While visiting family in our hometown last weekend, my wife and I snuck away for a dinner out with some longtime friends. Curtis and Emily have been great friends for a long time but a table for four is rare. They have three cute little rowdy boys and our schedules only line up every so often. Seizing the moment last Saturday, we met up at a nice little pub for what parents of small kids call “grown up conversation.”
Our waiter walked up only moments after we got our table. He introduced himself as Zack and asked if we wanted to hear the specials. Of course we would. Who wouldn’t want to hear the specials?
I listened intently as Zack, a nice college-age guy with shaggy hair and a sports watch, recited the specials from memory. Barbequed chicken with scalloped potatoes, some tilapia dish that they were actually out of and so on. It was all pretty routine, nothing too special, until he said one sentence that changed the course of the evening.
“… and that comes with our signature chicken tortilla soup which I think, is the best item we have.”
My head jerked up from gazing at the laminated menu. He was so confident. Cocky even. I challenged his statement. “Your best thing here, huh? Well, I actually pride myself as somewhat of a chicken tortilla soup connoisseur.”
This much is actually true. I really do enjoy chicken tortilla soup. Like, a lot. How much? Well, let’s put it this way. It’s the only soup I ever get at McAlister’s. Period. Don’t even talk to me about tomato or French onion. I’d rather eat saltines out of a bowl of chicken noodle urine.
Exhibit B. My wife makes a killer homemade chicken tortilla soup recipe, which was actually passed on to her by a CPA. Who would have thought a financial person would make good soup? Regardless, this recipe is so good that I have been known to eat it for three to four meals in a row. That’s including breakfast.
I’m not even ashamed. I love chicken tortilla soup so much – I’d even marry it. Well, that might not be legal. In that case, chicken tortilla soup and I would definitely be life partners.
Anyway, back to the restaurant. Our J. Crew dungaree-wearing waiter replied with a half laugh, “Really? You like it that much?”
This seemed like a good moment to make a joke. “Yes, in fact,” I said as pretentiously as possible, “I actually write a column for a chicken tortilla soup magazine.”
He was in disbelief but I think he believed me a little. “Really?”
I kept it going, “Yes. It’s about different variations, seasoning, where the best spots to find soup are located. You know, stuff fellow chicken tortilla soup enthusiasts care about.”
He shrugged his shoulders, tossed his stringy hair off his forehead and walked away. Five minutes later he came back to our table - with a cup of chicken tortilla soup!
“I knew you’d want this”, he said as he gently placed the steaming bowl before me. Then he took a big step back, folded his hands at his chest and waited. Patiently.
Not knowing really how to respond, I looked at him, looked at the soup, looked back at him and smiled nervously. He was frozen with anticipation. Not wanting to disappoint, I reached for a spoon and gracefully grazed the top layer of the red liquid. Chives clung to my spoon like passengers on the capsizing Titanic. Call me crazy, but I really think he held his breath as I lifted the spoon to my mouth.
“And?” he asked as I swallowed.
Dabbing my mouth with my cloth napkin, I replied, “The readers of CTS will be very pleased.”
There was a collective sigh of relief. I could have sworn I heard distant cheering through the kitchen doors. I can’t be for certain. It was probably just the wind. Everyone knows the wind in Oklahoma sounds a lot like, "Hooray we have succeeded!"
“What’s your opening line going to be?” he inquired, “You know, of your column.”
At that moment the gig was up. I had no response. I looked across the table at my friend Curtis, who happens to be a senior editor at a publishing company, for help. He’s good with words. He should be able to bail me out. No dice. He sat quietly sipping his Sam Adams, refusing to make eye contact with me.
By this point, it was obvious that CTS didn’t exist. Zack knew it. I knew it. We all knew it. But really why should it exist? No one wants to read about chicken tortilla soup. And even if they did, does the chicken tortilla soup landscape change all that much month to month? Would you pay $20 a year to have an article on "25 Monterey Jack shredding techniques" delivered to your door? Sure CTS would have an annual swimsuit issue, full of beautiful women wearing bikinis that look like tortilla strips. But other than that, CTS would be the laughing stock of the periodical world.
Which is actually a shame. Not because we need a magazine dedicated solely to chicken tortilla soup but because 48 hours later, I finally thought of my opening line. Alas, I must face the harsh reality that CTS, and my column, which would be called “Spooning with Eric”, don’t exist. But if for some wild reason they were real, here’s how my March 2011 piece would begin…
Some would claim that hot dogs and apple pie are the official food mascots of our great nation but I tell you that nothing says freedom quite like a hot bowl of chicken tortilla soup.
Keep spooning, friends!