I am sitting at a table in the Blue Door restaurant at the Delano Hotel in
Miami Beach. I am waiting for crab cakes, and I am annoyed with myself for
having ordered crab cakes, because crab cakes have often disappointed me.
Each time they disappoint me, I make a promise to myself never to order crab
cakes ever again, anytime, anywhere, and tell myself that if I break that
promise I am a fool.
"You fool," I say to myself now. I say it inaudibly, but you know how it is when you say something inaudibly - you look around to see if anyone has heard you.
Looking around, I see that a waiter is passing. He shows no sign of having heard me, but it's hard to tell because the waiters here are very discreet: they try to ignore anything a customer might conceivably not have wanted them to hear.
Every time I see crab cakes on a menu I am tempted to order them, and now I have gone and done it. I suffer from a disease, a kind of mental illness, the groundless hope that springs eternal. I consider leaving or ordering some wine.
Another waiter glides by. As he passes, I ask him to bring a wine list. The waiter does not look at me, but without breaking glide he says, "Of course," and he vanishes behind gauzy draperies.
A man at the next table chuckles audibly. "You may never see him again," he says. "Our waiter disappeared behind those draperies quite a while ago, and we haven't seen him since."
"It was still breakfast time when we saw him last," says the woman with him, wistfully. "I asked for cream for my coffee."
The chuckler chuckles. So does the woman. I decide that they are husband and wife.
My crab cake problem arises from the fact that crab cakes ought to be a good dish. They often look good, so crispy and golden on the outside that they get my hopes up. I see a plate of crab cakes going by, on the way to another diner, and I think, "What have I got to lose?"
A waiter materializes from behind the gauze, carrying a plate. He brings the plate to a man dressed as a cowboy (cowboy boots, jeans, embroidered shirt, and black hair is slicked back in a gesture of nostalgia for the eighties, when cowboys were cool.) The plate holds four hard-boiled eggs.
"He must have ordered yesterday," says the chuckler, quite audibly. Crab cakes are full of promise, but they rarely deliver. Maybe the real point of crab cakes, their raison d'etre, if you'll pardon my French, is to teach us that. It is the Lesson of Crab Cakes: "Neath the crust of a promise ofttimes lies a truth that's hard to swallow.
A dark-haired woman in a short brown dress strides past, on the way to a table on the terrace. She halts abruptly, turns, and squeals hello to the chucklers. They greet her warmly. She sits at their table.
Most crab cakes are more cake than crab. Some are overspiced to make them "tasty," as in "They got the tastiest gol-durn crab cakes over that new drive-thru place up eye-nine-oh-nine." Some are underspiced in the vain hope that the flavor of the crab (one poor lone, lorn crab in a carload) will "come through." Will I never learn? Maybe I should bolt before the disappointing crab cakes arrive.
The cowboy grins and inserts an egg, whole, into his mouth. The grin
suggests that he knows the room is watching him. He chews. He swallows. He
smiles. There are bits of egg white at the corners of his mouth. He inserts
another egg. I recall that I have seen this done before, in Cool Hand Luke,
by Paul Newman, who didn't make it look attractive either.
A waiter puts a plate of chicken salad in front of me, and although chicken salad is not what I ordered I begin eating it anyway, because I have decided that the woman who recommended the crab cakes was probably after revenge.
B. W. Beath is a fictional character who appears in Eric Kraft's novel Reservations Recommended.
Other Short Stories by Eric Kraft