My Dinner With Stan

food-spinach-800pxContrary to what the song suggests, Love is not a Battlefield, in truth, it is more of a minefield.

To survive, you must know the ground and step lightly.

Like the other day when I asked my wife if my friend Stan could come to supper.

The question shocked her.

“What did I do wrong?” she asked.

Hearing her reaction, I felt the click of a detonator under my foot and I suddenly realized I just stepped on something.

Like her, many people feel that having Stan over for supper is punishment. I guess it is because he has all the social grace of a buffalo stampede – still, he has been my friend since third grade and she has gotten used to him.

“No, it is just supper,” I said, feigning innocence.

“So….“ she said, pondering her next question. “am I supposed to cook?”

“Nope,” I told her.

“It is really just supper then, right?”

“Just supper.”

She was good with that.

You would be right if you suspected something explosive lurking beneath the surface of that conversation and to know what it is, you have to know something about Stan.

Stan and I grew up in a neighborhood where every house contained a half-dozen dogs and twice that number of kids.  And all of those dogs and all of those kids ran wild all the time – and no one was ever certain whose dogs belonged to who or what kid belonged to where. Still every dog and every kid got fed and cared for. It was just who we were.

One evening when Stan was eating supper at our house, my father glanced at his plate and said, “Eat your spinach.”

Stan poked reluctantly at it with his fork.

“Look kid,” my dad said, “if you don’t like the food here, go home.”

That’s when my sister piped up.

“He is home,” she said.

Everyone stopped to stare at her.

“I’ll prove it,” she said, sliding off her chair.

She trotted into the kitchen and returned a few moments later with the Chore List.

“See?” she said, holding it up.

This dreaded list contained two columns. The first column never changed. It listed all the chores that were to be accomplished on a daily basis. The second column rotated by the week. It said who was assigned to each chore.

Right there in the middle of the second column was the name: STAN.

There was no doubt about it, Stan was officially a family member.

In his astonishment, my father dropped his fork into his mashed potatoes. “How the hell did this happen?” he asked.

My mother shot him a look that told him he was walking in a minefield. Stan’s home life was not ideal, so the kid drifted from house to house.

Dad didn’t know what to do, so he came full circle.

“Eat your spinach.”

“Who could eat that?” Stan said, pointing a fork at his plate. “It’s been steamed into green glop.”

No one ever talked like that to my dad and he glared at Stan for a few long breathes… then he cracked a smile.

“The kid’s right,” he told my mom, “You always overcook it.”

She was mortified but when heads started bobbing like yo-yo’s around the table she knew what Stan and dad said was true.

After that, Stan rarely ate supper at our house. Why would he? He was in too high of demand. Once word leaked out that Stan was speaking up about the food, fathers and children for blocks around came pleading to him with invitations to supper.

My wife has never heard that story – yet she knows Stan well and knows he is never one to hold back his opinions of what is on his plate.

So, as I promised to put supper together.

It wasn’t much, just a big salad – because at the insistence of my wife, our household is on a diet. Even the cats.

And yes, my salad contained spinach.

During the meal, Stan held up one of those leaves. “This,” he said pushing his chair back, “is what food eats. How about I take you all out for a burger and a beer?”

I agreed too quickly and thereby revealed my plan to get around the diet.

“Sit down!” my wife commanded.

“You,” she said, pointing to Stan, “eat your salad.”

“And you,” she said, leveling her gaze at me….

Like I said, love is a minefield.