The Fancy French Dinner
My rich friend, Merlin Sinker, invited me to go out to dinner with him again. I accepted, though the choice was a hard one. After a lot of thought, I decided that the free dinner would be worth the uncomfortable clothing I would be required to wear…but just barely.
It had better be a really good dinner, I thought, trying to get my dress shirt to stay tucked inside my slacks. Giving my belt a yank to tighten it another notch, I finally got the shirt to stay tucked, even when I sat down.
I was heading for the front door when my wife stopped me. “Where is your suit jacket and your tie?” she asked. “And why in the world are you wearing your cowboy hat and sandals?”
I grimaced. I also frowned. Jenny wasn’t normally the type to make me wear fancy clothes. In fact, she was the one who insisted on wearing a light jumper to our wedding because it was hot that day. I wore shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals. That was the greatest wedding ever, especially when all the guests showed up in suits and other fancy clothes. They sat there through the whole thing, broiling patiently in their posh clothing. Jenny and I, on the other hand…
I snapped out of my daydream to find Jenny standing in front of me, scowling.
“What sort of disgusting expression is that on your face?” she demanded.
I relaxed my facial muscles. “Oh, I think I was just grimacing and frowning at the same time. My mistake. I’ll go get my jacket.”
“Don’t forget a tie,” she added. “And wear some dress shoes and take off that hat!”
“But I have hat hair!” I griped, starting up the stairs.
“Then you shouldn’t have put the hat on in the first place!” she called after me.
“I had hat hair when I woke up this morning. That’s why I put on the hat.”
“That’s called bed hair!”
“It could be called sofa hair for all I care. It still looks awful.”
“Want me to chop it off?”
“NO!” I screeched.
If there is one thing I detest, it’s having really short hair. Of course, there are lots of things I detest, such as oatmeal, but having really short hair is one of the major ones.
“Try to straighten it out with some water,” Jenny instructed. “If that doesn’t work I’ll take the clothes iron to it.”
“Eeek! It’ll work, I promise!”
A few minutes later, I returned downstairs with no hat on my head and my hair straightened, dress shoes on my feet, and a tie draped around my neck.
“Do you need help tying your tie?” Jenny asked.
“No, I thought I’d wear it like this. That way it will be easily accessible in case I have to tie up a criminal.”
She sighed. “Let me tie it for you. We can’t have people thinking you’re some obtuse country hick.”
“But I am an obtuse country hick!” I protested. “Wait…what does obtuse mean?”
She ignored me and proceeded to tuck the tie under my collar and tie it.
“Aaaak!” I choked. “Not too tight!”
“Oh, quiet down, you big baby. It’s so loose I could put it around both our necks!”
I grinned. “Will you do that? Please?”
She yanked it tighter. “Not right now. You’re late.”
“Aargh! I’m choking to death!”
“No, you are not!” She slipped her fist under the tie, as if to illustrate her point.
“Okay, I feel a little better now. I guess I had to get used to it.”
“Good. Now go!”
I started for the door, but stopped short. “How come you’re so eager to get me out of the house?”
She grinned and gave me a hug. “I’m sorry. I guess you’re just starting to rub off on me.”
“Goodbye,” I said flatly, stepping out the door.
I met Merlin at his house. It was a large mansion, with a lawn about the same size as one of its bathrooms. It was sandwiched between two other lavish city dwellings. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have neighbors closer to me than a quarter mile. Even worse would be the traffic on the road all night.
These city people must go through a lot of earplugs, I thought, remembering how my father used to use up a pair of the things every few nights. My mother snored. Of course, so did my father. I never found out which one of them was always waking up Dad. Personally, I thought it was Dad himself.
I filed away my rambling thoughts and rang Merlin’s doorbell. A soft chiming could be heard from inside the house. A ‘cute’ sound, Mom would call it. I always thought it would be cuter to have a little songbird outside the door, and visitors could squeeze it to call the owner. I wondered if the gourmet restaurant we were going to served barbecued songbirds.
Merlin, a short and rather plump individual, opened the door and beamed. “Matt! Nice to see you! Come on in, make yourself comfortable.”
“I won’t be comfortable until I get home and change out of these blasted tawdry clothes.”
“I think your perception of the stylish is deeply flawed,” Merlin said, his nose in the air. “I happen to think those clothes are quite tasteful.”
“I’m not going to be tasting my clothes. You’d better hope I find your food tasteful.”
“Oh, you will indeed. We are going to the most elegant restaurant this side of the Atlantic.”
“So, I’d have to go to Japan to find a more elegant restaurant?”
He rolled his eyes. “You’re being stupid on purpose again, right? Just to annoy me, like you always do?”
“Is it working?”
“Yes! Come on, let’s go now.” He grabbed his hat and shrugged into his coat.
“Now you’re sounding like my wife.”
“Just get in the car!”
As we climbed into Merlin’s late-model Mercedes and pulled out onto the road, he started lecturing me on elegant restaurant etiquette.
“The napkin goes in your lap. The glass stays on the coaster unless you are drinking. It should never be balanced on the back of the booth. Do not put a salad plate on your head and start talking in a Chinese accent. Please refrain from eating packets of sugar while waiting for the bread. Under no circumstances are you to request crayons. They do not serve cheeseburgers, so don’t even ask for one. If you drop a utensil on the floor, don’t get down on your hands and knees and start grunting while you retrieve it. Just leave it there. And please, if you have extra food and the waiter asks you if you want a box, don’t say ‘Yes, but it better have something good in it.’”
I grinned. He forgot to mention that the pepper grinders aren’t bottomless.
“Oh, one more thing,” Merlin said. “The pepper grinders are not bottomless. Make sure you tell the poor waiter to stop grinding before he has to go back to the kitchen for more pepper.”
I smiled inscrutably, trying to think of various other atrocities I could commit.
We arrived at the restaurant after a short drive. It had such a strange name that I will not attempt to repeat it here.
“I hope the food isn’t anything like the name of the restaurant,” I whispered to Merlin as we walked through the giant entryway.
“Can it, bud!” he hissed as a pretty waitress approached us.
The waitress looked at me and smiled. “Two?” she asked.
“I’m already married,” I blurted.
“What he means,” Merlin said, “is that there are just two of us and we’d like a window seat if possible.”
“O…kay, right this way.”
When we were seated I unrolled the utensils from the napkin.
“Remember,” Merlin said, narrowing his eyes.
“Yeah, sure.” I put the napkin on my lap, and dropped both the salad fork and the soup fork on the floor in the process. No, wait, that would be the noodle fork. Or was it the cocktail fork? I could never remember all those little details.
“Watch the utensils!” Merlin snapped.
I rolled my eyes and picked up the menu. After turning it upside down and back again a few times, I put it on the table with an exasperated sigh. “I can’t understand one word of it!”
“It’s in French,” Merlin said. “I would suggest you try number ten.”
“Why? Are you trying to order me some broiled slugs again?”
“Nobody serves slugs, Matt! Those were snails, escargot. And I still don’t understand why you had to take your empty glass and crush all the shells with it after you took out the meat.”
“I crushed the shells because I needed entertainment. And that was not meat. I’d swear they put strips of tractor tires in those shells.”
He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “Forget it. Just try number ten. It’s a very tasty soup.”
“Eyeball soup, I presume?”
“No! If you must know, I think it’s cream of lobster.”
“You think? Does that mean there’s a possibility it might be cream of logger?”
Merlin actually cracked a smile that time, but he stretched his mouth back into a nasty frown and told me to hush up. I hushed up and passed the time by eating a few packets of sugar. Then the waitress arrived with some bread.
“Do you gentlemen know what you want?” she asked.
“Yes,” Merlin replied. “We will both have number ten.”
“Anything to drink?”
“Beer,” I said with a small burp.
“What he means is we’d like some mild ale,” Merlin replied, casting a short, venomous glance at me. “One sixteen ounce bottle for both of us should be plenty.”
The waitress looked at me with an amused grin and jotted down the order. Then she left.
“From now on, keep your burps to yourself!” Merlin demanded, beginning to act flustered.
While waiting for the soup, I got bored. So, using my butter knife, I carved a cubic lump of butter into a weirdly shaped lump of butter. Merlin watched me closely for a while, but relaxed when nothing bad happened.
Then the food arrived. Remembering the forks I had dropped, I asked the waitress for another fork.
“Sir, why do you need a fork for your soup?”
I grinned. “Well, mostly it’s because I want to be prepared in case I have to stab someone.”
“What he means,” Merlin broke in, “is that I was going to order him some spaghetti.”
“No, really, I couldn’t eat soup and spaghetti. I just want a fork.”
“I’m sorry sir,” the waitress said, “but it’s against our policy to give sharp utensils to potentially violent customers.”
“P-potentially violent!” I spluttered, a wide grin spreading over my face. “Why, I—”
Merlin lurched forward across the table and clamped a hand over my mouth before I could say more. “That will be all,” he told the waitress in an unsteady voice.
She looked at me, then at Merlin, and back at me. I shrugged. She shook her head and walked away with a bemused glance over her shoulder.
Merlin released my face and fixed me with an irate glare. “I don’t even know why I take you out to dinner!” he exclaimed. “You cause nothing but trouble!”
“I don’t know why you do it either,” I said, putting a salad plate on my head and speaking in a Chinese accent.