It was thanksgiving long ago and my wife didn’t feel like cooking and me cooking was and continues to be a bad idea. So we went out. The three girls were too young to know that the novelty of going out for a holiday meal weighs lightly against the high quality of the food mom normally prepared. Hoping to mitigate that, I selected a rather nice restaurant.
Feeling the need to wander a little out of the box, we ordered their special, which was a game hen rather than the usual turkey. They were…cute. The girls rarely had to tackle food that maintained the shape of the animal it came from. Sure, they had shrimp—under protest. (And animal crackers, which don’t really count.) I even told them that hotdogs were made from a single part of the pig and when they were older and married, they would know what part that was. Oddly, they were barely out of elementary school, and unmarried, before they made sure I wished I had never made that joke.
When they were presented with what they coined as the “Barbie” version of turkey by the server, eating did not ensue. Oh, a couple of them tried and managed a few pieces of protein that they announced as tasty. But, it did not go well. The other diners in the restaurant found us rather gauche as they nimbly dissected and nibbled on the little bird carcasses. It became obvious that the ridiculousness of the situation outweighed propriety—so we added wine.
The girls’ mom had a pinot-propelled departure from decorum and with two forks made her small Cornish game hen into a puppet, ala Charley Chaplin and the dinner rolls. Soon her small bird was dancing on the plate, kicking into the mashed potatoes. The girls, being children, had to have puppets too. Soon they were squabbling about who would get what piece of cutlery to animate their dinners. Mom was out of control. When people from other tables looked at her, she would have her “puppet” voice a falsetto greeting and a wish for a happy thanksgiving. They would turn around quickly—daring to cast their gaze no longer upon the crazy lady—which was like chasing away ants with honey. It only escalated the show. Soon the girls had small birds dancing on their plates, too. Being siblings, whole dramatic plots were orchestrated.
I sat back, drank my wine, and watched the show. The server approached our table with a combination of like-I-need-this-shit-when-stuck-working-a-holiday, and thank- God-for-a-break-in-the-boredom attitude. She asked if they could bring us something else to eat. The kids looked a little concerned they were about to lose their (arguably) edible toys. I suggest we leave the puppets alone and just bring the desert. Lowering my tone, I conspired that when they were distracted with the pie and ice cream, she could snatch their plates safely. She could feel her tip growing and decided to play along. Mom, speaking through her fowl puppet, said that was a great idea.
The bait and switch worked and soon the kids were elbow-deep in pumpkin pie and ice cream. As they ate the waitress practiced her ninja skills and relieved them of their plates like a pickpocket working a subway platform.
When the desert plates were bare and the wine bottle was empty, we left through a gauntlet of other diners. They speared us with disapproving looks. The kids didn’t notice. Mom reveled in it. The help just smirked.