Tonight, because it is so stinking cold, we are having Grade School Chili for dinner. I was just putting the ground beef on the stove when a sudden thought of a couple my husband and I used to be friends with years ago came into my head.
This was back before we had children, so the female half of the couple, a woman I'll call Mandy, and I were both off work for the afternoon, me from the school where I was teaching, she from a local bank where she worked as the teller supervisor. Our husbands worked at the same place, so they were due at our house at 7:00. It was a Friday and my husband and I had invited them over for chili and a rousing evening of euchre.
"Oh, that sounds like fun!" Mandy had exclaimed when I'd called her on Tuesday with the invite. "We love chili!"
But three days later, Mandy was sitting at my kitchen table with a Diet Coke while I threw the chili together, and as I began my preparations, she kept breaking in with little worried comments.
On seeing me take out an onion for chopping: "Oh, dear...would you mind not putting onion in it? Troy won't eat anything with onions in it. He's such a picky eater."
On seeing me opening a tin of chili powder: "Oh, goodness...Troy just doesn't like spicy food at all. Do you have to use any of that? "
On seeing me open a can of chili beans: "Oh, no! I'm so sorry, but Troy just can't eat beans. He says they give him awful stomach cramps."
By this time, I was heartily wishing that maybe I could give the disagreeable, dyspeptic Troy a bowl of arsenic and put him out of our collective misery, him and his finicky ways. It's bad enough trying to deal with a pre-schooler who inisists on surviving on a diet made up solely of chicken nuggets and red Jello without having to deal with such vagaries in a grown man.
I got a box of elbow macaroni out of the cupboard and she jumped in quickly with, "Oh, gosh! Troy doesn't like pasta in his chili. Would you mind...." She broke off as she saw the expression on my face.
Working to keep my voice even, I replied, "I thought you said you liked chili?"
"We do! We really do! We have it several times a month!"
"But Mandy, what you're having isn't chili -- it's tomato soup with hamburger floating in it!"
"That's how Troy likes it, though," she said meekly.
"Well, I think that sounds really gross," I said with a wry smile, taking pity on her. I'd heard some stories from my husband about Troy at work and he was just as annoying there as he apparently was at his own hearth. "Listen, let me make it my way, okay? I'll use onion powder instead of an onion and I can puree the chili beans in the blender. My husband can eat chili without macaroni in it for once, and I won't add as much chili powder. And I'll make some peanut butter sandwiches, and if he doesn't like my chili, he can just eat those."
A pained look passed over her face. "He, ummmm....welll...."
I sighed. "He doesn't like peanut butter sandwiches either, does he?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"Well, I have some potato chips and dip for later and some cut up celery and carrots. Or some, I don't know...Raisin Bran. Or something."
The men arrived a short time later and I dished up the soup, unrecognizable from the way I usually made it, bringing it to the table with a fanfare of shredded colby-jack cheese and some minced green onions, along with the standard Hoosier addition of saltine crackers. We all fell to.
After a few moments of happy munching, Troy put down his spoon, wiped his lips with his napkin and said, "Shelley, this is the best chili I've ever had. When Mandy makes chili, it's always so bland."
I stole a glance at her as I thanked him through stiff lips; she was giving him a look worthy of Medusa, sans the writhing hair.
I've often wondered about the fight they had on the way home that evening, but I never heard mention of it, because we didn't invite them over for dinner again. Some couples, it's just best to meet them at the movie theater.
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