I can be funny sometimes…although not as funny as my sister. Maybe I should rephrase my opening statement and say that I like to have fun, to laugh. I can see humor in lots of situations and have been known to leave a room rather than embarrass myself by laughing at inappropriate times or events. That said, I promised Connie and some other book club friends to write something silly. I’m not sure whether I can do that or not (at least not tonight), but I would like to share a humorous situation that Elizabeth and I experienced Saturday evening.

After an afternoon of shopping, she and I decided that we wanted Chinese food for dinner. In fact, we were craving it! My hubby had his heart set on Zaxby’s so she and I decided to dine at the only Chinese restaurant I knew about in town. The first sign of impending trouble was when we saw a hand-written sign letting us know that the credit card machine was broken. No problem. We zoomed off in search of an ATM and returned ten minutes later. When we walked in and looked around, we saw one diner. Yes, only one. It was around 7:00 p.m.  We sauntered over to the buffet and made a quick decision to order from the menu after looking at the numerous brown fried dishes.

The menu actually looked pretty good and offered dozens of choices. “Let’s order fried wonton for an appetizer,” Elizabeth suggested. “It’s so good and has cream cheese and crab meat.” Sounded good to me. After perusing the menu, she decided on Sesame Chicken, and I can’t remember the name of my dish, something “ordinary” like chicken and broccoli.  I like both of those dishes and figured I couldn’t go wrong with a combination of the two; plus there was pork fried rice and an egg roll thrown in. Yum. I began to get hungry in anticipation of the forthcoming culinary taste treats.

The server brought some soup and crispy fried noodles. “What’s this?” I asked Elizabeth. She said she thought it was wonton soup and knew that it was NOT fried wonton. I tasted a fried noodle and can even now taste the coated residue it left on my tongue. When we called the server over and told her of our dilemma, she muttered something a tad disparaging about “Chinese people” and took the dishes back to the kitchen. She returned ten minutes later with ten fried wonton filled with some sort of mystery meat. It was greenish gray and so rubbery that chewing was a challenge. Elizabeth and I split one and left the rest on the plate. Our lips were coated with grease.

Another fifteen minutes passed, and our huge plates arrived. Yay! At last we’d get to sample some “real food.” Wrong! Elizabeth’s fried rice had onions in it although she’d emphatically requested NO ONIONS. The served whisked Lib’s plate away, and the two of us stared at mine and wondered how and what I could eat. The chicken was weird looking, the egg roll was hard and greasy, the rice was greasy (wish I could think of a good synonym), and the broccoli was pretty and green but swimming in this stuff that looked like, well, let’s just say nasal discharge.

Elizabeth’s food re-arrived, and her mound of rice was brown and, you guessed it, greasy. We saw no sign of sesame on the chicken, just a thick, syrupy red gook. We sat there scraping away the yucky coatings from various food items and then both began laughing. Elizabeth and I have had hundreds, maybe thousands, of shared dining experiences, but nothing was as horrible as this. The food was inedible, and the service was barely adequate. At some point, a cute young woman attired in shorts and a tank top replaced the earlier server, and Elizabeth and I both thought it interesting that a Caucasian female would be working in this restaurant.

We asked for take out boxes, and when they arrived, we began fastidiously choosing certain items to take home with us, using our forks and napkins to remove the slimy coatings. Elizabeth looked at me and asked why were taking food home when  we knew we weren’t going to eat it. If we couldn’t eat it then and there, then why would we eat it the next day? I looked at the Chinese woman sitting behind the cash register looking at us dolefully. We had been the only patrons in the “establishment” in nearly two hours. How could this person and her staff survive?

Elizabeth and I began laughing at our predicament as we wondered what to do. We COULD NOT eat the food, and we didn’t see any point in taking it home with us. With the Chinese cashier’s eyes upon us, we decided to leave the food right on the table, that on our plates and in the take out boxes. Next dilemma: Should we pay for such awful, awful cuisine? Should we pay for it and tell the owner how horrible it was? Should we walk out the door without saying a word or paying a dime?

Sitting there in the colorful vinyl booth, I remembered an incident that happened that morning. My former mother-in-law had told me about the postal service picking up food for a local food drive on their mail routes. When I said I didn’t know about it, she indicated that perhaps it wasn’t too late to put some canned goods out by my mailbox. I didn’t make it home in time to do that. However, I rationalized that perhaps paying for our inferior meal might help a Chinese family stay afloat.

We didn’t leave a tip, but we did pay for the “meal,” a $16 contribution. As we sat giggling and chatting about the situation, we honestly didn’t know what the best solution was. Paying for a terrible (not even mediocre) meal might be construed as positive reinforcement, hence encouraging more of the same. Not paying…well, I just couldn’t see that as I looked at the face of the lady at the cash register.  My last vision is of the server’s boyfriend clearing the table. Lib and I couldn’t help laughing as we watched him and wondered what in the world he must be thinking.

Tell me honestly. What would you have done? I’ve always heard that if you like a business, tell your friends; if you don’t like it, then tell the owners. Yet in this case, I just can’t see doing that. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Were we wrong to have paid for food that we left on the table? What would you have done?

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