Tales of the Asp: Feeding the Poor, by Aidan Butler

     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 rusty slinky.

     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 other customers.

     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.

Tales of the Asp
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