"I personally don't agree with all the contegration on the college campuses. Or them ecology nuts, who only see disaster in this great country of ours. But like "Duke" Wayne would say, "We came off the mat before when the going was tough." And I know that, so long as we all work together, this nation under God shall not diminish from the earth." Archie Bunker
Sunday, May 18, 2014
One day several summers ago a friend of mine, Edmund, and I went to lunch at a nearby restaurant in Englewood called El Tejado. It means "the roof." It was at the time utterly authentic and I would look around the place inside and realize I am the only caucasian there. I was impressed. It matched Mexico. I invited friends and they hated it. I invited my family and they hated it. All objected to its authenticity, its low class-ness. None could relate to the place. None felt they belonged there. All complained and hastened to exit and they universally suggested I don't do that again. They strongly preferred the Tex Mex places such as the popular Benny's on 7th., always busy, always packed.
Then El Tejado was discovered by Westword and awarded the place "best Mexican restaurant" one year, and then everything changed. New menus printed, no longer salsa-splotched paper. Entrees changed to appeal more to American tastes. The huachinango (red snapper) scored , battered with corn meal and deep fried blooming to crispy fish-chunks with its head and tail clear off the plate, no longer the fantastic bargain that it once was. Prices adjusted accordingly. It is quite popular presently, just try getting a parking space now. My friends all love it, my family did too when they were still here. It became top of the list for places to meet.
So there went that.
This was before all that happened. My friend Edmund brother to Doug, twin scions of Merrill family. (In the Adirondack mountains the Merrill cabin (ha!) compound is a mile down a road and the Lynch compound a mile or so down the opposite direction. In speech Ed sounds like a young version of Thurston Howell III, somewhat cartoonish in affectation, a bit off putting to some people. He is abrupt. A bit difficult at times for some people. And there are those who do not care for him so much personally, but his wealth carries him through all of that. Breakfast with Ed in San Francisco is a matter of continuous stream of people breaking in for recognition. It is impossible for a simple conversation uninterrupted. But this lunch in Englewood at El Tejado we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. His new Mercedes parked outside right in front.
Except for a table of Mexican men having lunch. Construction type people it seemed to me. And boy, were they ever rough. On my own I would certainly have cut a very wide swath around the whole table to avoid any contact. They veritably telegraphed hostility by appearance alone. One or two of the men were having a Mexican-style shrimp cocktail and the appetizer looks nothing at all like what white people expect with shrimp placed artfully and obediently around the rim of a martini glass. This is more like a tall sundae glass filled with murky pink reddish liquid with bits of shrimp and other various bits of unidentifiable things floating around. I had one of those once in Mexico, roaming around late, perforce, I was starving and that was the only thing available that late at a sea-side bar. Warily I ordered one imagining I'd become ill, and discovered how delicious it actually is.
Back at El Tejado in Englewood, I whispered to Ed. "That thing those guys are eating is a shrimp cocktail believe it or not. It's actually quite good."
"You don't say."
We finished our meal, stood up to leave, but instead of heading straight out, to my horror Ed naïvely sauntered right up to the table of seated men. I swear to dios mios they looked exactly like this:
Their conversation stopped. The entire table of men looked straight up at us two standing there. The contrast between us could not have been more pronounced. They complete roughnecks, we a couple of fraternity pussies by contrast. They did look hostile and menacing.
In his slow exaggerated idiosyncratic mid-Atlantic intonation so unlike his identical twin Ed delivered,
"Oooh. My friend Chip here says that soup that you are eating there is shrimp cocktail."
The table of six or so men just sat there blankly and stared at us. They honestly did not know what to think.
"Chip says it is delicious. Is that true?"
They continued to stare. Is this a joke, or what? Regarding us up and down. I nearly pissed myself right there. An eternal pause elapsed.
Then as one the entire table of men grinned broadly displaying bright white teeth all around and one of them said,
"Yes. Yes. It is shrimp cocktail. And it IS delicious. Would you like to try it? Here! Try some!"
"Oh. No. That's okay. I just wanted to confirm. I'll try it next time. Thank you guys."
"No. No. Thank you, very much, but no. So gracious of you to offer. We are full now. But I will certainly try that next time on your recommendation."
We departed, apparently having cheered the whole group. I could not quite process what just happened.
In the car, now seated, me shotgun, Ed was tickled with his new toy. He showed me all or some that it does. The little touches one doesn't expect in a vehicle. They really are impressive with extras they put all over the place. Things I'd never need or use. I don't care for driving. He is a bit like a boy that way.
I said, "Ed, you shocked the heck out of me back there."
"How so, Chipster?"
"I would avoid contact. Those men looked to me frightening. Hostile, in fact."
Thoughtfully and carefully and slowly, as teacher to student,
"Weeeell Chip. My experience with Mexicans is that they are a kind and gentle people."
I was dumbfounded again. I never heard anything like that expressed that way. I was changed on the spot. Ed instilled a new and different fresh attitude from there on out. An attitude I've held steadily since.
Mexican style shrimp cocktail:
1 LB cooked and peeled shrimp rinsed in cold water