Rob sat down and put the napkin on his lap. He gestured for Jerry to begin eating and waited for his guest to swallow his first bite before explaining, "What you are eating there is homegrown pancreas. Grew it myself!"
My life coach peeks over the page, "Homegrown pancreas? I don't get it."
I give her a subtle smile, one I imagine did not betray my amusement, "I have always thought pancreas was a funny word. You know, Pan-Cre-As. Also any noun with homegrown before it just sounds...I don't know...wholesome."
She tilts her head slightly as if my dark humor will become apparent to her as it floats to the top of her brain. I pick lint off my trousers and examine the menu before she replies. Once again, I underestimate her willful bright side and her annoying ability to always see the silver lining. "I wonder what pancreas tastes like?"
Her six-word sentence has robbed me of all future fun at the expense of my most favorite of digestive organs. I fear the word 'pancreas' will never make me snicker again. I suffer a mild despair until the waitress comes over. I say as if in a trance, "I'll have the cherry stuffed waffles."
"You'll have to order that with a combo breakfast."
"Why?" I'm too low energy to look at her.
"Because it only comes with a combo breakfast. A combo breakfast is a breakfast that includes several items of which you have your choice of how you want your eggs, if you want pancakes or waffles, and if you want sausage or bacon."
I look at the waitress for the first time. Did I hear her correctly? Did she just explain what a combo breakfast is? "I thought everything could be ordered a la carte at IHOP."
"No, stuffed waffles only come with a combo breakfast." This time she actually moves closer to me and hovers as she points out the combo breakfast section of the menu. Nowhere on the menu does it say that stuffed waffles only come with combo breakfasts, but neither does it mention that the item can be ordered a la carte. I suppose what we have here is what people used to refer, in politically incorrect speech, as a Mexican standoff.
Susan my life coach, whom I always want to call Susie because she looks more like a Susie than Susan, steps in and offers to eat the rest of the combo that does not include the waffles. You see, Susie, I mean Susan, is aces in compromise.
The waitress leaves but Susan still has the same expression plastered on her face. "Did you finish writing out your weekly goals?"
I feign a confused expression, "Was I supposed to write them out?" She grins and I don't know if she is buying my lie or knows that I am lying and is giving me enough rope to hang myself. "Well, my goal for this week was to write a story." I nod to the paper situated between her coffee and spoon, "And I started working on two of them."
"You started on two but didn't finish either one of them?"
I hate it when she says the obvious and makes the obvious sound as if I really need her. Yes, I started two stories, count them, the pancreas story and medical research story. One, two. For Christ sake, was she expecting me to present her with a first draft of a novel? I want to get pissy with her but I remember what Confucius said about people who are the first to raise their voices, they lose the argument. Sure, we aren't having an argument, technically we aren't even having a disagreement, but still I don't want to just give my power away by acknowledging she has a point about starting two stories and finishing neither of them. I'm sure that starting things and finishing them is one of my problems, the sort of problem which requires a life coach instead of perhaps the more traditional route of a therapist. "Yes."
She looks slightly disappointed, but not much, "Can I see the other one?"
Reluctantly I dig into my bag and pull out the second story. Actually it is more finished than the first, but I don't really want her to read this one because...well, making jokes about eating a pancreas, which I suppose could reflect that someone is a cannibal thus adding a distasteful element to the tale, but some may see my story about scientific research as worse.
"Scientific Research," she reads the title aloud giving the words a Pollyannish flair. I think she will read the rest silently (she's one of those readers whose lips move when reading) but instead she continues.
I was reading an etiquette book the other day which advised that one should never sell children to scientific researchers unless you have the permission of the parents first. I was shocked, for I do hate to find myself in the category of bad manners. The book also added that the practice of selling children to pharmaceutical corporations is especially egregious if said small ones belong to family and friends...boy, is my face red.
Thankfully, it noted that if the parents do not notice the disappearance of their young - I might be in the free and clear.
I am perfectly willing to go to prison, but to put out a friend...well, that is something totally different - a horse of a different color sort of speak.
Susie, I mean Susan, looks at me. I don't know what is going through her mind but I decide to be proactive (now there's a word life coaches love to use) "The end." To emphasize that the story had indeed ended, even though it remains unfinished, I add jazz hands to my words. I know Susan wants to blurt something but luckily the waitress arrives with our food. She sets a blueberry stuffed waffle in front of me and the rest of the food in front of Susan.
"Excuse me, but I ordered cherries."
"Those are cherries."
"No, these are blueberries."
The waitress leans closer to my plate, almost to the point where it is impolite to have one's nose so close to something someone else is about to consume. "No, those are cherries."
Okay, it was slightly humorous when she yammered on about the combo breakfasts, but this is getting out of hand. "No, these are blueberries, not cherries. You know how I can tell? They are small and blue."
She looks again at my plate but doesn't admit I could be right. "I'll let you talk to my manager."
"Okay?" I say as she turns to leave. I feel weird about talking to her manager, primarily because I didn't request to talk to him or her. I do not want to make a federal case out of it, I just want her to admit that the stuffing in and on top of the waffles are blueberries and not cherries...like I requested. I'm tired of people acting as if the sky is green and the grass is blue.
"I take it you don't like children?" Susan is looking down at her coffee and I detect that she is trying to hide some emotion by the way she keeps stirring the already stirred in cream.
I shake a packet of equal in response. "I wouldn't say I hate all children. Wait, I wouldn't say I hate anyone really. Hate is such a strong word. The truth is that I don't like certain children. The type of children who throw tantrums for instance."
I was going to elaborate more but my favorite waitress returned, "My manager said I could replace your waffle with a waffle with cherries." She then takes my plate and I am left staring at Susan as she is eating a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
"Have you sent it out to any publishers?"
I look at her as if her head has just done a Linda Blair 360. "No, one of the stories is about an etiquette book on how to sell children to scientific researchers." Adding that they are unfinished would be redundant.
She puts down her coffee so hard that part of it spills, "But you said you want to be a writer!" I nod. "How are you ever going to be on the New York bestseller list if you don't send out your work?" She picks up her coffee cup and takes a sip as if she has just made a major life coaching point. I think she has seen too many inspirational films where a white teacher goes into some downtrodden inner city school and inspires the minority students to write/dance/sing/act/excel in sports all because s/he believes in them. She knows she isn't getting through to me so she adds, almost as an after thought, "I think you need to start writing out your weekly goals and I think one of them should be sending your work out. I don't want to have to write an unfavorable recommendation to the judge. After all, you have refused to go to AA meetings."
I'm in shock and I look down to see a stuffed waffle covered with cherries. The waitress grins at me, "Ha! It wasn't my fault! I wrote the ticket up correctly. It was the cooks who messed up."
"Cool." I reply weakly.
"It was their fault," she says again satisfied in herself righteousness.
This brief interaction has allowed me enough time to retort back to Susan. "I don't go to AA meetings because I'm not an alcoholic."
She sighs, "You know that denial isn't a river in Egypt?"
I know I'm squinting my eyes at her, but I can't help it, I've lost my appetite and I'm pissed. "Listen, just because someone has one DUI does not necessarily mean they are an alcoholic. It could mean that they did not know they were over the legal limit and used bad judgment in driving. Even the judge agreed with me, which is why he lifted the AA requirement and had me see you."
"You are using excuses."
"I'm not trying to use excuses. I did blow positive, but I was barely over the limit. If the test had been given two years ago, before all of those rehabs lobbied for lower limits, I would have been legal."
She shakes her head. "Your food is going to get cold.'
"I don't give a damn!"
Susan reacts as if I have just slapped her. "But the waitress did her best to remedy the situation."
"Now look at who is making excuses."
It is Susan's turn to look angry, "Our waitress is a hard working women who is obviously doing the best so she can to make it in this world while you are acting like a bully making her get her manager in order to chastise her in front of him."
"You heard me."
"I did no such thing. I never once mentioned the manager. She's the one who brought up the manager! I just wanted what I ordered. I know that must be odd to actually want what I ordered but I suppose I'm a bit of a bitch that way."
She puts down her fork. "So you are willing to fight for your order at IHOP but you don't fight for your writing even if all it requires is sending it out to someone."
I'm confused, I don't know how my writing and lack of self-promotion ties into pointing out to the waitress, who seemed determined to believe otherwise, that blueberries and cherries are not the same fruit. "I'm not going to AA."
Susan, for only a second, looks like I missed her brilliant point about fighting harder for a waffle than my writing. She sighs, "I think it would show good faith that you want to remain clean and sober in you went back to AA."
"And I think it would show good faith if you hear what I am saying to you. I'm not an alcoholic nor am I a drug addict."
"I didn't say you were a drug addict."
"And I didn't ask for the manager!"
"Besides your belief that you are not an alcoholic, why do you have such an issue with attending four, and that was all your previous therapist recommended was four, meetings?"
"Because, and you can look this up in the records, I did attend two and found that the smoke from the meetings gave me problems with my asthma. I did not have anything to add to the meetings since I can count on one hand how many times I have had anything alcoholic to drink this year. I don't hate my parents, my brother, my two sisters, my three ex-husbands, nor my dog. Most of all I do not want a guy who calls himself 'Jack the Knife' to make a pass at me, again, especially after I have told him I'm married."
"I thought all you had to do was send in the divorce papers. I thought you had met that goal a month ago." Susan is now frantically looking through her notes.
I smile, "I did send in the papers but my soon-to-be ex has not. I'm not willing to pressure him because if he lawyers up it might force me to sell the house."
"Oh," is all she can say. Then she adds, I thought you said you were only married twice."
"Legally I was only married twice. I was not divorced from my first husband when I married my second."
Susan has a shocked look on her face. "I was twenty-four and had a wild weekend in Vegas. Now, at that time in my life if you wanted to call me an alcoholic, you might have been right."
"Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic."
"Once a serial marryer, always a serial marryer."
"This is going nowhere."
"You don't want to get your life together. You know, you might be right, you might not be a classic alcoholic, but then you have other issues all of which your one error of bad judgment was getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking demonstrates. I am guessing that it was just the tip of the iceberg."
I'm this close to gathering up my things and leaving when I hear our waitress address another table where she has taken it upon herself to read the scary fat biker chick the menu. "It says here that the Grand Dame Breakfast comes with cheesy potatoes."
"I don't want cheese on my potatoes."
"Yes, I know, but it comes with cheese."
Susan whispers, "God, it would be so much easier to make my points with you if our waitress wasn't such a nitwit."
I surrender something that sounds like half a giggle, "I don't mind so much that she is a nitwit, but I do mind when she tells me blueberries are cherries."
"Perhaps I should give her my card, I don't think she is going to last long as a waitress."
"Perhaps I should give her my writing and she can send it off to an agent."
"Well, I think you're right about her not lasting long as a waitress, her manager, the one she threatened to send my way, has been watching her."
"Oh yes. And when that combo breakfast is served to that biker chick with cheese on the potatoes, I think she is going to open a can of whoop-ass on our girl. That customer is one tough customer. I bet she has a bumper sticker on her Harley that says 'I'm a felon and I vote.'"
"I didn't think felons can vote."
I pause but stop myself from rolling my eyes, "Yes Susan, they can't, that's why it is supposed to be funny, although I admit it isn't one of my best."
"Yes, its not as funny as eating a homegrown pancreas or selling the children of friends off to scientific researchers. Now those topics are hoots!"
"Are you trying to be droll?"
"Why, are you surprised?"
I study her for what feels like the first time ever. In this light, which is a tad harsh, she looks less chipper than normal. She has a baby at home and when we first met last month, she gushed that she felt guilty about leaving him with her husband to make her night appointments, "But what is a girl supposed to do when the family needs two paychecks?"
"Sort of. I guess I haven't quite figured you out."
"I think you are confused, it is my job to figure you out."
"No, I know that is part of your job and maybe that is one of the reasons why I feel I have to be elusive and dodge certain topics. If you are going to have me as a client, you are really going to have to work at it to earn my trust." I take a bite of my waffle. The cherries taste gross. "On the other hand, as a writer it behooves me to understand the motivations of why people do the things they do."
"So what have you figured out thus far about me?"
"You are great at pretending you are more happy than you actually are. You are also," I shake my finger at her as if she has been naughty, "good at redirecting a conversation so that I realize your point but only after I have gone through the forest and the meadows of explaining a position that is nonsensical.
"Are you hinting that I am not very good at what I do?" I can tell that she is trying to keep her emotions in check. I didn't know she could interpret what I said as remotely insulting her as a professional.
"No, I think you are fine. I'm sure you are a great life coach. The very best in fact!"
"How would you know? You didn't want to go to a therapist. You couldn't hack it for two more sessions at AA meetings. The only route you could go is through a court appointed life coach. I suspect you chose a life coach because you don't think we have it together as traditional therapists yet I won't bother you to do the thirteenth step hustle like 'Jack the Knife.'"
Is she trying to entrap me again? Trying to tangle me in a circular argument? "Hey, don't dog Jack the Knife too bad. The only reason I turned him down was because I suspected he talked the talk but didn't walk the walk." I push aside my half eaten waffle (it would have been better with the blueberries) before adding, "Listen, there were a lot of nice looking male specimens at the AA meeting held on Thursday nights in the basement of St. Gregory's church. I'll have you know that Mr. Knife wasn't my only suitor, he was the only one I considered because he didn't smoke."
"Are you implying you were the belle of the Thursday night basement St. Gregory's AA meeting?"
I make a motion for her to examine closely the whole package, "Hello!"
She laughs a little and then says out of the blue, "I bet you were one of the popular girls in high school."
"Where the hell did that come from?"
Ignoring my question she continues, "You were weren't you?"
"I don't know. I wasn't a cheerleader or anything, but I did participate in student government. I was Senior Class Treasurer if that deems me popular."
She takes a sip of coffee, "I wasn't popular. I guess you could say that I was a bit of a nerd. I ran every time I could sign up for student body government but was never elected."
I don't quite see her point in telling me this and my mind is racing as to what point she is striving to make. Giving up I flatly ask her, "Okay, I'm confused, what is your point in telling me this?"
She leaned back as if she was deciding a great matter before speaking, "Some people are born with talent, looks, money, and an easy ability to make friends. I think you are one of those people. You talk about places you have been that I couldn't even imagine being able to afford to go. You talk about friends of yours and things you do with them. You write with ease. You are pretty..." before I start a retort she states, "as least pretty enough that the judge most people refer to as the hanging judge when it comes to DUI offenses lets you do whatever you want therapy one week, AA the next, me the week after."
"Are you trying to make me feel guilty because I have friends, my folks had money, and I write - oh, and also I'm so pretty that the judge gets a raised gavel under his robe whenever I make a request such as not needing intensive therapy for the alcoholism I don't have." It has been ten years sense I was a smoker but I swear as soon as I leave here I'm buying a pack. Screw my asthma.
"You are getting angry." She dabs her napkin in some water and blots a stain on her shirt.
"No, well yes, I just wanted to know if your little speech a few moments ago was going to end up with making a point." Our waitress is nowhere to be seen and I was sort of counting on her to interrupt up with us a new incompetence.
Susan stops rubbing the spot and looks me right in the eye as if her next move would be to shoot me through the heart. "My point was that you could have the world by the string but you lack one essential that I seem to have."
"Baby vomit on my blouse?"
She doesn't even wince, "No, I have the wherewithal to finish what I start."
I am offended, "I finish what I start!" Her expression says otherwise. "Not everything perhaps, but some."
"Like the pancreas story?"
"Well, maybe not that. I don't even think it would be worth trying to finish a story about eating a pancreas because where do you go after eating a body organ? Eating another body organ? The joke becomes superfluous."
"Okay, then don't finish that one. What about the other one? The one where you sell children of friends to a pharmaceutical company?" She looks at me in such a way that I feel as if her next words are going to be checkmate. "You didn't even finish your waffle."
I'm about to eat the rest of my cold and nasty tasting waffle just to spite her when I hear, "I told you that I didn't want cheese on my potatoes!"
"That isn't cheese." I twist my head in order to watch this impromptu performance play out.
"What do you mean that isn't cheese? That is cheese and it is on my potatoes!" The biker chick makes a move as if she is on the verge of hitting our waitress. The manager rushes over as if he is God's gift to all restaurant customers with cheese on their potatoes, "Is there something I can help with?"
"There is *&%#% cheese on my potatoes and I made a point of asking that no &%$^^*_$ cheese be on my potatoes because I'm lactose intolerant!"
I write on a paper placemat, 'She's fat, she is a biker chick, and don't think you can put cheese on her potatoes because she is lactose intolerant!' Susan tilts her head to see what I wrote and gives me a Mona Lisa smile. As if on cue our waitress burst into tears and runs to the nearest bathroom, which par for the course, is the men's room. Seconds later she darts back out saying something about being sorry. Somehow I just knew what would happen two beats later. And there he was a man, probably in his fifties, coming out of the restroom looking as if he had seen a ghost...or some strange woman who was upset had just seen his penis.
Without warning the manager plops our ticket and Susan abruptly picks up her purse. "I'm going to let you pay for the meal," and I nod my head yes as if in a trance.
A week later I send a short story to a writing magazine.
Westerfield © 2009