Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cafe Surreal

The vegetarian diner in Wisconsin was not crowded, and there were many empty tables. Nevertheless, our party of 10 was asked to wait in the mostly-open and mostly-unused upstairs party room. There was a piano, a fully-loaded bar, several tables, some upholstered chairs, and a couch. A couple other parties sat around the small tables with board games in front of them. It was so hot I thought I might burst into flames--so I headed back downstairs to wait outside the restaurant, in a landscaped garden.

Our waiter, let's call him Phil, wore a pink short-sleeved dress shirt with a button-down collar and a madras-plaid ribbon-shaped bow-tie which looked sort of like this:
Phil came around to take our drink orders, and everything seemed normal, if a bit languid. Our drinks came, and Phil eventually showed up to take our food orders. This is where things went hooey. He seemed to have trouble understanding everything that AJ said, even though she spoke English plainly and clearly.

"For an appetizer, I'd like an order of the hummus, please," she said politely, "but I'd like chips with it instead of bread." Then she ordered a veggie burger with cheese for her entree.

"Would you like pita bread with your hummus?" Phil asked, having short-term memory or hearing problems.

"No, thank you," AJ said politely and patiently, "I'd like corn chips instead, if you have them."

"We have some nice pita bread," Phil insisted. "You don't want that?" AJ somehow remained cool and collected, and tears formed in my eyes from holding in a giant guffaw.

"No," she said. "Just corn chips. Do you have corn chips? That's what I'd rather have."

"Oh, corn chips, sure, no problem," Phil agreed. "Would you like me to bring that with your dinner or before?"

Beat. "Before," she said. "Since that's what typically happens when you order an appetizer," she did not add.

"So I'll bring it out a little before the rest of the food," Phil said. Oh, yes he did. I was glad he was standing behind me and was unable to see the look on my face. I watched AJ carefully, and she kept a straight face.

"Yes, that would be great," she confirmed, even though normally on our planet, this would not have been necessary; and when Phil moved on, we exchanged "what-just-happened-there!" glances.

Then Phil had problems understanding my FIL's order. "What's 'vegetarian sausage,' " FIL asked innocently, having never partaken of such a oxymoronic food group.

"It's...vegetarian sausage," Phil said, appearing to be completely oblivious to his utter lack of helpfulness. I waited for him to offer an addendum listing the primary ingredients, or the herbs and spices designed to mimic the pork-sausage flavor of a meat-lesss sausage--but he just continued to smile obliviously at my FIL. FIL, a risk-taker, ordered the suspect breakfast non-meat anyway.

My MIL ordered the Thai banana boat from the appetizer menu: fried bananas served with coconut curry peanut sauce. Learning from my SIL's ordering challenges, she clarified that she would like the banana as her entree, and that she would like it to be served when the other entrees were served. We were pleasantly surprised when it arrived, as desired, with the other entrees.

When AJ's veggie burger arrived, it was cheese-less, but the sides were as requested; but Mr. Peevie's veggie burger had unwanted cheese. AJ pointed out the error to Phil, who asked, "Oh, did you want a cheeseburger?" No one who has ever tasted both a cheeseburger and a veggie-burger with cheese would ever mistake the two--but Whatever!--AJ continued to patiently explain her wishes to the well-dressed but inexplicably confused Phil.

"You don't actually HAVE cheeseburgers here," she gently pointed out, "but I would like cheese on my veggie burger." Then she and Mr. Peevie discovered that his veggie burger had the cheese she was looking for, though his plate had the right side dishes--and they made the switch.

Phil looked confused, but solicitous, wanting to help. "Do you want me to get you a different plate?" he asked--and I don't know how we didn't just completely give up.

When the check came, we were all in agreement: Phil deserved a large tip for the effort he had put forth in attempting to decipher our neediness. He was our hero, an inadvertent Yoga Berra who entertained us with his unexpected confusion.

"Large tip," AJ said to her husband as he paid the bill. "Large tip. That was far too entertaining to not be rewarded."

But honestly? I don't think we'll be back. It was just too much like an episode of Twilight Zone for my comfort.

Untitled Poem, by M. Peevie

dust and rain
ethereal droplets
lilies murmur,
lilt, and wither
demure and articulate.
She's weeping,
gently weeping.