I decided to take the intern out for lunch. We walked slowly between antique brownstones that spoke of comfort and stability without a thought of money. They, as we, welcomed the leaves of fall, which brought out the variations of brown in their steady walls and their hovering gargoyles.
I took us to a sushi house a couple blocks away, where the 2 roll special could get us a plate full of at least 16 pieces of sushi, a salad and soup. I added an order of edamame, ostensibly because 22-year old guys eat A LOT of food. Especially the skinny ones. But I also happen to love edamame.
He asked me questions about some of the contracts he had seen while filing them away in various cabinets, and I did my best to encourage his interests while trying to sound informed enough that he would believe my answers. I have worked in the business for three years, which isn’t quite enough to answer some questions, though I like to think that he was envious of my knowledge. I spoke of my early years in New York as if they were a decade past and encouraged him to check out this weekend’s festivals and grab a copy of Time Out NY to take his girlfriend on a tour when she came to visit.
When the bill came, I casually took it from him. The lunch was on me. It’s not like he was getting paid for his internship; it’s the least I could do. He protested gracefully, but also with a hint of anxiety, adding, “I really feel uncomfortable with you paying.” But I insisted, mentioning how the boss had bought my lunch earlier in the week, and so I was simply passing down his generosity.
As we finished off the last pieces of edamame, he looked thoughtful, and then said, “You know it’s funny, waiters, they always bring the check to the guy at the table. And here you just paid even though you’re the woman.”
Before I thought he just wanted to support himself, to pay his half. I had done the same thing in my years as an assistant. But perhaps he actually wanted to pick up the entire tab simply because I was a woman and he was a man, determined to abide by the standards of society. This, I decided, was incredibly naive.
“Well,” I said, “The waiter didn’t really seem to mind so I guess it’s OK.”