Field notes, 6:07 PM. Dinner in a Greek restaurant that shall remain nameless.
It is cold this night. A prediction of rain, sleet, freezing rain and most likely snow. I am perched on a high seat at a two-person table alongside a wall of windows looking out upon a nondescript four-way intersection. As I tuck into a gyro plate and green salad I realize how fitting it is that the root for the word 'anonymous' is Greek in origin. The word is anonumous, 'nameless'. That is the word for which my belly was searching, and with which it fills.
I eat at this establishment on a semi-regular basis. Not because the food, which is Greek in origin and concept, is necessarily the best exemplar to be had around these parts. There are other restaurants that do certain items better, so much better that their relative lack of atmosphere (dive-ishness, even) is offset by the deliciousness of the food. The food is good enough. On the days I eat here, it gives me what I want: comfort without identity.
It is this shade of anonymity that I discovered is part of the appeal for me. Lately when I dine here, I dine alone. Usually at the end of work day when circumstance has decreed that I will not have a companion for dinner. I make the decision as I am driving out of the parking lot at work, when hunger, fatigue and proximity act as the trade winds which blow my vessel a few blocks down the street. I set that course because it involves no mystery and few decisions.
When I walk through the storefront doors, there is no "where everybody knows your name" kind of moment. No nodding of heads, no shouted greetings, only a (usually) short line which I join and quickly scan the menu. Since I am still a relative newcomer in this area, there is no one who knows me. No one I recognize. Perhaps the counter people have a vague recollection that I have been in before. Something along the lines of "It's that bearded fellow who always orders the same thing".
I place my order, they give me my number, I sip tea while waiting. The place is quickly filling up with diners and take-away customers. I see a lot of kids and senior citizens, families, couples, one guy like me. All sitting and waiting for our number to be called.
When it is, I take my tray and grab a seat on the edge of the dining room. Always the edge. I have never liked being in the middle of rooms or crowds, from school to restaurants to concerts. The edges make it easier for me to relax and observe. Plus, lower probability of social interaction, which is something I am less than graceful at even when I am not tired and hungry.
I sit. I slowly begin to eat. The hubbub of voices surrounds me, but does not overwhelm. A stream of voices that blend into a rhythmic drone, out which pops the occasional recognizable word or even phrase. In the corners of the room, two large televisions are playing a repeating loop of travel videography from the Greek isles. In the occasional lull of conversation, you can hear snippets of bouzoukis playing. In conjunction with the lack of captions or subtitles on the video, the sounds are an odd blend amplifying the 'namelessness' of this dining experience.
I find it oddly soothing. I feel this way almost every time I come here. This does not bother me, because it is what I want, maybe need. Neither myself nor my fellow diners have an imperative to make this place an extension of their living room or front yard or residential community. The primary imperative for all of us is our bellies, and the need to fill them.
I finish up. With nowhere to be and nothing obligating me to move, I sit quietly. Ruminating on the meal, I am at ease for at least a few minutes. The dining room hums along oblivious to my presence, and that suits me just fine. For a few precious moments my belly and I have nowhere to be, no one to satisfy, no obligations to fulfill. Myself, my belly, we are nameless. We are content.