Waterville Steak House

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / College Teacher /
@ K. 2005 08 22

The summer of 1967, while Hilary was busy with bearing Brian, I moved all our stuff up to the house we’d rented in Waterville ME, got it ready to receive them. The long drive was followed by a short sleep, then a long day: putting up book shelves and so forth. By dark I was exhausted and starving.

In New York you could eat in a different restaurant every night, restricting yourself only to “good” restaurants (decent food, decent prices), and never see the same restaurant twice. In Waterville, after you’d sampled the Silent Woman, there was only one other steak house a respectable person would dare be seen in. I don’t remember its name, but it offered steak and Chinese cuisine. It wasn’t cheap; neither was it outrageous. I’d already dined at the Silent Woman: therefore I’d try the Chinese steak house.

I wasn’t prepared for it to be crowded. Maybe Scott Paper was having a convention. But I was too hungry, too tired, to switch course, find a lobster pound. I withstood the jostle, was finally seated, and handed a menu by a harassed young Chinese. The prices brought me up short, but when I could get the waiter’s attention again, I ordered a scotch: and the war shu op: duck, a way I liked it.

Now Colby College had hired me on a one year contract. I had no visions of returning to this restaurant after ten years of regular patronage, now a full professor, beloved by some, respected by all. But I did expect to be in a similar position in a similar quality small-city restaurant in another decade or two: I’d finish my thesis, publish it as a popular book … my fiction would be published, I’d be known in more than one field … Nevertheless, I’d be teaching in a small college … not too far from a good ski mountain. So I used my time waiting for my meal having dreams of receiving honored service in some such restaurant.

The waiter came. Making no eye contact, he dropped a plate in front of me.

But this wasn’t war shu op! This wasn’t op of any kind: it looked like beef.

How long was I supposed to try to get the waiter’s attention? Even the scotch had taken forever to arrive. After a few minutes of futility, I dug in. The beef dishes had been priced several dollars higher than the duck prices. When the bill came I’d refuse to pay more than the duck price.

As I said, I was starving. So I ate with a will. Hey, this was good!

I wasn’t more than a few mouthfuls into it though before the waiter rushed by, snatched my plate away, and fled. Goddamit, this restaurant wasn’t worth greasy spoon prices. In New York they’d have more black eyes than eyes in no time. Only Mama Leone’s could get away with being this rude at these prices.

Then a manager arrived. He wasn’t apologizing, he was ignoring me: but I did decipher what was going on. The waiter had brought me a Peking filet mignon: a twenty-odd dollar dish (1967!) that had to be ordered in advance. They’d mistakenly served it to me. I’d eaten part. Now they couldn’t serve it to the customer who’d pre-ordered it. And of course they had no more filet mignon in the kitchen to restart from scratch.

That’s too bad, but it was their problem. Their problem with me was that I was owed some war shu op and an apology: and owed it a lengthening time ago.

But of course you already know that I never got one. In fact I was treated like a criminal at each subsequent contact for that evening. I did pay only for the duck, and the waiter got no tip at all. And even though I spent two, not one, years in Waterville, I never went back to that place. The filet mignon had been good, very good; but what I should have gotten was respectful service: and what I ordered.

(Oh, no: wait. I did go back to that restaurant: of an afternoon: to borrow some wood ear fungus from their kitchen. I was making hot and sour soup. The kitchen was very nice: and charged me nothing for a good quantity of first quality fungus.)

I have another couple of steakhouse stories to add, from Long Island, 1970s. Maybe I’ll be able to get to at least one of them.

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Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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