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September 1st, 2003

What's our limit?

When I was a kid, going out to eat was simple. We walked in, sat down at a table, opened our menus ... and then either Alan or I (or both) would ask, "What's our limit?" Because when we ate out, we always had a limit: the maximum amount we were allowed to spend. It included drinks, dessert, everything. So we had to count up how much we were spending and make sure we stayed under the limit.

It always pissed Dad off when we would go to visit him and we'd ask, "What's our limit?" when he took us out to eat. "Just get what you want!" he always insisted. But the vagueness wasn't comfortable. We wanted to know! What's our limit?

We still ask, "What's our limit?" today when we eat out with Mom and she's paying.

As a kid, I thought this was completely normal, and it never occurred to me that it wouldn't transfer to the outside world.

Now, in adulthood, I'm always uncomfortable when someone takes me out to eat. I know it isn't socially acceptable for me to ask, "What's my limit?" ... but I'm always thinking it. How much should I spend? How much is too much? Should I get the caesar salad ... or does that cost too much?

In my mind, there's still some invisible limit, but I'm not allowed to ask what it is. And so I have to guess.

No wonder Alan and I preferred to have it spelled out for us.

Tomorrow, Shannon's dad and step-mother are coming up to Berkeley to take us out to lunch. I know that they would want me to just order whatever I want, but I also know that I will still dance the silent, invisible "What's my limit?" dance in my head.

I always do.

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