Mother Nature has a funny little way of hinting, “don’t eat this.” It can be a number of different signs and signals from spoiled milk carrying a horrendous odor, to a peach shriveling up into the size of a raisin, to my personal favorite- shellfish just not opening up. There couldn’t be a more obvious sign (short of a flare gun) that prohibits the consumption of what is, a spoiled piece of food.
A woman I wait on, dare I call her a regular, comes in every Friday evening with her two friends. One of them, a middle-aged woman that owns a small local clothing store that is outrageously priced (i.e.: $80 for a cotton tank top), and the other a man so ostentatiously gay you could see him flaming from Saturn. The woman in question? Well, if Mrs. Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”, let her tight bun loose and chopped into a mushroom cut, had lime green oval-shaped bifocals, a fitted charcoal power suit and lost about 50lbs…this would be her.
Every Friday the three of them sit at the same table, gossip about the same person (the questionably embezzling dyke from the jewelry store across the way from $80 tank tops), and more importantly order the same thing: three glasses of house Sauvignon Blanc and three orders of steamed mussels in a white-wine shallot cream sauce. It’s not ritual as much as it is neurotic habit.
On this particular Friday night, after two and a half glasses of wine (yes, they make me charge them each for half a wine glass) and a summit of mussels that has been piled high in the graveyard-dish in the center of the table, I quickly dart over to clear the table to expedite their exit when it happened.
“How was everything tonight?” I rhetorically ask.
“Oh, just wonderful-” reply the $80 tank top and the eternal flame.
“Yes, quite. Only one of my mussels didn’t open.” responds Trunchbull.
“Oh dear…well don’t force it open!” I respond, laughingly as I nervously balance the acropolis of plates, bowls and shifting mussel shells in my arms. And then I heard it; the request.
“Could I get one to replace it? You know, as the one mussel didn’t open and all…”
I nearly recreated a Greek wedding, almost dropping all the plates on to the floor. I thought she was joking. How could she possibly, after a what was a mussel-recreation of Mt. Olympus, could she possibly have the room for one more? And if she did…why the fuck would you ask for just “one mussel”? Assuming this was a banter, I tried to humorously excuse myself. “Yeah, right- just ‘one mussel’. ”
Although it was Friday night, at prime time- the silence at the table was deafening. Even the guy who makes Richard Simmons look like a devout Mormon had nothing to say. I knew that the banter was now indeed a serious matter.
“Well, um…yeah. I’ll see what I can do.”
I dart to the dish pit, where there is always either mariachi music or sexy jams blaring out of the stereo, toss the plates on the counter, bolt through the door and whip around the corner up to the kitchen line. Our kitchen is an open one in which diners can see the cooks dancing about, juggling frying pans and plating each dish ever-so delicately. It just so happened that our executive-chef was on the line that night and it also just so happened that he was on the appetizer side…the side that I had to negotiate the “one mussel” request with.
“Hey, uh Rich?” I nervously ask.
“Yes Katixa, what?” he inattentively responds.
“Um, so I have kind of a bizarre request- could I get…a mussel?”
“What, like an order of mussels?” he mutters as he preps a plate with balsamic reduction not unlike a Jackson Pollack painting.
“No, no- uh, just the one-”
Rich stops his recreation of the Drip Period, lowers his steamed and dressing-smudged glasses revealing his annoyed, yet confused eyes, “What, like for you? You want one mussel?”
“Um, no. It’s for a table. She had a mussel that didn’t open and she would like, just one mussel, to replace it.”
Almost more bewildered than I, Rich stood up straight, scratched his head and turned to the eight-burner stove and saw five orders of steamed mussels. He quickly grabbed his tongs, plucked one from the boiling creamy-white wine sauce and held it up. The one mussel stood there, clamped between the tongs, and both Rich and the mussel seemed to look at me and say, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
I quickly realized that I hadn’t a vessel to transport this precious cargo back to our mushroom-cut, solo mussel requester. I grabbed the tongs from Rich’s hand, hurried to the waiter’s station and was overwhelmed by the possibilities: a bread plate, a ramekin, a wine glass, an espresso cup. I quickly decided to carefully place the one mussel into the espresso cup and run back to the table and present it, when I stopped dead in my tracks and detoured to the back of the restaurant…where are the catering supplies are kept.
Suddenly, a grinch-like sadistic smile graced my face. This woman had fucked with the wrong person. Oh, she would get her beloved one mussel and it would be presented to her in the following manner: I found our biggest silver serving tray and placed it on the counter. With the espresso cup and mussel in hand, I thought to myself, “Oh no, no- this will never do. I need a doily.” I then found a tiny doily used for serving finger-food at a large-scale catering, carefully centered it in the 2.5 foot long tray, strategically placed the espresso cup in the center, and the piece de resistance- surgically shucked the mussel into the espresso cup.
I had a skip in my step as a hurriedly made my way back to the scene of the crime. I pushed through the door that separated “us” from “them” and made my way to the table.
“Here we are, one mussel madam.” I said as I lay the tray revealing the loogey-like substance, known as a mussel, sloshing about in it’s vessel: the espresso cup.
“Bon appetit and here is the check… just the one…whenever you get the chance.”
Mrs. Trunchbull: humiliated.