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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Waiter Chronicles: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Monday, December 10, 2007

Last night at the Ristorante, that oft-quoted Advent nugget showed its shadow side.

At table 21, five adults brought a finicky 9 year-old to dinner. Like most kids, she knew what she liked and what she didn't like, and she had no intention of eating the latter. Her mother and I began dinner negotiations with pizza:

"She likes pizza. Do you have pizza?"

"[smiling through the obvious absence of pizza from the menu held wide open in the woman's lap] No, I'm sorry, we don't. We've started to do pizzas at lunch, but we don't have them for dinner. But we do---" I stop mid-sentence, because she has stopped listening to me and has urgently leaned over to her daughter to report what I've just said, as if the girl were deaf.

The woman's attention regained, I continue, "Something kind of like a pizza is a chicken parmigiana. It's a thinly-pounded chicken breast covered with tomato and mozarella."

"But she won't eat the tomato sauce." There's no trace of the apology or embarrassment that usually accompany parents' recitation of their children's food hang-ups. In fact, the woman's tone suggests I ought to know that her daughter won't eat tomato sauce.

"Well," I suggest, still positive, "The chicken milanese is breaded, but it doesn't have any sauce on it. Maybe that would be better." There is a moment of silence, unbroken only by the repeated opening and closing of the Ristorante door, as groups of diners continue to enter, get seated, and wait for their waiter. At long last, the woman looks up at me from her menu and intones, "You don't have kids, do you?"

"No ma'am, I don't." I resist the urge to share that my first is on the way.

"Well, it's got to be like McDonald's or they won't eat it." Restraint grips me again, and I refrain from correcting her that "they", from my limited experience, will eat what their parents tell them to. Also, the obvious suggestion that the family ought to have gone to McDonald's goes unvoiced. She suggests that she might order the Funghi Chicken for her daughter, if only the mushrooms can come on the side.

The dignity of my borrowed craft makes an inconvenient appearance. If only to avoid being bullied around, I recommend against the mushroom-chicken-with-no-mushrooms, since that's not mushroom chicken at all. She resists, and I cave. Just get it over with.

Only, the young girl also wants an appetizer. Drawing on my expanding knowledge of her culinary do's and dont's, I suggest some bruschetta pomodoro, "wedges of toasted bread covered with chopped tomato and mozarella cheese." All the tables' adults nervously consult the girl, again, as if my description had been in some unknown alien tongue that they must now translate. They concur: she will have the bruschetta.

When the bruschetta makes its' graceful arrival on the table, a ripple of anxiety invades table 21's adults. The girl stares plainly at the simple appetizer like she might stare at a charred squirrel. "No," announces her mother, rushing to her distressed damsel's defense. "That has tomatoes on it. She doesn't like tomatoes. She needs one without tomatoes, only with cheese." She's looking from the rest of the grownups to me frantically, and at any point I expect her to call for a paramedic.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'll bring that right away."

Again with the bruschetta, only this time I'm not waiting around for the verdict. I've already wasted too much time on this cult of childhood preference; I've got three other tables now, one of which has already sent back a bottle of wine. It's only a few moments later, when I retrieve the bruschetta plate, that the drama achieves its muted conclusion.

Three of the four wedges have been eaten. One remains, and the girl shows no sign of interest. So I reach down to pick it up, with the obligatory inquiry, "Are you all done with that?" She nods silently, but as I lean down to lift it from the table she whispers in my ear:

"To be honest with you, I didn't really like it."

These are her only words of the entire dinner saga. Their significance requires a response of gravity. I suspend my reach for the plate, turn my head to look her straight in her finicky-innocent face, and answer, "To be honest with you, your parents don't really like you."

I wish.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:37 AM

2 Comments:

I really think that Child Welfare Services needs to step in for these cases as well...

Yikes.

God bless you for your patience.
commented by Blogger Scott, 8:02 AM  
You really had me before I got to the "I wish". I really wish I could have seen the shock on my own face at the thought of you saying that to the little "angel".
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 7:40 PM  

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