Originally published in Funny Times, March 1994
Originally published The couple approached the restaurant arm in arm, the gentleman disengaging to hold the door open for his fiancee. The maitre d'hôtel met them immediately, menus in hand. Chez Cuisine was known for its currying service.
"How many in your party this evening, sir?"
"Just the two of us," Kevin said.
"And will that be thinking or non‑thinking?"
"Non‑thinking," Elaine interjected before her escort could reply. He shot her a withering gaze, but kept his silence.
Kevin and Elaine followed closely the head waiter's lead to a booth in the front room. He took their bar orders before leaving: two zombies. After the maitre d' was out of earshot, the woman again preempted the man.
"Now don't start with me," she said, and waggled her finger in admonition. "If you can't go the length of a meal without thinking, well, you're pretty bad off."
He opened his mouth to argue, thought better of it, and sunk resignedly into his soft bench.
Satisfied that she'd won both the battle and the war, Elaine flicked on the television attached by a telescoping arm to the wall. She perused the menu and turned to the hors d'oeuvres channel where Wheel of Fortune was playing. The two assumed the slumped, slack‑jawed posture of their fellow diners, venturing solutions to the various puzzles when only a letter or two remained hidden.
With the first round of commercials the restaurant's closed‑circuit system superseded the broadcast and Kevin and Elaine chose appetizers, punching in selections with the remote controls beside their place settings.
Elaine switched to the entree channel.
"Hey, I was watching Wheel," he protested.
"I'm hungry. I want to order now," she said decidedly.
A Who's the Boss? rerun played on the main‑course channel and soon Kevin forgot all about Vanna, Pat, et al. He even managed a chuckle or two in accompaniment to the soundtrack's stilted mirth.
An obsequious waiter brought their appetizers and drinks, slinking away without interrupting their Tony Danza‑induced reverie. Elaine and Kevin slurped down the fruity synapse‑inhibiting drinks and munched, respectively, on toasted ravioli and stuffed mushrooms. They ate with their fingers and wiped their besmeared digits on their pant legs without thinking.
When finally the entree commercials came up, Kevin took the first choice and let his gaze wander about the dining room.
Diners in the middle of the room reposed in rocker recliners. The tables they occupied, at least theoretically with others, disassembled into chair‑side TV trays.
Elaine was still dithering over the selection of entrees. He strained his neck to see into the small adjacent room furnished with upright chairs and high tables. Where the walls were not covered with abstract still lifes and impressionistic landscapes, bookshelves groaned under the weight of heavy volumes. Candles adorned a single table and illumined the engaged faces of a pair of women lost in conversation. They were the only two in the thinking section. Waiters scurried quickly in and out of the room, tarrying only long enough to perform their duties and avoiding any prolonged exposure to the room thick with thought.
The network's prime time schedule was now underway and Elaine's eyes reflected dully the blue flicker of the television set. Dinner arrived. They mindlessly masticated, swallowed, digested. Perfect Strangers melded seamlessly into Full House and the betrothed couple finished their meals blissfully free of any disturbing mental activity.
Respiration was, thankfully, involuntary.
Kevin was given to a postprandial habit his fiancee found most distasteful. Despite the oxygen depletion in his brain from the blood diverted for digestive functions, Kevin often craved a thought or two after a meal. It was a practice Elaine was willing to indulge in private, but embarrassment precluded her from countenancing the eccentricity in public.
Elaine used to think, but she'd kicked the habit cold turkey some years ago. As was so often the case with reformed ex‑thinkers, she was more militant on the subject of thinking in public places than those who had never taken up the filthy addiction in the first place. She even made visitors to her home go outside to have an opinion.
She shot him a proscriptive look now, hoping to head off a scene. She was relieved to see her intended glazed over in numb consideration of a dessert commercial.
Unbeknownst to Elaine, Kevin's blank stare belied the work of a saboteur below table level. He'd slipped loose a loafer and was toeing the TV's umbilical connection to the wall outlet. With little effort he managed to free the electrical coupling and the screen blinked off, a few stray phosphors firing before the nascent light faded completely.
Elaine gasped. Kevin grasped her by the wrists, seizing the initiative.
"What do you think about abortion?" Kevin demanded.
Elaine sputtered and faltered.
"I mean, there's the view that a fetus, from conception, has the validity of life. On the other hand, shouldn't a woman have autonomy over her own body?"
A mother passed by the table with her young son in tow. She clapped her hands over the child's ears and placed herself protectively between Kevin and the defenseless boy.
"I'd appreciate it, sir," she said with contempt, "if you would stop that right now. Don't you know the danger of second‑hand thought?"
Kevin dismissed the Harpy with a hand wave and stayed focussed on his fiancee.
"And what about in cases of incest and rape?"
The woman spewed indignation. "The manager is going to hear about this." Kevin was unimpressed, having only days before heard the same dialogue, under similar, but fictional, circumstances, on Major Dad.
Elaine recovered from the initial shock and Kevin could see he was losing her. She composed herself and erected an impenetrable mental block.
"I can't believe you're doing this to me," she said coolly from an emotional distance greater than the table that separated them. "Which is more important: Me or your precious thinking?"
When he didn't immediately respond she wrenched her arms from Kevin's grip, stood, straightened her rumpled blouse and brushed crumbs from her lap.
"Consider the wedding off." Elaine marched out.
Kevin was being stared at.
A thought struck him. He stood himself, strode to the cusp of the thinking section, and in a loud voice directed as much to the gathered non‑thinkers as to the two women he nominally addressed, said:
"Ladies, I think I'll join you."