Just like every other student on this campus, I have a busy schedule — classes, meetings, homework, exams. I’m a busy girl. Despite this, I managed — by sheer determination — to never eat lunch by myself my entire freshman year. I would hike 15 minutes in the bitter cold to Stockwell just to eat with my friends so I wouldn’t be one of those losers who eat by themselves.
This year, however, is different. Even though I tried to arrange it so that I could eat lunch everyday in the company of a friend, I somehow ended up with three days out of my week in which I eat — horrors! — alone. “No big deal,” I said to myself, “I’ll just figure out the best way to do it.”
After studying the different techniques of solitary dining, I’ve discovered the one thing that solo lunch eaters have in common: They have managed to give off the appearance of hurriedness (see? I’m eating by myself because I’m in a hurry) by reading. The strange kid in the corner with the “Communist Manifesto,” the girl surreptitiously hiding the cover of her forbidden romance novel and the rushed business types with their crisp copies of the “Economist.” All of them have perfected the art of appearing too involved in their reading material to care that there is no one else at the table.
In the interest of the dining public, I’ve compiled a list of a few books appropriate for when you’re stuck eating your mashed potatoes without company.
“War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy: This prodigious tome is the perfect way to impress any distant acquaintance who might observe you while you’re all by your lonesome. You don’t even really have to read it. Just clip a few articles from Sports Illustrated and slip them between the pages. Say you’re using them as bookmarks if asked.
“How to Talk to a Liberal (if you must)” by Ann Coulter or “Dude, Where’s My Country?” by Michael Moore: There is nothing like scathing political commentary filled with “facts” to help make the meatloaf easier to digest.
“Fast-Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” by Eric Schlosser: This happy, upbeat book about the shady side of the meat-packing industry will keep you company while you have fun with your french fries and hamburgers. Just kidding.
“Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson: Tiger and boy wreak childhood havoc in black-and-white cartoon land. Need I say more?
“Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales” by Stephen King: Appetites may be lost, but with the type of food the cafeteria is putting out these days, that might not be a bad thing.
Sometimes, even reading will not save you from the profound embarrassment of knowing that people are darting glances at your back, thankful that they have friends to sit with. It’s enough to make you want to shout, “I have friends! Really, I do! But they’re all at lab!” This humiliation can be so overwhelming that I’ve actually seen students pull out the big guns: their laptop computers. After all, you can’t feel sorry for someone whose English paper is so pressing that they need to work on it over turkey tetrazzini. I’m sorry, wait — yes, you can.
To my surprise, however, I’ve found that I like eating by myself; at least, as long as it’s not in the dining hall. There is a strange and distinct pleasure in grabbing a table all for myself at Noodles & Company, eating my soup without feeling the pressure of forced conversation or uneasy banter. In defiance of all logic, the empty seat across from me has somehow morphed into a relaxing and ergonomically practical foot rest. The broad expanse of unoccupied table is no longer the evidence of a lack of dining companion; rather, it is a space for me to put an extra napkin and enjoy the startling peacefulness that sitting by myself affords.
And so I’ve decided that if I have to eat lunch alone, I’ll do it in a restaurant. Never again will I suffer the humiliation of hating cafeteria food on my own. If I have to be a lone ranger, I’ll do it with good food in front of me. What’s a few extra dollars if it saves me from having to face a noisy crowd of judgmental, cereal-eating morons while eating lunch?
Just don’t get me started on dinner.
— Bernie loves reading and eating alone and is thinking of starting a club for like-minded people. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org