Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Black and White

"We're going to sit there," the man declared to the hostess, pointing at a small table near the front of the large, sparsely populated restaurant.  The few diners, their attention grabbed by his volume and tone, looked up from their meals to see a giant standing in the waiting area.  Though of average height, the man carried an aura of entitlement that magnified his size, making him seem mountainous.  Curly tufts of more-salt-than-pepper hair covered his head, matching the full beard he wore to mask the weight in his face.   His green polo shirt struggled to encapsulate his regal, gluttonous kettledrum of a stomach.   Clearly this man denied himself nothing, and expected others to treat him with the same high regard.

Having neither a need nor a desire to argue with him, the hostess muttered, "Yes, sir," and snatched a pair of menus from the pile.  Following behind her, the man swaggered in, his girth filling the narrow aisle that lead past the counter and into the dining room.  As he walked, he directed his booming voice back into the cell phone clamped to his right ear.

"You will double check the figures for the last quarter," he told the poor lackey on the other end of the call.  The hostess laid the two menus, silverware, and napkins on the table.  When the man had almost caught up to her, his companion emerged from his shadow.

Caught in the man's gravitational pull, his son trudged behind.  No more than ten years old, his short, brown, bowl-cut hair was slightly windblown, and his yellow and blue striped polo shirt and tan cargo shorts defied the early spring chill in the air outside.  Though heavy like his father, the boy was softer, and carried none of his father's commanding presence; his very existence seemed to be an afterthought.  Frowning at the floor, he plodded over to the table.

The thin, wooden chairs creaked in protest as the father and son sat.  Without even a glance at the menus, the father sought out their server, while his son sat still, his eyes on the table.  When the waitress finally arrived all of thirty seconds later, the man tilted the phone slightly from his head to bark their order.  "An iced tea and a Black and White cookie for him, and bring me a coffee."

His son, perhaps excited by his impending dessert, perhaps seeing the break in the phone call as an opportunity, perked up and tried to speak to his father, but the man had already returned his full attention to his cell phone, speaking loudly enough for the entire restaurant to hear.  The boy nevertheless persisted, his "Dad. Dad? Dad!" attracting the attention of every patron in the restaurant, except for the one that mattered.   After a dozen attempts to grab his father's attention, the boy lost hope.   His eyes and the corners of his mouth again turned downward.  He sat in silence as his father droned on into the phone.

The spark in his eyes re-ignited when the waitress brought the drinks and the cookie.   The Black and White cookie was the size of a small Frisbee, and nearly an inch thick.  It was more a small, thin cake with vanilla and dark chocolate icing than an actual cookie.  The wave of excitement that the boy exuded could be felt throughout the restaurant.   As his father put sugar and creamer into his coffee without putting the phone, the boy realized that he had a decision to make.   This may have been the first time the boy had to make this decision.  It may have been the thousandth.  Still, his life depended on making the correct choice at that moment.

Reveling in the conundrum, the boy wanted to share his joy with his father.   Turning and examining the cookie, an archaeologist seeking meaning in the markings on a newly unearthed clay pot, the boy thought out loud, "Maybe I should eat the whole white half first.  That could be fun. But if the white half is better, maybe I should save it for last.   I could eat a bite from one side and then the other, but that would make the whole thing taste the same. I like chocolate, so maybe I should start with the black side.   Or I could bite right in the middle and taste both-"

"Billy, would you just eat the goddamned thing so we can get the hell out of here," his father said before returning once again to his call.

Billy crumbled.

He looked up at his father, speechless.  Then his eyes glazed over as they turned downward again.   He bit into the cookie, randomly.  While he ate, Billy never once looked up from the table, never once showed any enjoyment.  After five minutes, he had mechanically devoured most of the cookie.   As he pushed the last morsel into his mouth, his father ended his call.

"You done?" his father asked.  His mouth still full, Billy could only nod.

"Good."  The man sought out the waitress on the other side of the restaurant.  "Check!"

The waitress hurried over with the bill.  "No rush. I'll take it whenever you're ready," she said before moving on to help other tables.

The man pulled a twenty from his wallet and flipped it in a spiral onto the table.   Without a word, he stood and moved toward the exit.  Billy sat still for a split second before forcing himself out of his chair and following two paces behind his father.

"Thanks, guys. Have a great day," the hostess said with a smile as they passed her stand.  The man ignored her.  Billy stopped and looked up at his father, who continued onward.  He turned around and gave the hostess a wave, and a slight smile.  Then he hurried to catch up to the man, and the two walked out into the bright afternoon sun.

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