Lyla’s Café, located on 125th and Amsterdam in New York City, is a mere two blocks from my apartment building. It’s well known for its French fries—and perhaps other things too, but I couldn’t tell you. It’s been open for only a week. I know this tidbit only because its grand opening was exactly a week ago and I was supposed to meet my ex here to celebrate our one-year anniversary. But she dropped me like a bad habit days before so that night I went to eat alone for the first time in a while. It was someplace in Little Italy. I forget the name. But I do remember surprisingly having a good time. I figured I should still celebrate the fact that I broke my personal record of ten months, down like four flats, so I did. September 8th can forever kick rocks though.
Since then I’ve walked past Lyla’s every day on my way to class, even peeked in the window a few times. I just couldn’t bring myself to go inside. Not because I associate it with my ex, even though she doesn’t help. It’s the patrons. They strike me as pompous and pretentious. Which is typical for the Upper East Side. Decidedly snooty, deplorably entitled. But this is Harlem. Birth of the cool, death of the lukewarm. And while I like when nearby restaurants get rave reviews from credible sources like The New Yorker or Time Out, Lyla’s hadn’t been mentioned in either. Yet here I am standing in front of it, with no other dinner plans and a need to quiet the stomach rumblings.
I enter the restaurant and instantly feel the joys of Manhattan. But then again, I’m always happy where good fries are served. I smile as I walk past a row of tables. Patrons observe me curiously as I approach the waiter, a tall Englishman whom I’m much alike in physique. I suspect from their stares that they’ve never seen a well-dressed patron take himself to dinner before. “Table for one, please.” The simple utterance reminds me of a scene from Being Mary Jane. Pauletta, I thought, would certainly take herself to dinner for some much-needed alone time, and I’m no different.
The waiter grabs a menu and, in his British accent, offers me a seat of my choice. He then takes a phone call so I pick up a magazine lying on the counter with Lyla’s featured on the cover. Not too shabby! Turning to look, I see a sea of empty tables near the door so I make my way to it. The single table adjacent to the bay window catches my eye. It’s a perfect match for me. I take my seat while grinning cheerfully. Carolinnne! See, Caroline, all the guys would say she’s mighty fine / But mighty fine only got you somewhere half the time / And the other half either got you cussed out or coming up short. And back at home, I’m sure my three bettas—Blue, Destiny, and Miles—are jammin’ to OutKast without me. Suddenly, the waiter approaches the table.
He places the menu before me and offers a smile and a nod before attempting to walk away. I quickly peruse the menu. Just before his eyes sat on the table to my left—and remind me to tell you about their conversation, or rather their argument—I get his attention. “Sir, I know what I want. I’d like your steak and eggs. Well done. Scrambled. I’ll take spinach. And some fries too. Yeah, tap is fine. Thanks.” Five minutes later, he brings a glass and a bottle of what looks like vino, except there’s no vino—only water. Strange, but whatever. I pour myself a glass and take a sip.
A notification on my phone illuminates my area. I read the text message and raise an eyebrow. It’s a little late for that, don’t you think? I begin processing my day and think of how pleasant my rest the night before was. If only every night were so comfy. Just as my stomach starts growling again, the waiter brings my food. Talk about perfect timing. I’m now in seventh heaven. It’s a privilege to reside in the greatest city in the world, attend Columbia University, and eat wherever one wishes without any worry. I’m thankful. Such was the extent of my prayer.
I raise my hand and politely summon the waiter to the far side. “Steak sauce, please. Definitely A-1. I’m from the south, man. What can I say?” We share a brief giggle, and off he scurries to the other side. My meal is now almost complete. Some twenty minutes later, after devouring my spinach salad, steak, eggs and, of course, the best French fries according to Best of Harlem 2015, I am now ready for some dessert. Lucky for me, ice cream will top off my delicious meal.
As love is pure and genuine, I consider myself a proponent of it and fancy it a bit—just not too often nor too soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve befriended it some. Just not enough to label myself an expert in it. Notwithstanding this fact, I fully understand why the wife dining with her husband was livid and cursing at him a half hour ago. Not that I’m interested in their affairs, or for that matter any couple’s, but one tends to hear every conversation being had when eating alone at an almost empty restaurant. Her complaint was that he hardly listens to her—and boy, was she right!
I smile as I look out the window, knowing I could relate to her, and probably him too. I’m happy to be in neither person’s shoes though. Pain is temporary. Pride is forever. I was once before, and I’ll say only this much about it: treating myself to dinner or a movie, or even going shopping, was part of my therapy. Each helped me to let go, however difficult it was. But within a couple weeks, I was thrilled to put on a suit and tie and eat alone at a restaurant of my choice. And singing “Roses” from time to time always helped to remind me, all things considered, just how much I had gained.
As I take the last bite of my neopolitan ice cream, I thank God once again for my many blessings. “May I please have the check?” I then smile. For what lies ahead for me this evening is my favorite pastime: reading philosophy. The true love of my life. It’s special for anyone to spend time alone and enjoy every minute of it. The universe offers too much for us to ever be lonely. I gather up my things and head for the door. “Have a good night, sir!” I walk down the street inhaling the aroma of Harlem while deciding against replying to the text message after all. Carolinnne! And the only other thing I’m thinking about is the rave review I’ll give Lyla’s on Yelp before I cozy up to read.