I was a rotund, little tike. According to my parents, they had to hide the butter or I’d eat it by the cube. One baby picture shows me plopped among dandelions, and believe me when I say plopped. I looked like Jabba the Hut. Perhaps this would explain my lifelong affinity for food. While I no longer eat to excess, I am a fan of the vast world of culinary arts.
Hence, I’ve always hated it when good food goes to waste. Nothing says entitled Americans more than garbage cans full of half-eaten pizza.
And perhaps this would explain how I became a bum … not a full-time bum, but a bum at heart. It began in high school with challenges of manliness, such as who would dare eat the grossest thing off the floor. Then, as a starving college student, dumpster diving became a cherished way of life. And to my wife’s chagrin, old habits die hard.
I mean, why pay a premium price at a restaurant when there’s perfectly good food at the table right next to you? When, on occasion, I stealthily grab an unloved order of sweet potato fries before the busboy chucks it, my wife invariably covers her face with shame. Philosophically, she agrees with the whole not wasting thing. She just can’t get behind the whole doing it in public thing.
One time, for our anniversary, we were having dinner at La Caille, the most expensive restaurant in Utah. To stay under budget, my wife got a salad, and I ordered from the kids’ menu. A lot of famous people come to eat here, so we were only a little surprised when when we realized that the guy sitting two tables away was Sylvester Stallone. I think he was in Salt Lake City for the shooting of a new action film. He ordered the filet mignon, all sixty-eight dollars of it. Then he said to the waitress, “Just put it on the union’s tab.”
It was hard not to stare at my childhood hero, the real-life incarnation of Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. He just leaned back in his chair, showing off those manly guns. When, at last, his steaming entree arrived, he took a single bite of it before answering a buzzing phone.
“Yeah?” he said. “’Ow ya doin’, uh? I’ll be right there.” Then he put on his jacket and walked right out of the restaurant. I could see through the window as he hopped onto a motorcycle and drove off. Meanwhile his forsaken filet mignon steamed on.
You can probably guess where this story is going. So could my wife. “Don’t even think about it,” she whispered.
“But it’s gonna go to waste,” I whispered.
“What if he comes back?”
“He completely left the restaurant. If I don’t grab it, the busboy will.”
“I forbid you to get off your chair.”
On one hand, she was my wife, and this was our anniversary. On the other hand, it was Silver Stallone’s filet mignon! If I didn’t eat it, somewhere in heaven a cow would cry. Even if I had to sleep on the couch that night, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I pulled a fast one and nabbed it before anyone noticed. As my wife hid her face behind a glass of water, I chowed down on that sumptuous goodness. It practically melted in my mouth.
I was halfway through it when Sylvester Stallone reentered the building. “My meeting was cancelled,” he said to the waitress. Then he resumed his seat, looked around, and said, “Who took my food?” I’d seen that frown before … moments before fifty Viet Cong soldiers met their violent deaths.
That was when the first camera flash went off. Then there was another. Sitting throughout the restaurant, disguised as dinner guests, were the paparazzi. All at once they stood up from their chairs and let loose a barrage of flashes. There must have been twenty photographers.
As my wife ran to hide in the bathroom, Stallone stood up and explained to a woman with a microphone, “Someone took my food, and whoever it was, I’m gonna find him.”
Thankfully, the waitress calmed him down, reasoning that the busboy must have taken it away, and she promised to bring him a new entree.
Stallone took his seat, though his eyes continued to scan the room.
I tried to wolf down the rest of the filet mignon as fast as possible, but it wasn’t fast enough. His eye dead set on me, Stallone stood up and walked toward our table.
Desperate to destroy the evidence, I grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and poured it all over the steak, but it was still recognizable. So I reached over to the next table, grabbed a half-drunken bottle of claret de bordeaux, doused the steak, then knocked over our table’s candle.
My plate erupted with flames, and Stallone stepped back. He gave me a good look and asked, “Is that the filet mignon?”
“No,” I said, “this is the flaming mignon.”
He nodded. “I’ve never had the flaming mignon. How is it?”
Trying to look nonchalant, I relaxed my left hand on the table while, with my right hand, I took a bite of the very spicy, flaming steak. It was painful in every regard. “It’s … nice.” I must have been trying a little too hard to look nonchalant, because I hadn’t realized that my left sleeve had caught fire, which was quickly spreading up my arm.
In a panic, I doused myself with the remainder of the claret de bordeaux, only this proved to be less than intelligent, as it caused the rest of me to catch fire. Luckily, Stallone had his wits about him. Like a true action hero, he grabbed a nearby table cloth, rolled it up, and beat the fire off of me … not to mention the tar out of me. In the process, he shattered my chair and several of my bones, but at least it put the fire out.
Meanwhile the cameras were flashing like crazy. Stallone turned to the woman with the microphone and modestly explained that he was just doing his duty. Though he seemed eager to get away from the paparazzi. He was in the process of putting on his jacket when the waitress returned with a new, steaming plate of filet mignon.
“Just throw it away,” he said. “I gotta go.” And like that, he zipped up his jacket and left the building. It almost looked like was trying to hide something. Of course, the paparazzi followed him out.
I was in pain. It took all my strength to grab a new chair from the neighboring table.
My wife, hearing that the noise had died down, returned from the restroom and resumed her seat. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” she said.
“I have,” I said. “Alcohol makes a terrible fire retardant.” I wasn’t interested in pursuing the conversation further, so I buried my sorrows in my twenty dollar macaroni and cheese. At least I tried to. “Hey, I said, who took my food?”