When the phrase “Memorable Meals” is bandied about, it conjures visions of epicurean delights, chow so scrumptious it makes one moan. Sometimes, you don’t even remember the food because of the emotional significance of the occasion. Maybe a Memorable Meal is hardwired to a wedding proposal, first date or anniversary. Perhaps a Hawaiian sunset and tropical breeze may be connected to the digestion process.
I had a wife once. Well. More than once. For her birthday, I moved our entire dining room from the ranch over to Hart Park and ordered a catered seven-course meal. With music. Not unlike Scooby-Doo, my spouse seemed — confused.
Winter break, my junior year at Hart, home of The Mighty Indians — and speaking of meals, may some school district suits choke — my best pal Phil and I motored up Coast Highway 1 to San Francisco. We had like 18 cents between us. Most of that went for gasoline for Phil’s VW bug with the American flag painted on the hood. For three days, we survived on a loaf of bread, Kool-Aid and pathogen-rich green bologna. Our first night in Baghdad-by-the-Bay? It snowed. For the first time since the 7th century. We slept in Phil’s sardine can in Candlestick Park’s parking lot during a blizzard.
Know what we had for breakfast?
Soon, all the hardships were forgotten. We motored to Fisherman’s Wharf and each ate boiled crab, lemon, butter, fresh baked hot French bread, brie and root beer. Peach ice cream for dessert. Hit the pitch pipe. Moooooaaaaaannnnn…
I’ve had rib eyes in Oklahoma that ruined elsewhere steaks for life. Sometimes, a simple Way Station breakfast of hash-&-eggs/biscuits-&-gravy, will make me swoon. Had a seared sea bass last month with my daughter at the Beverly Hills Hotel that was so blankety-blank decadent I rediscovered Catholicism just to attend confession.
Of course, “Memorable” has a flip side.
Mom and Dad were wretched chefs, concocting meals a starving hyena would snub. I remember a 2nd-grade lunch Pops prepared. Like some real-life Peanuts character, I’m sitting at a schoolground picnic table, cautiously opening a brown paper bag. Inside the soggy wax paper was over-fried liver the consistency of Kevlar. On burnt raisin toast. With jelly.
Swear on all that’s holy. Not making that up.
Funny thing? None of the kids wanted to trade.
In high school, I dragged my pal John Duarte over to our house. Kitchen pots bubbled. Mrs. Dr. Frankenstein, aka, my mother, was cooking dinner. Nosy, Duarte lifted a lid, promptly placed it back, then fell to the tile floor convulsed in hysterical laughter. Like a happily bobbing brain, the evening’s main course?
Boiled. Hamburger. With salt.
Not making that up, either.
It’s not all a tragedy. Mother’s meals came with liberal servings of Tang (sometimes with water, sometimes not) and individually wrapped caramels — plastic, of course, to be eaten separately. Growing up? I was thin.
I have a friend who has a wife who couldn’t cook up a good idea. One day, years ago, Friend X (wife’s a Signal subscriber) called in a conspiratorial whisper. His missus wanted to cook us dinner. I had known them both since the Dinosaur Days (and, if they were still around in 1983, she’d concoct an inedible recipe for Giant Lizard Foot). It hit me. I had never eaten at their house. She vowed to remedy that.
“Can I bring anything?” I ask my pal.
So. The big night arrives. I knock on the front door. You know when there’s been an intergalactic psychic storm of an argument and you walk into a room and can still feel the dark energy? Mrs. X had achieved nuclear fusion, melting the cast iron stove with meat loaf and dinner was a HazMat mess. The meat loaf wasn’t the only meltdown.
Mr. X sprinted to fetch a Safeway barbecue chicken while Mrs. X hid in the kitchen, sobbing. I’m sitting in the dining room, tapping my fingers. An hour later, Mr. X returns. The domesticated bird? About 3 ounces. Those of you gifted in math can figure that works out to 1 ounce of chicken per diner. On the table rested a loaf of Wonder Bread. Did you know that just by using your hands you can squeeze an entire loaf of Wonder Bread into the size of a BB? Also present? A gallon of milk, in the plastic container. And, a head of iceberg lettuce, cut into four pieces.
Salad, I’m guessing.
Complete. Total. Silence. Not a word uttered during dinner, which took 45 seconds because it doesn’t take even a fashion model long to eat an ounce of poultry. Two bites later, I’m finished. I leaned back in my chair, heartily slapped my stomach and announced: “BOY!! AM — I — STUFFED!!!”
Mr. X blows milk through his nose and, like Duarte, hits the floor hysterically laughing. Mrs. X boo-hoos it, sprinting upstairs where I hoped she, at least, kept a stash of K-rations or a chewy toy on which to stave off starvation.
Had another Memorable Meal with the X’s, not long after that. The wife wanted to make it up to me by inviting me over for Thanksgiving.
Despite the big cowboy hat, I’m not an idiot.
I stopped on the way over and bought something like 1,185 bucks worth of liquor store beef jerky, which I hid in baggies in my pockets and underwear.
Darn good thing, too.
Thanksgiving dinner? No meat. No potatoes. No dinner rolls. Not even milk (herbal tea). Dinner was steamed carrots, cauliflower and squash. This medley of three vegetables? Curiously — tough.
I kept visiting the bathroom.
Not because of Mrs. X’s watery dining tribute to the Pilgrims and the Indians.
I just sat on the toilet seat with the door locked, watching my reflection gnaw on a teriyaki beef jerky strand the size of a rifle scabbard.
That Thanksgiving? It was — memorable.
John Boston is a local writer. Who, thanks to friends and family, has suffered from malnutrition.