Inside, Miles and my Dad are speaking to the friendly, smiling owner/couple behind the front counter (this looks good!), further in, there are two card tables covered in plastic, a couple of folding chairs, and no other customers (this does not). Miles hands me a paper plate and says, "There's no menu, just the steam table". My Dad shuffles over to sit down; he has given up entirely.
I'll make you a plate, Dad, what do you want?
I don't know, you choose. He doesn't turn around.
I look at the steam table: brown, dark brown, orangish and green. In one section, hard boiled eggs float like Gator eyes in a swamp. Miles is asking the woman behind the table what each thing is, and as I watch her explain it so sweetly and Miles consider each thing so, well, considerately, I suddenly, instead of thinking "what difference does it make?", think this is fine. This is great. Bless this sweet couple for trying to have a business. Bless Miles for bringing us somewhere different. Who cares if it looks like this, it's not so bad, what's the worst that could happen? Food poisoning? Who cares if it does. I pile a scoop of each color onto 2 plates and sit down next to Pops.
We both look at the plate, then each other. He slowly pushes the plate away with one finger. I slowly push it back. He pushes it away. I push it back. This all happens in silence, looking away from each other, until it gets tiresome and then we laugh. Last year at this time, my Dad was in a hospital bed recovering from open heart surgery because of a heart attack that, the doctor said, probably should have killed him. What's a little diarrhea and vomiting when you've had your chest sliced open with a table saw. As it turns out, the food is so intensely spicy that after the first couple of bites it doesn't really matter what it tastes like. We are all choking and holding our throats.
"How is everything?" the owner calls out.
"Delicious", I cough, "Can we have some more water when you get a chance?"
We drain the glasses after she pours.
Both Miles and my Dad get the hiccups, and not the cute little bubbly kind of a teething infant but rather the aggressive croaks that a person makes before they're about to...I'm not going to say it. Every time one of them hiccups,we laugh, until pretty soon that's all we are doing. Hiccup. Laugh. Hiccup. Laugh.
I can't eat anymore, I say.
Save it for Duncan, Miles says.
In my head I say, why would you want to give this to your boyfriend--
He eats anything, Miles says, reading my mind. We all laugh.
I'm done too, my Dad says.
This wasn't very good, Miles says, smiling.
"It really wasn't," I'm smiling too.
"It may have been the worst food I ever had in my life". This, from my Dad who, like Duncan, eats anything. We all look at each other, smiling.
This was fun, my Dad says.
He's right. Who cares about the food, really. It's just nice to be together, even in Tarzana, even in a strip mall. "Well," Miles says, "Let's see how we're doing in a couple hours".