Dinner on Friday was long and sweet, with the intermittent odor of reality disturbing the shiny glassware. Around the round, white-clothed table, set in Birmingham, Ala., I sat with interesting friends. The six of us passed jokes around like the complimentary in-shell pistachios that we shuttled without a thought. The laughter from our rowdy table was a geometric triumph — a circle of dominoes starting from the progenitor of the anecdote then traveling clockwise to tickle everyone, one after the other and all the way back to the start.
We were in town for a food conference, laughing like it was all the vogue and eating deliciously at Highlands, an upscale restaurant on the south side of town. At the table were a food writer, an associate editor for a literary food publication and a magazine editor from San Francisco. Also, a cable news correspondent, along with a graduate professor of creative writing from Athens, Ga.
A pork chop, grilled with the bone in, was softly deposited in front of me, its glistening skin was grate-scarred as proof of excellent technique. Scott, my dapper editor friend, sat to the right of me in a white-collared shirt, covered smartly with a navy blue sports coat and further distinguished by a gold-and-blue silk pocket square. His plate was medallioned with duck, tender and cascading. A week before Lent, he was as charismatic as Jesus on Palm Sunday, familiar and comfortable. The company was mature, cultured and raucous, and I was in the mood for a lively time.
The cocktail, performing in a rocks glass — the only way to imbibe a cocktail, in my opinion — did all it could to encourage. Everything I ate that evening came at the recommendation of Red Dog, the older and capable famous waiter of the Highlands, who had never been to the West Coast and was inconceivably the son of a 97-year-old mother. I watched as he emptied the table of wine glasses with the quietness of ballet feet, his Creole-colored hands transforming into a wine rack.
Then came a moment when I broke the ring of laughter. I didn’t realize it.