As a performer/office temp dating a Manhattan attorney, my friends are often baffled by how easy it is for us to negotiate the disparity in our incomes. “Simple,” I tell them. “If we are at dinner and Mike reaches for the wine list, we know he’ll pick up the bill.”
When Mike turned 30 last month, I wanted to turn the tables and take him to a dinner where I chose the wine. I found a bed & breakfast on City Island founded by a chef named Pierre, whose tremendously successful restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, rumored to be a favorite of Jackie O, inspired him to open this outpost in the Bronx. It seemed like the perfect solution, a Zagat-rated get-away that I could manage for a night and still make this month’s rent.
When we opened the door to our room, Mike’s first words told a different story. “Oh look, they turned that toilet into a planter.” I joined him at the only window and pulled my Jackie O sunglasses to the tip of my nose. The little green buds poking out of the toilet bowl were the only sign of nature in our concrete backyard vista.
On the phone two weeks earlier, Heather had taken my reservation and promised me her “favorite room” with a king-sized, four-poster bed and a view of the water. The boat dry-docked outside, covered with a dusty tarp, was our only evidence of nautical life. I turned away and flopped onto the poster-less double bed that squeaked loudly in protest. This was not a bed that would take kindly to romance. Strike numbers one, four and seven from the weekend’s “to do” list.
The noises of our surrogate home permeated the room: the clanking of plates being set for that night’s dinner, the whish of the shower starting in the communal bathroom next door, the phone ringing, the doorbell. Over it all we caught a piece of a cell phone conversation downstairs. “It turns out I don’t have to work tonight so I am coming home.” Mike and I caught each other’s eye. Could we go, too?
To be clear, I am not a high-maintenance relaxer. One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is not shower. I have been known to eat cheese from a pressurized can to alleviate stress. I’ve hosteled and couch surfed and rolled with many a punch—but not on this trip. With their website as my guide, I had stepped grossly out of character and become a chronic caller, getting room suggestions, the wine list and dress codes for dinner. In anticipation of the website’s promise to make “any visit truly memorable with a warm fireplace and every other comfort and enjoyment,” I resolved to pack lightly with only Hemingway and some sexy heels for dinner. When I read, “Pierre prepares each meal with individual care to the preferences of every diner. Just tell Pierre what you prefer…your wish is his pleasure,” I knew Pierre was the perfect chef to cook my gastro-enthusiast boyfriend’s celebratory dinner.
In Paris last spring, Mike took me to Restaurant Georges on top of the Pompidou Centre. There, as the sun set, he slid a card across the table with his apartment key taped inside. It was perfectly orchestrated romance, with the decadence of Paris providing the stage for the next act in our relationship. While I realize that City Island is no City of Lights, I had hoped our setting would inspire love, not work its hardest to squelch it. Yet, as I lay in our hotel room smaller than the alcove in the studio we left behind, surrounded by pee-yellow walls and more noise than 14th Street, I realized that my expectations had to change. I rolled over on my side and mustered up a smile. “Lunch?” I asked. Mike and I pulled out our MetroCards and explored the island. We filled up on fried seafood at Tony’s on the water and managed to take some beautiful pictures through the chain link fences with NO TRESPASSING, VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED signs that decorated the coast line. We did a crossword puzzle and watched the sun set over an abandoned fishing supply store.
That evening Heather, our accommodations expert who mysteriously developed a French accent while we were out exploring the island, was our server. While “Pierre’s pleasure” was a chalkboard prix fixe menu slammed onto a chair next to our table and not necessarily our wishes, our dinner was superb. So good, in fact, that I didn’t have the heart to tell sometimes-French Heather that the rare steak I ordered looked and tasted suspiciously like well-done lamb chops. Mike and I toasted his 30th with an elegant Bordeaux and could only laugh when Heather swooped over to our table, congratulated us on our honeymoon and asked for her tip in cash.
Kate Tellers is a writer and performer living in New York City.