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Volume 17, Issue 5: Pictura

University Cafe: A Play in One Act

Douglas Jones

Douglas Jones
The husband sits at a table in a restaurant, perusing the menu. The waiter approaches.

Waiter: Larry! You finally made it. Great to have you here.
Husband: I wouldn't miss it. I wish it could be under better circumstances.
Waiter: Yeah, well, how is the university doing without me? Falling apart?
Husband: Who knows. Hey, my wife's going to join me here soon. Pretty nice place here. Will you be getting some paintings at some point?
Waiter: They don't want to rush things. We'll see.
Husband: Some color on the walls would be nice, too.
Waiter: It's hard to agree on that sort of thing.
Husband: What's the special of the day?
Waiter: I can't really say.
Husband: Oh, new guy adjusting, eh?
Waiter: No, we've got different takes on the special. You'll get a different answer from each waiter. Would you like me to call them over?
Husband: Aww, no, that's okay. What do you take the special to be?
Waiter: I'm actually a bit uncomfortable singling out something as "special." I think all the plates have something they bring to the table.
Husband: Sure, hierarchies unnerve me, too. What do you recommend, then?
Waiter: Recommend is such a weighted word, isn't it?
Husband: Oh, silly me. Same thing. I know how that goes. Shut me up. Shut me up. Let me see here. I'd like to order an appetizer. I'll take the—
Waiter: Larry, I'm sorry but "order"? Doesn't that seem a bit—I don't know—Red State? I don't really do the whole order thing.
Husband: Oh god, yes, excuse me. Very medieval of me. Okay, then . . . what (searching waiter's face). . . shall I say? (chuckling). Oh wait, here comes my wife. (waves, pause, realization) Oh, now, Robert, she's, you know, a bit different.
Waiter: How's that?
Husband: Well, she, she speaks a different language—
Waiter: That's really, really wonderful.
Husband: No, not a different language language. You know. Be careful. Different world sort of thing.
Waiter: Oh, a housewife?
Husband: No, a judge. A district court judge.
Wife approaches table.
Husband: Yes, here she is. Judge Nelson. (they touch, cheek to cheek)
Wife: Hi, babe. I'm absolutely starved. Give me a Guinness and a menu. In that order.
Husband: (bit embarrassed) Hun, this is Robert Manning. We worked at the university together. Don't know if you ever—
Wife: (to waiter, not looking at him) Couldn't find more academic work? Just kidding. Nice to meet you. I really need that Guinness (looks at menu). I'll take the sirloin, medium well. Are you going to write this down?
Waiter: That's not my style. I don't like to be constrained by symbols.
Wife: As long as you get it right. (to husband) Don't you hate it when waiters try to show off and memorize an order and then get it wrong? That always cracks me up.
Waiter: I can't really guarantee it medium well. That's sort of a continuum, and it might be on one side or the other.
Wife: (still examining menu) And a side bowl of your—it says, "famous smoked barbecue sauce."
Waiter: Yeah, sorry, that's a bit dogmatic, isn't it? I don't know why they wrote that.
Wife is still looking at menu. Waiter walks off toward kitchen.
Wife: Wait! I'm not done. Where'd he go?
Husband: Well, he's not your typical waiter.
Wife: But I wasn't done.
Husband: It doesn't really matter, now, does it?
Wife: What do you mean? I wanted potato wedges.
Husband: I'm not altogether sure they have those.
Wife: It's right here in black and white.
Husband: You'll want to avoid that sort of talk with Robert. You know, for best results.
Wife: (she sees waiter across room) Ah, Bob! Hey Bob! Are you going to take the rest of my order? (to husband) And what about your order? You didn't give it yet, did you?
The waiter heads toward their table, carrying a plate.
Husband: Hun, why don't you let me do the talking here? This is more my world. I speak his language.
The waiter sets a plate in front of each of them.
Waiter: Here is your sirloin, and your appetizer, Larry. Enjoy.
They both stare at their plates in amazement. Waiter starts to walk away.
Wife: Hey, there book-man.
Waiter: Problem?
Wife: Is this jelly fish? I didn't order jelly fish.
Waiter: No, no. Don't be silly. It's egg whites. It's the closest thing to sirloin we have. They're both proteins; both dairy products. It was in the shape of a cut of sirloin, but it sort of fell apart.
Wife: Are you out of your—
Husband: (to wife) Let me try. (to waiter) I understand the connotations might be the same, and that there might be some taxonomic family resemblance between sirloin and egg whites; I fully grant that possibility, but my worry is that—
Waiter: And the themes. Certainly we can admit trace themes that connect the discordant elements.
Husband: But can we run these judgments through any sort of peer review? Is there anyone else in the kitchen that might have some insight into these phenomena?
Wife: You're asking for a peer review of my sirloin?
Waiter: In fact, we've already gone through that process.
Wife: I'll give you peer review. I want the manager. Now. Egg whites dripping over my plate. This is sick.
Waiter: Sickness, though, is a social construct, a move to marginalize egg whites and other precolonial foods.
Wife: I'm about to socially construct something on your apron.
Waiter: But that would show my point.
Waiter quickly walks off.
Husband: These issues are complex, Hun. You can't just swing around your absolutes. Connotations overlap.
Wife stares at husband for a long time.
Wife: Sirloin. Egg whites.
Waiter returns to table with the Manager.
Husband: Hi Rusty. I didn't know you came over here, too!
Manager: It beats joining the military. I hear we have some sort of tension here. And I think I can move us toward a solution.
Husband: I'm sure we can. I can appreciate Robert's interpretation.
Wife: Your waiter, I'm sure, is a wonderful gent, but he has no clue about customer service. I'm glad to drop the whole thing, if you just bring me a steak. Will you bring me one?
Husband: Bringing the steak would seem to solve a host of problems.
Manager: I checked on that, and I can't say whether we have any steak.
Wife: Why can't you say?
Manager: Claims about the existence or nonexistence of independent objects are always open to scrutiny.
Husband: Yeah, yeah, that is a knotty problem. Really, a whole series of problems.
Wife: Did you open the refrigerator door?
Manager: That would assume some confidence in my perceptions, as well as a bridge between my subjective experience and the outer world. I can't afford to run a restaurant on those terms. Husband: Ouch, he's got you there, hun. (to manager) So the whole restaurant's vision seems to head off in this direction. That's very interesting. I can appreciate that.
Wife: (looking around) Wait a minute. Everyone is eating uncooked egg whites. That's sick.
Waiter: It's all a matter of perspective.
Husband: Perspective, perspective. Yes. So many angles.
Manager: Keeping to egg whites certainly cuts down on kitchen prep work. We can mold it in any shape, at least for a while. No nasty boundaries.
Waiter: It all tastes the same anyway.
Wife: Sirloin and egg whites taste the same?
Husband: Probably like when one has a cold. I can see that.
Waiter: Eating is such an overrated obsession of modern consumer culture.
Manager: I'm a little too busy for food. I do a lot of reading.
Wife: Wait here. Don't go anywhere. We're going to have a little test. I'm going right next door. Don't leave.
Wife runs offstage. The three men stand there.
Manager: A test? I hope we don't have to tie knots or anything.
Waiter: I've forgotten the State capitals.
Husband: Knowing her, I'd guess it will involve percussion instruments.
Manager: I straightened a triangle once. This might be good.
Waiter: That judge work must really tweak one's taste buds.
Husband: Yeah, she's not that bad. She'll grow out of it.
Manager: Oh, she's a judge? That explains a lot. I thought they were phasing out judges?
Husband: Not yet. They're sort of like cowboy movies. It's nice to have them around.
Waiter: Can she do gun tricks?
Husband: Just a few. (pause) She's back.
Wife returns carrying a pizza box with some pizza inside. She places itnext to her plate.
Wife: There. Pizza. Compare and judge.
Manager: The colors are a little bright.
Waiter: Yeah, it really hurts my eyes. Can you turn it over?
Manager: It's not as smooth as egg whites.
Waiter: Eew, look at all the bumps and crevices.
Manager: Egg whites are shinier. But not in a painful way.
Waiter: It doesn't look like it would hang together as well as egg whites.
Manager: Does it come in book form?
Wife: Taste it. Taste it. Who's going to take a bite?
Waiter: What? Do you mean, put that in our mouth?
Manager: Count me out. My stomach is very sensitive.
Waiter: Triangles tend to cut my mouth.
Waiter, Manager, and Wife look at Husband.
Husband: Why me? You guys have the restaurant. Let's all take a tiny bite. That can't hurt.
The three men break off pieces of pizza and chew. Wife watches without partaking.
Waiter: Very nice. It tastes like, like—
Manager: Egg whites.
Husband: Yeah, egg whites.
Waiter: Nicely blended egg whites, though.
The three men nod. Wife deadpan.

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