Dinner and a show

mashed

A stream of patrons wearing cut-off jean shorts and tank tops or oversized t-shirts and sweats flowed from the restaurant. They shuffled and limped as was customary for the diners of this fine establishment but today it was with a noticeable bounce from the excitement of witnessing something unusual.

“Enjoy the fight,” a woman without any upper teeth lisped as she walked past us and cackled.

Her gang joined in with knowing nods and a chorus of raucous laughter, “Yeah, enjoy.”

Taking no heed of this, we marched onwards towards the glass doors from which the motley crew had just emerged. It was Father’s Day and we were celebrating in classic Indiana fashion at an all you can eat buffet.

It was the type of place where it was unheard of to leave more than a $3 tip and rude not to accumulate a stack of plates with bits of chicken skin, rib bones, green beans in juice from a pineapple slice and the remnants of a piece of carrot cake on the edge of the table. The dress code was less than casual and strictly enforced most days.

Once we were assembled inside, the hostess looked up and down at us and shook her head in disapproval. City folk, I could almost hear her saying. She narrowed her eyes but allowed us in anyways.

They made an exception for us because they were dealing with a much bigger issue.

The staff huddled around the hostess stand, drawing safety from numbers.

A large, unkempt man a patchy beard and dirty t-shirt bellowed, “It ain’t right. I been here 45 minutes and want my mashed potatoes. It ain’t right to take a man’s money and not give him a regular part of the meal.”

The manager approached the angry man and spoke so quietly that the crowd leaned closer. He used his hands to emphasize his words and pushed the tense air down with open palms, saying, “Just calm down.”

Generally, this is one of the worst things to tell an irate human. It’s the same as telling a sobbing woman, don’t cry. Things get worse.

“Give me my money back and we’ll call it even,” the man demanded and stepped closer to the manager who was a foot shorter.  The man puffed his flabby chest up like an overfed, dirty rooster with patches of missing feathers preparing to fight for barnyard justice.

I wanted to look away. I knew it was wrong to stare but this was eye candy, the sticky kind that pulled out your fillings. The man disgusted and intrigued me, demanding mashed potatoes after he had been there for close to an hour.  Undoubtedly, he had filled his quota of heaped up plates leaving behind only greasy chicken bones, cast off vegetables, half eaten rolls and a bite of tuna salad.

“He just wants a free meal,” one of the servers said in a loud whisper.

Her comrade shook her head in disagreement and with a sly smile said, “No, he just wants his mashed potatoes.”

———————————

“You shall love your crooked neighbor, with your crooked heart.”

-W.H. Auden

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