Ran through the pouring rain into Starbucks this morning to improve my caffeination situation, and started a discussion with Jeremy, one of my favorite baristas, about the weather and an extreme need for soup on a torrential day like today.
Jen, the manager, quickly piped up on her feelings for French onion soup. Perfect in weather perfect for ducks. Jeremy mentioned his past job at a Bennigan's (remember them?) and his belief that they had the best French onion soup...ever.
My experience with Bennigan's is extremely limited. Because as a rule, I hate chain restaurants from the 80's. My Ground Round waitressing days in college have ruined me I suppose. But I couldn't stop thinking about hitting Bennigan's...in New Jersey...fairly soon after I had moved to Manhattan.
To say I was naive would be a gross understatement. I was young, and not very bright, and stunned to be living in the greatest city in the world. I was still dating-ish Frank the Weasel (a story for another time), though he had made abundantly clear that we were cool to date others, despite my offers to stay in PA just for him. Little did we know that a phone strike by NYNEX at the time would make severing ties easy, at least on my end. In those pre-cellular days, no phone = no contact = young girl in the big city with no ties (it didn't quite shake out the way Frank the Weasel thought it would).
In my job in the sub-basement of a major skyscraper (we'd look at the bike messengers coming into our office to see what the weather was outside), I often run errands to a local dub house, that is, a business whose job was to make videotaped copies of commercials so that we could mail them to tv stations across the county. Talk about obsolete! But it was the job that helped me move to the city and I enjoyed getting out of the office, even if it was just to walk around midtown.
I still remember the company name, PDR, and that it was staffed by many young men. When I'd make a trip, fresh-scrubbed and wide-eyed (my friend Glenn called me Milk, because I was the whitest person he ever met), there would be a bit of fawning, which I of course completely enjoyed.
One boy (and I'll call him that because he was close to my age, early 20's) was quite a dish -- way above my pay grade dating-wise. Tall, built but not too much, blond, and with a killer smile. Definitely way, way out of my league, so I made no efforts on that end.
Imagine my glee when this boy called to ask me on a date. Woo hoo! First date in the big city and with an uber-hottie! I couldn't believe my luck. He lived on Staten Island, which I had heard of but really had no clue where it was distance-wise, being not-so-bright in a metropolitan kind of way.
He came into town on a Sunday afternoon, in his baby blue Z-something. He suggested getting out of the city for dinner; surprising to me as Manhattan has more than a few great offerings, even then in my East Village neighborhood. He popped the locks and low and behold, Playboy Bunny lock covers. Interesting.
We hit the streets, then the tunnel, and before I knew it, we were seated at a Bennigan's somewhere in New Jersey. Huh.
He discussed the distance to get to my apartment, and in my naivete, and being a recent college grad where offering a sofa for the night was no big deal, I offered mine to him.
After sitting with him at a crappy NJ chain restaurant, eating crappy chain restaurant soup (I believe I had the baked potato soup, and can't even believe that I remember that!), I realized that looks-wise, he was so, so far above my grade, and I had acted that way the entire night, grateful that a handsome boy would show interest in frizzy-haired, ever-so-slightly buck-toothed me, well, anywhere.
As he talked about his car and his life, I realized fairly early on that indeed, he may have had the looks, but he was absolutely dumb as a stump. Maybe dumber. I mean, really, really, really vapid. And dumb.
I was in the date, had made the couch offer (which he had readily accepted), and saw no way out.
We went back to my apartment with my haughty roommate, where I informed her that we would have a couch guest that evening. She was less than thrilled, but as I was the connection to the sweet apartment, she had no option but to go along with the plan. You can imagine though his surprise when he realized that I really mean the couch. It wasn't a euphemism for anything even closely resembling my bedroom. And that couch sucked.
The next morning, I quickly ushered him out the door and realized that perhaps looks weren't everything. How lucky for me that I could learn that lesson so early on. Grade wasn't just looks any more. Grade included humor, and looks, and morals, and values, and liking real food, and things I didn't even know existed yet.
Needless to say, in the end, I married well above my pay grade in every sense, and had no more Staten Island frogs in my future, and no more Bennigan's. Ever.
I look at my daughter and son and wonder when they'll learn the lessons I did, and if it will turn out as well for them as it did for me. Hopefully, at the very, very least, they'll avoid Bennigan's, and make their own soup.