Barbarism


The Pall of Gall
June 10, 2010, 3:36 pm
Filed under: SARAH | Tags: , , , ,

This couple that eats at the bar have been coming to the restaurant for years. I see them once a week. She always declines to look at a menu, but he always requests one. Then they both glance at the offerings and order the same thing as the week before: For her, a caprese followed by a linguini con cozze e vongole with no vongole, and for him a bucatini all’amatriciana. Before they order, he will ask for iced water and remove the straw from the glass I provide. She will ask him, What do I want to drink? He will regard the wine listings on the chalkboard and suggest one of our reds, which she will then order.

Our routine continues:

Me, in case: Would you like some bread while you wait for your food?

Them, resolute: No, no thank you.

Me, because I know them: Is there anything you’d like to watch on the television?

Her, all the same: No, no thank you. We like each other’s company.

I leave the remote control within their reach because they will otherwise spend the next hour bickering (Alright so what am I doing wrong now? ; You call her. She’s your mother.) and/or masticating in passive aggressive silence.

The other night, as he’s ordering their after-dinner cappuccinos, comes a surprise. Yes, a decaf cap for her and a caf cap for him and – he stresses the word, and because the conjunction is so novel at this point in the script, it hits the air with all the intrigue of a plot twist—a bucatini to-go.

I repeat: A bucatini to-go?

Yes, a bucatini to-go.

Would you like any bread with that?

No, no thank you, she says.

Really? he says. You don’t think he wants any bread with that?

Oh! Her eyes widen. I thought she was asking if we wanted bread with our cappuccinos.

I fetch bread for the order.

After they finish their cappuccinos, he leaves to move the car and she waits for the bucatini to-go.

Your order should be ready in a few minutes.

Thank you, she says, glancing away from the television. We’re bringing this home. Our son had his gallbladder removed. She shakes her head, Don’t ask.

I don’t. But at the word gallbladder my hand reaches for the little spiral-bound notebook I keep by the register. Moving to the opposite end of the bar, I flip to a fresh page where I record:

The X’s son (the Sports Business grad student who they speculate has never read a book in his life) had his gallbladder removed. Cause unknown.

Below this entry I write the date and the time. Then: That makes five gallbladders in one week.

I have come to recognize that gallbladders, and their nemesis, the gallstone, are a frequent topic of conversation at the restaurant. Just yesterday, I listened as another long-time regular, Mitch the Dwarf who works for the government, recounted the tale of the stone he passed last month. Although I recall little of his intricate scientific explanation of gallstones—their genesis, gestation, and exodus from the body—I do remember: the excruciating pain; he thinks he still has one, or there may be another one coming; and, happily, he no longer urinates blood. I congratulated him on the urinary triumph. Nevertheless, he didn’t consider to tip me more than his standard $5.

Also this week: Two older women discussing the stone of one’s husband.

I overhear a man seated at a nearby table murmur to his date gallbladder cancer.

Before that, again Mitch the Dwarf. This time he’s in conversation with Arturo, one of the restaurant’s owners. I am unclear to whom the stone of discussion belongs. It could be Mitch’s of last month, the current or the impending. It could be Arturo’s.

After Mitch the Dwarf departs, Arturo turns to me.

Is there any mail for me from yesterday?

None that I saw.

I must have taken it. Ach. He rubs his palms against his forehead.

Never get old, he counsels. Never get old.

I’d rather die, I assure him.

That’s good, he says. Because you don’t want to get old.  Everything falls down. Brains are gone. You piss blood. It’s shit.

And now this latest of gallbladder developments. Madame X informs me of the total and final extraction of the organ—and from a young body.

That night after I get off work, I read the Wikipedia entry on Gallbladder and learn:

• The gallbladder is a hollow system that sits just beneath the liver.

• The adult human gallbladder stores about 50 millilitres of bile, which is released when food containing fat enters the digestive tract, stimulating the secretion of cholecystokinin (CCK). The bile, produced in the liver, emulsifies fats in partly digested food.

• After being stored in the gallbladder, the bile becomes more concentrated than when it left the liver, increasing its potency and intensifying its effect on fats.

• In humans the loss of the gallbladder is usually easily tolerated.

The article makes no mention of the restaurant where I work. Nor does it indicate the statistical frequency or age distribution of gallbladder disorders. I read the article again, and again I find none of the words I’d expected: endemic, epidemic, plague.

So the question remains unanswered: Will I survive this place?

To be continued…

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