Just When You Thought It Was Safe
To Go Back Into The Diner…
(A tribute to author, Peter Benchley, 1940-2006)
What is it about the words “All You Can Eat” painted on
plate glass that causes a normal, rational human being with a normal, rational appetite, to turn a Sunday morning breakfast into a feeding frenzy?
Suddenly the happy chords of “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” on the restaurant’s Muzak tape are replaced by…
dunt-Dunt, dunt-Dunt…dunt-Dunt-dunt-Dunt And those of us ordering the traditional $3.95 breakfast special, brought to our table by a waitress named Ida Mae, watch in awesome wonder.
The creatures move in eerie unison toward the buffet bar. Toward steaming mounds of sausage links. Teetering piles of patties. Crusty heaps of hash browns, an over-abundance of bacon, and a mountainous ecstasy of scrambled eggs.
They advance, zombie-like, eyes glazing over, turning steely. They circle, in this ungodly diner’s dance, surveying their prey while, at the same time, sizing up the competition.
They seem to come from everywhere now as though on cue from some silent signal. And then…it begins. Mothers pushing past their own children. Old ones with a renewed sense of vigor, elbowing in. Big ones, that obviously never miss a meal or the snack in between, vie for dominance as they hold off the rest by lingering over the hotcakes. The impatient group forming behind them begins to get edgy--a scene that could get ugly. And we, the civilized, in our comfortable booth with our paper napkins placed neatly on our laps, a lazy Susan of “Syrups of the World” spinning slowly before us…look away, on the pretense of buttering our English muffins.
But morbid curiosity pulls our attention back to the frenzy, something akin to being tempted to order those “Savage Predator” videos from National Geographic (oh admit it, you’ve almost dialed that number). And as we feared, it’s not a pretty sight. Teen-aged busboys risking life and limb to clear away the empty bowls and swearing profusely under their breath at the “friend” who got them the job. Waitresses afraid of getting an arm caught in between while re-supplying the biscuits and sausage gravy and vowing to go back to cosmetology school just as soon as payday comes around.
And then, as though by yet another mysterious signal, all is calm. It’s over. Peace reigns supreme once again. The buffet tables bear little evidence of the morning’s carnage. A few withered sprigs of parsley, shriveled orange slices and gory splashes of tomato juice cocktail on the sneeze-guard are the only telltale signs of the fight that was waged only moments ago. Even the loathsome oatmeal is but a memory now.
The creatures, their voracious appetites now sated, return to their peaceful coexistence, pay the cashier, and pick up their complimentary toothpicks (“individually wrapped for your convenience”). While we, smug in our booths, confident in our higher rank of civility and self control, watch them leave…
as Ida Mae brings our second order of hotcakes, bacon and hash browns.
Oh, and may I have just a little more butter, please?