There is, to put it mildly, a bit of a culinary generation gap between Mama Dog and her dad. Mama Dog’s primary concern in selecting a restaurant is the quality of the food. Mama Dog’s dad – let’s say MDD – is concerned primarily with a quiet atmosphere in which to eat. So – summing up – where Mama Dog would prefer to dine in a place crowded with noisy people enjoying their meal, MDD would prefer to eat in the tomblike silence afforded by a notoriously unreliable menu. For reasons she’s not entirely clear on, she let her dad pick the venue for yesterday’s lunch.
To avoid potential libel complications, I’ll cleverly disguise the name of the restaurant and for once not provide a link. Let’s call the place “Schmacapella,” and say that it’s the restaurant at a “Schmest Schwestern” hotel. That ought to do it.
MDD was already at a table when we arrived, and the place was as quiet as he likes it. It’s across the street from a hospital and the clientele seems to be made up primarily of recovering stroke victims, people in walkers visiting their younger siblings who are stroke victims, and people in walkers keen to consume enough poorly cooked beef to become stroke victims themselves. The median age appeared to be 84 and the dominant fabric was polyester. I was reminded of the Seinfeld episode about the early bird dinners in Del Boca Vista. It was noon. Is that late for lunch or early for the early bird dinner? Or possibly late for the early bird dinner?
First cause of trepidation: the name of the place had changed since MDD was last there. He told use we’d be eating at “Shmictoria,” and the sign and menus all said “Schmacapella.” Apparently there’d been a recent change of ownership. Mama Dog told me later that the place has gone through about eight changes of ownership and has never been any good.
“This time for sure!” – B.J. Moose.
Mama Dog ordered a salad and tri-tip. MDD ordered some sort of turkey sandwich special. I asked for a hamburger, medium-well, with bacon and nothing else; just meat and bun. This last part is very important as condiments are the spawn of Satan. The waiter inspired confidence by repeating the key phrase back to me: “Just meat and bun.” Then he walked off without having written anything down. “He didn’t write our order down,” Mama Dog said nervously. I was optimistic. “I think he’s got it.” He seemed self-assured, anyway, nodding briskly as each of us gave our orders. I told a dumb story about taking drink orders at the San Diego Comics Convention, and infected the others with my optimism. Sorry.
We took a tentative step toward being problem customers when Mama Dog’s salad arrived. She picked away at it, pushing aside some dubious-looking mushrooms, then asked her dad, “Didn’t you order something with a salad?” “Gosh, yeah,” he said, “I hope he hasn’t forgotten.” Normally I’m the one who’s content to wait until things have gotten out of hand at the restaurant, but a growing sense of foreboding caused me to take things in hand. I flagged down the waiter, who came over and assured us that MDD’s salad came on the plate with the sandwich.
It was kind of like the moment in the horror movie when the thing jumping out from off-screen turns out to be just the cat.
The salad plate got cleared away, MDD taking the opportunity to snag the wearied fungi – a daring move, but what the hell, we were across the street from a hospital. Then we came to the moment in the horror movie where the maniac killer is right – outside – the house!
Mama Dog’s tri-tip was swimming in some noxious green sludge that looked like it had come from a novelty shop. My hamburger came with cheese and no bacon. Because I’m Canadian, I immediately apologised to the waiter for his mistake. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I asked for bacon, not cheese.” To his credit, he copped immediately to the error and took the dish back. “It’ll be about five minutes,” he said, as though hoping to convince me that it would be easier just to eat the cheese. “That’s okay,” I assured him. Off he went. Mama Dog made an exploratory poke at the meat under the iridescent green goo. Her Douglas Sirk steak had come bloody as hell; I don’t think Buddy Holly’s a very good waiter. “This is way too rare for me,” she said unhappily. MDD poked at a piece on his end of the plate. “This one over here isn’t so bad,” he said. I’m not sure if he was suggesting she should only eat the more well-done pieces, or if he thought her dining experience would be improved by starting on the more-well-done side then working toward the raw side. “Just send it back,” I said, starting to warm to the idea of being a problem customer. We flagged the waiter down again.
When I had my hamburger back – with bacon, not cheese – and Mama Dog had her steak back – somewhat less raw – it looked like we might finally end up with a passable lunch. Mama Dog did the best she could with the steak. She wondered what had been done to cook it further. “Probably popped it in the microwave for a few seconds,” I suggested helpfully. She made a face. I took a couple of bites of my hamburger and made a face myself. I pulled the top bun off; it was plain. I pulled the bottom, and it wouldn’t come. I wedged it out with a fork. Sure enough. It was glued to the burger with a layer of that most disgusting yet most inevitable of condiments, the demon mayonnaise.
“Should I barf?” I wondered. No, probably that wouldn’t help.
Mama Dog commiserated. She’s on edge every time I order a hamburger, having seen how often such a simple order gets fucked up. When she orders for me she employs a system of redundancy: “One hamburger absolutely plain without anything and no nothing on it at all nohow.” Obstinately, I keep it simple. “Just meat and bun,” I’ll say. I don’t see any ambiguity in that order. Take some meat. Put it on a bun. No – stop! – don’t
put other things on it! I suppose there’s perversity in my perseverance. I just can’t believe people think I mean “Just meat and bun except of course for the mayonnaise.” “Just meat and bun except for the other disgusting crap that you want to throw on it.” “Just meat and bun and of course unless I say ‘don’t load it up with bull semen and donkey turds,’ you can’t possibly know I didn’t want them.” How can an order as simple as “Just meat and bun” be so universally baffling? I don’t get it, but apparently it is.
Mama Dog was sorrowful. The sanctity of the meal is a big thing for her, and my dining misfortunes tend to hit her harder than they do me. I said not to worry, that I’d send it back, but that I was done eating. “Maybe they’ll give you a refund,” MDD said, not quite getting the subtext. “Oh, they’ll give me a refund,” I said. No way was this hamburger getting paid for.
When the waiter came back, I handed him my burger, pointing out that it had mayonnaise on it. He looked surprised, shocked, confused. “You didn’t say no mayonnaise,” he said. Uh-huh. “I said ‘just meat and bun,’” I told him, hoping that perhaps he might in future grasp the meaning of those words when spoken by a fellow condiment-loather. “Don’t bother replacing it.” I really had lost my appetite. “I’ll take it off the bill.” he said crisply, the soundest bit of customer service he’d managed through the lunch.
I told Mama Dog I was a little disappointed that he’d done the right thing. I’d been looking forward to having him give me an argument so I could try out the Dingo Manoeuvre: “No, I’m not paying for it. You can call the cops if you want. I’ll be calling the AARP Newsletter.”
Post-tsunami postscript: How long, do you think, before the Bush “Administration” declares a War on Weather?