Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nurse the Hate: Who's a Little Man?

When I was a little boy my father and I took a train trip from Philadelphia to Chicago. This was well past the Golden Age of Rail Travel, but it was still not unusual to take an overnight train trip. My father's in-laws lived in Chicago, and we were to reunite with my mother there a few days after she had flown in. At the time I believed my Dad was taking me on a special Father/Son trip, but I now realize this was just a clever way to avoid spending more time than necessary under the critical eye of Merrill "Bud" MacNamee, my mother's father. Bud was a man from a different time, who was brutally critical of everyone, and even more so after the martinis started flowing around 5pm. My father, like everyone Bud came in contact with, was never right in Bud's eyes, and remained under his boot until a now infamous showdown in the early 1980s in an Erie PA dining room. This was not to happen for years, so hence the two day train trip...

The best thing about train travel is the ability to walk around the train. Hungry? Let's go take a stroll to the dining car. Of course when you are four years old, it's pretty fucking scary to walk in between the train cars. It's loud and the train sways back and forth. It seems like you can be very easily swept off the speeding train and into an Indiana field, forgotten until some traveling carnies find you and make you put up tents and clean the bearded woman's trailer at every podunk stop on their circuit. One has to keep their wits about them when walking on a train, especially when they are four.

As I recall, they sat you at a table like they do at a wedding or cruise ship. We sat at a table for four with two old, old women (who were probably all of 50). I remember them being very interested in me and commenting in that clueless way some adults do about kids. "Oh, do you think he'd like a soda? Should I ask him?" Listen Lady. I am sitting three feet away from you. Are you under the impression I can't hear you? (Bending her big scary head down inches from my face, she says in a baby talk voice) "Would you like a little sody-pop my little Princey Wincey?" Even when I was four, I didn't want to be talked to like that. That horrible sing song baby talk set me on edge. I was the most uptight four year old you ever saw.

I remember the all black waitstaff serving us in starched white uniforms, like a 1930s black and white movie. I ordered my usual. Hamburger. Plain. Fries on the side. No condiments on the plate. It would have been great if I could have ordered a hamburger "neat", but alas, I was only four. The women thought it was so cute I ordered by myself. Who's a Little Man? I'm a Little Man! I then counted down the time until the food arrived by kicking my feet in the air and wondering if I could safely make the journey back to our sleeper car without falling off the train.

When the food arrived I couldn't be any more pleased. The scale of the hamburger in my little hands was like a Bronto Burger for Fred Flintstone. There would be no chance I could finish it, but I looked forward to making a dent in it like a man. Perhaps afterwards I would retire to the bar car for a cognac and wax poetically about the burger. "Gentleman, I kid you not, this burger was the size of my head. I gave it all I could, but in the end I had left over half on my plate. And the steak fries! The size of two by fours! Though you boys may scoff, I can tell you with great confidence I managed to finish a third of the portion at least. It was quite a good showing. Jolly good!"

It was then disaster struck. The woman to my left said to my father, "Oh! He can't eat that! Let me cut it up for him!" Suddenly her hand seized my plate, and slid it in front of her. It all happened so fast. Her knife and fork sliced through the massive burger, leaving behind small burger chunklets. The horror, the horror. My big beautiful burger was ruined. I was furious.

The plate was slid back in front of me, and everyone resumed their meals. I had moved in an opposite direction, putting the brakes on for all to see. "What is it?", my father asked while leaning in close. "What's wrong?" I stared back at him. He knew Goddamn well what was wrong. "You didn't want her to cut it up?" I stared back at him. Silent. "Well... just eat it OK?" The women stared at each other, knowing they had made a faux pas as bad as ripping a monster fart at a job interview. There may have been a half hearted apology, but who remembers? It didn't matter. The damage was done. My meal was over.

So when I was standing in the parking lot last weekend during the tailgate before the Browns game, I moved in when I saw a young woman eyeing my friend's 7 year old struggling with his eggs and sausage. "Do you want some help from that?", she asked. "Hey, the kid has it. He's good." The seven year old looked over at me. I gave him a little nod, and he continued with his meal. Who was the Little Man? He was the Little Man.


At December 2, 2010 at 4:06:00 PM EST , Blogger ScottyJ said...

Bravo, my friend! Great story!!

At December 6, 2010 at 7:41:00 PM EST , Blogger southern surfer said...

Excellent! I remember those days at
old Italian restaurants in upstate New York


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