Table for One is a monthly column where Kareem Rahma records his observations, thoughts, and learnings from having a meal in solitude.
I cautiously approached the host stand at Dudley’s. As soon as I made eye contact with the hostess, three Sims cut in front of me and asked for a table. I had expected the hostess to intervene, perhaps even inform the Sims that I was ahead of them. Instead, she told them to follow her, and they walked away in a single-file line, resembling toddlers crossing the street on their way to school.
I was already in a bad mood, and now I found myself sliding into a slightly worse one. What would Larry David do? He’d probably ask the hostess why she’d let those customers cut in front of him. They would have gotten into an argument. He would have gotten kicked out. He’d call his friend and tell him what happened. He’d complain about being hungry. He’d try to eat at a different restaurant, but then the same cycle would repeat itself. After playing the tape forward, I decided to pretend I didn’t notice and masked my shame by looking at my phone instead.
When the hostess returned to retrieve me, she said nothing. I matched her lethargic energy and mundanely said, “one,” instead of smiling and saying my usual go-to: “table for one, please.” She directed me to the bar, so I headed to the furthest available seat, away from her tyranny.
I glanced around. The restaurant resembled a scene from one of those generic Netflix movies called something like “Manhattan Madness” or “Big City Big Fun.” Everyone was in character, playing their part. I spotted all the stereotypical types of people you'd find in New York City, but what set these stereotypes apart was that they were stereotypes of stereotypes—copies of copies. An AI-generated restaurant in an AI-generated film about an AI-generated New York City. At least I was my authentic self, I think.
I had heard that Dudley’s was “Australian,” but the menu didn't have much available to confirm that unless “Spicy Shrimp Toast” or “Chicken Schnitzel” are considered Australian delicacies. Maybe Australian is more of a vibe? Yes, I think that’s right. Australian is a vibe.
My eyes landed on something called a “Bronte Burger,” which sounded more or less like a regular cheeseburger based on the description. I googled “Bronte Australia,” and sure enough, there was a beachside town in Sydney called Bronte. Authenticity at last.
The bartender was very nice. She had moved from California 2 weeks ago. I knew this because I overheard her say it to a barback. The city had not yet hardened her. Maybe it never would. I hoped she’d stay this nice and at the same time knew that it didn’t matter because I’d never see her again. But maybe if there are enough nice people in New York City, we could all be happy. I asked for the Bronte Burger with ketchup, mustard, and mayo on the side.
The guy next to me was also alone, but he was standing up instead of sitting down. He kind of looked like John Leguizamo met Steve Buscemi, but not in a cool way at all. I could feel the energy vibrating off of his pleather motorcycle gloves. I was scared of him — not afraid that he would hurt me, but afraid that he would speak to me, and that I would have to listen to his incoherent, self-absorbed, stupid ramblings. Relief washed over me when he kept talking and chuckling to himself, sipping Mezcal on the rocks, with a motorcycle helmet perched on the barstool where he should have been sitting.
I looked around, and everyone seemed so happy. Maybe they were genuinely happy, or maybe they were just putting on an act. I suppose I was playing my role as well, the cool misunderstood loner sitting alone in the cafeteria. Despite never struggling to make friends, I realized I was also telling a lie, just like them.
I thought about the plot of this film and what I, as the main character, could do to make it more captivating.
I contemplated ordering cocaine.
I decided not to.
And then I thought about every time a girl has ever broken up with me.
I thought about being in a rut and wondered if anyone in this restaurant had ever been in one. They didn't strike me as the type of people who grappled with existential crises. I was already in the doldrums, and I’d hoped that writing my column would take me out of them, but it just seemed to pull me further into them. I had just turned 37 years old, likely making me the oldest person in this restaurant. Perhaps I had become what I despised — an aging man out of sync with both himself and the world around him.
The burger arrived, and I must admit I was impressed. It was good, very close to being great – which is how I imagine people think of me. Close to great. Almost good. Or like the teachers used to say “shows potential if only he applied himself.” The fries were good, no complaints there. And all of my condiments came, which was very unexpected.
The only thing the burger lacked was a bit of salt and pepper. I thought about grinding up a handful of my hair and using it as seasoning. But this wasn't a Michel Gondry film; it was a Netflix production. This kind of magic would have to wait for another time.
I paid the bill and left a 20% tip.
As I exited the restaurant, a random guy gave me a fist bump. I smiled and said, "Life is good," as I hurried out the door to make my way back to Brooklyn.