War and Buffet.

A couple of months ago the family and I went out, as is our habit, to the Marriott hotel for their annual Easter Brunch.

Brunch is one of those meals that I can really get behind. For one thing there are an unlimited number of goodies to chose from, most more at home at the dinner table than the breakfast nook.  I’ve always been one of those guys for whom any category of foodstuff would qualify as appropriate A.M. sustenance; in fact, I can say with almost no shame that in the early hours of the day I tend to be more inclined to go for the dinner left-overs than for the traditional eggs/bacon/cereal cuisine anyways. I mean, who, when faced with the choice of either slurping a bowl of Grape Nuts or reheating last night’s Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Haricots Verts wouldn’t chose the latter?

Of course, I wrote “reheating” and “Roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Haricots Verts” only to be illustrative; chances are that my breakfasts usually involve me standing in front of the fridge at 5:30 in the morning and inhaling, with my bare fingers, nutriments as varied as meatballs, leftover takeout, shredded cheese, raw hot dogs, innumerable pepperoncini, and even – on more than one occasion – clam chowder.  The point is, unlike my furtive, pre-dawn gastronomical indiscretions, attending the typical well-stocked brunch is a perfect excuse to eat whatever the hell you want – and lots of it – with almost no guilt at all.

And there’s even alcohol – that is, if you want to call champagne alcohol. Me, I prefer to call it Carbonated Headache in a Bottle. I generally avoid imbibing of the stuff, with some possible exceptions being on the occasion of a New Year’s Eve celebration, the rare wedding reception, or the even rarer ascension of a Democrat to higher office. But a brunch, well…when in Rome, right?

But while the experience of gorging myself in one sitting on about twelve pounds of eggs, pasta, meat, shrimp, cheese, and pastry should normally be viewed as without a single drawback, I have to admit that there was one gray cloud that threatened to dampen my otherwise perfect mid-morning: I’m talking about the often excruciating process of Waiting In Line At the Buffet.

Or, as I like to put it for brevity’s sake, WILAB.

WILAB is only one of several trials or ordeals that have recently been testing my outlook on my fellow man. Some other well-known episodes are Waiting In Line To Use the ATM, Waiting In Line For a Shopper To Pay For Her Groceries With A Check, and, perhaps the most egregious, Waiting In Line To Put Sugar and Cream In Your Coffee.

The latter experience has pained me the most over the years, as nothing puts the average person into such a pronounced state of casual languor and meditation, apparently, then doctoring his or her freaking mochaccino. I’m sure you know what I mean – you’re waiting there by the condiment station at the coffee shop while some thirty-something hipster adds his organic turbinado sugar one grain at a time. These people treat the process like something sacred and not to be rushed, on par with some hallowed ceremony like Catholic Communion or Buddhist Pirit. I mean, the Mayans practiced Báalchequicker, and with fewer spices, than these freaks. It’s damn frustrating, and nearly makes one despair of humanity.

I’ve often thought that the main problem here is that the environment surrounding your typical coffee shop is too idyllic. Warm, soothing music lilts inoffensively from unseen speakers, generic and unchallenging artwork line the walls – that sort of thing. It tends to put people into a kind of trance.  If I had my way, I’d set up a t.v. screen at the sugar and milk station that played, on a loop, something horrific and repellent. You know, truly nauseating imagery like World War II battle footage, videos of autopsies, Ethan Hawke Screen tests – anything the average non-sociopath would avert their eyes from. Trust me, people would be in and out of that coffee shop in no time.

But back to brunch. WILAB is its own special thing.  And I don’t mean the part where you linger in line while waiting to approach the buffet; no, I mean the part where you’ve finally made it and you’re standing there in front of a succession of chafing dishes, each one beckoning you to help yourself – yet you have to wait for the guy next to you to finish what he’s doing before you can continue.

Even if what the guy was doing, as was the case when I approached the buffet line displaying traditional savory fare like bacon & eggs, was absolutely nothing.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I never thought of this process as a complicated one. I mean, the food is already paid for, and no one was going to monitor my selections. The way I look at it, all that is required of me is to approach the buffet, pop open the chafing dish, excavate contents within, and move on to the next tray. Not exactly rocket science. Plus, it just so happens that I’m known far and wide for my iron stomach; consequently the contents of the dish are immaterial and I can work the line indiscriminately. But if anything failed to catch my fancy, well then to close the lid on the offending victuals and move on down the line would be for me the work of only a second or two. That’s the way it should be – it’s what they call etiquette.

But on loading my plate with bacon and moving over to the next chafing dish, I was stopped firmly in my tracks by the presence of a fellow bruncher standing motionless in front of said dish. Strangely, he wasn’t doing anything – just standing there, looking straight ahead with a marked expression of vapidity. I gave him a second, of course, assuming that he would come out of his private reverie and either commence with the self-service or move on, but he remained idle.

Well, I wasn’t going to let this go on for long, not with all that unseen food there waiting to reveal itself. So, keeping with my habit of avoiding verbal communication when standing in line for anything, I respectfully reached in front of him – being careful not to encroach on his personal space – and lifted the lid to the chafing dish. The idea being, you know, that if Mr. Silent Reverie wasn’t going to be proactive, then I would quietly help myself and move on.

I opened the lid and was about to go for the goods when from behind me I felt him stir, and before I was able to register surprise he had shifted himself in front of me, taken hold of the serving tongs, and was piling the contents of the dish – breakfast sausage, it turned out – onto his plate.

That’s right – by all appearances the man wasn’t in a silent reverie at all, but was, in fact, waiting for me to open the chafing dish for him. And in case you were wondering, he was not infirm, significantly aged, handicapped or otherwise encumbered; nor was I wearing a name tag, chef’s whites or a funny hat, either.

Okay, so maybe I was wearing a funny hat – but it wasn’t that kind of funny hat.

Needless to say, the experience marred what would have otherwise been the perfect brunch. In fact, the prospect of having to follow this person around, opening chafing dishes the whole morning, handing him plates and cutlery and perhaps even slicing his Roasted Lamb, was enough to induce me to withdraw from that particular buffet line and instead queue up by the waffles and sweets.

Not my first choice, you know, but as I said – when it comes to brunch I don’t discriminate.