Friday, February 12, 2016

Sweet 'n' Sour

Sweet 'n' Sour

I swear I have a hole somewhere in my bottom lip.

Somehow, over my midlife years, I've become a food spiller, a sauce splatterer, a drumstick dribbler.

It's not an issue at home so much. I simply eat naked and shower immediately afterwards, or I drape a swatch of plastic wrap over my shirt. But a man does not eat every meal at home.

There are always life's required dinner dates, and it is in restaurants that tumbling food down the front of oneself gets embarrassing. I can't imagine what I'll be like in another ten years. I'll likely need to accent my wardrobe with one of those yellow fisherman's raincoats to wear to dinner. Either that or I'll have to wear one of those hard plastic baby bibs, you know, the kind with the little trough at the bottom of it, a catchall designed specifically to snare the food that doesn't quite make it past the tongue.

A while ago, my kids and grandkids joined me for Chinese food at one of Toronto's upscale buffets called The Mandarin. It is one of those all you can possibly eat places, but quite fancy compared to most Chinese buffet restaurants. In The Mandarin, you actually know what you're eating. There are no mystery meats, no bowls of unrecognizable chop chewy, no assassin-spiced fung yer tongue side dishes. Instead, the food is always great, and I confess that I indulged in far too much food, far too quickly. Probably, it was in my haste that it happened.

My daughter was the first to notice.

"Dad," she said with a dark stare at my white sweater, "you've spilt something on your chest."

The news didn't come as a surprise, despite the fact that I had been using my best lean-forward technique so that most of the spillage would hit the plate or, at worst, the tablecloth.

"Where?" I asked.

She moved a finger toward me, and replied, "There ..." as she pointed at what appeared to be a double drip of sweet 'n' sour sauce — the thick and syrupy agent orange stuff that most people pour over chicken balls. To be honest, I didn't remember either eating chicken balls or ladling a gob of sweet 'n' sour sauce onto my plate.

"You should get that off right away. It will leave a stain for sure."

"Do you have any Stain Away?" I asked blankly.

She screwed up her nose into a ball and snickered slightly. "Stain Away?" she asked.

"Yeah, you know, that stuff Kelly Ripper uses on all her sloppy friends."

"Dad, her name is not Ripper. It's Ripa."

"The cute blonde one who used to be on Regis? The one with the perky, uh, biceps?"

"Yes, I, uh, know who you mean. But it's Ripa. Kelly Ripa. Not Kelly Ripper."

"OK, fine, Kelly Ripa. So, do you have a tube of that Stain Away stuff in your purse?"

"No," she chuckled. "Stain Away is for dentures. You're thinking of a bleach stick, like a Clorox Bleach Pen."

"Exactly. Do you have one of those bleach pens in your purse?"

"No," she said, and then after a moment, she added with a smile, "I do have an EpiPen though. It won't get that stain out, but it might make you feel better about the whole situation."

I looked at her with a wrinkled smirk. "Very funny. You are really too witty."

"Here," she continued, "let me get rid of that for you."

She dipped her napkin in a glass of water, my son's glass I suspect, and she proceeded to dab at the gelatinous orange residue of my sweater. The moment the water contacted the agent orange, the small spot of sweet 'n' sour sauce began to spread outwards like a malignant cancer until it reached the size of a grapefruit.

"Whoops," my daughter whimpered with a grimace.

"Whoops," I repeated after her. Then for a bit of dramatic effect and in the spirit of initiating a kind of Asian meditation chant around the table, I echoed the sentiment, "Whoops."

Everyone watching in horror picked up the cadence. "Whoops, whoops, whoops," circled the table. Even my grandkids picked up the refrain and squealed a tiny "Whoops" through a mouthful of chicken balls.

My daughter covered her eyes with her hands. "I ... I ..." she gargled through a blend of laughter and tears.

"I don't think a bleach pen will do the job, now, do you?" I offered by way of finishing her thought for her. "I'm not even sure a whole jug of bleach will do the trick."

So I spent the rest of the evening wearing my stain on my chest, almost as if I had been shot in the heart and had begun bleeding sweet 'n' sour sauce from the wound. I didn't mind so much really. For me, it was simply the orange badge of courage, a source of pride for only the best of the buffet generation.

On the drive home that night, I was struck by the idea that we all wear a stain of some sort on our chest. Some of us are just better at concealing it than others, and maybe that's the point. When you start screwing around with life's little imperfections, they are likely to grow in size and importance until they become life's huge imperfections and create all kinds of embarrassment and drama that could have easily been avoided.

All you really need to do is remember to be sensible about your faults and the faults of others, to keep everything in perspective, and to have some kind of handy emotional bleach pen with you, so that when those nasty, little stains show up unexpectedly, you'll be prepared to dismiss them just as quickly.



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