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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

Things Left Unsaid

Friends can't read minds. But dinner and music can put people on the same page.: Five Feet, 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (949) 497-4955.

May 12, 2000|DAVID LANSING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Aileen and Duff aren't speaking to me. I've upset them. Particularly Aileen. Something happened during the cold, gray days of December--the specifics are unimportant--and when Aileen found out, she was hurt, disappointed, angry.

Aileen likes to say that I don't know her nearly as well as I think I do. I beg to differ. I knew the lecture she wanted to deliver. And I hate lectures. Besides, I'd heard it all before. So we just avoided each other, letting our relationship lie fallow over the winter and into spring.

But on Good Friday I am out for a morning walk, thinking I will pretty much have the neighborhood to myself, when Aileen and Duff, dragged along by their dog Molly, suddenly spring up like apparitions atop a hill on King's Road. The dew is still on the lawns, the street so quiet I can hear the squeak of their jogging shoes, the laboring of their breath, the jangle of Molly's dog tags as they approach me.

I wonder if they will pass with nothing more than a cool nod, a brief wave. But then Duff stops jogging, serves up a chagrined smile in my direction, and thrusts out his hand to shake. Aileen, right behind, stares hard at me, as if I'd stolen her kid's bike. Little Aileen with her red frizzy hair and flashing Irish eyes.

"So, are you back in the neighborhood, then?" Aileen asks, walking up to me, her hands on her hips.

"I'm back," I say, smiling.

She starts to walk away.

"Why don't you tell me what it is you've got to say, Aileen," I tell her, "so we can get on with it."

She shakes her head. "You're not ready for that," she says. "Not standing here in the street."

"Then let's have dinner together," I say. "Tonight."

"I don't think so," Aileen says, walking up the street.

"Come on. We'll have a couple of drinks and unload on each other."

So that's what we do. I pick them up at their house, and we drive along the coast on one of those rare spring evenings when the night still holds the warmth of the day, suggesting that summer is not far off, and the moonlit ocean sparkles with the lunar light. We decide to go to Five Feet in Laguna Beach, where none of us has been in years, and perhaps because it is the beginning of Easter weekend, we get a table immediately, an impossible task on most weekend evenings.

We sit at a long table covered in white linen with a black planter full of exotic blooms acting as divider between us and the young couple on the other side. Michael Kang, Five Feet's culinary impresario, bustles around the workstation next to us where he can keep an eye on the kitchen and the dining room. He comes over to say hello and tell us it is a good evening for "sole searching."

I once had a friend whose last name was Rhodes. He found it amusing to give his children names like Dusty and Slick, and in the same way Kang gets a kick out of titling his dishes as if they were Mad magazine parodies or student films from UCLA. Thus, tonight, there is "Sole Searching," a whole fish on Chinese spaghetti, and "M.K. Gone Nuts" featuring swordfish wokked with peanuts, chiles and peppers. There is also a tempura-style soft-shell crab on the appetizer list called "Crabby Mood." What a perfect combination: Crabby Mood, Gone Nuts and a little Sole Searching.

We start off by ordering the Crabby Mood and the kung pao calamari, my favorite dish on the regular menu, and a bottle of white wine. When I order the wine, our waiter raises his eyebrows and wrinkles his nose as if I've made a particularly bad choice. Without saying anything he waits for me to change my mind, his pen poised in the air. But I don't.

The waiter is right. The wine is tart, acidic and musty. "Just bring us three glasses of your best chardonnay," I snap when he returns with the "Crabby Mood."

We pick at the crab, the intensely hot calamari, making nothing but small talk. Every once in a while Aileen looks meaningfully across the table at Duff or he looks at her. It is like they are waiting for a signal from one or the other to begin our "real" conversation. Finally, annoyed, I tell Aileen to just go ahead and spill it. She slowly puts down her chopsticks, folds her hands in her lap and says, "I'm just going to listen tonight."

It was clear Duff has had a talk with her before our evening. "Now Aileen," he probably told her, "why don't you just keep still until you hear what David has to say. Give him a chance at least."

Well, this isn't going to work. I feel no need, and even less desire, to explain myself. I'd just as soon Aileen say what she's got to say. Get it off her chest. "Come on, Aileen," I say, prodding her. "Nothing you can say will offend me." And it's true. But Aileen will not rise to the bait. Not yet, anyway.

How many times have I told my children, when they've complained to me of friends who have let them down, to just get over it. Yet here we sit, three big goofy adults with hurt feelings and none of us really knows what to say.

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