How To Spot a Phony Restaurant

I knew the moment we walked into the restaurant it was a mistake.

El Gordito was proud to be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week. It even sported a sports bar.

The owner grabbed me by the arm and walked me and Alf to a booth by a window. He dealt the two over-sized menus like playing cards, and left us. I looked around the room. We were the second customers for dinner. The first was a robust family of six, just finishing their meal. They looked up and smiled.

The owner returned. He was a man in his fifties, with dark short hair, a little black mustache, and quick eyes. He brought a basket of chips and a bowl of red salsa and plunked them down in front of us.

“Somtin do drink?” he said.

Alf suggested a margarita. I said no. This place would front load it with corn syrup and fake juice.

“Ice tea,” I said.

“Sangria,” Alf said.

The owner rolled his eyes and left. He went behind the bar and prepared the drinks. The only TV in the sports bar was flickering a basketball game. How un-Mexican. Where was the bullfight?

The tortilla chips were brittle. They had been fried in lard, a darling of Mexican cooking. I saw myself launching guerilla warfare from my booth with them and perforating the owner and the chef.

“Cause of death: impaled by chips,” the coroner’s report would state.

The salsa was thick, tasteless, and hot. The heat was poor camouflage for its nastiness.

I looked around. The window was covered in drawings of blue, pink and green margarita cocktails.

A couple roared into the parking lot on matching motorcycles. He looked like a mafia don, dark and mysterious behind dark glasses, she like a mortuary hairstylist, petite and curvy with lots of makeup. They were the third victims coming for dinner.

“See, we’re bringing in a crowd,” I said. “We should get this meal gratis.”

The interior of the restaurant was like the country of Mexico stuffed into one small place. Stone walls with paintings of Mexican towns, pottery in garish colors erupted with plants and vines in profusion. The booths and tables were made from rough wood and carved with designs of birds and flowers. Nothing matched.

Maybe if I spoke in Spanish I would win us special attention and we could order off-menu.

I ordered in Spanish, the owner replied in English. He was onto me.

We chose the most authentic item on the menu – tacos al carbon – tacos with grilled steak, raw onion, cilandro and lime. Everything else on the menu came smothered in melted cheese, re-fried beans with a side of lard.

While we waited, a minstrel sat down on a chair, donned a Mariachi hat, and pulled out his guitar. A laminated sign next to him read, “Teeps. Muchas gracias.”

Our dinner arrived. The plates looked like platters. We searched for our tacos. They were hiding under a mountain of shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. They were soggy. It was a scavenger hunt locating the meat. The rice and re-fried beans oozed into everything like an oil spill.

The Mariachi strummed his guitar and sang pathetic love songs that were popular in Mexico thirty years ago. He was off key. He jumbled the words. He switched to classical. He murdered the music.

We picked at our food and ate what we could so we wouldn’t embarrass the owner.

“How’s everytin?” he said.

“Great,” Alf said through teeth full of lard.

I said nada.

The dissonant notes of the guitar engulfed the room.

I began to laugh and couldn’t stop.

“I’m the one drinking the alcohol,” Alf said.

The owner asked us about dessert. I wanted to tell him his place was sugar-coated with lies, enough for a telenovela, but I bit my tongue.

Calvin says, “Food is food. I’d have wolfed down that lard in a heartbeat.”

What A Golden Chair Says About Reading

Everyday on my way home I walk past a cafe that has one gold chair in it. You can’t miss it. It’s one-of-a-kind shiny gold snakeskin faux leather.  It’s by the bookshelf spilling with pre-owned books that nobody reads. The other tables and chairs are functional and boring, and usually filled with customers. The gold chair stays empty.

“I find it odd that nobody sits in it,” I said to Jasmine, my friend at work.

“Oh, it’s because nobody reads anymore,” Jasmine said.

“Like nobody sits down anymore either?” I said.

“Not in that chair, they don’t. They’d be self-conscious.”

“You mean, reading is now a self-conscious behavior?”

“If you’re not reading on a tablet, or your smart phone, you’re dated,” Jasmine said. “Nobody wants to stand out like that.”

I love to read. Real books. The kind with lots of pages crammed with words.

The next day on my way home, I made a detour and went into the cafe. I ordered an espresso at the counter, paid for it, and walked over to the gold chair. I sat down. I looked around. The other customers were engrossed in their conversations. Nobody noticed me sitting there. While I sipped my espresso, I turned my attention to the book titles. One of them caught my attention.

The book was: Historical Rumps on the Gold Chair by Sir Robert Bottoms-Up.

I laughed out loud.

A few people stopped talking to look at me.

Then the chair began to vibrate. At first I thought it was an earthquake. Nobody else seemed alarmed. The vibrations got stronger to the tickling point. I laughed louder. This time more customers stared at me. I looked around me. I was the only one experiencing this. I had a choice. To enjoy the massage or bolt.

What would you do?

Calvin says, “Do you get a free goodie if you pass the 3-minute mark?”

Give Mom a Kick-Butting Day

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

That horrid one day of the year when families take mom out for brunch and fuss over her with eggs Benedict and Mimosas. Then she’s returned to the daily grind and all is forgotten.

I’m sure the restaurant industry contrived the holiday to beef up their bottom line in May.

What if mom doesn’t like eggs with a last name and orange juice spiked with bubbles? Maybe she prefers her steak grilled with a heaping plateful of shoestring potatoes and a large pitcher of sangria?

And please don’t give her a cheesy card with a sappy greeting that a computer spit out last century that you found in the greeting card aisle at the supermarket next to the artificial smelling air fresheners for the house. Definitely don’t buy one of those either.

Instead, head out to the mall and buy her an all expense paid shopping spree to her favorite shoe store. Or put her on a plane to a beach somewhere. Or give her a lifetime of body massages at the Holistic Health Clinic where Mai, the masseuse will be happy to walk all over her back.

Then install the dog in the pet hotel so she doesn’t have to walk him for a month.

Hire a private chef for the rest of the year and give her a break in the kitchen.

Oh wait. The kitchen. It needs a desperate overhaul before Wolfgang can cook there.

Maybe mom has a dream she’d like to focus on for a change. Provide her with the tools she needs. Lipstick, make-up, haircut and color, liposuction, a new wardrobe.

Singing lessons? Maybe she’s always wanted to develop her voice beyond yelling at the kids.

Calvin says, “My mom never got to develop herself. I know she had a secret nobody else knew. She always wanted to be an owner.”