(An Early Bird dinner in Florida)
It started when Barry, the 60-year old waiter, screeched to a stop at our table. “Your table is number twenty-nine, remember that. I stink at this job, so when I screw up you can just shout ‘table 29.’” His Groucho was so good I wanted to jump up and stick out my knee to shake his hand. Turns out he was funny—and, unfortunately, honest.
Things moved along, the occasional call across the room for “butter, not margarine” and “Can we get our coffee now?” No problem, Groucho did his best. But my Jewish self-loathing, usually reserved for the Israeli genocide of Palestinians, began to rear its head as the table next to us filled up with a nine person circus.
The women. Ahh, the women. Blonde hair, black hair, another, the hue of Rita Hayworth in Gilda—at least that reddish hue you’d imagine it would be if the movie were in color. If I had a dime for every nip and a dollar for every tuck, I’d buy the world a Coke. We’re talking 80 plus without a single wrinkle or wattle. Blonde hair, black hair, silver hair. You gotta hope they shaved their legs.
And the men. I couldn’t quite count the dentures and none popped out—at least that I could see from my seat.
“The game last night, my god, what a way to lose,” said the man, who became The Maven. (He who knows it all).
“I watched it but don’t remember the end,” said the guy who turned out to be The Forgetter.
“How can you not remember the end? It was the best part. Everything happened. Did you fall asleep? Mother, do you know what you want to eat?”
“What? I can’t hear you!” Blonde Mama yelled from the other end of the table.
“Are you wearing your hearing aid?”
“What are you saying?” she shouted.
“He’s asking if you know what you want to eat,” Silver Hair explained, talking into her ear. “Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aid? You spent a fortune for it.”
“They make my ears look too big for my head. And I don’t know why he keeps asking the same damn thing. I always get the veal.”
Which veal?” Silver Hair tries to shorten the inevitable process with a preempt.
“The Italian one. I just don’t know what’s the matter with that kid. He must have a gene missing!”
The Blonde Mama had a problem hearing, but when the waiter finally came, her memory was razor sharp. She ordered with machine gun precision: matzo ball soup, salad, blue cheese dressing, veal (Parmesan, it turned out), ziti on a side plate, vegetables, iced tea with two lemons, “make sure it’s two lemons.” I idly wondered if she was going to take one of the slices home. When she asked for a Styrofoam cup and top in advance for half her matzo ball, I was sure of it.
Meanwhile the table had moved on to politics.
“Obama, what’s to know?”
“Plenty, just listen to Colbert,” The Maven was saying to anyone who might be listening (loud enough that “anyone” could include the entire restaurant). “I’m telling you, he’s a genius! Him and that other guy. Pure genius!”
“Comedians can’t be geniuses,” the Forgetter responds, “anyway, both of them are slanted. And they don’t admit it.”
The Forgetter, who had forgotten that the waiter had taken all the orders added, “The waiter won’t know what veal dish you want.”
“Ahh, another country heard from,” said his wife. “He just took all the orders,” shaking her head.
I’d fallen into one of the Seinfeld Florida episodes. I also realized that Jerry might be a comic genius too, but in those cases, he just sat down with a pen and paper taking notes at the early bird. It wasn’t parody or satire. Just what it was.
At this point Groucho brought our $9.99s. I thought about doing the hora around their table with a pork chop in each hand, shouting that I’d spent 12 years in a yeshiva. Restrained by Sue, I quietly dug into my chops and continued to listen.
Their main courses began to arrive. Act Three.
Barry began selectively scattering little side bowls of broccoli around the table.
“Where’s mine?” asked Blonde Mama.
“You ordered the vegetables,” said her neighbor.
“Broccoli is a vegetable,” Blondie replied and grabbed the dish.
“You got to take this plate back,” The Maven said angrily to the waiter. “I must have said ‘well done’ four times and look at this! Everything is bright red!”
The waiter, looking suicidal, to his credit, calmly picks up the dish and apologizes. “I’ll take it to the kitchen,” he says, barely getting the words out in a strangled tone.
That Blonde Mama heard. “Just eat what’s in front of you!” she bellowed to The Maven.
“Okay, okay,” The Maven replies. “Just give me the plate. It’s fine!” And grabbed it from the waiter who looked like he wanted to jump through the window.
At this point I needed a Gentile. I needed someone who will think an underdone steak is a penance to bear. Or, when he realized he had ordered mixed vegetables instead of broccoli, he’d eat that succotash in silence or just quietly leave it there until it was cleared away.
I really, really needed a Gentile. Even one just to look at. Hell I’da admired his plaid pants and golf club. I needed a goy or I needed a gun.
Sue saw the look on my face. “Just be patient. There’s vodka in the freezer at your dad’s.”
Silence descended at the group’s table as everyone decided to eat. Didn’t last too long. Someone said, “They give you your money’s worth here, anyway.” Which began an argument about where you could eat the most for the least until their food was gone.
“Gone” really isn’t the correct word. Half gone, quarter gone might be closer to the truth. But the eating had stopped with an air of satisfaction surrounding the table.
Barry came back. He knew the drill. “How many boxes?”
“Seven big ones,” The Maven demanded, still angry about his red meat.
I remembered a friend telling me about the ultra fancy Jewish country club a few towns over. Although the place was filled with Caddies, Mercedes, Lexis’s, and Jags, no one was allowed to bring pocketbooks or bags into the restaurant for the fancy buffet.
Not so in the Grand. Hell, they supplied the carry-out tools.
Again the table lapsed into silence as people shoveled their food into the Styrofoam until Blonde Mama forked the unfinished matzo ball, shook it into the cup, then tilted her bowl to make sure every drop of cold liquid made it into there too. Practice makes perfect. Somehow I believed she could have done it in her sleep.
And then they were gone.
My nerve endings still firing, we called for our boxes, filled them up, paid the check, got in the car and headed home. No goys, no guns, but we made it back alive.