Feeding people: Up close and personal at the communal table

My coffee cup — the one that had just been filled to the brim and the one that I had waited forever for — started shaking.

Not the usual caffeine-deprived, I-need-a-sip-now, jittery-type trembling, but a full blown tidalwave-type jolting. So much so, in fact, that the immensely precious liquid was escaping from the confines of my mug. And the culprit? A leg. A very jittery leg, actually, attached to a very jittery person, one who just happened to be sitting right beside me. Oh, and the best part? I didn’t even have the slightest clue who that person was.

So this was what communal tables were all about.

My day had started out innocently enough. As usual, I got up, and when I get up, my stomach typically insists that I feed it. This particular day was no exception. Only I wasn’t at home, which meant I didn’t have easy access to my trusty toaster or any other essential breakfast-y type appliance. So, with my family in tow, I decided to venture out. We ended up at a trendy little diner — along with what seemed like every other hungry breakfast-eater in that unfamiliar city.

We joined the long line-up, subjecting our motley assortment of less-than-happy parts to the nasty elements, and waited. When a table — or rather, a spot at the communal table — finally became available, we took it. Never having partaken in the whole communal table thing before, I brushed aside the distressed glares of my usually lovely children and squashed the niggly “don’t do this” plea that my brain was desperately trying to relay to me.

Our communal dining experience had been launched.

A flock of full stomachs must have just vacated the premises because, as we approached the cheery-looking sixteen-seat entity, it looked more empty than full. Our designated seats were kind of in the middle, with nobody seated immediately next to us. So far, so good.

Shortly after settling in, though, the stool next to one of my daughters was suddenly sporting a person and thus began our game of musical chairs. But it was all for naught. After a few stool swaps, and just when we were all feeling somewhat secure and unthreatened again, the seats on the other side of us were unexpectedly occupied by living, breathing persons. Persons who laughed, talked and, according to some of us, invaded our space bubbles.

A bit of shifting and careful body placement made the situation tolerable — evidently if you angled your body just so, with your shoulders doing a 45 degree twist-type manoeuvre, you could almost pretend there wasn’t someone planted right next to you. Not great, but tolerable.

Breakfast was ordered, coffee and juice were delivered and then it began — the whole twitching leg, sloshing coffee thing. Glances of wide-eyed disconcertion were exchanged amongst our little group and then, just as I was about to execute a quick swivel to quietly assess the situation, the noise started. It bore a slight resemblance to talking, but it was a faster, louder, staccato-type blast.

A full-scale rotation brought me face-to-cell phone with the person attached to the leg. My eyes valiantly attempted to make contact with the leg person, but to no avail. He was fully immersed in the moment and it appeared nothing or no one would be permitted to intrude. And his dining partner, seated obliviously across the table from him, didn’t seem to think anything was amiss. Evidently eating off of a shaking table with a jittery partner who completely ignored you while he shouted into his cell phone was par for the course.

Meanwhile, another pair of diners was seated on the other side of us. So much for the whole musical chairs thing. Now we were all seated next to strangers anyway.

The new strangers weren’t really strange, mind you, they just weren’t friendly. They didn’t appear to believe in making eye contact, not even to acknowledge us, and they certainly didn’t smile. In fact, they would have made their moms proud with their tenacious adherence to the whole “no talking to strangers” mantra. It was a rule they couldn’t seem to break, not even when their toast demanded to be topped with a healthy dollop of jam and the sought-after jam happened to be sitting perkily in a basket right next to the jittery leg person, just out of their reach. So, instead of politely turning towards us and asking us to pass the basket, the lean-and-reach manoeuvre was employed. And that reach went right over two of our plates, with a flopsy sleeve coming dangerously close to parking itself right on top of my lovely pile of hash browns and ketchup.

Meanwhile, on the other side of us, jittery leg person was still jittering and shrieking into his cell phone. Only now, a bit of variety had been thrown into the loop — his massive plate of pancakes had arrived and now he was quaking, shouting and eating, all at the same time.

So, yes, my first foray into the communal table phenomenon was definitely memorable. It wasn’t exactly as addictive as that wobbly cup of coffee, though.