Quietly and politely, the diners gave their dinner orders to the servers. It would have appeared that normalcy had returned to the dining room, that is unless one was observant enough to notice that all of the protesters, about thirty of them, had ordered the same main course, boiled chicken with pineapple mustard sauce over a bed of linguine. The very dish they were protesting against, very odd I thought, or was it.
A few minutes later, the servers arrived with the food, served on plates with plastic covers to keep it warm. Some folks ordered the alternate dinner item, a bland serving of store bought cheese filled ravioli with a teaspoon or two of insipid red sauce drizzled on top. By my count there were about 50 or 60 chicken dinners distributed among the multitude with the majority of them concentrated at the tables near the far wall where the heavily draped windows were and where the largest concentration of “rebels” were seated. This anomaly went unobserved by April, who thought “So far, so good.”
April was now standing next to another one of the cooks, a large man wearing one of those tall white chef’s hats or toque’s, who surveyed the scene looking for signs of dissent. The diners noticed him too, and reasoned that they would have him to contend with if things got ugly.
“Yep” said the big chef, “All’s quiet on the Western front” he quipped, emphasizing the word “Western.” However, he may have spoken too soon because just as he made the “Western front” comment, the sound of one of those heavy plates was heard crashing against something hard. April and the big cook looked around and were relieved to see that the “crash” was caused by an empty dish slipping out of the hands of one of the new servers. A sigh of relief came from both April and the big cook. They both returned to the kitchen to complete assembling the plates of food.
When all of the food had been served and all of the deserts had been brought out of the kitchen and the staff began, hastily to clear the tables in the hopes of finishing early, one of the diners arose from his seat near the dining room entrance and, in a big booming baritone, voice, yelled “Geronimo.”
Immediately upon hearing that signal, a plate containing a large boiled chicken breast flew, with the accuracy of a Cruise missile, across the room in the general direction of the kitchen entrance where it hit the door frame and crashed to the floor. From the opposite end of the dining room came another chicken part. This time it was a leg, no plate, covered with ketchup. Flying across the room it resembled a severed limb blown off by a hand grenade. The leg hit another diner square on the nose, a diner who was not part of the protest.
Taking exception to being hit with a chicken leg by one of those “troublemakers” the non-combatant resident went on the offensive and threw the only food he had left on his plate, a large slice of Boston cream pie, in the direction from which he thought the leg had come. Unfortunately, he was wrong and hit a red headed woman named Glenda, who wished to remain a neutral observer of the scene.
“Fuck,” she yelled as she wiped a dripping piece of cream pie from her red hair (the color of which could not be compared with anything in nature). She stood up from her seat, looked around the room, and spied a man who had just risen from his seat to go to the lavatory and, thinking he was the person who threw the pie and was trying to escape, lobbed some leftover three-bean salad in his direction. The clump of pickled green beans, chickpeas, and red beans broke up in midair like shrapnel and managed to hit not one, but four diners who were too preoccupied in their dinner to pay attention to the ensuing melee. The four diners, oblivious to what was going on, continued to finish their meal until another volley of food came raining down on them, this time it did make them sit up and take notice. The four of them stood up, grabbed some of their ravioli, still topped with sauce, and flung them, like little square Frisbees, in the general direction of Glenda who now had a dinner napkin covering her bright red head. The barrage continued with food coming from all directions. The “bombardment” was a combination of ravioli, veggies, pies, puddings, and a variety of chicken parts, which made up the greater part of the airborne assault.
Any staff still in the room, made a hasty retreat to the kitchen where, they gathered near, but not too near the automatic doors. They were content to watch the “action” from a safe distance. Bets were taken as to who started it, with the majority putting their money on red-headed Glenda.
Food was now flying all over the room with no specific target in mind, whether you were a protester or not, if you had food on your plate, you tossed it at something. Some of the residents aimed for accuracy while the majority was interested only in distance. An ex-high school quarterback was reliving his youth by reenacting a play he made back in 1952 when he tossed the ball more than 50 yards to his old friend Marvin for the winning touchdown. It appeared his accuracy had not diminished as his entire plate of mashed potatoes found its target, the “HOW TO HELP A CHOKING VICTIM” sign, across the room.
“TOUCHDOWN,” he shouted, lifting his two arms up over his head in the “H” position signaling yet another game-winning toss.
Pointing in the direction of the kitchen, one of the resident ringleaders shouted, “It’s them, it’s their fault,” she yelled. “They’re the ones we should be throwing the food at.” A silence came over the dining room as the rebels stopped and, as if one person, all pivoted around and faced the kitchen. This prompted an immediate reaction from the staff, who tried with little luck, to close the automatic sliding doors.
Too late, a dish of chocolate pudding with whipped cream whizzed by the head of one of the new servers who, took off her hairnet, threw down her apron and ran out the service entrance at the rear of the kitchen yelling “Them folks is nuts” and, “I knew I should have taken that job at McDonald’s”.
The barrage continued with whatever was left. Bread crusts, pie crusts, chicken bones and assorted deserts were now part of the salvo of food. When that was gone, the mob turned to the dinnerware and cutlery to provide fodder for the “cause.” Nothing was too big or too small to be considered ammo.
April and the big chef found refuge in the thick glass-enclosed office in which the food service manager usually worked. Their “Boss,” Mitchell, had been away for a few days attending an “Assisted Living Food Service Managers Workshop” in Las Vegas. He had gone to the last one a year before and had found it “Most educational,” returning with new recipe ideas, none of which the facilities management would let him implement. Their chief complaint, the new menu included only six chicken-based dishes per week and besides, it costs too much.
April, in a shaky voiced asked the big chef, “Should I call the cops?”
“No, not yet, I’ll handle this,” said the big chef who grabbed a large aluminum mixing- bowl off the shelf and placed it on his head like a helmet. Straitening his white jacket and closing the top button of his shirt collar, the large man slowly opened the door, peeked around the corner and walked towards the automatic doors, which were still not functioning properly.
The staff, which now had armed themselves with kitchen utensils, made way for the big man as he moved toward the opening.
“Whoosh,” a half-filled bowl of cold turkey soup flew past the big man’s head barely missing the glass doors of the microwave oven behind him. Not fazed by this personal attack, he picked up a large long-handled ladle and stepped out of the relatively safe confines of the kitchen.
Someone had turned off the lights in the dining room leaving the place mostly in the dark with only a glimmer of fading sunlight left to illuminate the room. The big chef made an imposing figure as he stood about one foot outside the door silhouetted by the fluorescent lights against the background of the white tiled kitchen. He looked bigger than his 6ft. 4 inch frame.
Halfheartedly, a resident threw a small, mostly empty plastic mug at the chef, which fell harmlessly against the wall behind him causing no more damage than a coffee stain. For the moment, the battle appeared to be over.
April, feeling that it was safe to come out of the closed office also, fell in behind the big chef. Both of them walked slowly through the dining room surveying the damage and the mess. Some of the residents still had cups, forks, and even knives in their hands and only put them down when the big man walked near their table. Positioning himself strategically at the main dining room door, his big form blocking most of the entrance, the big man held the large soup ladle high over his head like a sword.
“Don’t nobody move” he said in a stentorian voice. “We gonna have some words”.
An elderly resident, who was profoundly hard of hearing did not respond to the command given by the big chef and began to leave the dining room.
“Where you think you’re going? Sit down and shut up,” said the chef unaware that the man was deaf and could not hear a word he was saying. The resident naturally did not respond and continued walking towards the dining room door, whereby the big chef put his massive hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, causing the smaller man’s knees to buckle like a paper cup, sending him to the floor.
The other residents, feeling that this was a blatant use of brute force, began to yell at the big chef using words like “bully”, “tyrant” and “Gestapo.” April, still using the big chef as a shield began to walk backwards into the lobby, wanting no part of what she knew was about to become an all-out insurrection.
One of the biggest taboos here, and most other institutions of this sort, is physical contact between residents and staff and the taboo of all taboos is the assault of a resident by a staff member. The dropping to the ground of the deaf man clearly was a violation of the trust between the two groups; a violation, which the rebellious group of residents felt had to be avenged.
Continues Next Sunday