Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Day with the Dumases - Part 2: East Sides

So Carrie turns in the passenger seat and peers into my back seat and frowns. In my back seat there is a box of paperback books, a 17" computer monitor, a spare winter coat, a Coca-Cola duffel bag, both of my brief cases and an old-man hat (which I wear on those days when I'm in no mood for signaling lane changes or submitting to any other driver's right-of-way). Also back there are a sun-bleached box of kleenex, a small cooler, a frisbee (a gift for my dog - a Doberman who is now far too old to chase one but still well-equipped to fully eat and digest one in a few quick bites), a few cans of Full Throttle heart-exploding energy drink (for emergencies only) and a couple empty pizza boxes. Oh and spare dress pants and two good shirts arranged on a single coat hanger behind my head. The only thing not in my back seat is a kitchen sink or space enough for someone to sit.

Thinking of her mother, Carrie says, "I hope there's lots of room in your trunk." I think for a moment. There's a camping bed, 20-to-30 litres worth of oil jugs (mostly empty), a variety of jugs of other automotive fluids, my lacrosse bag and lacrosse sticks, several spare pairs of shoes, several lengths of two-inch diameter tree branches (don't ask), spare tire, jack, emergency road kit and a couple plastic bags full of nerds, tied rabbit-ear style. Nerds - as in styrofoam packing giblets - not computer helpcentre staff.

I avoid the question.

"We'll put your mother in the trunk?" I ask, incredulous.

"No!" Carrie breaks out in giggles. She's a big time giggler. It doesn't take much to get her going.

"I think we'd still hear her from there." This breaks her up entirely. It takes forever for her to express that we'll have to empty the back seat of some of my junk to clear room for mom.

At East Side Marios - forthwith to be referred to as East Sides we land a nice big table for six. I take a short-side seat and Carrie sits near me - at my end of a long side. We look at her art and I'm impressed. There's some minute [my-noot] detail going on demonstrating a level of patience I could never achieve. I'm even more impressed to find that many of the works are engravings. She has etched the drawings on clear plastic sheets in which ink is pressed into the channels and then transferred to moist paper.

"Are you surprised with my art?"

"No. But I'm impressed." She looks perhaps disappointed.

"Most people are surprised when they see my art."

"Why? Should I have assumed you were less talented than this? I made no assumptions about your level of talent. How would I have known whether you're a hack or the next Picasso or somewhere in between? But like I said, I'm impressed. I like it. Let's get it all on the web site."

I have a beer and Carrie has pop. I order some breaded calamari with an arriabata sauce. I've been right into the calamari lately and surprisingly - East Sides serves the best of all I've sampled. The worst - hands down - is Kelsey's. No surprise there. Kelsey's has truly sucked the big one for quite a few years now. A real shame. They were once quite competent. I normally avoid Kelsey's like the plague but we recently needed to waste 30 minutes before a theatre opened for the movie we'd bought tickets for and Kelsey's was right there in the same parking lot. We zipped in for a quick appetizer or dessert. I ordered the calamari. Not only was it gross and rubbery but there was a tremendous globule of it stuck together and when I tried to operate on it - to separate the various conjoined entities I was subjected to a scene right out of Alien - you know - where the robot guy gives birth to the baby space critter. The breading suddenly broke apart and a bunch of squid-like tentacles came flopping and squirming out at me. 'Jesus Christ!' I yelped, pushing away from the table in alarm. 'Who the hell's eating who here?' I couldn't touch it after that. Seriously. I can be a bit of a sissy now and then.

So Nancy and Gaetan arrive with little Vanian in tow. She's approaching her 4th birthday but doesn't look 4. She's very small with gorgeous red hair and green eyes and tiny button nose. She comes to me making speech-like noises that I loosely interpret as "Hi Rich". Carrie and her dad go outside to smoke cigarrettes.

Nancy wastes no time in beginning monologue #1 while Vanian kicks off her shoes and plays solo musical chairs with the 4 empty seats. At one point she is happily bouncing around on the chair opposite mine - the other 'head' of the table and suddenly her eyes go wide as she realizes her little ass has lost it's familiarity with the seat below and very suddenly those wide little eyes, along with the rest of her, plunge out of sight below the table. I believe the official term for this maneuver is ass-over-teakettle. It's wildly comical but I dare not laugh. The subject of wounded children is no laughing matter in many houses and I wish not to offend.

Grandma, however has no such concerns and splits a gut over it. The little gremlin appears again and is okay.

Upon the smokers' return Vanian takes the seat beside me - opposite her mom. All through the dinner and Nancy's monologue - which needn't have been numbered, by the way as there was only one, it turned out and boy, was it a dandy - the gremlin would kick her feet and make plenty of contact with my knees, making me glad she'd taken her shoes off. She receives a menu. I'm not sure why. She can't read. But she makes good use of it, bulldozing drinks around the table with it. I am particularly susceptible as I have quite the collection - a tall glass of water, a small wine carafe and a wine glass to shepherd around the table in response to all her tactics.

Between defense maneuverings I look at my own menu, having already decided on the Cheese Capalletti. I'm really looking forward to it because I haven't had it in a while and because I know it's a very good strategic move. It is tasty, of small size and inexpensive. This is all good because it qualifies for participation in the all-you-can eat Caesar salad and fresh bread program which is what East Sides is all about.

I need to check the menu though, before ordering as it is a new menu style and you never know if there might be changes to the repertoire. Alas, I plainly see the Asparagus Capalletti but not its predecessor - the simpler Cheese version. I voice my disappointment. Carrie points out that the Cheese version is in fact on the menu. She points to it. It's in a different section altogether.

Now - call me crazy. But if I ran a restaurant I'm quite sure I would put all the capalletti versions in the same section of the menu. Seeing as they are precisely the same thing but for one or two ingredients. But that's just me. What do I know? I place my highly strategic order and Carrie one-ups me with her mastery of the all-you-can eat Caesar salad and fresh bread program. She orders a plateful of pasta and leaves it be when it arrives. She samples some of my capalletti and goes wild on the salad and bread. The bread mostly. We went through eight or nine loaves between the six of us. Then she arranges to have her pasta, largely untouched, boxed to go. She's clever. No doubt. I take notes of course.

Twice Gaetan belches so loud the entire contingent of diners and staff can surely hear. Each time I look around, stunned, wondering if I'm on Candid Camera or not. Somehow we make it through dinner in one piece.

"Are you coming over for a visit?" asks Nancy, all casual like. Carrie is plainly shocked. Her eyes bug out of her head on springs - just like old cartoon characters did in old cartoons.

To be continued...


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