Let Me Entertain You.
We eyed them apprehensively as each rendition of "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells" brought them closer to us. "What should we do?" we asked each other. We amused ourselves by coming up with possible deterrents: burying our noses in our menus, claiming to be Jewish, claiming to celebrate Kwanzaa, staging a big argument.
I watched as the carolers -- who were talented, if unwelcome at our table -- visited each set of diners. People were smiling, seeming to really enjoy the music. "It would be much better if they were stationed in one place, so you don't have to... deal," one of us said, as we all nodded in agreement.
Their arrival was anticlimactic. They politely asked if we had a request for a carol; we declined with excessive cheer.
I was glad then to enjoy our dinner in peace, but part of me wondered whether we weren't too scroogeulous. Why couldn't we have been like the other families, and smilingly welcomed a tableside performance of "Deck the Halls"? Why was I relieved, yet a little sad, that we are not such a family?
The next night, at the Bethesda, Md., branch of the tapas restaurant Jaleo, dinner with friends was twice overcome by the brief but formidable entrance of flamenco dancers. The dancers did not demand eye contact and full attention, as the carolers did, but were much more effective at impeding conversation.
Two successive nights of kamikaze public entertainment? I began to feel less bad about the night before.
These kinds of interruptions never appear when they are desperately needed. On how many dates in my life would I have been thrilled to have a clown come out and start juggling my utensils, just to provide a diversion from the person across the table? How many meals would have been greatly improved by the sudden appearance of an accordion player, or a ballet troupe?
Yesterday someone in a coffee shop observed to me, "The Christmas commercials used to be for children. Now they try to get to the adults, too." That concept may or may not be new, but it did speak to an increasing sense that it is no longer acceptable for people -- child or adult -- to be left undiverted. We cannot be left to entertain ourselves, or assumed to be content with a lack of external stimulus, a lack of novelty.
I feel this way now, and yet I'm only 35. What kind of an old lady will I be, when restaurant chairs have their own TV screens and everyone in the park is on a WiFi connection?