Monday, October 26, 2009

Shove Thy Neighbor

One doesn’t automatically want to play the misanthrope.

And yet the moment you step out the door, chances are that someone or something will locate that small remaining soft spot of goodwill you have and quickly lance it like a boil.

I refuse to believe the problem is with me anymore.

So the other day we go out to one of our usual weekend diner spots. Now, you may say, you could save yourself a great deal of sorrow and upset if you simply didn’t listen in on other people’s conversations. Well, we don’t mean to, really. But once a word or two travels across the room, it’s hard not to wonder where the conversation is going to go, especially seeing as how it’s begun in such a promising fashion.

The woman in the booth diagonal from us was trying to explain to the waitress just how she wanted her chicken soup to arrive. Apparently she wasn’t willing to leave anything to chance.

“Now,” she said, “I want a lot of noodles, you understand, and very little broth.”

The waitress nodded.

“There should be,” she continued, “a great many more noodles than the amount of broth would seem to indicate. What I mean is – ”

She paused.

“What I mean is – I want the noodles to overwhelm me.”

Her tablemates nodded in agreement.

“There should be only a hint – a whisper, if you will – a dying gasp - of broth, barely detectable amongst the mad, cartwheeling circus of the noodles. Do you understand?”

The poor waitress put on the most professional smile she could manage under the circumstances and replied “Of course!” before quickly disappearing into the kitchen.

Now normally, this would be enough. The day’s quotient of idiotic behavior would have been filled and we all would have been left to go about our business. Nature has rules about things like this.

But no sooner had this first poor, harried waitress left than another was faced with the couple directly behind us. They seemed normal enough. The fellow even had on a Phillies cap, surely a sign of pleasant amiability.

“And what would you like to drink?” she asked them.

“Water,” said the woman.

“And for you, sir?”

“Moi aussi.”

“All right, so that’s a water and an iced tea?”

The man’s head turned slowly, as if on some satanic turret.

“Iced tea? I didn’t say anything about iced tea!”

Indeed he hadn’t. What the jackass had done was to tell the waitress that he’d like the same thing as his companion, only he’d told her this – in French.

“Hadn’t you, sir?” the waitress asked with a puzzled expression.

“No, I – ” and here there was a pause, as if the sunlight was suddenly breaking across the horizon of his Phillies cap and reminding him what country he was in – “Oh, I see what happened!”

A bemused grin spread across his pretentious and condescending features.

“Oh, oh – yes – I understand now!” he chuckled. “You see, when I gave you my answer, I was speaking in French!”

You know, the way you do.

“Oh, of course!” the waitress said.

“Yes, yes,” said the man, “I don’t know how that happened! Every once in a while I just lapse into it without realizing it! So what I had said, actually, was ‘Moi aussi,’ not ‘iced tea,’ though I can understand how you’d make that mistake!”

“Yes, sir. So what sort of drink would you like?”

“I would like,” and here he began to speak to her as if she were deaf, “I would like to have A GLASS OF WATER!”

“Right away, sir,” the waitress replied.


Had it finally happened? Had there been some awful Mayan-calendared apocalypse we hadn’t heard about that had left the two of us the only remaining normal people in the world? We spent the rest of the meal lost in visions of idiots drowning in broth, or imbeciles choking on food but only able to express their distress in French.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” I’d say, choking back tears of mirth, “No parlee voo français! What’s that? I can’t hear you!”

Until I’d lean in and say –


Really, is it me?


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