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Ordering off the Menu 

I used to have lunch at the same place every day, so I got quite used to the menu. Sometimes I’d have a chicken Caesar salad. Sometimes I’d have a hamburger. Sometimes I’d have veal parmigiana. I knew the menu well and didn’t even need to look at it any more, although I usually did. Every day they had a special. I’d listen to the description and sometimes order it. It was always a little exciting if the special was something I wanted. It broke up the monotony.

One day one of the guys brought his old college roommate to lunch with us. He was one of those guys you’re immediately suspicious of because he looks happy all the time. I wasn’t particularly interested to see what he would order, but I saw him give the menu the briefest of glances and put it aside. When the waitress came, she took several orders, then came around to this man.

“Can you make me some fish, grilled in a little olive oil, with no sauce?” “We have swordfish,” the waitress said. “That will be great. And I’d like a big plate of asparagus too.” “We don’t have asparagus. How about green beans?” “Great.”

So I ate my hamburger and watched this guy, beaming, eating his fish grilled in a little olive oil, and I thought, “What gives him the right to think he can order anything he wants to when the rest of us have to order off the menu?”

The guy never came back, but one day I had a thought. Chicken parmigiana wasn’t on the menu, but veal was. I knew they had chicken because of the chicken Caesar salad. I drew in my breath. When the waitress got around to me, I glanced briefly at the menu and said, “Can you make me a chicken parmigiana?” “No problem.”

When the food came, I sat there, beaming, eating my chicken parmigiana. It tasted even better because it was mine. Next time I’ll order a plate of asparagus too.

Richard Brodie
December 1999

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Last Edited: May 03, 2000
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