May 22, 2019
The foil character
Back when I was in high school and working part-time at the auto parts store that my Dad managed, the owners threw a big steak dinner for the employees of all the regional stores at a nice restaurant near Martinsville. We were instructed to wear a suit and tie, and encouraged to bring a date.
I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. After miserably awkward failures to entice several subjects of my fantasies to accompany me — I suppose in retrospect that an invitation to a fancy company function might scare off a high school girl, especially one whom I had never had the courage to speak to before — I finally secured an acceptance from Dixie. I picked her up at her house in my old Chrysler, and we drove the long highway to Martinsville while Chopin played on my 8-track.
Mom and Dad brought Roger along with them. Roger hadn’t been able to convince his girlfriend’s parents that allowing their daughter, who was a couple of years younger, to accompany him so far from home would be prudent. Perhaps had they known the favors which she had already bestowed upon him, they might have considered a nice dinner the least he could do in return.
The five of us sat around one of the big, round tables that bore all manner of condiments, an open bottle of wine, and a basket of bread in the center. The chef must have confused our menu with the one for an NFL team: a huge Porterhouse steak, baked potato wrapped in foil, vegetables, and of course a dessert designed to produce instant sucrose shock. By Franklin Auto Parts standards, it was downright elegant.
Unsurprisingly, Dad had already partaken of alcohol on the way there, but he reached for the wine and began pouring. Roger and I were each eighteen, and at this private function nobody would bother us so Dad filled our glasses. Dixie refused, so I did my best to moderate my consumption. Roger, being the fifth wheel, drank more freely in order to have something to do with his hands.
Dixie, who was always quiet anyway, didn’t have much to say in this venue either. I couldn’t tell whether she was enjoying or enduring this event. The rest of us laughed and joked while we ate our dinner. Jack Martin, one of the owners, got up and gave a humorous speech — the question of whether or not it was intended to be humorous being a regular feature of his communications. Dad continued to pour the wine, draining a third bottle. I had to refuse a time or two, but he and Roger worked at it as if they were being paid by the glass.
After we had all finished eating, Dad glanced over at Roger’s plate, which was completely clean — not a scrap of food, not a smear of butter, not even the foil from the baked potato.
“Damn!” said Dad, “You weren’t hungry, were you?”
Roger cast a sly glance in my direction, then he leaned back in his chair and patted his belly. “That was a pretty good meal,” he said, “but the best part of all was that chrome potato.”
To this day I’m unsure whether or not my father believed that Roger had really consumed the foil. Roger had crumpled it up and tossed it among the sundries in the middle of the table while Dad wasn’t looking.