“You’re not eating sugar? … What kind of quack medicine website told you to do that? What a shame. No joy in that. Now, if you’re doing it as a kind of personal mortification, then carry on, but if you’re doing it for your health, then it’s probably a diet from hell. Well, at least you’re having wine … and you’re not vegan.” — R. Eric Tippin
It was night. We left the talk to look for food. To look for a quiet place to eat and talk, just the four of us: my friend Ulysses, his wife Penelope, and Laertes, an older Cambridge professor of English with an eloquent British accent. We left together, eager for a quiet, relaxing meal of four when—
“Food? Oh, we are going for food?”
“Ohhh? We’re going for food are we? Where are we going now?”
The voices came out of the dark and blindsided us. Argos, the first voice, was a short, Roman Catholic man from Catalonia. He carried a constant grin on his face, formed from a terribly pronounced overbite, and spoke in such an incoherent accent that one only understood every fourth word or so.
Before I knew it, the second voice was grabbing my arm.
“You will lead me,” she said. Ino was an older lady with shiny white hair and a strong British accent that carried her conservative, Roman Catholic views like the wind—to, through, out, and beyond its object. She seemed a tad tipsy this evening, and I could not refuse her arm. As she held on, we walked slowly, watching the group of four ahead of us, leave us behind.
“The nerve of those intellectuals to just keep talking around the Muslim problem but never addressing it. The Ox-Bridge elites are out of touch with the common man. I tell you, out-of-touch. Why, in 1939, the intellectual elites at Oxford voted against going to war with Hitler. But any common man in any common pub could have told you we ought to go to war. And the same is true today. We are at war, and Oxford and Cambridge are not coming to our aide! All these Ox-Bridge elites want to do is talk about it, as if that will help. But, now, what do you? You aren’t British are you?”
She said it more as an accusation than a question. I explained, sheepishly, that I was a doctoral student in America.
“Ohhh… And what are you studying?”
“Oh really? What? Are you Catholic? Now, Chesterton, there’s something worth studying. I just love Chesterton. One of the brightest minds of the twentieth century. Now he knew the common man well. And the feminists hated him. And they still do. Feminists! Are they not the worst? And the lesbians! You know what a lesbian is, don’t you? Why a lesbian is only a spinster who couldn’t get any!”
For some reason these last words she seemed to yell, and I looked across the street at a few women passing, and I looked up to her, and I looked at our tangled arms with no little horror.
“What’s your name?”
“Brandon? What? Are you Irish or something?”
“No… I’m American. We’re Swiss originally.”
“Swiss? What’s your last name?”
We were now approaching our group, who waited at a corner for us. As we approached, Ino spoke:
“Schneeberger? What an incredible name! Schneeberger! Such a strong name. Schneeberger! You must love saying it.” Here, Ino let go of my arm, looked at our patient comrades, pushed out her chest, and stood as tall as she could.
“Schnee-berger! Schnee-berger! My name-is-Schnee-berger!”
As she spoke, I noticed a look of dismay darken Ulysses’ face, horrified that Ino had followed. Penelope’s eyes widened with fear. Laertes looked as perplexed as any Cambridge professor can. And Argos. Argos stood with this pronounced overbite and grin, nearly drooling for lack of food. And I. I only hoped my future wife would be so proud to lay claim to my name.
We continued onward in the night. Again, Ino and I fell behind. She continued railing against leftists, feminists, and intellectuals, when suddenly she stopped, let go of my arm, walked behind me, and entered a pub.
I looked ahead through the crowd, watching my party grow smaller and smaller. Now is my chance, I thought. Just go. I could almost see the demon next me, chanting these words. But I resolved not to and followed Ino into the pub.
“What, Brandon? Didn’t they come in here?”
I explained they hadn’t, and when we reentered the sidewalk, I looked ahead only to discover the absence of my group.
We kept walking and turned left on Guildhall, thinking the group had. But when we turned, we saw nothing but a deserted market square.
“Now where did they go? Did you see them turn this way, Brandon?”
I assured her I had, but was perplexed as to where to go next. A new thought occurred to me: I know, I should just take her some place, spare the rest. Just as I was about to ask Ino out to dinner, Ulysses appeared from nowhere, pointing to a nearby burger joint.
“I want the beef,” Ino pointed to the menu with authority. Our waiter, who seemed to be tripping off his latest hit, said, “Alright. Beef burger” and wrote it down on his pad.
“Beef burger? I didn’t just order a burger,” Ino declared. “I ordered the beef.” Again, she pointed to the menu.”
“That’s the beef burger,” the waiter explained.
“Burger? Where does it say burger?” Ino flipped the menu over several times. “It just says beef. I don’t want a burger. I want beef. Where does it say burger?” As she continued searching for the word, Laertes pointed to the window.
“Look. It says it right there. It’s the name of the restaurant. Honest Burgers.”
Ulysses and Penelope studied the wood of the table with great concentration. I looked at Ino with a confused awe. Argos grinned on in the night. Ino understood.
“I want the beef,” she repeated.
“So you want the beef burger without the buns?”
“Yes, that’s right. No buns. Just beef.”
“Do you want the other toppings as well?”
“What other toppings? I want the beef.”
“The toppings on the burger,” Laertes chimed in. “It’s a burger place. It comes with burger toppings. Tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise. Do you want those?”
“Oh fine, fine.” Ino finished ordering.
And Ulysses and Penelope studied the table.
“I’ll take the beef burger with buns and no pink, please.” I said.
“Pink?” It was Argos’ turn. “What does it mean if it comes with pink?”
“Huh?” The waiter seemed confused.
“He said he doesn’t want pink in his burger, what does that mean?”
“Pink, like the middle is slightly undercooked. Do you want that?”
“That’s what pink is, huh—how much is it undercooked? Is it good that way?”
“I mean, it’s what you want. Some like more pink in their burger, makes it juicier. It just depends on what you want.”
“Jucier… is the pink like in the middle or the outside?”
“It’s in the middle, you can’t see it. Do you want that?”
“Why do people get it with pink in the middle if it is undercooked. Wait, so its in the middle?” Argos grinned with each question.
“It’s how long you want your burger cooked. Do you want your burger cooked the whole way or not?” Laertes spoke and seemed a little frustrated. And Argos, like a chastised dog, ordered a burger with no pink.
And Ulysses and Penelope studied the table.
The conversation meandered around that night’s talk.
“I thought the speaker seemed a little tired, and that was a shame,” Ulysses said, calmly. Penelope smiled.
“Yes,” said Laertes “And my question about religion tried to get him to think—”
“Oh he was dreadfully timid—scared really. He was just another scared intellectual. All these Cambridge and Oxford types are just scared intellectuals. Scared to confront the real problem: that we are at war.” Ino spoke with her usual authority on the issue. “If Chesterton were alive today he would whip these intellectuals into shape. He knew the common man. He knew that the intellectuals only ever talked about anything, never acted on it.”
“But it’s not that simple we can’t just go to war—”
“In 1939 the intellectuals at Oxford voted against going to war with Hitler. 1939. You know what happened in 1939 do you not? It’s no different today.”
Laertes saw the conversation was going nowhere and turned to me: “So you are here to study?”
“Yes. I’m going down to the British Library to look at Chesterton’s manuscripts.”
“His manuscripts?” Argos now spoke, and his grin seemed to grow even wider. “His manuscripts? So do you ask for all the manuscripts at one time? Is that what you do?”
“Chesterton was not out of touch with the common man as the modern intellectuals are today. That is what he preached.” Thus, Ino.
“Well, no, I don’t ask for all the manuscripts. You can only have so many at a time…”
“In 1939, the Oxford intellectuals voted against going to war with Hitler…”
“Do they let you look at anything you want while you are down there at the British Library?”
“The common man at the common pub would know what to do better than the modern intellectual.”
“How much pink is in your burger?”
These voices seemed to rise and fall and tangle with each other and become one flesh. The meal finished, we disembarked and split. But I wonder that Ulysses and Penelope are not there still, heads down, waiting for the suitors to leave their table.
The Jolly Mariner—Rochelle Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Painting: “Captain Lord George Graham (1715-174), in His Cabin.”
By William Hogarth,
Oil on canvas, 1745
*The individuals in this piece, including the author, have been given pseudonyms for purposes of privacy. Neither the author nor the websites on which this piece appears necessarily adheres to the opinions of those characters.