Thursday, February 7, 2008

Potatoes

This story was also based on true events. I was a little hesitant to put it up on the blog, in case the people from the event found it offensive. But, parents always love their kids' creative endeavors, so I'm in the clear.

On the first of every month, the elderly couple visited the small Italian restaurant in the Deccan Village Plaza. There was no particular reason for the visit, but had become habit, as many things do become with older people.
The wife would order the same thing every time – a bowl of the rosemary and white bean soup, which came with a side of foccacia bread. The soup was ‘healthy,’ she told herself. A woman never stops worrying about the way she looks, no matter how old she may be. The bread, on the other hand, was doused in olive oil, but there was no need to dwell on that. A woman also never stops lying – to herself, or to others, no matter how much wisdom she may have acquired throughout the years.
The husband was more adventurous in his approach. He would also get the rosemary and white bean soup, but with another entrĂ©e – perhaps a pasta, or a lasagna, or whatever his mood felt like on that specific 1st of the month.
On March 1st, the couple arrived to the Italian restaurant for their monthly luncheon. Unlike what you would expect, they did not have a particular table that they sat at every time.
As their maitre d’/waiter seated them – such small restaurants tended to have people overlap in their roles -- the husband began his scrutiny of the menu. The wife already knew what she wanted, and didn’t even bother with the pretense of opening the menu.
‘Two glasses of lemon water, no ice please. And we’ll have two rosemary and white bean soups, and …’ she trailed off, hinting towards her husband to complete the sentence.
He was too engrossed in the menu to even notice.
‘What do you want to get?’ she asked loudly, as if he had a hearing problem. Sometimes she wished it was as simple as that, and not the fact that her husband was becoming more and more absent minded by the day.
‘I won’t be getting the soup today,’ he pronounced.
She looked at him, startled.
The waiter nodded, waiting for the order to follow.
‘Do you remember the last time we were here, I got something really good. Do you remember what it was?’
‘Well, what was it?’
‘That’s what I’m asking you,’ he responded matter-of-factly.
‘I mean, what was in it?’ she was already beginning to get irritated.
‘That’s what I don’t remember,’ he pondered as he flipped the page in the menu.
The abeyance in conversation was the waiter’s opportunity to jump in. ‘I’ll start with your waters,’ and he darted out.
‘Potatoes,’ he said after a long pause.
‘Polenta?’ she asked.
He looked away from his menu for the first time. ‘No, I said potatoes. Why would I get polenta? You know I hate polenta.’
‘Ok, but potatoes and what?’
‘I don’t know – how many potato entrees can there be? Will you look and see if anything seems familiar?’
She rolled her eyes and reached for her large purse and began searching for her reading glasses. With the amount of things she would have to search through to get to her glasses, he was probably just better off reading the whole menu on his own.
After a few minutes of hopeless rummaging, she gave up. ‘I can’t find my glasses. You’re just going to have to read it out to me.’
‘Potatoes au gratin,’ he pointed to it on the menu. ‘That’s what it was,’ he pointed on the menu again.
The waiter arrived with the waters, and the wife placed the order. They sat in a comfortable silence as old couples always do, and waited patiently for their food to arrive.
When the waiter returned with their order, the man was not pleased to see what was in front of him.
‘This is not what I got last time,’ he told his wife when the waiter had left.
‘Well, what did you get last time?’ she asked, again.
‘It was potatoes, but with cheese, and a gravy.’ He took a bite of it. ‘This is not that.’
‘Well now you’ve already eaten it, so just finish it.’
He scowled, as he scarfed down the potatoes.
The waiter returned to ask how their meal was coming along.
‘This is not what I got last time,’ and he repeated to the waiter his description of the sumptuous potatoes he had last time.
The waiter looked confused, ‘ There is no such thing on our menu.’
The man scoffed. ‘Of course there is, I had it last month. It was in an oval plate, with potatoes, and cheese, and some gravy, and I think there were vegetables on the side too.’
The waiter looked through the menu, ‘Perhaps it was the was vegetable platter?’
The man looked over the description in the menu. ‘Maybe it was.’
The waiter looked relieved. ‘Would you like me to get you a vegetable platter?’
‘Yes, if that’s what I had last time.’
But the vegetable platter was not what he had last time either.
‘Sir, I believe what you had ordered was the polenta, with marscapone cheese and a side of vegetables.’
The man shook his head ferociously. ‘It was potatoes, with cheese, and gravy. I never eat polenta, why would I order that?’
The waiter was becoming increasingly frustrated, and was trying to find a way to walk out of this conversation.
‘Let me speak to your manager. Maybe he would know what I’m talking about.’
The waiter was speechless for a moment, but realized quickly that it was best not to meddle with this man on a mission to find his missing potato dish.
The manager arrived, ‘Tell me, what was this marvelous dish?’ he smiled. After the disgruntled waiter, this man was a breath of fresh air.
The man described his potato dish for the umpteenth time, but even before he could get to the mention of the vegetables, the manager cut in. ‘You must be talking about the polenta with eggplant.’
The wife sighed, seeing where this conversation was about to go. But her husband was always full of surprises.
‘Maybe it was.’
Both the wife and the waiter looked at him, astounded.
‘I just said that it was the polenta and you said no,’ the waiter protested.
‘Well, I thought about it, and maybe it was polenta but tasted like potatoes.’
The manager smiled and nodded. ‘Shall we get you the polenta and eggplant sir?’
The man nodded happily, but his wife interjected.
‘No,’ she said loudly. ‘He’s already had two dishes, we’ll have to save that for next time.’
The manager and waiter were happy to oblige and left, leaving the bill behind. The man looked disappointed.
‘What is it now?’ she asked. She was really at the end of her patience.
‘Now I’ll never know if it was that,’ he sulked as he put down the cash.
‘Leave him a good tip,’ she commanded as she put on her coat and gloves. ‘You had the whole restaurant up in arms about your potatoes.’
‘My polenta,’ he corrected her.
She rolled her eyes again. ‘Sorry, your polenta.’ And a hint of a smile escaping her pursed lips.