Tales of the Old Home Café

By Edward Floden, based on characters and situations created by William D. Fries, Jr.

Tale 1: Tube Steak Boogie

(Originally published in The Legend-News of 2006 November 15.)

Many people do not talk during meals. In an effort to stimulate conversation, Jon Bach had placed a small blackboard on the wall by the register, and had written ’Topic of the Day’ at the top of the board. Each day, below that heading, he would write a word or two, a subject on which to muse.

Regular customers at the Old Home Café appreciated the ‘Topic of the Day’, and quite few had offered suggestions for possible topics. For example, today’s topic of “hot dogs”.

But occasionally a customer who wasn’t a regular would stop in, to be confused by the blackboard. Mary Knowles was one of those customers.

“Hot dogs?” Mary asked Jon, reading the ‘Topic of the Day’. “Is that the special?“

“No, ma’am,” said Jon. “It’s a conversation starter. If you can’t think of anything to discuss over lunch, you can discuss hot dogs.“

“What if I don’t like hot dogs?” Mary asked.

“Then you could talk about hamburgers, or anything else,” Jon explained.

“I don’t like hamburgers, either,” said Mary. “I don’t eat beef anymore. I don’t want to catch that mad cow disease.“

Misinformation was rampant, thought Jon. “The possibility of getting Mad Cow Disease from a hot dog is remote. You’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning,” he said to Mary. “And you don’t need to talk about food. The ‘Topic of the Day’ is just a suggestion. It’s not written in stone.“

“It’s written in chalk,” Mary said, pointing to the blackboard. “There’s no stone there.“

“We were out of stones today,” said Jon, then he changed the subject. “Would you like to order?“

Mary browsed the menu. “Do you have hot dogs?” she asked, staring at the menu. “I don’t see them here,” she said, althought the hot dogs were clearly listed under the heading ‘Hot Dogs’ at the top of page two.

Jon imagined that a non sequitur had just occured. “Didn’t you say that you didn’t like hot dogs?” he asked.

“Only the regular ones,” Mary said. “I like the ones without meat. You know, soybean hot dogs. Do you have soybean hot dogs?“

“Yes, we have tofurkey dogs. They’re made with tofu.“

“I don’t like tofu. I like soybean hot dogs.“

“Ma’am, tofu is made from soybeans,” said Jon, wondering why Mary didn’t know the relationship between tofu and soybeans.

“‘Tofu’ isn’t an English word,” said Mary. ‘Soybean’ is. This is America, and we speak English here.“

“Okay. Then that’s one soybean hot dog?” asked Jon, writing her order on his pad, and mentally stepping back from the obvious retort ‘if this is America, shouldn’t we speak American?’ Instead he asked “What would you like on your hot dog? Mustard? Onions? Relish?“

“Ketchup,” said Mary. “Just ketchup. And fries.“

Ketchup? She’s a hot dog heathen, thought Jon, but he didn’t say it. “Thank you,” is what he said, and he turned to take the order to the kitchen.

But then he turned back toward Mary. He knew that he shouldn’t do this, but the combination of mad cow hot dogs and ketchup he could not simply ignore. “By the way,” he said to Mary, “did you know that tomatoes are related to the poisonous nightshade?“

And with that remark, Jon quickly walked away, leaving Mary with her mouth agape and wondering if ketchup as a condiment was really safe to eat.