One of the few commercial zones in the city where big box retailers and homogenizing chains fear to tread (due mainly to the fact their shrinkage numbers are astronomical) is the University District. My old stomping ground. Where vintage clothing shops, art nouveau theaters and independent shops of one flavor or another reign supreme. Nestled in the U-Districts’ heart resided The Fungus House, the city’s first (and only for many, many years) vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
Saturday night’s clientele featured the usual subjects; philosophizing beret wearing students, first generation hippies (now into their late sixties) and several thirty-something couples out on date night. This well worn restaurant didn’t fit Dourwood’s normal dinner requirements… A man whose secret vice included two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce and cheese. A man who keeps a log of every meat he’s eaten off a stick. The man who during the last Premiere League Penultimate (the last day of the league) – I swear – slathered an entire pig in BBQ sauce and then ate it. Yet, despite this rather meaty resume, there he sat in a corner booth smiling his electric smile and waving at me like a crazy person.
Upon immediate entry into Wood’s orbit he enveloped me into a giant bear hug, while his voice rumbled (which btw can make the worst news sound almost nice), “I heard about Little Ben laying you off. That sucks.”.
So much for keeping the news under wraps until after dinner – it didn’t really surprise me – my Aunt and Wood’s Gran float in the same circles. I doubt Aunt Pearl could keep this kind of currency, I mean news, to herself.
“Yeah, Little Ben invited me to explore other employment and living opportunities.” Winding up, “He has been in and out of the cottage three times in two days – taking measurements, making notes and ordering new appliances. All things I gave-up asking for because he told me the company didn’t have the budget for it. Basically he’s spending all the money he’s trying to save for his schemes on renovations. He is going to run the place into the ground!”
Wood smiled and sat back waiting for me to pause in my litany of woe, “Pun intended?”
My laugh felt shaky, “Inadvertent.” Apparently I wasn’t as sanguine as my previous days imbibing had lead me to believe. (That makes my definitely not day drinking drinks sound way classier…right?)
The waitress sensing the pop of emotional pressure appeared to take our order. To my surprise (and her chagrin) Wood ordered appetizers; upside-down mushroom tartlets, marinated mushroom caps and cheesy mushroom pinwheels (are you sensing a theme here? All would benefit with the addition of bacon). Then told her we were waiting on the last person of our party to arrive.
Snapping from my unfulfilled bacon dreams, “Who are we waiting for?”’
To my horror, Wood squirmed.