I was on a mission for my church ten years ago.
Miguel invited me and my companion to dinner. This was the third time he had invited us. I fell for his trick twice. I was not falling for it again.
“Come over,” Miguel said. “Vamos a tener mucha comida. There will be too much for you to eat. You had better come hungry.” In preparation for the first visit, I ate nothing all day. It had been a busy day, and I could have squeezed in a quick meal, but the promise of a feast kept the hunger at bay. We showed up to his house starving.
We were each served one sandwich. On miniature bread. I do not know if he purchased or baked the bread. It was about the fourth the size of a normal slice. Inside were cucumbers. This was the whole shebang. Tiny cucumber sandwiches. Followed by a two hour monologue. The only interruptions to his speech were the protestations of our stomachs. The hunger induced glares were ignored.
The second time was more of the same. This time the invitation was even more elaborate. Promises of beans, rice, chicken, plantains, all cooked in portions befitting an entire team of hungry men. This time I hedged my bet. I ate a lunch consisting of two rolls, a Little Debbie, and a 25 cent punch in a plastic container with a foil lid.
He gave us more food this time. He fed us spaghetti. It was on a plate the size of a tea saucer. It was not piled high. The monologue was longer to make up for the surplus of food.
So this time, I tell my companion, I am scheduling another dinner appointment before Miguel’s. I am not sitting through another hunger infused diatribe.
We eat at the Guevaras. They cook pupusas. This is a traditional Salvadorean dish made with a mixture of cheese, beans and squash in a thick corn tortilla. It is probably my favorite dish of all of the many different cultural dishes that I eat in New Jersey.
When it is served by a good cook, it is spectacular. And la Señora Guevara is an amazing cook. I eat pupusas until she is done making them. Until I have lost track and she and my companion are both staring at me.
We stay for about half an hour more, and I can barely move. I am full and she is happy. She knows that I have enjoyed the meal and that I think she is a fantastic cook.
I waddle out her door and onto Miguel’s. The walk is about five minutes, but I do it in about fifteen. We are running a bit late, but I cannot force myself to walk any faster than I am. My footfalls are accompanied by the gurgling of my stomach.
Each step causes the food to settle a little deeper. It might be hard to fit a cucumber sandwich in, but at least I will not be starving.
We ring Miguel’s bell. We wait. There is no answer. We ring again. Still no answer. The lights are on in the house and I am sure that Miguel is there. He no doubt forgot that we were coming, I think. All the better that I prepared this time.
It has been about five minutes now. Miguel has not come, so we leave. The cool air feels nice against my face. I am working up a sweat digesting the pupusas.
“Hermanos!” I hear as I toddle away. I turn and see a figure in Miguel’s door. I can’t make it out, but its head appears long and puffy. I slowly approach. I fear to wake the food baby in my stomach.
As I draw nearer, the puffy head morphs into a puffy white hat. He has on an apron to match the hat. This is strange, I think.
He really takes his cucumber sandwiches seriously. I chuckle. Good one, self. (I blame my self amusement on being so full.)
He beckons us in, and we follow him back into his dining room. As a pace down the hallway, my nostrils are assailed. I smell beans and rice, tortillas, chicken, platanos maduros. This mixes with chocolate.
We exit the hallway, and I see the promised feast spread out on his meager table. It is entirely covered. There are main courses, desserts, drinks, and breads to fill in the gaps. There is hardly room for the three place settings.
I am terror stricken.
“Miguel, this is fantastic. I did not know that you were such a fantastic cook. Might I use your fantastic bathroom?” I am rattled and may have just overused the word fantastic.
I walk toward the bathroom. I am a man convicted. I drag my feet. I prolong my reckoning. I enter the bathroom. My mind is jumbled. How do I escape?
I consider making myself vomit. I curl my finger toward my throat, but then recoil. I cannot do it. Well if not this end that, I think. I sit upon the throne. And I push. I am in labor. I breathe rhythmically. I am afraid that I am going to hurt myself. No progress.
CURSE YOU PUPUSA. For being so delicious and so intractable. I arise and stare into open space. My gaze falls towards the toilet. I glare into its depths. And I hatch a plan.
I reenter the place of the food. This awkward stilted name suits what is about to unfold, I think. This will be my defining hour.
“Miguel thanks for letting me use the bathroom. I am embarrassed to say this, but I have a bit of a bug and may have to go back in a while.”
“Oh hermano, are you well enough to eat?”
“Of course, this food smells much too good to waste.” We bless the food and the battle begins. For my plan to work, I need to eat. But, I need to not eat much. But it needs to look like I am eating a lot. In my favor, my belly is so full that it will be no problem convincing Miguel that I am full at meal’s end. As long as I can get rid of the food.
I taste the chicken. It is fantastic. It is cooked perfectly. Succulent, flavorful, delicious. To me it tastes like bile. I take a bite, then two. Somewhere in the distance, a timer sounds. It is the sweet sound of escape.
Miguel hurries to the kitchen. I take my brimming plate and pour it into my napkin. I am lucky here. Miguel has brought out cloth napkins for the occasion. They are nicely embroidered. I put the bulging cloth into my coat pocket.
“Miguel, I am so sorry, might I use your bathroom again.?” He turns from his task in the kitchen to nod. I hurry to the bathroom.
I put a third of the napkin’s contents in the toilet. I reason that three flushes for an upset stomach is within reason. I cross my fingers, and flush.
To my delight, the food disappears with the strong current. I am again lucky here. Miguel has terrific water pressure and a fine toilet. I do the same with the other two thirds of the food, and I am off.
I feel like the bathroom is my cell, and I am slowly digging through its wall with each visit to the bathroom. I am afraid that Miguel will grow suspicious. This is my third trip to the bathroom.
I decide to half my food this time. Two flushes. I apprehensively pull down the lever and the first half disappears, not even a hint of food left. The second is the same. In total, I make four visits to the bathroom.
I begin to fear I have pushed my luck. This many potty breaks is not believable. However, rather than be suspicious, Miguel is glad. He cannot believe that I am eating his food given that I am so sick.
I tell him things like his food has healing power. Stupid, sickening things. But I am euphoric and half crazed because my plan is working.
There is now not much remaining on the table. Rather, there is still a lot, but you can tell that we have made a dent. So there is not much remaining for us to eat. By us, of course, I mean me, my companion and the terrifically hungry toilet.
The only thing we have left is chocolate cake. He has made a cake. A huge beautiful horrific cake. My companion has offloaded his plate to mine a couple times so it appears we are both eating. There has been one fortuitous distraction after another.
Miguel serves us each a huge piece of cake. The meal is winding down and we are not rushed. We know that we have somehow prevailed here. I even eat a couple of bites of the cake in my glee. It is among the best cakes I have sampled. The phone rings, and we deposit the cake into my soiled napkin. We have prevailed against this total ambush.
I head for the bathroom. I am free. There is no getting caught now. I approach the toilet. I approach it as a friend. I smile a knowing smile as I deposit the napkins entire contents. I reach for the lever and pull.
I then reach into the stained empty napkin for the second half of the cake. I realize my mistake as I hear the toilet gurgle. It is eerily similar to my stomach's earlier pupusa filled grumblings.
However, unlike my stomach’s stubbornness in expelling the pupusas, the toilet decides it has had enough. It overflows with the same terrific force that it sucked down the food. The chocalate cake flows over the rim. Then the beans, rice, bananas, and chicken.
I decide to halt the flow with the napkin in my madness. The floor is soaked. I look for towels. There is one dish towel. I attempt to mop up the mess. I alternate between the towel and the napkin.
Minutes pass. I mop with the delusion of a man who has seen his freedom stolen. My companion knocks on the door.
“Are you all right?” He whispers.
As a response, I open the door. My suit pants are caked with food from kneeling in the water. Food and poo water. He suggests we flee out the back.
I had earlier entertained the notion. But, I know that as wrong as my deceit has been, this would be so much more messed up.
So I slowly walk to the front of the house. I see Miguel. I explain everything to him. He acts exactly like you would expect him to. Horrified. When I get to the part about the ruined napkin, he looks at me with a blank stare.
I pause. This guy really is not letting me off the hook. I know that I behaved like a jerk. I am genuinely sorry. I had behaved poorly, but out of a misguided sense to avoid giving offense.
He was really going to ring it out of me. “I would gladly pay for new napkins for you”, I offer.”
“That is not it...” he replies. He is distracted, but he says no more.
“What is it?” I ask.
Reluctantly, he continues. “Those napkins are from my childhood. My mother left them to me.” Oh, so not only have I insulted your cooking, let you know that I did not trust you, completely dirtied your bathroom, but I also soiled one of the few memories of your dead mother?
I suck at life. The end.
Me in Kauai this summer.
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