chef begins his creation. When the pizza exits the oven, the manager and chef stare at the pizza for any inconsistencies. They hold their breath hoping that they will see a smile on my face when the pizza lands on our table. As my mouth swallows the first bite, all eyes watch me.
“It’s perfect” I declare. They can relax.
Sy has his own peculiarities. He doesn’t eat at the restaurant. His diabetes makes him instantly tired if he even looks at a carb. His order is take-out. Each parcel must be wrapped tightly. Croutons, Proteins, salad dressing, and sauces must be abundant. Any mistake initiates a rant. If Sy doesn’t check the packages before we leave the restaurant, he screams “Gordon, don’t ever let me leave the restaurant with looking in the bag. The Mexican corn only had 30 kernels. Last week there were 50. They didn’t mix the dressing in my ½ salad.” Then he telephones the restaurant insisting that he be compensated on our next trip.
The CPK is a homecoming experience. The food morsels don’t vary week to week. We feel the security of a bank. The busboys, other waiters, chefs and managers all recognize us. It has become a family outing. The energy level sweeps our endorphins. Most of our attendants are closeted actors. Longevity is rare if they get their break. During the last 30 years we’ve had to train and break in the unsuspecting new hire. They love us because we tip well and make them laugh.
The routine of CPK became an institution. Nate’s voice soothes our aches. His youth oriented eyes capture our past. The roots of our friendship hover over the meals. We honor Paul with the weekly routine.