Once, when I was working as a waitress, a mother came into the restaurant with her two little boys, whom we’d seen before. I must say, they were not particularly appealing children—they were wild and hard to control, and frequently cruised around the interior of the restaurant on scooters. On this day, one of them, about four years old, climbed atop an empty table and wouldn’t get down.
I said, “Honey, you have to come down from there.”
To which he said, “Fuck you!”
So I lifted him down bodily.
He ran to his mother in tears, screaming and whining. His mother said, “Sweetheart, the lady only did that because she loves you.”
Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend at one of my favorite restaurants, in West Midtown. It’s an inexpensive French bistro that has been around since 1973; you know when you pass the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture that you’re almost there. The proprietors treat their regulars—many of them older, many of them eating alone at the small tables—with unsentimental respect and courtesy. When one of the regulars is housebound, they pay the homeless man who panhandles outside to bring food to his or her apartment. That’s not why I go there—I just like the food.
Yesterday, my friend and I both needed comfort. We were in Midtown and we craved croque monsieurs. Our destination was obvious. And when I passed the giant LOVE on the corner of Sixth Avenue, my heart sang.
Writing about that famous Robert Indiana, Megan Wilde said, “The word love was connected to [Indiana’s] childhood experiences attending a Christian Science church, where the only decoration was the wall inscription God is Love. The colors were an homage to his father, who worked at a Phillips 66 gas station during the Depression.” As Indiana himself said, “My goal is that LOVE should cover the world.” He got that wish, sort of.
The restaurant’s proprietors are sort of brusque. Yes, the sometimes-delivery-man takes his meals there, but there is nothing coddling about the experience. Do I “love” this restaurant? I don’t know; it so obviously doesn’t try to be loved that the word seems besides the point. Do I “love” that iconic sculpture? A little bit, maybe, despite myself, only because I know I am about to experience the luxury of taking a place that is nourishing and undemanding and everyday for granted.
When that little boy climbed back onto that table, and fell off, and banged his elbow, and cried, I wasn’t happy. This is the human instinct, I guess: care and tenderness for the dependent is innate. But did I love him? Most certainly not.