Halfway through dinner, I glanced over at the next table where the manager was holding up a lifeless diner. The diner’s legs were still draped over the chair he’d been sitting in, while his upper body fell over the manager’s arms like a heavy pile of dry cleaning. The manager held the diner from behind, vainly administering the Heimlich maneuver. The man’s head lolled unresponsively, his forehead and bangs covered with a thick blob of mashed potatoes where his head had fallen forward into his plate.
It had all happened without a noise, without the dinnerware rattling, without a shriek from the guy’s date, or a peep from the strangers at the neighboring tables, who were now raptly gazing at the man. Our cousin got out her phone and called 911, while the manager, shifting tactics, let the man’s body slide down into the chair again until his torso was bent over double, pounding on his back between the shoulder blades. It was like practicing urgent care on a dummy.
By now our cousin had withdrawn to an unoccupied part of the restaurant and was yelling at the 911 operator to hurry. “We have a man here who’s choking,” she was saying; “we need help immediately; he’s only got a few minutes.” The operator wanted the exact address, which of course neither of us knew because everyone knows where this particular Rush Street restaurant is.
I couldn’t stand having to look at the unconscious man, or not look at him, so I went outside and told the valets that there was a medical emergency and the EMT guys would be coming. Another woman who had followed me outside to smoke groused about the slowness of the fire department. The street was quiet. No approaching sirens.
I went back into the restaurant’s bar. All its patrons were silent, intent on the drama in the dining room. The man now lay motionlessly on the floor. Two women standing near me asked if he were part of my party. No, I said; he was at the next table. I didn’t know anything more about him than they did.
Finally, the EMT people came and, trundling the young man’s still unconscious form onto a low gurney-like contraption resembling a beach-chair, wheeled him swiftly out into the street. He was a resistless, insensate bundle. It seemed that a long time had passed.
The table where he had been sitting was reset. No one knew whether he was living or dead. The waiter came over and asked us if we would care for dessert. It was not his fault, but our dinner was over.