There are several restaurants in New Haven,
Connecticut that have lunch buffets: clusters of
tipping, spilling, spoonless bowls and platters on
large, low tables or trough-like stands in the darkest,
dustiest corners of the restaurants' dining areas. For
$4.95, one can heap plate after plate with Chinese,
Indian, Thai, Mexican, or Scandinavian food. The different
buffet restaurants, despite their ethnic pretenses, serve
remarkably similar stuff: oily tangles of chewy grey strands
and brightlycolored spheres and cubes; dense, slightly
chilly clumps rendered tasteless by murky, life-sucking
sauces; sponge-like bricks of cake leaking sweet,
transparent ooze in ever-expanding puddles. The buffets in
New Haven mostly cater to hopelessly impoverished or demented
people: the homeless, drug addicts, students.
Most of the buffet restaurants have waiters standing
watch over their buffet tables to prevent abuse. I inquired at
a couple of the restaurants why this was necessary; the buffets
I'd visited in my home state, Idaho, never had any problems with
"abuse." I asked what necessitated such security measures, and
the restaurant waiters and managers told me many bizarre
stories -- some of which quite shocked me.
Apparently on one occasion the buffet vandal tranquilized
a live rabbit -- making it unconscious -- then surreptitiously
stuffed it under the large heap of lettuce in the Scandinavian
restaurant's salad bowl . Slowly the rabbit woke up. As it
did, it became more active and began thrusting its hind legs out
with increasing strength: first causing bunches of lettuce to quiver,
then shift, then fly up into the air. Finally the rabbit escaped
from the salad and hopped along the buffet until it fell into a pot
of split pea soup, from which it could not free itself. It struggled
in the thick green goop like a tiny dying whale; as death approached,
it began thrashing like a bizarre green monster, banging against
the sides of the pot and gurgling insanely. Finally, with its lungs
filled with soup, the rabbit's life escaped as an extra added flavor
into the green broth. Yale Westmont -- an obese customer known for
his voracious appetite -- offered to eat the rabbit.
Chung Kao's Thai restaurant regularly offers meatless dishes
for its vegetarian patrons. One afternoon they offered a dish
of soy "meat substitute" designed to resemble -- in texture and color
-- cow liver. That afternoon, the buffet vandal shoved several
items deep into the bowl containing the soy liver: a raw cow liver,
a scalpel, and a latex surgeon's glove.
Then there was the enchilada plate at the Mexican restaurant.
A customer had eaten half of her enchilada when she found -- concealed
under melted cheese and tortilla -- a condom partly filled with
salsa and a 50-peso coin. The local police classified it as a hate
crime designed to shame local Hispanics.
A lunch-time customer at Gandhi's Indian restaurant found
in her red lentil soup pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and a slightly
An tourist stopping at Peking Garden's Chinese buffet found
a whole, unopened can of chow mein in the restaurant's chow mein
bowl. The label said Chung King -- a brand available at supermarkets
across the country.
A man at the Scandinavian restaurant found a loaded revolver
at the bottom of the tapioca pudding bowl. Local police suggested
that if he had pressed just a micrometer further with the serving
spoon, it would have gone off, most likely killing him and several
Mamoun's, the Middle Eastern restaurant, offered a buffet
option for less than a week. One afternoon, someone mixed little
Valentine's Day candy hearts into the rice pilaf. The original goofy
messages like "Cool Kid," "Nice smile!" or "Kiss me" had been
scraped off the candies, and new ones had been inscribed which
read, "Die, American!" "Eat me," and "Known to Cause Cancer."
The next afternoon, a polite Muslim customer found several 9-volt
batteries, a 200 milligram bottle of rum, and a shoestring in the
pilaf. An older man found a set of false teeth and a toilet
brush in the hummus.
The waiters and restaurant managers were deeply troubled
by these bizarre acts. I was not: I knew that, in his own screwed
up way, this was just the Asp feeding the poor.