Knowing when to exit is the mark of a social aristocrat.
Whether it be your rented apartment, a relationship, a visit with friends. Or a restaurant.
The Germans have an expression torschlusspanik – the direct translation is door-shutting panic. This is the panic that accompanies the sound of the park gates clanging shut leaving you trapped inside.
But there are other reasons for not exiting when you should.
A few years ago I moved into an apartment on the river. Actually it wasn’t an apartment as much as a couple of rooms in a big house. The bossy landlady told me many times how God had blessed her with a country estate and a Bentley.
The word on the street was that it was a hefty injury claim that she had been blessed with, but that is neither here nor there.
Ms. Bossy would barge into my bedsit several times a day on the flimsiest of pretexts.
I didn’t have the bottle to ask her not to, since I was worn down by various circumstances. Besides, I liked the river view.
When the river was about to break its banks she summoned a couple of nuns to pray fervently that God wouldn’t let the house be flooded – as it had been twice before. Just to be safe, she recruited all able bodied in the neighbourhood to move her furniture, while she reclined on the couch like an odalisque issuing instructions. “Take that UP. Not, not that one THAT ONE! Be careful! That vase belonged to my granny!”
By noon the next day the house was under six feet of water. It took an act of God to make me leave.
I know half a dozen women who are in toxic relationships yet they don’t leave. It is as though they are in a lukewarm bath. Even if it’s lukewarm it’s better than getting out.
Bertold Brecht said it better. ”Love is like a coconut which is good while it is fresh, but you have to spit it out when the juice is gone…what is left tastes bitter. ”
In an entirely more perfidious category are those that Douglas Adams calls cluns – people who just won’t go.
These are the people who, after a dinner party in Islington have the host call a black cab and then plant themselves in the hallway going on and on about “have you seen old so and so” while the cabbie waits with its meter running.
These are the people who, after a barbecue in Bantry Bay, stand about chin-wagging until the apricot sun has slid into the sea. The leftover koeksusters have been put in Tupperware and goodbyes have been said. Arrangements have been made ”We’ll see you in Mauritius in September. Orssimm!”
But no one actually gets into their cars. Well, not until they hear a distant sound of what sounds like a shot going off.
In the restaurant business we also have cluns.
Emblematic of their MO is that they arrive an hour late. The kitchen is about to close. There are no remaining guests in the restaurant.
When I go over and tell them about the oysters and so on they look as though they have swallowed a bee.
“Oh we’d like a little time before we order!” says Mr. Über Clun.
“Decant the wine,” he orders. Then he turns to his guests.
“I hope you don’t mind such a BIG wine…” all oleaginous charm.
There the trio sit, eating as slowly as arthritic tortoises.
The gabfest goes on two and half hours. I will check, but I’ll swear there are no donkeys with hindlegs left in New Joisey.
Did you know Anthony Weiner is running for Mayor or New York…you know the one that tweeted pictures of his crown jewels….yes! And what about the Governor of New Jersey’s lap-band surgery…
The Mexicans in the kitchen are playing on their iPhones. Three servers plus the blonde hostess. That makes seven people whose lives have been put on hold while they talk fluent drivel.
The grill has been scrubbed and the charcoal’s embers are glowing. The kitchen is pristine. The kitchen staff have long gone to commence drinking tequila shots at the local dives.
Hoping they won’t say yes, I show them the dessert tray. They say yes.
The dessert is untouched for 15 minutes while they argue about whether the Holland Tunnel is better than the Lincoln to get to Long Island.
Finally, when I deliver the check, Mr. Über Clun examines it as though he were a customs inspector.
The music has been turned off, the lights turned up and the candles blown out, and yet they are reluctant to get up to go.
“We must do this again!”
The men traipse out without glancing at us.
The woman makes shanti signs with her hands.
“I’m sorry…we really kept you for so long….” she says.
All I can manage is a small smile, tight as a pickle jar lid.
These are the people who must surely earn themselves a little pied a terre in Dante’s Inferno – the ones who subject people like us to their long goodbyes.