Eating While Standing (flash fiction)
After his morning run, and then a stretch to cool down his muscles, Ethan dug into the salad with gusto.
Miles, frowning, said: “How can you do that? Eat while standing up? That’s barbaric, you know. How can you get the full effect of the tuna salad niçoise if you are standing there as if you are in a rush to catch the train? That’s simply not done. Only madmen eat while standing up.
“Let me be more specific. The only acceptable time to eat while standing up is when eating a bowl of steaming oatmeal while looking out of the window at freshly fallen snow and enjoying the altered landscape out there beyond your window. All other situations are unacceptable.
“Please sit down. Please. There you go. You’re letting me stay here for a while until I get back on my feet, that’s a wonderful favor to me. One that I pay—in part—by cooking for you. But please, oh please, do not take my payment and spoil it by standing while eating. This is something done by a person who puts ketchup on scrambled eggs or drinks that monstrosity called a shandy. How is it possible that mixing beer and lemonade is a good thing? Either one or the other. A beer is wonderful on its own. And homemade lemonade? That’s one of the world’s most refreshing drinks. Stir in some freshly grated ginger and mint leaves, and you’re talking sublime. Actually, that may go well with that salad. Well, maybe not so much as that bergamot iced tea. Now that is a good pairing. And don’t you agree that sitting down causes you to enjoy it even more?
“Do you understand this? I don’t mean to push these lessons upon you. Please tell me if I am overstepping my bounds. After all, this is your place. Your… well, charming apartment. And you are kind enough to let me stay here while I finish cooking school. I got kicked out of my last place, and that relationship has soured. I don’t know, maybe I stayed there too long. Maybe it was my prying.
“As you can see, I can carry on. It’s a bad habit, I know. Please tell me if it’s too much. I mean, I don’t mind crashing on your sofa. It was uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it. It beats sleeping on the street. Not that I’ve never done that, but I can imagine it. I suppose it might be okay if you were in Miami for the warmth, but not in Chicago.
“So, thank you for letting me crash here for a while. Just a little while. Your kindness is extraordinary. Believe me, I don’t use that word lightly. I’m not one of those people who throw around words like awesome and say ‘I love it!’ to everything I encounter. Please believe me when I say that I deeply appreciate your gesture to let me stay here.”
Ethan, sitting at the small kitchen table, kept eating the salad.
Miles kept talking: “And that’s why I am trying to repay you. The meals are one thing, and the cleaning another. But much more than these, I find myself pointing out certain things to you. Things like eating while standing up. That’s something that just should not be done. Even if you’re in a hurry. You can still wolf down a hamburger while sitting. Do you see? These things you do can be improved.
“Take, for instance, your insistence that Uncle Buck is a tour de force. It’s simply not true. I understand your points that it shows the range of human experience, from the young children to the teenage girl who’s dating and transitioning into adulthood. And then you’ve got the adults. Some achieve success, like the father who gets a promotion. But not all are successful, due to the uncle’s obvious lack of a successful career. And then you’ve got the end of life stage, like when the wife’s father has a heart attack, thus showing the frailty of our lives—an unfortunate lesson that, thankfully, is shown off screen, and so its impact is softened. Yes, I realize that this movie covers all of this ground.
“But it does so without any artistic style. Do you see? The movie is not a visual feast. It’s set in the suburbs for Christ’s sake. There is no interplay of light and shadow, no richness of detail. Oh, it may be warm and charming, I’ll give you that. But where’s the passion? And what about the acting? John Candy is a convincing enough comedian, but he can’t carry the movie on his shoulders alone.
“Believe you me, you could do better. Watch Bergman’s films, and you’ll see the difference. Do yourself a favor, try one of Bergman’s offerings, any of them. Pick one of his masterpieces, and you’ll be treated to a work of art. You’ll thank me for it. You’ll wonder how you stomached trash movies all this time.
“Fine, fine, you may call me a snob. I’ve heard it before. But I refuse to stoop to these things, these baseless things of ketchup on scrambled eggs and beer shandys and Uncle Buck and those toaster pastries you insist on eating every morning. Yes, those are things that will get you by. But is the point of life simply getting by?
“It is for some people, I know. You’ve mention that before. But you can do better. Oh, and I know you’ve got a nice place sliced out here. This charming apartment and your steady job and your addiction of going to Cubs games. Okay, okay, addiction is a harsh word. I apologize if I went too far on that one. Your… extreme enjoyment, let’s say that.
“Which brings me to the photo above the couch. Do you really want the most prominent space in your living room to show Wrigley Field? I understand that it’s a shrine, and you’ve had season tickets for years, but is this really the image you want to show guests? Do you serve all your guests hot dogs and French fries?”
Ethan, chewing, opened his mouth to answer.
But Miles cut him off: “No, don’t answer that. I don’t know if I could handle the answer. But then, maybe you don’t serve food at all to your guests. Maybe you always eat out at sports bars with friends and family. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Those places have their place.
“What I’m saying is that you could do better. How about, instead of your shrine to Wrigley Field, you put up something more… engaging? A painting perhaps? Doesn’t have to be an original work. There’s no shame in having a print. They’re more reasonably priced, I understand that. After a few promotions, you could improve upon your domicile.
“Which brings me to the sofa. It’s not that it’s as if you got it from a yard sale. No, it’s not that level. I guess what I’m saying is that maybe you could start planning now on those improvements. Your salary may not allow you to improve your furniture several notches up. But that’s your salary now. How about later, when you’re making more money? You’ll want your lifestyle to reflect that, won’t you?
“Oh, I know how it looks. I fully realize that. I’m the guy who’s jumping from sofa to sofa. I don’t even have my own apartment. But I will, believe you me. I’ve got plans. I may now place my head on a sofa to sleep, but my head’s actually in a top-floor penthouse with a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan seen through floor-to-ceiling windows.”
Ethan looked down at his empty plate, then back up at Miles, who stood by the living room window. Ethan brought the plate to the kitchen sink and said, “I don’t think you’re a snob. You just want to better yourself. And you can stay here a few more months if you keep cooking like that.” He headed for the bathroom to take a shower.
copyright Dave Williams