I’ll Have What She’s HavingErik is not feeling well this week, so we are reprinting a column from 1999 when he lived in Syracuse, Indiana, because we're feeling all nostalgic and want to see whether we can get away with it.
I’ve sometimes considered being a restaurant critic, but there aren't many I don't like, except for the restaurant that delivers shish kebabs William Tell style.
Unfortunately most restaurants sell the same items with no great variety. The typical restaurant, assuming it’s not a four-star gourmet restaurant, serves some sort of hamburger (and the ones that do will charge you 15 bucks for it). Every restaurant has some variation on chicken, vegetables, and salads. There’s no major difference in taste or quality, assuming they're all competent. The biggest difference is the name of the food, which varies wildly from restaurant to restaurant.
Since the hamburger is usually a restaurant’s flagship sandwich, it’s named after the restaurant or one of its characters. You can order the Big Boy, the Halfback, the Gunslinger, and the Bronco Burger: a quarter-pound hamburger with pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomato on a bun, plus some kind of cheese.
One of my favorite lunches is a nice Reuben sandwich — corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread. It’s a universally recognized sandwich, and one of our local restaurants makes a pretty decent Reuben.
Unfortunately, the restaurant, which has a nautical theme, has named the sandwich the "Shiver Me Timber." As a result, I’m supposed to order the "Shiver Me Timber," and NOT "a Reuben sandwich" whenever I eat there.
It doesn’t matter that I order the sandwich so often the waitress has it waiting for me as soon as I walk in the door. And it doesn’t matter that everyone else in the free world, including people in Brazilian rain forests who have never seen corned beef, calls this a Reuben sandwich. They don’t even care if I read its menu description ("succulent corned beef lovingly smothered with sharp Swiss cheese, tart sauerkraut, and a huge smear of Thousand Island dressing, layered between two thick slices of fresh rye bread").
No, what matters is that I call the sandwich by its proper name, the "Shiver Me Timber." But I hate doing it, because it sounds like something Pee Wee Herman got arrested for.
"I’ll have the Reuben," I tell the waitress.
"The what?" she asks.
"The Reuben. . . sandwich."
The puzzled look on her face tells me I must have been speaking Ancient Greek and not been aware of it.
I point to that particular item on the menu. "This one." I silently plead with her not to make me say it. But I can’t make her mad; I don’t want any "sneezers" mixed in with my Thousand Island dressing.
"Ooooh, you mean the 'Shiver Me Timber,'" she says, like she has just had some amazing epiphany and discovered one of the secrets of the universe.
"Yes, that one."
I grit my teeth and try not to cry. "That sandwich."
"Come on, you have to say it," my waitress says in a sing-song voice. I was afraid it was going to come to this. I hang my head and my shoulders quake with silent sobs. I barely gasp out the words, "I’ll. . . have. . . the. . . Shiver. . . Me. . . Timber."
I feel so dirty.
"That wasn’t so bad, was it?" She goes off to put in my order, ignoring my dirty looks. I hear her yell from the kitchen, "Hey Joe, I just broke another one! That’s 37 for me this month!"
Now I can put up with the occasional Shiver Me Timber or Big Buoy burger nonsense. But what really makes me cringe is ordering off the kids menu. Luckily, most restaurants across North America have the same kid’s menu, because my daughter is as predictable as gravity when it comes to restaurants: "I’ll have chicken, French Fries, ketchup, dip," she used to say the way only a parent could. Unfortunately, no one knew what the heck she was talking about.
"What did she say?" asks our waitress.
"She’ll have the chicken fingers, fries, with Ranch dressing and ketchup on the side," I tell our waitress.
Oh no, not again.
"Chicken fingers and fries?" I ask, hopefully.
A sadistic smile slowly spreads across her face. She shakes her head slowly. I look to my
wife for help, who is suddenly engrossed in the color of the ceiling in the restaurant across the street.
"Fine," I say in a clear, loud voice. "I’ll have the Lucky Plucky Happy Chicky Delight with Tatie Stripes," reading it directly from the menu. I can clearly see that she’s written "chix fngrs, FF" on her notepad, If I have to deal with much more of this, her tip is going to be 4 pennies at the bottom of a full water glass.
She heads back to the kitchen to place the order and I hear, "Hey, that guy just made number 48. I've got the new record!"
My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.
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