The Spiky Stuff

Everyone’s their own unique brand of crazy, with that I’m intimately familiar, but I discovered last night that I expect normality out of the people around me.

I didn’t want to take the table in the first place. What I had presumed to be my last table of the night was doing the I’m-too-full-to-eat-anything-more-but-this-is-too-damn-delicious slow nibbles on their plates of pork tenderloin, and I was looking forward to getting them their dessert drinks and peacin. But I was closing, and so when a couple walked in at 9:05 and Colin sat them at table 8, they were my table. I had to remind myself as I walked across the dining room to be nice, and to not let my supreme irritation manifest itself in my face.

She was quite beautiful, wearing and pulling off a bright orange that would swallow many complexions, but that heightened her fragile paleness. In yet another example of the unjustice of societal beauty standards, he was slightly pudgy, the kind of pudginess that oozes friendliness but doesn’t distiniguish its owner from all the other 50-something slightly pudgy men. What distinguished him were his grampa-glasses, which might have been trendy on a mostachioed fellow thirty years younger but on his face were rather the opposite of a fashion statement.

I’m in the midst of reading Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut, which is all about the futility of big human brains, about how eventually humans evolved to not have such big brains because they (the stupid brains) screwed us over completely. And so tonight when the salad made by the kitchen for everyone to eat was made primarily of what young Audrey used to call “spiky stuff” aka frisee, I justified my distaste with an evolutionary // biological complaint. I was trying this Vonnegut experiement I like to call “not letting my big brain get in the way of Audrey” and so every bite I took of frisee I let my lip “inadvertantly” curl up in distaste.

“Biologically, these stupid greens are SCREAMING for us not to eat them. If we were in the wild and trying to survive, anything so bitter and awful tasting we would run away from,”

I remarked, sounding disgustingly Whitman-y and Vonnegut-y–to no one in particular, making the whole situation even more Whitman-y and more Vonnegut-y.

BUT I ATE THEM ALL. They had housemade ranch on them and then some of the pasta sauce got on em and so an edge of the bitterness melted away and next thing I knew I was shoving that last spiky green in my mouth. I’ve hated frisee since I was eleven years old and first discovered the meaning of greens that try to look fancier than they are, yet my big brain told me that ranch was more important than bitterness.

Disclaimer: I am about to make a flagrant, overly metaphorical leap somewhat akin to the ole ~life is like a box o chocolates.~

This couple was the frisee of late-arriving couples. They weren’t at all a pleasant mixture of salty and sweet, or crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, or even just plain yum yum in your mouth. The whole experience tasted twinge-inducingly bitter.

“She’s the type of person that is so nervous about everything that she makes you nervous,”

I explained to my coworker, who had the blessed privilege of being able to clock out early.

He paused, then nodded like he knew what I was talking about. It was nice of him to indulge me.

But that’s the best way I can think of to describe it. After ordering the salmon, she went through every single descriptionary item underneath where the salmon was listed–including something I had already explained, prompting her husband to say

“she already told you about that, honey! You’re having the salmon, yes, right?”

Plus, it wasn’t like she even let me explain things in full. I would offer a couple ingredients or cooking methods and then she would seamlessly jump in, asking about the next thing, or expressing her hesitation of what I had just said. It sounded like we could have been the Gilmore Girls, minus the fact that our wavelegnths were miles apart while Rory and Lorelai seem to have wavelegnths that nap and take smoke breaks together.

By the time she sent her salmon back to the kitchen because the salad that came with it was “too spicy,” I hated how she spoke, I hated her tastebuds, I hated her timing, I hated her inability to be considerate. I hated her lack of concern for how I reacted to her not liking her salmon an hour after we closed.

“…I often received advice from my own big brain which, in terms of my own survival, or hte survival of the human race, for that matter, can be charitably described as questionable. Example: It had me join the United States Marines and go fight in Vietnam.

“Thanks a lot, big brain.”

–narrator of Galapagos 

I took the salmon to the kitchen, and our marvelous chef made a special cucumber salad just for this lady. Thank every god that anyone has ever believed in that this lady liked that salad.

Then I realized that something was so off that I couldn’t be annoyed like I wanted to be.

I wanted to throw my shoe at her.

The co-worker that had clocked out walked by the table and he said that she was just talking non-stop, her pudgy husband sitting, sitting, silently chewing his food without paying any semblance of attention. But she kept talking. And after I took the salmon back with a different side, she was really, really happy. Her hands fluttered, and she chewed the piece of cucumber twenty times before swallowing. She still didn’t smile, but she didn’t pause either before saying

“Oh yes, yes, yes that is so much better. That’s actually quite good, yes, it’s pretty good.”

“And how is your pork tasting?” I asked her husband, who by then had finished a little more than half of it.

He said he liked it well enough, but that it was a little spicy and

“It would be really good if it was cooked with some red wine.”

“Oh he makes the best pork with wine sauce,”

his wife jumped in. “Oh he just makes the best things in the kitchen. I don’t mess with it at all because he just makes the best things. Honey tell her about what you do with the pork? How do you make the pork so that it’s just the best in the world?”

I then recieved a good ten minutes of cooking ideas, prompted by a misguided “suggestion” to chefs that have carefully crafted a pork dish based on their years of culinary school, experience making food for the typical attendees of a fine dining restaurant in Walla Walla, and the local ingredients available. He told me to make a chicken cassarole with teriyaki sauce, to drizzle a honey sauce on pesto dishes, and all sorts of fairly innovative cooking suggestions–innovation that I didn’t want to hear after six hours of walking around in uncomfortable shoes.

Everything in me was screaming to throw her plate on the floor, screaming for the sickly ~ploop~ of salmon filet hitting the floor, for the obstrusive shattering of the ceramic, for her to know how inconsiderate she was being, that serving her every, overly picky and overly annoying desire was the last thing my brain and body wanted when the restaurant was closed and my feet hurt.

Yet I am very grateful for my big brain. Even if it overrides my instincts to throw frisee and annoying women’s plates on the floor, I’m glad it’s up there, overthinking every evolutionary impluse I have. First of all, the people who had lovingly prepared the frisee for family meal would have been rather offended and hurt if I had thrown their salad on the floor. And also because I’m sure that woman has faced myriad troubles that I cannot even begin to imagine. I try to think that about every person, because I firmly believe that everyone has been shaped by their own story. But this woman and her husband in particular. She was normal seeming enough at first that I started to hate her–yet with the insight bestowed by perspective and further experience, the source of my irritation was biological. It was completely out of her control or my control. I don’t think she wanted to make me nervous, or wanted to infuriate me, which some people do indeed want in order to distract from their own nervousness or fury with life. She so genuinely could not help her oddness, yet I had been SO SO angry and colder because I was angry… which was not fair.

Luckily, my big brain was able to kick in, realize the whole situation, and tell me to chew and swallow the spiky stuff no matter how bad it tasted. Even if my night was turned to crap because of them, I have had loads of super fun nights, and if I could give them a good night, then I could make their lives just a wee bit better. Help them to bear the other people who surely have made the same assumption of normalcy as I did, and treated them accordingly when they failed to live up to the demands of normal.

P.S. I still hate spiky stuff.

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