A few years ago my wife and I, along with more than 40 other family members, were invited to her grandfather’s birthday party at the Old Country Buffet. Glenard—his parents always came up with interesting names—was turning 80.
As we drove to the Southeast Portland restaurant, I thought about how I had only married into this gigantic family six months earlier and needed to make a good impression. We paid the adult price for the all-you-can-eat buffet and walked into the dining area.
Looking around the restaurant, I saw the Old Country Buffet mascot and entertainer, the O.C. “Bee,” (which was a man walking around in a ratty-looking bumblebee costume) was attempting to do anything but confuse and frighten small children. Off to one side, I spotted the crowd of family members both close and distant. We took two of the few remaining seats among the relatives at one of the long tables. There were some that I knew well, and some that I had never seen. It was time to schmooze.
The seats that we had chosen placed us across the table from my wife's uncle, Lee. I did not know Lee very well, but, as we ate, I tried to make friendly conversation and demonstrate good listening skills as he talked about retirement, southern gospel quartet conventions, and all-you-can-eat buffets.
“You want to know a little secret?” Lee said with a hint of mischief on his face.
“A secret? What about?” I enquired.
“About buffets,” he said.
“Sure. Why not,” I replied.
“Don't use the regular ice cream bowls. Those bowls are way too small. Go over to the buffet and get one of the soup bowls. They can hold twice as much.”
I soon found myself spending a long amount of time walking around the buffet waiting for the pre-warmed soup bowl to cool down enough to hold ice cream. Lee hadn't told me about this part. I attempted to appear innocent. Eventually, I found myself--with room temperature soup bowl in hand--standing in line at the soft serve ice cream machine. The choices were chocolate, vanilla, some other flavor that appeared to be broken, and chocolate and vanilla mixed together. After choosing and dispensing chocolate I began to apply hot fudge and sprinkles to the frozen confection. Lee was right. A soup bowl really does hold twice as much ice cream.
As I put on the last spoonful of sprinkles, an older man, who appeared to be in his eighties and was dressed in a button-down shirt and brown polyester slacks, approached me.
“Son, could you help me work the ice cream machine?” he said in an old frail voice.
“Sir, I am certain that I could,” I said cheerfully.
He showed me that his choice of flavors, which I had quickly ignored, was sugar-free strawberry. The handle that is usually pulled down to dispense the ice cream appeared to be missing. I wanted badly to help this poor, frustrated gentleman. He needed his sugar-free ice cream. He must have been diabetic. I was certain that this must be the situation.
I stood beside the machine and my new octogenarian friend stood in front of it as we assessed its regrettable condition. I found that the plastic mechanism that previously held the dispensing handle still moved up and down. “Maybe this will work,” I said as I pushed down on the apparatus as hard as I could.
For the next moment all I saw was pink. Pink was all over the machine, all over the floor, and all over my friend. Liquefied sugar-free strawberry ice cream had exploded from the machine and covered everything in front of it. I, however, was standing to the side of the machine and remained unscathed. I quickly grabbed napkins from the buffet and began to wipe down my traumatized friend. Ice cream was dripping from his button-down shirt and brown polyester slacks. My attempts to assist with napkins resulted in only smeared penny loafers.
“I am so sorry,” I groaned.
“Well, I guess we learned the hard way,” he said in dismay.
I spotted an Old Country Buffet staff member, pulled her aside, and told her that she badly needed to fix the machine. I looked one more time at the mess and the unfortunate gentleman, who was then walking away. I quickly grabbed my soup bowl and snuck back to my seat.
“That took longer than I thought. Is everything all right?” Lee asked as I sat down.
“Oh, I was just helping an older gentleman get some ice cream.”