Steven Mallard's favorite type of restaurant was an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. When his show band was on the road, we always managed to find one. And while he complained about how uncomfortable his morbid obesity made him, Mr. Mallard always managed to eat no fewer than three heaping plates. On this particular gig, I managed to eat hardly anything. By the time I made it inside, I had lost it in an uncontrollable laughing fit. So while he gorged himself, I went hungry from the giggles -- but who needs all that MSG anyway?
You see, we drove up to the restaurant maybe an hour or two after departure. As the youngest and most nimble person in the band, I was volunteered to sit in the seat furthest back of that 16 passenger van. Normally that's a decently comfortable arrangement for me, but for some reason, in recent weeks, no one had bothered to dump their trash out of the van. The garbage bins were overflowing with old McDonald's bags, soda bottles, fountain beverage cups, and candy wrappers; and the overflow was now coating the floor. The entire floor. Our first stop on this trip was this Chinese buffet, so no one had the opportunity to dump it yet.
So there we were, in the van, up to our shoulders in trash. We parked at the restaurant, and everyone opened the doors, and shoved aside rubbish to clear a path to the door. The smokers were the most eager to get out, and lit up right away, not even waiting to walk closer to an ashtray at the entrance of the restaurant.
Finally there was no one else left to get out but me, and my bandmates had buried me under garbage in their haste to exit. The aisle that lay between me and the door was now heaped with bottles and bags, and I gingerly did my best to make it to the door without crushing any of it, without getting old soda on my flip-flops or spoiled catsup on my hands. As I dug my way out with my face wincing in disgust, bottles teetered on the threshold and fell, one by one, into the parking lot. The more I tried to prevent it, the more they dropped. This van was a sanitation disaster.
Finally I jumped to the pavement, amidst the dozen or so bottles that had preceded me. And as I landed, four more bottles fell out behind me, clop, ba-DUNK-dunk, clunk, dink! And there the smokers congregated, not ten feet away, watching with detached amusement. They had been standing there, observing as these bottles plopped out the door one by one, before my face even saw the light of day -- and not one of them saw fit to help me. I looked up with my nose wrinkled.
Sid, our guitar player, took a long, slow drag. And in his husky Southern droll, with the most disdainful sarcasm, said, "Have you been juggling long, or are you just learnin'?"