HUSH

All you hear are taps; a rhythmic, staccato pulsing through the air.  If someone from the 1950s dropped into HUSH they might think the human race had evolved to include telepathy. They would not be far off.  HUSH prides itself on a cerebral rather than vocal experience, saving the mouth only for taste, not sound. 

Once, dining in the dark was the ultimate experience, taking away the sense of sight to intensify the taste buds.  But the digital age brought the opportunity to cut out another sense and people flocked to it like lemmings.  People claimed they would rather go without sex than their smart phone; it became an extension of themselves, as essential as the clothes they wore.  Some felt this was a bad thing, swapping the social face-to-face interactions for screens, emails and texts.  We hid behind our typed words, adding inflection in the form of ALL CAPS, emotion with emojis.

Some people rebelled of course, asking for device-free classrooms and playing the ‘you check, you get the cheque’ game at restaurants.  Many embraced this new form of expression; they saw it as an evolution of our species to allow for higher thought free from social constructs.  And there were those just interested in anything new, trying on the latest and greatest trend for size, keeping what fit into their comfort zone, trashing what didn’t.

People from the latter two camps stand in line at HUSH, not opening their mouths except to sip their drink or yawn while waiting to be seated.  You can spot the ‘virgins’ easily – looking around rather than at their phones, trying to gauge how much they should interact with other patrons.  Those returning to HUSH know better. Their phone is critical; texting instead of speaking to their friends, checking on their table status, ordering drinks and appetizers from the website while waiting to be seated.  A lull in notifications or texts means time for emailing or crushing candy and are as acceptable as perusing a menu or people-watching. 

***

It is Julian and Rebecca’s first date.  Since they met through an online dating service, dining at HUSH seemed apropos. Julian’s buddy Robert was part-owner of the dining establishment, so Julian called in a favour and reserved a table for two on the Saturday after asking Rebecca out.  He hoped this would impress her, making him seem hipper than the telecommunications job listed on his dating profile. He arranges to meet her a few blocks away from the restaurant, so they can converse as they walk together. Once they arrive at HUSH it will be strictly keyboard interaction.

Both are pleased that the other looks similar to their profile pictures – always the biggest risk in these situations. Julian stands a few inches taller than Rebecca, his sandy blonde hair cropped neatly around his ears and hazel eyes appearing bluer to match his oxford button down. Rebecca looks up at him and Julian notices the flecks of gold in her deep brown eyes that sparkle when she smiles. Her hair is tied up in a soft bun with wisps of black curls escaping to frame her face. She wears a deep green dress that skims the tops of her tall suede boots.

The conversation flows naturally around the excitement of meeting for the first time and dining at the most exclusive restaurant in the city. Rebecca is in marketing and pronounces HUSH a perfect case study in generating buzz.  In the hugely-saturated restaurant market, unique concepts are rare. Julian smiles and maintains eye contact as best he can while navigating the crosswalk signs and curbs. Rebecca asks about Julian’s work, but he dismisses it as boring and shifts the conversation to new movie releases.

As they arrive at HUSH the conversation quiets. The minimal entrance sports a clean white door with the restaurant name written in crisp black letters and a tiny picture of a cell phone. Julian holds the door open and they step inside. As the door closes, the assault of silence is immediate. All the cacophony of traffic, dogs barking, passing conversations are gone. It takes a moment to adjust. Julian immediately takes out his phone and scans the QR code at the greeting desk to check in and obtain the appetizer menu. This appearance of expertise is due to extensive research rather than prior experience, but it makes him and Rebecca feel more at ease. Rebecca follows suit and starts perusing the offerings. Their decisions around what to order while waiting to be seated is a combination of pointing to options on each other’s phones and gestures of agreement or dissent. Rebecca steers them to a small table with white and chrome bar stools and Julian orders drinks and an appetizer to share. The white and chrome theme extends throughout both the bar and the sunken dining room that they now overlook. The stark, minimal furnishings are fitting. No need to cushion ambient sound with heavy curtains and carpets when no one is talking. The keyboard clicks sound uncomfortably loud at first, but then fade into a rhythmic background hum. Amazing what the ear gets used to, whether calm or commotion.

Their drinks come quickly. Nervousness has set in a bit, but the martinis help take the edge off. They sip with one hand and text with the other, asking basic first date questions and pondering replies before committing them to the keyboard. A notification pops up on Julian’s phone informing him that their table is ready. Their appetizer is already laid on the table when they arrive. Rebecca nods, impressed. She wants to close her eyes while she eats, blocking out both senses at once, but thinks this might appear rude. Instead she opts to look directly into Julian’s eyes while she takes her first bite. Julian mirrors her actions, a bit apprehensively at first, but then surrenders to the act. It is extremely provocative to stare into another’s eyes to measure their reaction to anything – a morsel, a poem, a touch. They both feel a bit breathless.

Entrees and desserts are ordered and consumed, each as enticing as the previous, with meaningful looks meant to impart pleasure around what they are eating. Texting forgotten, they immerse themselves in the meal and each other.  Offerings to taste each other’s meal are given and received, a fork shared almost casually. By the end of the meal, Rebecca and Julian are comfortable in a way unattainable by sitting side by side in a darken movie theatre. They know each other’s eyes and mouths, the way they hold their fork and knife, how they dab at the corners of their mouth after a sip of wine.

Once outside, Julian pockets his phone and reaches for Rebecca’s hand and she responds willingly. Neither speaks, but the silence between them isn’t awkward. Julian is a bit worried that his voice might be a bit tinny after such a long silence, or gravelly like first thing in the morning. Instead, he just holds Rebecca’s hand and they walk down to the harbour. Heat emanates off the buildings from the day’s sun. The breeze is soft and warm. They watch the sailboats twinkling in the setting sun and the moon rise off the far horizon.

Clearing her throat, Rebecca breaks the silence first.

“Thank you for a lovely evening, Julian.”

Julian coughs into his free hand before speaking himself.

“No, thank you. I had a wonderful time…I hope we can do it again soon.”

Rebecca kisses Julian tenderly and steps back.

“Text me,” she says over her shoulder as she walks down the boardwalk.

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