Sunday, April 6, 2008

Culinary Marshal Law

Clifton tossed his coat into the booth and plopped down. The small Asian woman that seated them sat waters in front of him and his girlfriend Kim.

“You habbabuffay today?” she said.

“What?” Clifton was bewildered.

“Yes,” Kim said. “We’ll have two buffets and two Dr. Peppers, please.”

“Meesa Peeb?”

“What?” Clifton said.

“Mr. Pibb is fine,” Kim said.

The waitress hustled away to get their drinks.

Kim began to stand. “Watch my purse while I go get some food?”

“What? Why can’t we just go at the same time?”

She sat back down. “I can’t just leave my purse here, Clifton.”

“Why not? I’m leaving my coat here.” He held it up to and sat it back into the booth to demonstrate.

“But my money and stuff is in my purse.”

Clifton shifted and reached into his back pocket. “I’ll leave my wallet in my coat. Would that do it for you?”

“Please don’t be impossible tonight,” she sighed.

“You know how much I hate these places. I just don’t understand how someone can voluntarily put themselves in a situation where they have to compete in the least for their food. I mean, you’re up there; there’s no direction. There’s just people coming at you from every which way to get that last piece of old, tepid food. This isn‘t Oklahoma, Kim,” he said.

“Well, I like this place. You’re just going to have to suck it up every once in a while. I go to places you like.”

“I always kind of thought my reciprocation for that was going to Long John Silvers with you.”

Kim stood up without replying. “Watch my purse, baby. Please. I’ll be right back.”

Clifton put his feet up Kim’s seat and slouched back. He spitefully stared at her purse to see if it posed any threat of sprouting legs and walking away. The waitress returned with the sodas.

“Thank you very much,” he said.

“Oh syure,” the waitress said, then walked away.

Across the restaurant, an obese man with a long grey beard sat alone with a heaping plate of food. Three empty plates lay stacked on the other side of the table. Everyone in town knew the man, he rode a three-wheeled cruiser bicycle around town. Clifton had heard his name was Stan, but he and his friends always called him Mr. Blurg. The closest thing to a celebrity that small town had.

A piece of spare rib hung loosely from Mr. Blurg’s beard, threatening at any moment to fall. The sight disgusted Clifton. The nausea wave increased three-fold when Kim returned with her plate.

“You’re serious? Buffet sushi?” he crinkled his nose.

“I like sushi,” Kim replied.

“Yeah, me, too, but … at a buffet? Raw meat that’s been sitting out at room temperature is like eating a petri dish of Ebola.”

“It was on ice,” Kim said.

“Oh!” he threw his arms up. “That’ll scare away the bacterium!”

Her stare grew icy. “Just go get some food.”

He reluctantly stood to go to the buffet. “That’s probably for the best. I don’t even want to breathe the same air that hazardous material occupies. I might get the avian flu.”

“It’s fish, you asshole. Go get some food.”

Clifton took the top plate from the spring-loaded dispenser, set it aside and grabbed the second one. People moved in every direction, jumping erratically from item of choice to other. He took a moment to plan his point of entry into the madness. The intention was to pick a spot and a direction and just stay the course until he had gotten what he wanted from each spot. He intended to load his plate as much as possible, to avoid having to return to the chaos.

The salad bar seemed least bustling, so he opted to begin there. He prodded the lettuce with the tongs and decided to pass when he noticed it nearly floating. The woman he got in line behind moved suddenly in his direction, making him jump. She scowled at him.

“Sorry about that whole having mass and taking up space thing. It’s one of the drawbacks of existing,” he said as she continued on her way. “This salad bar ain’t happening.”

Next stop in the tour of culinary marshal law seemed safe enough. Nobody was there. He looked along the bar: sweet and sour chicken, lemon chicken, sesame chicken and fried chicken. Sesame chicken appealed the most of those options. As he moved to get some, a boy of maybe five appeared right next to him. Eyes magnified by his huge glasses, he looked up at Clifton.

“What you got there?” Clifton asked, looking at his plate. “Pizza, nachos and mac and cheese, huh? Looks like somebody’s getting an authentic taste of the orient. Wow, what’s that? It looks like a little piece of hot dog wrapped in bacon with a toothpick through it. Wow.”

The boy stood on his toes and reached for the sweet and sour sauce ladle. His fingers barely missed it. Clifton pushed the handle closer so he could grab it, curious what he planned to do with it, considering the contents of his plate. He spilled the majority on the bar before dumping the remainder on a blank spot on his plate. After putting the ladle into the sesame chicken, he scampered away. Down to lemon chicken or fried chicken on that side, Clifton scanned the other side to find nothing of interest. His eyes widened when he noticed Mr. Blurg moving at him with surprising speed. Clifton bee-lined to the next table.

He returned, frazzled, to Kim at the table. She looked his plate over.

“Pasta salad, a roll and some fruit?” She shook her head.
“Least likely candidates for contamination,” he explained.

“You’re unreal.”

“Let me tell you something; I worked in the food industry for almost ten years, and I know how things go. The health department rolls in here and notices that they’re not rotating stock and keeping the food on the bar heated or cooled properly. The people that run this fine dining establishment just shake their heads and say ‘Oh yah. Syure, serve nooo bad food.’ Those health department guys don’t even want to fuck with it. They know they could move on to a restaurant where they can understand the people and ream their asses instead. Meanwhile, people flock here, blissfully ignorant of the potential poison they’re ingesting,” he took a drink of water to cool down from his diatribe.

Kim breathed deeply through his nose and shook her head. “Just eat your fucking pasta salad and fruit so we can get out of here.”

They ate silently for several minutes.

“So I’m thinking … sex tonight?” he said.

She closed her eyes and fought a laugh. “We’ll see.”

No comments: