This post is actually a day late, but I wanted to start doing something every Saturday morning for the next year. Even I occasionally get sick of football news, and every once in awhile I like to sit with my coffee in the morning and check out or write something different. I figure that Saturday morning is probably the best time to do that as the week of Packers debate will always be coming to a close. I’ve always promised to bring unique content and I hope this can be an off the path addition to your Saturday reading list. I wouldn’t expect a War and Peace, but I think I can guarantee you a one-of-a-kind true story… 52 times. We’ll see.
I don’t know much about fine dining but I went to a fancy restaurant once. I’ve been to a few I suppose, but this one was was ultra swanky. And to be entirely honest, I wasn’t happy about any of it at all.
On the whole, I had been super-excited. At 11-years-old, in the dead of summer, I was flying solo for my first time down to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit my grandparents. This in itself was outstanding. My grandfather Lt Col Wayne R. Cook and my grandmother Irene Samuel Cook, lived in an overly posh estate on the top of a hill called Pinnacle Point. My grandfather, after leading a tank battalion in Word War I, had been a successful lawyer for many years. My grandmother, was often referred to as “The Fearless” Irene Gaston Samuel due to her work with the Womens Emergency Committee to Open our Schools. The WEC had fought the segregationists in the Little Rock school system in the 1950′s and won. The result of all this accomplishment was a high class status complete with an in-ground swimming pool, cable television (which just came out), and even a personal maid named Arcola. It was something right out of a magazine, with a dazzling yard complete with one of those statues in it. And she was considered liberal.
Anyway, to get to the meat, I was ready to get down there, hop into my swim trunks and spend about two weeks in that pool with the maid bringing me cold soda and cookies to my heart’s content. Needless to say, I was less than happy when I arrived and learned I would need to immediately put on my Sunday best and head out to dinner with my grandmother to some smarmy downtown restaurant with a couple of other adults that I didn’t even know. What the hell happened to swimming, I thought? I was about as pissed off as a young man could have been at this point. This was not how my summer vacation was supposed to unfold, at all.
I reluctantly took a shower and donned my shirt, vest, pants, tie, coat, and about everything else uncomfortable I could have imagined. My grandmother was allowed to take my grandpa’s classic Cadillac Convertible and so we hit the road in the big machine amidst the most brutal heat of the southern summer. Did I mention how unhappy I was?
We arrived, and even at that age just walking in I could tell that the restaurant was five-star all the way. The place was dimly lit, with leather everywhere. There were trees growing inside and the entire hashery was glistening with tiny little sparkling cables of white lights. Covering the tables were linen tablecloths and even napkins folded into swans next to what looked to be overly heavy solid silver utensils.
What it didn’t have however was a wishing well.
Any restaurant worth a damn knows that you need to have a wishing well at the exit so that guys like me can pick out a bomb toy before leaving. It was just common courtesy and one they had obviously forgotten at this stuffy little old lady smelling excuse for a food joint.
This on my mind, I was less than amused when we got to our table where we were greeted by a younger couple in their thirties or so. We exchanged some pleasantries, and almost immediately the adult talk began. I had no idea what the conversation was about, and quite honestly really didn’t care. I was already having a terrible time and had one thing on my mind at that moment: root-beer.
I had already chugged down the ice water in the big glass next to the three forks, but my goal at the time solely revolved around obtaining a tall frosty mug of my favorite swill. After what seemed like forever, a waiter finally came around carrying a silver tray with a silver pitcher to replenish our water. To my delight, it also appeared he was ready to take my order for the ultimate flavored beverage in existence. In no obvious hurry, he eventually got around to me.
“Sir, what may I get you to drink.”
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t offer root-beer.”
There was an awkward silence as I tried to comprehend what just came out of this guy’s mouth. No root-beer? Really? I looked over at my grandmother bravely to rectify the situation but her response was not what I was looking for.
“Why don’t you have a glass of milk, honey?”
“But, I don’t want milk.”
It was quickly apparent that this was not the right answer, as I saw a look in my grandmother’s face that I had never seen before. It was a mixture of complete rage and embarrassment all thrown into one evil stare. I didn’t argue.
When my milk came, along with the menus, I sat silently as the adults continued their savvy high society discussion. I opened my leather bound list of items and tried to at least embrace the task of finding something to eat for dinner. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read a damn thing in it. Even more importantly, I could not find the two words I was looking for: hot and dog.
I again turned to my grandmother, this time with more urgency, inquiring as to where I was going to find a delicious sausage in a warm delicious chewy bun.
“They don’t have hot dogs here, honey”
“Well, I don’t want anything then.”
Now if the first look from my grandmother could be considered piercing, this one was simply a bazooka round to the chest. It was quickly made clear to me that I was indeed embarrassing my elder in front of her all important guests, and that I would now proceed to find something on the menu that I did like, such as fish, and do so without complaint.
End of discussion.
It was a valid point, I did like a good plate of fish. Even at a young age I had always been pretty good with a fishing pole and had grown accustomed to a good meal of fried bluegill and tarter. I proceeded to scan the available items and I did not see bluegill anywhere. I had never heard of a red-snapper or a mussel before, and I didn’t have the heart to eat a swordfish. I wasn’t going to ask for assistance, and thus was left to wing it.
As the waiter came, I made a last second choice, settling on the unknown with the stuffed flounder and crab. I never had a flounder before, but was familiar with the name from the movie “Animal House” and Kent ‘Flounder’ Dorfman which I had recently watched without my parents permission. I was also pretty sure that I liked crab, so it seemed like a logical choice to me.
Now I don’t know if you have ever been served stuffed flounder, but what came to my table made my stomach turn. It was the entire fish, head and all. The thing was staring at me too, with its pure white glossed over creepy eyes. In the middle, the side was cut open and pouring out of the top was some gooey sauce that was completely covering a mound of perhaps the most horrid vegetable god ever created… the green pepper. I hated green peppers, always have and always will. They are the devil’s beta-carotene.
The plate was a complete nightmare. I took one bite and seriously had to hold it down lest it join the entrée.
“There is no way I am eating this.”
That statement would start a terrible chain of events beginning with the guest couple politely smiling and looking for a solution, and ending with my grandmother walking me quickly away from the table and in no uncertain terms letting me know I was to go back, sit down, be polite and not speak unless spoken to.
Even though I was mad as hell myself, I did just that.
I sat for much of the dinner in silence. Near the end of the meal I did make an effort to be polite to the guests, answering their awkward questions about my life and interest in music at the time. The man seemed okay I guess. He knew a little about being in a band, and struck up a conversation. I played the trumpet, and he played the sax or something like that. We proceeded to talk a little treble clef and somehow I managed to make it through the rest of the meal while my grandmother squawked away for an eternity with her friend.
It was obvious that at the end of dinner service, and well into the parking lot, my grandmother was absolutely livid. I could understand that perhaps I had been a little childish in the restaurant, but come on, it’s summer and you’re my grandmother. I just didn’t get it.
Much like today, I was always one to argue back then too, and as we got in the car I wanted to try and ease the tension of the moment by defending myself and trying to smooth things over so I might get a shot at the pool later that evening. I had thought long and hard over dinner, and picked my words about as carefully as an 11-year-old could, weighing all the options and the perceived facts before speaking. I formed what I considered to be an air tight argument, irrefutable and thus just. I most certainly saw no harm in my actions, and was absolutely offended that my grandmother was this upset on MY vacation.
Even after all this thought and analysis, what I would say next was so shocking to my grandmother, and now me, that the statement makes the need for an ending to this story unnecessary. The outfall that would soon follow should be clear enough for even the most naive reader to grasp. That as it is, with all the will power and bravo that this young man could muster up, I sat down in the that white Cadillac convertible, looked my grandmother straight in the face and told her as firmly as I could…
“I’m mad and think you’re wrong for yelling at me. Bill and Hillary didn’t even care about it at all.”
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