If It’s Not on the Menu…
Most places you learn if it’s not on the menu, then it’s probably not available. It makes sense, because if it was available then it would be on the menu, right? Even when I was just a kid, I learned that if it wasn’t there then I wasn’t going to order it. If you go to a fish place, you are not going to order a pizza, right? Sure, sure, common sense one would think. But that was before Togals opened its doors a few months ago. And all the rules changed after that to the point, I’m not sure about anything anymore.
My name is Morey Munson and I am a stockbroker living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who likes a good bagel with lox on my way to the office in the morning. Berkenmyers used to be a warehouse discount place before going out of business a few years ago and some entrepreneur grabbed it and opened Togals. So, I called my girlfriend Marcy and asked her if she wanted to try the new place a few blocks from my apartment.
And my story begins when the waiter seats us in a booth and I could tell as soon as I opened the menu, things were never going to be the same…
Right there on the front of the laminated menu was this note that read, “If we don’t have it on the menu, ask for it and we will see if we can get it…”
Do you get that? It’s telling me to order it even if it’s not on the menu.
“Waiter, is this correct?” I pointed to the note and asked.
“Yes sir, it’s quite correct.” He said as if I was a tourist.
“No kidding…” I mumbled and rubbed my chin as I looked at some of the things that were on the menu.
“I want some salmon.” Marcy nodded.
“It ain’t on the menu.” I shook my head.
“Salmon? Excellent choice.” The waiter bowed his head and wrote it down on his pad.
“You mean to tell me that she ordered something that was not on the menu and you are going to serve it to her?” My eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.
“That is what the note on the menu said.” The waiter shrugged.
“Huh.” I muttered. “How about a pigeon?”
“I assume you want it cooked well. They tend to be a bit gamey.” He grimaced.
“No, I do not want a pigeon.” I waved my hands.
“Then why did you order it?” He appeared flummoxed.
“I just can’t believe this.” I shook my head in disbelief.
“C’mon Morey, don’t give him a hard time.” Marcy pleaded.
“I’m not..I’m just trying to come to an understanding.” I smiled politely.
“Sir, our menu doesn’t lie.” He put on his professional smile.
“Alright, what do you suggest?” I asked the waiter.
“I have heard the filet mignon is excellent.” He sounded confident in his claim.
“Medium rare.” I said folding the menu.
“I am afraid we are out of that item.” He shook his head.
“Are you kidding me? I just asked what you would recommend and when I order it, you say that you are out of it?” My face was becoming flaming red, especially around my cheeks which have always been prominent in my distinguished profile.
“Morey, please…” Marcy put her hand over mine.
“I can have pigeon, but I can’t have a steak?” I shook my head.
“So, you want a pigeon?” He wrote it on his pad.
“No, I do not want a pigeon.” I nearly shouted.
“Then why did you order it?” He was becoming frustrated with me, but in my defense all I was trying to do was establish the rules of Togals.
“Alright, let me have some tiger.”
“How would you like that cooked, sir?” He asked as if I had ordered something that was on the menu.
“I changed my mind.” I said and I could have sworn I heard him whisper under his breath, “Figures.”
“C’mon Morey, everyone is starting to stare at us.” Marcy whispered in a harsh voice that was not meant to be a whisper.
“I’ll just have a house salad.” I handed the waiter my menu. My stomach was aching from all of the aggravation so I figured a salad would be about all I could handle. He wrote down my request and then left the table as I was left sitting with Marcy who was now cross with me.
“What’s the matter with you, tonight?” She asked.
“Nothing. I was just trying to get my dinner ordered.” I shrugged.
“And in the process made a scene.” She was from the school when making a “scene” was a major social faux pas. On the streets I came from, it was no big deal, but in order to make her happy, I did my best to behave. Tonight I was not doing so well.
“I love you.” I smiled, because that usually won her over after one of our tiffs, but she did not flinch.
“Morey, you have to control your temper when you are out with me.” She scolded.
“I’m sorry, sweetie.” I pucker my lips, but to no avail.
“I don’t know, Morey if you and I can continue like this.” She was dead serious and I knew our boat was sinking fast. She threw her napkin down on the table and walked out just as the waiter was walking to our table with a salad and a plate of salmon.
“You dinner sir.” He smiled as he put the plate where Marcy had been sitting and my salad in front of me, “We have three dressings to choose from.” He put three small flasks in front of me as I got up.
“Excuse me.” I held up my index finger and rushed out to see where she had gone. The sidewalk was vacant in both directions. There was a cabbie reading a newspaper, so I asked him, “Have you seen a young lady with dark hair and pretty eyes come out of this restaurant?”
“No buddy, I haven’t seen anyone in about an hour.” He shook his head and continued to read his newspaper.
Could she have just vanished? She lived on the east side, so walking was out of the question. Maybe she got on a city bus? Then I remembered the bus stop was about a block away, so I ran. When I got there, I didn’t see a single soul waiting. I looked at the schedule and saw that the next bus would be arriving in ten minutes.
I felt an obligation to go back to Togals despite my reservations.
If it isn’t on the menu…kept ringing through my head as I walked.
Pushing the door open, I saw a couple sitting at the table we had been seated at just minutes ago. The Maître d asked, “Can I help you?”
“I came in with a young lady about a half an hour ago-”
“No sir, you must be mistaken. I have never seen you before.” He shook his head.
“No, no, I came in with a young lady…” I was on the verge of losing it again.
“I am sorry, but you must be mistaken…I can seat you if you’d like.” He nodded hopefully.
“Look, I am getting tired of all of this shenanigans. I was here with a young lady. There is no mistake about it.” I jabbed my finger into the podium he was standing behind.
“Sir, if you are here to cause trouble, I will be forced to call the authorities.” He was looking a little green around the gills as he warned me. Frustrated beyond words, I walked out before I got in deeper.
In five minutes, I was back at my apartment still fuming over the whole incident at the new restaurant.
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket and when I looked I saw it was Marcy’s phone number, so I pressed the button.
“Hello.” I snapped.
“Morey, where the heck are you? You were supposed to meet me for dinner.” She sounded angry.
“Sweetie, we were at Togals and you ordered the salmon.” I stammered.
“Are you losing it, Morey? I haven’t seen you all evening.” She insisted and with that my stomach sank into my shoes.
How could that be true?
“Well?” I could hear her tapping her foot at the other end like she did when she had lost her patience with me. I hate to admit it, but she did it quite often lately.
Maybe I was losing it. Things had been pretty tense at the firm.
“Honey, I am sorry.” I apologized, “I’ll be over in a New York Minute.”
“Your dinner is getting cold.” She sighed.
There was a cab about half a block away and when I got there, the cabbie was reading his newspaper.
“Got to go to this address.” I handed him the slip of paper I had written it on. When he took the paper, I felt a shiver run down my spine. He was the same hack who was parked in front of Togals.
“Get in.” He yanked his thumb to the backseat.
He pulled into the street as soon as I got into the backseat. He took 96th Street and I saw a vacant lot where Togals had been.
“Wasn’t there a restaurant there.” I pointed.
“Naw, that has been a vacant lot for over a year now.” He shook his head after chuckling.
“Sure it was called Togals.” I insisted.
“Alright, if you say so.” He shrugged, still smiling. He drove on the 97th Transverse Street that ran across the park and into West Manhattan. In less than fifteen minutes, I was at Marcy’s door. When she opened the door, she had on her apron.
“Glad you could finally make it.” She was tapping her foot as she said this to me.
“I must have been dreaming.” I said as we walked up the stairwell to her flat on the second floor of the brownstone building. Various aromas of people cooking different dishes for dinner filled the hallway. “I swore we had reservations at this new restaurant.”
“Not that I recall,” She opened her door and the aroma of pasta and meat sauce replaced the different aromas in the hallway.
“This has been a strange evening.” I said as I followed her into the kitchen.
“Yeah. Tell me about it.” She stirred the pasta on the stove.
I will end it here if I can, because you know one thing led to another. When I awoke, I had to hustle to make it to the office on time. Marcy was still asleep when I ran out the door and caught a cab back home.
I managed to make it to the office on time without a minute to spare. Walking down to my cubicle, I saw a face that made me freeze in my tracks. The person I passed was the waiter at Togals, I was sure of it. He looked at me and I looked at him. For a moment an expression of recognition passed between us. What was even stranger was I swore I saw the maître d coming out of the restroom drying his hands as he did so.
“Munson, my office, now.” My boss, Mr. Harper called out.
“What’s up, Mr. Harper?” I asked as I walked into his office.
“I got this order for some tiger?” He sat at his desk looking at the computer.
“I didn’t order any tiger.” I scowled.
“I sure hope not. It’s expensive and not on our menu.” He shook his head and with that I felt a shiver run down my spine once again. “Are you alright, Munson, you don’t look so good.”
“Something I ate.” I assured him.
“I’m going to cancel this order.” He shook his head again.
“Fine by me, sir.” I nodded before exiting his office.
“Yeah, stick with the house salad.” He grunted as I left.
I sat at my desk in a daze trying to process everything that was going on wondering what vortex I had entered last night. Greg was a big Yankees fan who sat in the cubicle next to me. I could hear him talking to his bookie in a low voice.
“Yeah, put some money down on the Tigers.” He said in a harsh whisper I could not help hearing. Again his statement pinged in my head for the next hour.
I could see the waiter’s face as he asked me how I wanted the tiger cooked. I felt as if I was losing my mind or my imagination was running in a marathon.
“I didn’t order the salmon.” I could hear the guy three cubicles down say to the man delivering his lunch. “I just wanted a salad.”
That was it, I was calling my therapist. In a flash I had an appointment with Tony Brascucci for later in the afternoon. I thought having a session with Tony would help me straighten out things in my noggin. I was feeling like I had one too many bats in my belfry.
“Hey, haven’t seen you in a while.” Tony had one of his open neck wide collar shirts that revealed a thick covering of fur on his tanned chest. “How’s things been going?”
“Up until last night, pretty good actually.” I answered.
“Oh, what happened last night?” He asked.
“It’s hard to explain.” I coughed.
“Give it a go, eh?” He smirked.
“I took Marcy out to this place called Togals…”
“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to check it out.” He snapped his fingers.
“You’ve heard of it?” I asked, flabbergasted.
“Sure, it’s over in your part of town.” He winked.
“No it’s not.” I shook my head, “There’s nothing there, but a vacant lot.”
“Are you pulling my leg? I heard that the place has been packed since it opened.” Tony leaned back in his chair. “I had trouble getting reservations.”
“You can order stuff that’s not on the menu?”
“Yeah, how’s that for a gimmick?” Tony laughed, “I want to see if it’s true or not.”
“Take it from me, it’s true.” I sighed.
“You’ve been there?” He asked, interested in my answer.
“Well, that’s why I am here.” I shook my head, “I thought I was there, but when Marcy left, the place disappeared.”
“What? Sounds like we had an episode.” He changed facial expressions to one of concern.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged.
It all seemed so real.
“Well I want to increase your medication.” He began writing a script for the pharmacy, “I guess fifty milligrams isn’t doing the trick anymore. It can happen. Your body gets used to the medication and it doesn’t work like it used to.”
I nodded. This seemed like an adequate explanation.
When I went home on the bus we passed the vacant lot on 96th Street. I got off a stop early to get my prescription to the pharmacy. Since I was due for my medication, I took one before I left the pharmacy. The new dose got into my system instantly. The edges of my periphery blurred like it sometimes does when I take my medicine. A woman shopping in the store smiled at me and asked, “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” I insisted as I walked out of the drug store. I wasn’t fine. I felt as if I was about to be knocked to my knees.
I told Marcy about my diagnosis when we started going out, but she had never seen me in this condition before. I was confused and unsure of the solid ground I was walking on. I could not wait to get home where I could close my eyes and stop the world from spinning around so fast.
I heard voices. Distant voices telling me that I was not okay. I heard someone ask me if I wanted my tiger medium rare. No, I wanted my steak medium rare. Then I get the look as if I had lost it again.
I paused and leaned against the streetlight post as people passed me, looking over their shoulders at the poor fool trying to catch his breath.
If it’s not on the menu…
I’ll have a house salad.
There was a siren in the distance. Were they coming for me? It would not be the first time, now would it?
I am not having another episode. I am not…
As I walked down the street back to my apartment, I saw a line of people waiting for the doors to open to a new place called Togals. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the neon sign advertising, “If it’s not on the menu, ask for it anyway…”