64: My Fortune

64: My Fortune

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

My Fortune

Tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are.

~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

One of the unspoken “duties” in a good marriage is to be there for your spouse. Whenever I had a work-related social function, my husband accompanied me. He’d smile and make appropriate small talk and I did the same for him. That’s just part of married life.

I attended one such event after my husband Frank got a huge promotion at work. His employees loved him and before Frank left for his new position, they wanted to show their appreciation to him for everything he had done for them over the years.

The people in his old laboratory decided to take him out for dinner — and they invited me too. I was happy to go. They chose a very authentic Chinese restaurant that wasn’t open to the general public. You had to know someone who knew someone who was friends with someone in order to even make a reservation. One of the people in the lab knew the owner and reserved a table for twenty.

The night of the party we arrived at the restaurant right on time. As the guests of honor, we were shown to our table — a table with just a white linen tablecloth on it… no silverware, no plates, no water glasses. Nothing. It was big round table with a Lazy Susan turntable in the middle of it. As soon as everyone was seated the waiter took our drink orders. Our drinks were the only things we would order that evening; there were no menus. The dinner was at the discretion of the chef.

First, tiny little plates, maybe four inches in diameter, were put down in front of each person along with a pair of chopsticks. Hot mustard, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce and a few huge bowls of steaming white rice were put on the Lazy Susan. Our host — the woman who knew the owner — explained that the custom was to leave all serving platters on the Lazy Susan, take what you want from them and then turn the Lazy Susan to the right so that the next person could serve himself. Frank had warned me that there could be some strange things served at this restaurant. He told me to be careful, and look twice before taking food from the platters. I was a little apprehensive but my husband was watching out for me.

The first dish look familiar… and safe. It was some kind of egg roll. I liked egg rolls. And I knew egg rolls. I put some rice on my tiny little plate along with some mustard and sweet and sour sauce. When the Lazy Susan finally brought the egg rolls to me, I took one. It smelled so good — and I was hungry. I dipped it into the mustard and took a bite. Yikes!! Help!! The mustard was so hot. Breathe! I looked desperately at Frank but he was sitting across the table and couldn’t do anything for me. There was no water on the table to put out the fire in my mouth and our drinks had not yet arrived. The tears were streaming down my face and I wanted to scream. But, this was a business dinner so I had to behave. Gasping quietly for air, I wiped the tears with my napkin and piled all of the rice on top of the mustard so I would not make the mistake of dipping into it again.

The drinks finally came, along with a procession of dishes with enough food on each platter to feed a small town. There was soup, many different chicken dishes, fish dishes, beef dishes, pork dishes, noodle dishes and more vegetables than you could imagine. There were also some mystery dishes. Those had to be the dishes that Frank had warned me about so I looked twice before serving myself from those platters. Some of the food was delicious; some of the food was… well, not so delicious. But I was a trouper; I tried almost everything. And it just kept coming. Due to the size of the tiny plates, we kept that Lazy Susan spinning around and around as people took seconds, thirds and fourths of the food.

I wanted more of the chicken dish that was across the table. So, I slowly rotated the Lazy Susan until that platter was in front of me. I moved the rice that was on my plate over, being careful not to uncover the mustard, and served myself another piece of chicken. Then I used my chopsticks to pick up the chicken. Frank, who can speak with his eyes, gave me this really strange look. What was wrong? Did I have sweet and sour sauce on my chin? Had I dribbled noodles down the front of my blouse? I started to raise the chopsticks to my mouth. His eyes opened very wide and he shook his head ever so slightly — no, no, no. I paused and smiled at him. What was wrong? Nothing that I could see. So, ignoring his pleading eyes and the cutting motion he was making with his hand across his throat, I moved the chopsticks up to my mouth, opened wide and took a bite of the chicken. As I was biting, I actually looked at it.

And the piece of chicken was… looking right back at me! I had selected the head of the chicken from the platter. And I had just taken a bite of… the beak! Yuck. That piece of the beak, although quite small, was in my mouth. Double yuck! I was panicked. Now what? Should I just spit and gag? Should I jump up and run away from the table — a table filled with Frank’s employees? Poor Frank had seen what I was about to do and he tried to warn me. Why hadn’t I figured it out? Why didn’t I look carefully at what I was eating before I took a bite? Why wasn’t he sitting next to me so he could have stopped me? My life was over — I had a chicken beak in my mouth.

So I did what a loving wife who was at a business dinner for her husband and who didn’t want to ruin her marriage should do. I slowly and carefully, without spitting, gagging or making any unnatural sounds, lowered the offensive chicken head back down to my tiny plate. The whole time that damn chicken was looking right back at me. This was not acceptable so I moved him on top of the pile of rice that was covering the hot mustard. I could still see him — and he was still looking at me — so I took more of the steaming rice from the Lazy Susan and buried him… again! I then took a big bite of a wonton skin and proceeded to chew the small piece of beak along with the crunchy wonton skin so I couldn’t tell which crunchy thing was which and, with difficulty, swallowed everything.

Poor Frank, he could feel my pain. I knew that if he could have helped me, he would have. I took a long drink of water and put my chopsticks down. I was done. Finished! No green tea ice cream, no almond cookie and especially no fortune cookie. I was completely grossed out and I already knew my fortune: “You will become particularly close to a chicken tonight!”

 

~Barbara LoMonaco

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