The Back Room
During a pre-pandemic lunch with a friend, the offerings include sweet warm rolls and some existential musings
Published, with PEN in HAND
I’ve arrived early (of course) for lunch, but I’m glad to be in this space. It’s beautiful; everything looks pretty and smells good. Candles on the tables, art on the walls, centerpieces creatively curated, gentle sounds, soft lights.
Soon, someone beneath the calibrated, “How’re we all doin’ today?” voice, brings warm, grainy rolls and sweet tea. “Sparkling water or tap?” Then our server is off to the back room, through the Employees Only door; it’s different in there, in the Back Room.
A three inch gap reveals a chaotic space, stainless steel, small and loud. It smells like burnt crème brûlée and looks like a ballet on steroids. Carrot skins stick to an oily rag on the floor and someone in a beet-stained apron is screaming about pesticides placed too close to cans of pearl onions.
Out front, Spotify playlists and truffle oil infused fries spill happiness to infinity and beyond.
At the table, wearing nice clothes, I spill happy stories and pleasantries with precisely picked words, but hit Control-Alt-Delete before getting to the rest. We eagerly share the sliced grainy rolls, but no gritty family secrets at this table, thank you very much. The unsaid things are over there, behind that door around the corner, one flight up: where the sign says No Admittance.
Decisions, decisions. My disembodied, internal voice asks, “Accuracy or Approximation today?” before disappearing through some imaginary cerebral swinging double doors: No One Permitted Beyond This Point. A devilish dichotomy.
Out front, it’s all about the presentation, but there’s always a Back Room that stores the things we Don’t See, Don’t Say, Don’t Share. Separate rooms for all.
After lunch, at the vet’s office, the over-lit reception area is stuffed with outdated glossy magazines and fake flowers, just ten feet from those excrement encrusted cages and fear-filled whimpering things behind that door over there: Authorized Personnel Only. Closed off, clandestine, no windows in there - optimism floating on dirty sponges and sterile needles while sliding steel drawers carry Lysol laced cold, heavy things: Keep Out.
And we do. We roll through red lights, pilfer pens, share Netflix passwords, but we don’t ever go through those doors. Ever. We often send our representatives to check in, and then quietly check out, but we Do Not Enter that off-limits place where keys can’t unlock open doors.
Honestly, do you want to have a look or not?
The best stories are housed in the Back Room, fastidiously functional and not so artfully displayed: The Real Deal. And not just in the external spaces but in the internal places, too. The inside outside upside downside places behind the I-Can’t-Tell-You-That door.
But I’d like to get to know you, not your representative.
And I often struggle with what to share and with whom, how much, and how soon. I usually try to let it rise, like those yeast filled soft rolls. But I‘m awkward and impatient and eager to share.
“How’s your life?” I ask to avoid the automated, unrevealing, Fine-thank-you-how-are-you? exchange. “So what’s your story?” I want to know. I’m glad to share my story as well. I’ve always preferred the authenticity and color found in the Back Room.
On the way home, a quick stop at the food store. Lackadaisical, aromatic Easter lilies show off and nod, lapping yellow yolky things unintentionally dribbled on tender, newborn basil leaves.
The red and green peppers keep to themselves in their own bins out front, but on the other side of those swinging double doors, at the end of Aisle 3, box cutters tear into crushed cardboard boxes filled with rotting food; squishy red and green peppers with soft black spots collide. Fat, whiskered rodents lie in wait, folded dreams falling flat on the floor.
Just on the other side of the red velvet ropes, near the heavy windowless doors, privileged key-carrying, badge wearing, apron clad, sterile gloved others push past the heavy doors. Richly scented spices are stored next to delectable dreams, valued heirlooms and slithering shame.
Row after row, dozens of giddy daffodils collide and nudge noses out front, eager for some airy, artificial light while denial, visible and inaccessible, is hung on a rusty hook ten feet from the floor in the rooms without the candles:
Authorized Personnel Only.
Published, with PEN in HAND