Monday, November 07, 2005

free soup for you!

Are you familiar with the term finagler? It's Yiddish, referring to a person who skirts the rules, circumvents the system to get what she wants. A person like -- come on, you know who I'm talking about -- a person like... my mother!

Oh, that Mom of mine. When she's not hatching a harebrained scheme she's seizing an opportunity to bamboozle and dupe. If I had a nickel for every time Dad declared she had some 'splainin to do... It's no coincidence my cellphone plays the theme from I Love Lucy whenever she calls.

My siblings and I still laugh about our trips to the multiplex when we were younger. It was always an exercise in sneaking in -- from the contraband popcorn and candy Mom would pour into the "feed bag" at home, to the Under-12 movie passes she continued to buy after our bar mitzvahs had long since passed. "I thought I told you to shave this morning," she'd scold my younger brother. "Now go stand behind that pole while I buy the tickets. Hello, one adult and two children, please."

For higher forms of art, my mother promises theater companies a "review" in her entertainment agency's client "newsletter" and widespread word of mouth (on which, I must admit, she has always delivered). Being in the business has paid off: In the last 20 years she's wangled press tickets to every play, concert, opera and ballet to pass through D.C. And for this I cannot criticize. I've been treated to dozens of shows, often seated in the center of the third or fourth row, and it cost me only a few paragraphs of critical acclaim pulled out of my ass, printed on letterhead and faxed with gratitude to the marketing office at the Kennedy Center. Better still, our press packet usually comes with an invitation to the opening-night cast party. That little bonus once led to a fling with a guy in the cast of STOMP.

As finagling relates to foodstuffs, it's pretty much what you'd expect: A bushel of bruised tomatoes from the farmer's market that my mother graciously offered to take off someone's hands ("They were just going throw them away! Can you believe that? Tomato soup for dinner!"); a platter of leftover desserts from the luncheon/wedding/fundraiser of the week; the obligatory dinner rolls wrapped in a napkin and stuffed in her purse "fuh lata"... My Mom is the patron saint of leftovers, rescuing orphaned pastries wherever she goes.

These tactics and behaviors were not developed late in life; over several decades my mother has collected an impressive CV of season tickets and seven-course meals. But I think it was this one encounter -- an inspiring (and admittedly innocent) orchestration of chutzpah and opportunism -- that finally earned her an honorary PhD in Stickin' It To The Man:

Last year during an afternoon at a local shopping mall, my mother stopped by the food court for a bite to eat. She stood before the Chinese buffet a while, contemplating which three entrees to choose for her lunch-deal combo meal. After a few minutes the man behind the counter grew impatient and offered a suggestion to speed things along.

"Here," he said, "you try taste. Orange Chicken." With a toothpick he speared a sticky nugget of fried batter and handed it across the sneeze guard. My mother popped it in her mouth and grimaced as if she'd bitten into a rancid lemon. (Now is a good time to mention that, while Mom's mental filter was never reliable, in recent years it's disintegrated completely, leaving behind a veritable waterslide for all her thoughts and expressions -- the good, the bad, the ugly.)

Understandably, the man was miffed. He turned to a woman ladling soup from a kettle and muttered something in an Asian language that made her chuckle. Which Asian language was anybody's guess; just because these two were selling Chinese food doesn't mean they were Chinese. You can be sure my mother had no idea.

But that didn't stop her from blurting, "You know what? I speak Chinese, and I know what you just said about me, and I don't appreciate it one. single. bit."

She planted her hands on her hips and stood there, unblinking, daring them to call her bluff.

Half a minute stretched into eternity while my mother stared down this quivering wisp of a man. There was no sound but air whistling through the vent overhead, no movement but the tiny bead of sweat that trickled down his forehead. The soup lady dropped her ladle and scurried to the kitchen through the swinging double doors, like she was runnin' from trouble at the O.K. Corral. I'm pretty sure a tumbleweed dusted by.

Finally the man crumpled; his jaw dropped open and out gushed a string of apologies in broken English. "So sorry lady!" he wailed over and over. "You take hot sour soup! No charge! On the house!" He shouted for the woman cowering behind the kitchen window and she filled a large container in one fell swoop.

"Well, okay..." my mother scowled. She grabbed the soup, slapped a few napkins on her tray -- extra hard, for emphasis -- and started to turn away from the counter.

And then, just as everyone started to relax and breathe again, my mother whipped back around and barked,

"Wait a minute -- YOU FORGOT THE CRISPY NOODLES!"

(and they say there's no such thing as a free lunch in this town...)

19 comments:

Vixen said...

LMAO!!! Your mom reminds me sooo much of my aunt Serena it's ridiculous. Wow, she really does know how to stick it to the man!

Paulo said...

"A veritable waterslide..." You are soooo good.

In other Jewish-dotes, I was once shopping with my grandmother at Macy's in New York, and after my cousin and I complained about being hungry for an hour, she produced (get this) cold grapes and peanut-butter and pumpernickel sandwiches. After we choked those down (gag), she handed us both brand new toothbrushes and shooshed us off to the bathroom to brush up.

We never complained to her about being hungry again.

always write said...

Count your blessings, my friend; It could have been herring.

Kayla said...

I love your mom so very much. When are we getting those t-shirts made?? :)

Heather B. said...

My mother used to sneak us into movies as well. We'd go see one and then sneak into the next. Though when I told her I did it a few times, she claimed that she would never do such a thing. Yeah right.

Merujo said...

Your mother and my sisters - definitely cut from the same cloth! Whenever I go home to visit family, we end up going to a movie where my sister start pulling bottles of diet Coke, microwave popcorn, and Twizzlers from their enormous shoulder bags.

Of course, considering the cost of popcorn and a drink in the DC area ($5 for a bottle of Dasani down at the E Street Cinemas?!?!), I may start wearing my denim jacket with the outrageously deep pockets and bring my own...

I get a lot of free movie tickets (I'm on a bunch of preview lists), but I'm a total piker in comparison to your mom-unit there. And I've done the exact same thing at a Chinese restaurant (they were talking smack about me, according to my Chinese-speaking friend in tow.) But I didn't get any free soup!

You need to write a book, you know. I'd buy it, for sure. :-)

industry whore said...

I worship your mom.

DCdramaGrrls said...

very impressive. I'll still trade your mom for my dad - he likes to reinvent the bartering system. he tries to trade things for food and services! Shockingly, it sometimes works.

sooo much fun.

always write said...

Kayla reminded me today that we'd been planning to make t-shirts that say "WWCD" (What Would C. Do), because my mother's solution to ANY question or problem is always... let's say "more creative" than that of the average person. She certainly keeps us on our toes.

Chairborne Stranger said...

That was an awesome post.

Eric the Something said...

In the words of Andrew Dice Clay "For a chick, you got some set of balls!"

Extracurricular said...

Does she give lessons? Poor PhD student here willing to learn the ways of the how to beat the system world!

Washington Cube said...

Mom has even finagled herself into this blog! Just teasing. Your Mom is great. You could write theoretical papers about her complex understanding of how society works and how to maximally function within it. She truly navigates it's waters beautifully. You'll never want for anything with a mother like this.

heidi said...

Your mom freaking rocks! Awesome post.

The Daily Rant said...

Your Mom is great. How can you not love her??? She is a bottomless well of laughs...

Thanks for stopping to see me and commenting.

Uh, not to be pushy or anything....but do you think you can freakin' write a little more often??? I need new stuff when I come here....and believe me, I click over to see you obsessively!!!

Ciao!

always write said...

Yeah, I'm sorry posting's been so slow. It's a crazy time for me, both at work and personally, but I promise to pick up the pace very soon. It makes my day to know you've been checking in.

Claire said...

Wow, your mom is truly a master. I'm in awe. Great post!

Shafa said...

I've died and gone to heaven! A Jewish blogger came to visit!

*bookmarks*

That said, I'm known for talking the local pizza place into giving me carryout price on deliveries. Sounds like your mama and I would get along.

Rabbit said...

Wow, your mom is amazing. Can I take her shopping with me?