Matt’s Special Birthday
Last Saturday was my son, Matt's 25th birthday. (I’m pretty sure he’s Cupcake's son, too, as she played a fairly significant part in the original birthing event.) Given that 25 is a huge societal milestone, due to cheaper car insurance, Cupcake decreed this must be a Special Birthday to be observed in some spectacular (and no doubt pricey) fashion.
"I have an idea," I suggested. "Since he hates the coldness and impersonality of gift cards, let's give him cash instead. It is simple, never out of style, and always fits perfectly.
"Don't be ridiculous," Cupcake shook her head eliciting an odd rattle. "Fits perfectly? He always says it’s too small. Anyway, we can't show our love for our wonderful son with money for a Special Birthday. That’s not the message we want to relay."
"I thought the message we want to relay is that it is time he moved out again," I pointed out. "Maybe we should consider luggage."
"Not luggage; he’d be disappointed it doesn't come with a trip somewhere." she cautioned astutely. "Here’s an idea; why don't we just ask him what he’d like?"
"I don't want cash for my birthday!" Matt recoiled in disgust. "Well, some cash would be okay but not just cash. I was hoping that you would take Sasha and me to supper at the Asian Grillhouse. Remember? That's where you took me for my 18th birthday."
I was disheartened. With his choice of birthday venue, Matt had precluded Cupcake from taking part. Cupcake is many things (heaven knows) but being an adventurous diner is definitely not one of them. The restaurant Matt selected was picked for the very fact it isn’t for the faint of heart. Deep in the core of Edmonton's China Town, the Grillhouse features a buffet table laden with a dazzling array of exotic and familiar vegetables, meats, seafood and fresh chicken eggs (at least I convinced myself they were chicken eggs) that are all raw and must be cooked at the table.
Diners have a choice between a grill or a "hotpot". The grill appears to be an upside down metal bowl with holes in it to allow flames to lick the paper-thin slices of beef, pork, lamb and chicken one fetches from the buffet table. A hotpot is more like a small cauldron filled with chicken broth that you fill with other buffet items. These included such things as taro root, lo bok, dried bean curd sticks, and something listed simply as “fungus”.
Being a small town lad, I’m intimidated by the big city, particularly the rundown area the establishment is located in. I only know of two sketchy places in Edmonton; one is the downtown 97 Street area and the other is the Alberta Legislature.
"You're parking in the back alley?" I asked panicking. "I wonder if we will just get mugged or just murdered outright."
"Relax, Dad," Matt rolled his eyes. "This is a hugely popular restaurant with lots of customers that aren’t attacked every time they come here. What makes you think you're so special?"
"I'm what the underworld calls a soft target." I whispered. “Especially around my middle."
After making a mad, headlong dash from the alley to the entrance to avoid the murderers, I was reminded the interior had once been well-appointed; almost opulent. Those days, however, were long gone. I noticed ceiling tiles missing and much wear on the once-beautiful chairs with the embroidered backs and seat cushions.
"By the way, I invited a few people to join us," Matt mentioned casually when they came to seat us. A table for twelve, please."
"Twelve?" I gasped. "With all these buddies coming, what am I doing here?"
"You didn't have to come," Matt answered sounding rather hurt. "But you’re funny about giving me your credit card."
David, an older Asian gentleman seated us quickly in the empty restaurant. Not only greeter, waiter and busboy, David is also the owner. He claimed he remembered me from our previous visit but I doubted it. He didn’t offer a discount, either way.
"Thank heavens we made reservations. So where are these hundreds of customers you claimed makes it safe to come here?" I asked Matt pointedly.
"I don't know," Matt shrugged. "Murdered before they could make it into the place, I guess. Good thing you sprinted."
"Here, have some green tea," offered Sasha after David brought a pot.
I looked at it with suspicion. It didn't look green at all. In fact, it looked a lot like I anticipate it coming out again as. I didn't mention my observation, however, as I didn't want to appear uncool to Matt's buddies that had arrived together adhering to the safety in numbers theory. Predators hunt the old and the week. I knew who fit that description in our herd.
Matt's friends all seemed like real nice folks; some I'd met and some I hadn't. They were uniformly impossibly thin, young and attractive. I forgot all their names immediately. It didn't matter. I was invisible to them anyway as they yucked it up among themselves.
"I think I'll have an OJ instead of a beer," murmured one startlingly lovely young lady in the group who sported a foliage tattoo where her cleavage should be.
"You should have apple juice instead," advised one of Matt's buddies who was sporting a pink (sorry, “salmon-coloured”) shirt. “OJ is a killer."
Twelve full bellies and a huge whack of money later, we finally braved the back alley once more to get to our vehicle which I was amazed hadn’t been stolen, vandalized or filled with car jackers hiding in the back seat.
“Thanks Dad, that was great!” enthused Matt. “I can’t wait until we will go again!”
“Sorry, Son,” I snorted. “Don’t you know? Your next “Special Birthday” isn’t until your 50th. Sucks to be a grown up, eh?”
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