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We all knew that Gina and Gordon were doomed. Sure, they were constantly saying banal romantic things to each other,  all sorts of poochie moochie that makes everyone around them ill, but those of us who knew them both knew The End was only a matter of time.

Gina had arranged a dinner date for them one Friday, claiming she had a big surprise.  That should have sent up a red flag, but the fool went anyway.   Her favorite trick was to lead him into a new place blindfolded, and that's what happened this time.  This time, when the blindfold was removed, the distinct sights of an Italian restaurant made themselves manifest.

Now, Gord is not an adventuresome sort. This always irked Gina, and she was always pushing him into trying new things. Sometimes, he'd budge, such as the time she talked him into driving to Yellowstone.  Oh, and the infamous Bungee Jumping Incident.

But in the realm of food, Gord was unmoveable.  Gord's food allergies are legendary, even if most of us suspect they're psychosomatic.  His mother gave up trying to make him eat his brussels sprouts when he was 8.  Hamburgers and corn dogs were ok, and he'd eat fried chicken if there was nothing else around. Cheese ravioli was always safe.   But old Gord preferred a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to just about anything.  When the dorm cafeteria had its weekly taco night, the rest of us would pig out because it was the only time they served something palatable.  Except Gord, he'd make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, after badgering the cafeteria manager for peanut butter and jelly. On whole wheat toast if he had to.  After awhile they just gave up and put peanut butter and jelly out with the salsa and taco shells.  It made for some interesting tricks to play on freshmen.

So anyway. back to Gord and Gina.  They're seated, and he calms himself down with two glasses of chianti.

"Isn't this wonderful, Gordie, honeymuffin?"

"If you're in it, Gina sweetie, it's my favorite restaurant in the world."

OK, I made that last part up; sue me.  But it wouldn't surprise me if they actually said it.

Well, the next sign of trouble came when he looked at the menu and saw that all of the entrees contained veal.

"Good evening, signore and signorina, and welcome to La Vitella. I am your waiter Carlo. Tonight's specials include Vitella alla parmigiana, Vitella alla melanzana, Vitella piccata, Vitella Francese. The soup of the day is vitello lingua minestra. Is signorina ready to order?"

"Vitella alla melanzana would be wonderful."

"Excellent choice. And Signore?"

"Um..."

"Would signore like a few more minutes?"

"Um, well, no.  Cheese ravioli for me."

An ominous look crossed the waiter's face.

"Signore, we have the finest vitella maestro all the way from Siena.  Around the corner there is a trough called 'Tony's Place' where they will be more than happy to serve you this 'cheese ravioli'.   If you wish to dine at La Vitella, you will dine on la Vitella!'"

"Um, oh all right, whatever she's having."  Which at least got the waiter to go away.

"Why do you always have to embarrass me?"

"You know I don't like weird food."

"You need to try new things!"

Twenty minutes of this and three more glasses of chianti later, the waiter brought their entrees. But ten seconds after the first bite of melanzana, Gord had an allergic reaction, throwing up all over the table.

Which brought the maitre d'.

"He's doing it on purpose!"  A careless remark, perhaps, from Gina. But the guy was such a tightass that he called the police and had Gord arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

Of course I was the one who had to come and bail him out.  Back over at Tony's Place he told me the whole story, while eating a plate of cheese ravioli.

A careless remark, perhaps.  But in the bookstore last Wednesday, whose voice did I hear coming from the next shelf over but Gina's?

"This is just the book for you, Carlo dear. Master rock climbing in 18 days. Just the thing to cure your fear of heights."

I sat down at the booth, swung my briefcase and its impromptu belt-turned-shoulder-strap around to my side and set it awkwardly on the cushion to my left. And after a couple seconds of reflection, I decided to be mannerful and removed from my head the garish corduroy hat whose appearance can only be described as something Fidel Castro might have worn hunting in Manitoba. Not that I looked any less ridiculous, of course. My hair belonged at Woodstock. During an F2.

As I relished the auditory awareness that came from the annulment of my ear flaps, I failed to notice the entirely visual phenomenon of the waitress walking directly towards of my table. She was quite young, probably no older than seventeen, and wore her hair back in a ponytail that bounced a little with every step she took.

"Hello, and welcome to Leo's Coney Island. Would you like anything to dri-"

"Ah, do you have any water?"

I was long ago made aware of how absurd that question was, by an almost palpably sarcastic answer that they hadn't had that spirit there since the last time my hair was stylish. But I never really bothered to think of a better way to ask for water, and it quietly became one of my stock restaurant phrases, along with "uh" and "yeah, the fri-no, wait, no...uh, maybe...no i'm not that hu-ah you know what yeah sure I'll have the fries".

The "yes" I received was somewhere between an understanding of what I was asking for and confusion at why I'd asked it the way I had, probably leaning toward the latter but I'll never know for sure because at that moment my thoughts were focused solely on onion rings. Without bothering to look for (or at) a menu, I asked for a full plate. And then I was asked with a substantially higher level of confusion if that was all I wanted.

Yes.

Yes, it was.

And as she bounced briskly back to the kitchen, I could only hope I hadn't mistakenly showed up at that one restaurant that charges $40 for a plate of onion rings (which, hopefully, never actually existed and was just another one of my asinine "what-if"s).

Over the course of the next seventeen or so minutes, my wait became steadily more forlorn. Where were they? Every time I saw an apron at the edge of my peripheral vision I craned my head around the end of the booth in expectance of my order. At that point I realized that the entire demeanor of the situation probably made me look like a homeless guy; previous to entering the restaurant I had walked with my thirty-pound briefcase more than a few miles through a wintry Michigan forest wearing plain tennis shoes and no gloves, which combined with my lack of breakfast and lunch that day gave me an obnoxiously powerful hunger. It probably didn't help that my pants and shoes were soaking wet below the ankle and that I carried my briefcase with the belt I wear specifically for such purposes, looped through the handle and buckled around my shoulder.

Eventually, however, my reflections on the hoopty nature were interrupted when the waitress returned with my order. I thanked her offhandedly, noticing and paying no attention to her thinly-veiled bemusement. And I ate my onion rings. They were good. Not excellent, mind you, but adequate, and after walking as far as I had I didn't really care. As I processed my fuel from the blazing-hot rings at the top of the plate to the lukewarm ones on the bottom, I took a short break for a swig of water and saw the waitress standing at the other end of the restaurant with another worker, looking precisely in my direction with unsuccessfully suppressed laughter.

The joke was on her, though, because only one of us could say we truly enjoyed our onion rings that afternoon. And neither of us could say we got tipped*.


* No, just kidding, I'm not a jackass. I'm just uncouth.

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