While I am a strong advocate of home cooking over dining out, an exception was made when my father suggested Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Que for my eighteenth birthday. We must’ve arrived during peak hours considering there were practically zero parking spaces available. After several rounds of circling the lot, my eyes fell upon a lone spot deemed undesirable because of its distance from the entrance. My father seized the opportunity without hesitation, insisting that any worthwhile climax was only as good as the rising action leading up to it. Besides, what were a few extra steps but exercise on the off chance we ate a little more than expected?
When trying new restaurants, it became customary in our family to bestow the power of decision onto the server. Instead of bombarding him/her with questions regarding this or that item, my father narrowed it down to a single inquiry which mitigated superfluous small talk and granted access to what he refers to as “the good stuff.” Four simple words: What would you recommend? A question which Filip, our server from the far reaching sovereign state of Czechoslovakia, was more than happy to answer.
“The potato salad does pretty well,” he said. “It’s a side, so I’m afraid you must order something el—”
Before Filip could finish, my father shushed him with an index finger to the lips.
“Potato salad, you say?”
Although the origins of his infatuation remains speculated, I’m almost certain my Aunt Lucille was the primary instigator. She brought it over for Thanksgiving years ago and baffled a group of folks whose understanding of salad was limited to lettuce and tomatoes. My father, being a picky eater, showed great hesitation when confronted by the foreign entity. Only after several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon did he agree to try some. And only after several more did he wash it down as the rest of us awaited the final verdict. Long story short, my father left that Thanksgiving with a newfound appreciation for a dish he never knew he needed but was now unable to imagine living without. He’s since been seeking out establishments capable of satisfying his cravings for the sacred item. And judging from the way my father screeched with delight as Filip approached our table, it is safe to say he hit the jackpot.
Within a matter of minutes, I became the side dish as my father devoted all attention to the plate of carbs sitting before him. It was so bizarre hearing a grown man say “come to Papa” and not be referring to his son; who became nonexistent as his father made train noises before each bite while fellow patrons began staring. The collective heat from their eyeballs enough to set the entire place ablaze if sustained. Although it’s silly to envy potato salad, I couldn’t help but be saddened by the neglect on a day which had rightfully belonged to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized maybe there was reasoning behind my father’s behavior.
Potato salad never broke the neighbor’s window with a stray baseball. Potato salad never got poor grades in school. Potato salad never tainted living room walls with permanent markers. Potato salad never got grounded nor did it ever catalyze the countless verbal turned physical arguments between my parents. Besides, at only two dollars and sixty-nine cents, it was an absolute bargain when compared to the hundreds spent on childcare. With such a clean track record, it was a more than viable candidate for the endless love and admiration a person could humanly offer. Even if it came from a man whose son has excused himself in avoidance of feeling like a third-wheel.
The bathroom here was no different than any other, minus a few decor tweaks to assure it aligned thematically with the rest of Bubbalou’s. Toilet paper was wrapped around holders shaped like rib-eye bones while cliché seashore paintings got replaced with a smiling cartoon piglet accompanied by a caption reading, “When you’re here, you’re family.” I chuckled, wanting desperately to believe the sentiment but knowing in my heart of hearts that it was far from true. To ease the mental turmoil, I shifted my attention towards the bathroom’s various details which would have otherwise gone unnoticed had the lunch not gone awry. My wandering eyes met sanitation instructions beneath the mirror some rascal took the liberty of defacing, causing it to now read, “Employees must wash anus before returning to work.”
Luckily for Bubbalou’s, my love of markers followed me into adulthood and I formed a habit of carrying one at all times. Whether it be for word searches or, in this case, fixing vandalization, it is nice to know I am well-equipped should the situation arise. While assessing my penmanship, I began thinking about the debacle I’ve sought shelter from. And how, unlike the guidelines before me, it would take more than a couple of strokes from my Expo to salvage. Lifting the marker up to my lips as if it were a candle, I closed both eyes and began wishing. Not for an extravagant cake or lavish party filled with friends and family, but simply to feel acknowledged by the one person who was seemingly unphased by the weight of my absence. Of course, I’ll open my eyes some time later after extinguishing an imagined flame to find that nothing has changed. Nothing at all except the time flickering above the doorway; reminding me that, by then, I had been gone for far too long.
Nam Hoang Tran is a writer living in Orlando, FL. His work appears or is forthcoming in The Daily Drunk, White Wall Review, Bending Genres, (mac)ro(mic), Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. Find him online at www.namhtran.com.