• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 10

The Reluctant Diner

I love car shish kebabs. Chrysler Imperials, Lincoln Continentals, Ford Mustangs, Volkswagen Golfs. Some people like their cars with ketchup, but I think that’s ridiculous. Those folks miss the tang of a tinted window, the sharp crispness of door handles. They drown the subtlety of flavor with cheap condiments. Philistines, all of them.

Today, I ordered a meal at my favorite restaurant. They know how I like my automobiles—medium rare with a hint of smokiness. I’ve been going to that place for years, through two changes of ownership. Each new owner picked up where the old one had left off. Perhaps they had divined my preference through mental telepathy. Good restaurant owners can do that.

My plate arrived, and I thanked the server. He scuttled into the kitchen and slammed the door. I picked up my fork and prepared to take a bite. Something was wrong. More than wrong, incomprehensible. The dish had been served to me in a language I couldn’t understand.

A nest of birds had established itself in the top car. They stared at me with resentment, like the plate of food was theirs and not mine. Like I hadn’t come to the table with my American Express card, prepared to drop a small fortune on dinner. Their tiny, dark eyes radiated insolence. One of them shook its beak in my face.

“Waiter!” I screamed. “There’s a nest in my shish kebabs. I did not order this.”

The waiter took his sweet time getting to me. “Sir?” His tone sounded bored, almost contemptuous. “Is there something wrong with your meal?”


The Reluctant Diner

I began to sputter. Like an engine, only louder. “My food is covered with birds. Please take it away and bring me another plate.”

To my astonishment, the waiter burst into laughter. He gripped the side of my table and struggled to remain upright. “We’ve served our shish kebabs with nests for years. You’ve never said anything before.”

Could I have forgotten? I racked my brain, trying to remember my earlier visits to the establishment. The images ran into each other like blurry pieces of old film. I always gulped food until my plate was empty. Perhaps I hadn’t been paying attention.

I tossed down a twenty and started to back away. “I’m not hungry after all.” Two more feet, and I’d be out the door. Then I could go home, perhaps start a new life as a vegetarian. Chefs did amazing things with plants nowadays.

The server flashed an inauthentic smile. “Yes. Please come again.”

Suddenly, a flock of birds flew from the kitchen like a group of schoolkids let outdoors for recess. Cawing with joy, they swooped through the front door. A sudden updraft caught their wings, and they disappeared into the clouds.

As I shuffled towards home, I could still hear faint bursts of birdsong. It sounded like laughter. For the first time in months, I felt happy. And not even the slightest bit hungry. And almost light enough to float.