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by C. Jeanette Tyson

 I’ve seen them at the Barnes and Noble’s Café and Cippolina’s; you could see them anywhere in town that offers chairs and a little something to eat: five or six men, none younger than 65,caps on their head or on the table, sipping their coffees, mashing together the crumbs of their muffin with a single finger. One will be talking and another nodding his head as if to say either “yes, no doubt” or “here you go again, loony as a coon dog.”   
    They hold each other with tolerance, understanding and a huge sense of humor. They’ve seen each other through it all: promotions and lay-off’s, kids growing up, wives who hated them and left, wives who were loved and left, life on the hook and all the ones that got away.  They’ve admitted things to each other they’ve told no woman. They’ve stepped up to the front line of mortality and bravely they stand.

I love those men, meeting every morning whether there’s much to say or not, gathering up their crumbs. How lucky they are to have found one another. You could draw a little heart around them. 
     February 17th, that’s when we’re celebrating. At Table One.
    We are women, of course. We were drawn together by the simple fact that we all lived in San Francisco at the same time and did similar things, although we didn’t know each other there. There’s more to it than that now, of course.
     Once a month we manage a night out. Table One at Vespaio is ours. It’s the round one in the alcove in the bar, the one from which you can see all the beautiful people yet not have them rub up against you.
     At Table One you can part the curtains and get a good view of the turquoise convertible, circa ’66, parked out front. You divide the cost by four and make plans to drive it to Marfa. It’s a trip you’ll never take in a car you’ll never buy but you’ve already done it in spirit.
     Or you can direct your energy inside. Men sometimes approach Table One yet are confused what to do when they get there. It’s because the laughter rang out so clear and true and called them like a whistle. Down boy, we say.
     What we’ve brought to the table: wedding plans and divorce proceedings; doubts about business ventures and public school education; advice about emailing/calling/sleeping with men; new shoes, groovy dresses, glowing hair, the phone number of Diane, Goddess of Facials; political outrage; spiritual quests; tales of crazy parents and the wounds we’ve tried to heal, wounds that haven’t healed, parents who aren’t healing; sex, current and past, especially past; sex, aided and au natural; and more sex, let’s just call it miscellaneous.
     I don’t know whether we talk about sex because of the oysters or not. The Oysters Rockefeller are ordered before we can take off our coats.
     Alan Lazarus is chef and co-owner of Vespaio. What he brings to Austin is Italy by way of California. The menu features fresh ingredients, simple preparations, often from his own garden, elegant presentation, adventurous pairings. One of the reasons we go there is that it’s not enough to be waited on; we want to be spoiled.
     Vespaio has a bohemian yet sophisticated edge to it. Trattoria or again, California. Whichever film star is in town is generally there or has just left. Fashion is forward. The light is low but the kitchen is open and bustling.
     When the girls get together, good intentions stay outside on the sidewalk. If you weren’t drinking out there, in here you have a martini better than the sex you keep talking about. If you were watching the cholesterol out there, in here you have a steak because it is going to be the most perfectly pink melt-in-your-mouth steak you ever had. If you were cold outside, inside you have the cioppino stew and are satisfied on the most primal level, or maybe the butternut ravioli.
     Table One is constant yet not always the same. Last month Cathy had to work late and didn’t make it after all. I almost didn’t make it myself. At the last minute the children’s father cancelled his plans to take them. They were thrown off. I thought I should stay home. But it’s always the same balancing act, isn’t it? You give it to your child, to your spouse, to your work. That night I decided to give it to my friends, mostly because I knew what they’d give back to me. You can bring guilt to Table One but don’t expect it to stay long. No one was worried my children’s lives would be ruined in those two hours. And they were right. Though next time something like that happens, I’ll stay home and they’ll applaud that, too.
     Alan stopped by Table One as he usually does and we talked about his latest trip to San Francisco. Did you go to Zuni, to Nanking? Did you go to Boulevard, Le Central? But he had his own favorite haunts. He stayed, with immense satisfaction, in his own rut.
     Time after time we go back to Vespaio. There’s nowhere else we want to be. Life’s messy  at Table One. We note it, then eat, laugh, hug and go home.
C. Jeanette Tyson is a freelance writer and mother to Jackson and Maddy. Vespaio is located at 1610 South Congress. 512.441.6100


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