It’s probably an American ritual. A right of passage that we pass along to our children. The hallowed event at a fancy restaurant, when the whole family gathers. We eat forever and drink a little wine. And reminisce and enjoy one another’s company.
Until the bill comes – this one for $265.00. Then all bets are off. The gloves are dropped and the calculators come out.
“Who had the veal parmigan?” offers Uncle Ted, the accountant. The posturing begins.
“Which one, the special or the regular one?”
“Does it matter?”
“Well, yeah. The special was $2.00 more. Didn’t you have that one, Freddy?”
“I don’t know. Jean ordered for me. I was in the Men’s Room.”
“Who had the clam chowder? There are six of them on the bill.” Everyone looks at one another. No one remembers.
“I think I had a salad,” offers sister Pat. “But it came with my meal. I think.”
“Well, I figured ours out already. Jim and I owe $14.”
“Didn’t you guys have the Prime Rib?” questions Aunt Mary. “And four drinks?”
“Did you figure in the tip? And that 8% meals tax?”
“Well, we’re not paying for something we didn’t eat.”
“What about your kids? The four of them ate off the regular menu. Our kids just had the hot dogs.”
Tempers begin to heat up, almost as quickly as his calculator keypad, as Uncle Ted tries feverishly to make some sense of this mess. Precious minutes tick away. Grandma’s flatulence is easily detected in the quiet that envelops the room.
“Let’s just each chip in the same amount,’ offers Cousin Tony. “Then it’s a square deal.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” bellows Uncle Ross from the other end of the table. “That wife of yours ate enough for four.” That stops Tony’s wife dead in her tracks. She licks the rest of the whipped cream off Grandma’s spoon and begins to bristle. It’s getting personal now. The quiet turns into the confusion of eighteen voices talking over one another.
“Calm down everyone,” yells Grandpa, face reddening brightly. The last time he looked like that, he had a stroke, thinks Grandma to herself. She reels off a silent prayer. “We’ve gotta get through this,” he says. “So everyone shut up. Gimme the bill,” he says to Uncle Ted, who mops his brow and slouches back in his chair, relieved to have the pressure taken off him.
“I’m sending this around the table,” Grandpa instructs them. “Put your name next to everything your family ate. Don’t cheat or I’ll take you out of my will.”
And the orderly progression of the bill begins, passed from one chair to the next. Down the left side of the table, up the right side. Neat little names printed next to each meal. Except for Uncle Gustave, who can’t write. But everyone knows the ‘X’ next to the meatloaf is his.
Five minutes later, the bill returns to Grandpa. “Thank you,” he says sternly. “Now, Ted, add up what each of us owes. And tack on the tax and a 20% tip.”
A few peeps are emitted at the mention of the tip rate. Shirley elbows her husband. “The will,” she whispers. “Remember the will.”
Uncle Ted puts his CPA degree to good use. He comes up with the figures in less than five minutes. The deed is done. The figures announced. The money silently emerges from wallets and purses and is placed on top of the bill. Everyone, of course brought twenty dollar bills, but no one dares to ask for change. The waitress really makes out on this deal. She earned every penny of it, with this bunch.
“Now go home,” says Grandpa, as he helps Grandma out of her chair, nose wrinkling slightly from the remnants of her flatulence. “And thanks for the birthday dinner.”
Perhaps some family rituals should be revised.
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