A couple of dining fiascos

by Ken Carpenter

Dining out is viewed by most people as a treat. There are those who do it so much that they may take it for granted, but that is their problem.
Odds are pretty good that just about everybody has a few accounts of less than successful restaurant experiences. Some of us have more than others.
One of my most vivid public dining memories took place around 1963, in a little diner somewhere between Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston. We went to Lewiston about 4 times a year to see my Grandma, and we rarely stopped to eat. On this occasion us four kids were thrilled when Dad parked in front of the café.
I was the oldest kid, about 12, and my youngest brother was about 3 or 4. He put the “P” in precocious, and could switch from cussing like a sailor to critiquing politicians at the drop of a hat.
We all ordered and as we happily watched the waitress saunter toward the kitchen, horror struck!
“Don’t forget the hair!” my youngest sibling bellowed at the waitress’s back.
She froze, as did everybody in the place, and all eyes swiveled toward our table. The beastly bellower, Nate, could have cared less. The rest of us were mortified into an uneasy silence.
No amount of threats or bribes could coax Nate into telling us why he would yell such a thing. There was a very good reason for that. The little wretch didn’t have a clue why he did it.
It was an uncomfortable meal, and for some reason I carefully eyeballed every bite I took for hair. Who knows why, but I wasn’t alone. I think we all did.
It was futile, there was no hair. At least nowhere outside my brother’s fuzzy brain.
In 1977, the lady who would become my first wife and I sat in a trendy burger joint in Napa, California sipping cokes and observing humanity as we waited for our burgers. Humanity had a surprise in store for us.
Through the door walked 7 or 8 of the local residents of the psychiatric hospital. A beady-eyed caretaker guided them to the corner tables behind us. I suspect you would call it an experimental field trip, because it was obvious they didn’t get out much.
We made it a point not to look at them, not wanting to offend anyone accidentally. They had no such reservations about us.
After five minutes of odd noises, we felt a presence behind us, glanced at each other, and looked around. A tiny Bette Davis clone was on all fours on top of the table adjoining ours, staring at us with a maniacal grin.
Apparently her sidekicks also found us enormously intriguing, for the rest of them were clustered behind the table she was on, ogling us with glee and babbling in an unintelligible manner. The caretaker could have cared less, he sat bored in the corner and I could have gladly choked him.
I doubt anybody is used to being treated with that kind of morbid fascination, so needless to say, we were freaked out. I went up to the counter and changed our order to go. I also told him to add a couple of hot fudge sundaes.
“You want nuts with those?” the boy asked.
“No thanks,” I muttered, “I’ve had enough for one day.”

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