In Houston, everything sweats, even inanimate objects. I watched as the first beads of condensation began to swell and and slide down the side of my water glass, small at first, like a fine mist, then larger. Eventually, they grew so fat they began to puddle around the bottom of the glass, resting on the hard wooden tabletop that gave no harbor. Across the table, my friends' water glasses had begun their own tiny protests against the heat, and before long the three water glasses had cumulatively soaked the table in condensation. The faster we drank the water, the faster the busser refilled them, and the cycle began anew. I would have asked him to stop, but we were thirsty. After all, we were sweating too.
Decibel levels in restaurants aren't alone in their suffering since the anti-tablecloth trend swept the fine dining industry a decade ago; water has no place to pool discreetly anymore. Without tablecloths underneath, there's nothing to soak up the condensation that drools down the sides of glasses except for your napkin.
I've spent countless evenings in nice restaurants, paying a not insubstantial amount money for a meal during which I've spent a not insubstantial amount of time mopping up rivulets of water as they head towards a lap, a friend's shoes, the floor for someone to slip on. On a good night, it nets me one soggy yet still inexplicably starch-stiff cloth napkin, or I manage to ignore the pools altogether and we dine amidst a table full of puddles, like a fresh rain shower just passed through the immediate area. Other times I've been too slow and ended up looking like I've wet myself at dinner, possibly over the excitement of being able to just hear my server over the sense-deadening din of the dining room.
If restaurants would offer coasters, or even paper cocktail napkins—the affectionately termed bev naps you often get with your highball at the bar, like a cozy pillow on which your gin and tonic can rest with gentility—I would have nothing to complain about (or maybe I'd move on to complaining about "shareable plates" that come with two small bites of food, a bit of knowledge your server did not impart to you, and now you find yourself squaring off politely with the three other people at your table, No, please, you enjoy the charcoal-roasted kimchi street corn , I'll wait for the chicken skin velouté). But they don't. I could ask for one, but then I'd look like some philistine who doesn't appreciate the fine, textured grain of the reclaimed pine table beneath my Mason jar full of hateful, hateful water.
And anyway, the bev naps would (and always do) get soaked themselves in short order, and no one wants to look at ratty, moist scraps of pulp dotting a table any more than they want to see a frozen mudslide on your craft cocktail menu. Vulgar. Not me, though; I'll take as many bev naps as you can shove at me, along with a mudslide. (I'm super serious about this part.) And a giant glass of ice water, too. After all, it's Houston and it's sweaty, y'all.