A Tender Tale

    The local wing place, a favorite of my wife, has an interesting and alarming habit of giving me more than what I ask for. What could possibly be wrong with getting a little extra when it comes to wings? It’s not the wings that get the extra. My wife gets the wings and I get the tenders. I love them. They are meaty and juicy and packed with flavor. They always come with a flavored dip which, for me, can only be a honey mustard. All of you ranch addicts can shove off! Honey mustard is the new ranch.

    Every time we go here, usually to get a take-out, I stand in front of the register with my eyes roaming over the chicken tender options while the missus orders her wings. When it’s my turn I have decided on the exact amount of tenders that I can eat along with an order of their fries. The fries are an integral part of the meal. These are hand cut and seasoned in a way that no other place does it. They are soft yet still a bit crunchy. These little spuds are the light at the end of my carb tunnel. They are the Jenny to my Gump. No meal from here would be even close to proper for me if I didn’t get the fries. With that fact in mind I know I have to weigh my appetite against the fries and order the right amount of tenders to fill in the remaining gap. Yes, it would appear that my actual meal is the fries and the tenders are the side. What can I say, you caught me. Now take your ranch to your table and leave me with my sin.

My order is the exact amount of tenders that will fill me up without making me drop painfully into a food coma. On this day, I order a three piece tender combo with the honey mustard. The man who rings us up asks for a name. My wife wastes no time quipping out “Beavis!” The young man blinks and opens his mouth to ask the obvious question but I cut him off with “Really and truly.” He throws his jaw hydraulics into reverse and nods once.

“Nineteen dollars and sixty-seven cents.” My wife forks over a twenty and drops the change into the tip jar. We retire to the assigned waiting area and take a seat.

I think most people don’t realize the dangers of extra food. I am a firm believer in ordering exactly the amount of food that I know I will eat. Nothing extra. Nothing wasted. I hate having a left-over anything from a take-out meal or an eat-in restaurant. Doggy bags are a waste of time. The food never tastes the same later, especially if you have to reheat in a microwave. Because of this quirk my wife and I favor restaurants with meals that are not over-sized and/or served family style. The last thing I want is a table covered in food that two people cannot possibly consume in one sitting. It is a blasphemy against reason and one of the driving forces behind obesity and food waste. Everything that we don’t eat while we’re there will be tossed into the trash, not rehashed and served to the next guest, which of course would be disgusting in and of itself.

The wait time was brief this day. It seemed like only ten minutes went by before the cashier carefully placed a crinkling paper bag on the counter, cleared his throat nervously and barked out “Beavis!” a bit louder than necessary. He looked surprised at his own volume and blushed as we rose together like a conjoined set of twins to claim our food. My wife thanked him and we left.

At home we spread the food across the coffee table so we could eat while watching the X Files on Netflix. The smell was mouthwatering. With my mouth already full of fries I opened the container of tenders and nearly choked. There were four goddamned tenders in there. Four plump, perfectly fried and seasoned chicken tenders with just the right amount of grease pooling against the paper. Four! I had ordered three. I wanted to eat three fucking tenders with my fries. Once I ate my three, the exact amount that I wanted and had ordered there would be a left-over tender. What in the name of fried blessings was I going to do with a single tender? Did those people even think about it? Apparently not. Clearly they put absolutely zero thought into what might possibly become of that extra tender. Were they trying to be friendly? Was it a plot to get me to eat more chicken? Was it personal? My thoughts raced backwards to the smile the kid behind the register had given my wife. Was he giving me extra food to make himself look desirable to her? Did he have designs upon my wife? Was the little shit actually a secret home-wrecker and I had not detected it? I was literally frozen with hatred over that extra tender.

“What’s wrong baby?” My wife looked curiously at me as I glowered at the food. “Is there something wrong with your chicken?”

“Yes,” I said pointing at the extra tender. “That nasty little schmoozing home-wrecker gave me extra.” I reached for more fries while I contemplated the tender puzzle, stuffing them into my mouth like a four year old and chewing angrily. “Ahm nhot gunna eht fo uh em.” My wife laughed.

“Then don’t. We can stick the last one in the fridge and I’ll throw it into a salad later.” I turned astonished eyes on her and forced the fries down my throat where they formed a gooey glob that hurt to swallow. I chugged a bunch of sweet tea to aid in washing it down before I could speak.

“You have a plan for it already?” My eyes burned accusingly at her. She chuckled and patted me on the back.

“Yes dear. I foresaw everything and knew that our random choice of dinner would result in the complete disintegration of our marriage whereby I would be free to run away and marry the kid from the wing place, secure in the knowledge that our plan had worked. Giving you a single extra chicken tender is the perfect crime.” I squinted at her and curled my lip in disdain.

“It would have been had you not just told me everything.” I smirked. “You are a terrible criminal.”

“And you have a really active imagination.”

“Fine, you can have your salad later with the extra tender but it’s going to be awhile before we go back there again. I don’t trust them.” I peeled open the honey mustard and picked up a tender.

“Yes dear.”

Pyramid

I stare at the man for several seconds without fully recognizing him.  His dark hair with the faded sides and the long, slicked curl on top with the barest hint of lightening is familiar to me but I  can’t place him.  To cover my ignorance I smile broadly and hold out my hand.  I have already pressed the down button for the elevator so he is either going to ride with me or keep walking down the hall toward the office of Requests.

“Hey!  How have you been?”  I note his slightly overlapped front teeth as he returns my smile and we shake hands like old friends. I also note the brushed wool of his navy blue suit and the impeccably creased lapels.  I can’t quite stop my eyes from flicking to the sleeve cuffs of my own black jacket where light stains catalogue my ongoing battles with the automatic soap dispenser in the restroom.

“I’ve been good, very good.”  His grip is firm and friendly.  Too friendly.  I take my hand back and shove both hands into my pants pockets to keep from wiping my palm on my jacket hem in front of him.  I keep smiling.  The elevator is sluggish.  I could end up staring awkwardly at him for a few minutes before the doors open.  

“I’m still selling supplies,” he tells me and lifts his leather briefcase a couple of inches for me to see.  It is a deep brown color, well cared for with polished gold locks.  I don’t have a briefcase.  Where the hell do I know this guy from?  

I can hear the motor of the elevator car, a sure sign that the doors to the right will be the ones that open.  The car on the left is newer and doesn’t make a sound when it shows up.  I turn slightly to stand closer to the doors on the right.

“Are you still working downstairs?”

The question surprises me and I stiffen a little.  I doubt he has ever seen the downstairs.  This guy probably works out in a company gym and eats his lunch in a bistro every day while I sit alone at my desk shoving baloney sandwiches and small bags of salty chips down my throat, chasing it with a lot of cheap, artificially colored and flavored liquid that masquerades as sweet tea from the vending machine.  I am building an impressive pyramid with the empty cans against the wall behind my desk.

“Oh yeah, still in Acquisitions.”  My voice is forced and overly calm.  Acquisitions is a terrible department and everybody knows it.  That I have remained there for the past seven years while everyone else moves on is a clear sign that I have no further aspirations in life.  I tell myself everyday that it’s just a paycheck and not my life.  I have goals that do not involve my job.  Acquisitions is just a place to work, that’s all.  So why am I suddenly irritated over this guy’s nice suit and well loved briefcase?  Where is the elevator?

Silence hangs between us now.  My brain stops trying to put a name to the face for the moment and I am just waiting to escape.

“Well, take care.  I need to get to work.”  I turn my head just enough to meet his eyes a final time and nod like I give a damn.

“Yeah, me too.  Good to see you again.”  

I watch him walk away, heading down the hall toward the offices with actual windows and fresh air.  He walks with long, healthy strides.  He likes his job.

The elevator doors in front of me open, it’s bell belatedly ringing out its arrival.  I step inside the familiar car with it’s old, brown wall patterns and permanently scuffed floors and I stand with the toes of my cracking, black shoes touching the oldest of the gouges.  I figure it was probably made by one of the cleaning personnel and their cart.  The doors swish closed as I press the button for the safety of the basement.

The End – Pantsing NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo is over for 2016 and I finished with 50k on the nose.  What I have for my 50k words is not at all what I had anticipated a rough draft to be.  Having not written more than 20k words on any subject in my life I found myself wandering in unproductive circles at the start.  The idea of going chapter by chapter had been my original intention but having never done it before, and working without any sort of outline my golden road didn’t exist.  Eventually I broke out the index cards, wrote out info about each character I wanted to include and began to slide them around my table like a puzzle, trying to assemble a time line and where everyone would be at each stage.  What eventually happened was, I simply created individual files for each character and wrote every scene I could think of for the story.  That worked better for me.  The only real problem that cropped up was being able to maintain a consistent word count as I went.  Some days I was working on three different files at a time, bouncing back and forth with ideas that I couldn’t let get away.

My finished draft is a mess of files that needs to be assembled into chapters.  I’m sure this is going to take a while and will, in the long run, increase my overall word count.  The scenes I wrote carry a good amount of emotional intention but to get what I really want from them will take a significant amount of rewriting.  I am not afraid!

I believe I will participate in NaNoWriMo again next year.  I really enjoyed myself with this project and have learned a lot about my own writing process.  A little bit of planning never hurt anyone but it seems to be something I’m not a fan of.  Flying by the seat of my pants is the only way to go.

Business as usual will commence next week.  Until then, Happy Holidays everyone!