So, the kaleidoscope dinner was last night. What is the kaleidoscope dinner you ask? Only the latest in a long line of things I find to write about that are hopefully more interesting than watching ice melt. Kaleidoscope is the special program in the local elementary schools where the kids get to do all sorts of extra interesting things. Some call it the “gifted” program but that sounds so arrogant, they renamed it. Too bad ‘kaleidoscope’ is so hard to spell. That’s always been one of those words that I have trouble with no matter how many times I look it up.

You may recall that a few years ago, it was Evan’s kaleidoscope class that inspired me to make him some genuine chain mail and a full-on beanie-baby chunkin’ catapult. Those were the days. This year, they’re studying China which, for me, is about as interesting as studying “Cloth World” so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the banquet. There was, of course, Chinese food.

Most Chinese food is pretty good; we go out to lunch from work to Chinese food places fairly often but, for some reason, the kids last night touched the sweet-n-sour chicken with their tongues briefly and pronounced it unfit. In their defense, it really was pretty bland. Further, there were no salt shakers to be found anywhere and only one bottle of soy sauce for 500 people. So there were mucho leftovers. There was also a line at the Sonic afterwards.

Erin asked how I could eat that stuff. Well, the answer is a long one but it pretty much comes down to being hungry enough. I’ve been trying to shave off a few holiday pounds and just about everything is looking pretty good these days. But of course, I have some experience in unusual foods because (get ready for a story within a story) I am referring to the time Mel and I went to the Vietnamese wedding reception.

Story Within a Story #1

I was in graduate school. One of our international students was to be married and they did it in the best Vietnamese tradition. I guess they did anyway, we were not invited but we were invited to the reception at which was served some the finest delicacies they could envision. Of course, in most societies, “finest delicacies” is pretty much guaranteed to be unusual. What is considered to be “finest delicacies” also tends to vary a lot from one country to another. Basically, we couldn’t identify anything.

They seated us with the other Americans so we could sit and talk amongst ourselves and try to figure out what we were being served. The first course was black bird parts. These appeared to be pigeons with the feathers pulled off, cut up randomly, and painted with glossy black paint. The piece I picked up (and subsequently put back) had a beak. (Erin loved hearing this part. That sweet-n-sour chicken was looking better all the time.) I’m not sure but I seem to recall one of the parts having the claws intact also.

The next course was a giant fish. I don’t know what kind but it was about the size of your average trophy-winning bass. We looked about and saw that the other guests were simply reaching out with a spoon and digging a hunk off and putting it on their plates. Did this fish have bones? You need to know these things but the waiter either didn’t speak English or didn’t have time to. We were left in the dark as to the bone situation but it wasn’t bad. Or so I was told. This was about the time that the second Indiana Jones movie came out with the scary food scene so we were perhaps more suspicious than usual.

The next course was abalone although I can’t remember how we figured that out. Abalone is a rare delicacy; therefore portions are small. Too bad, things were getting pretty grim by this time; we ignorant Americans were not only hungry but concerned about being rude so we were glad to be getting something we could enjoy.

I also seem to recall our only beverage choices were a paint-stripping wine and Sprite. But that was a long time ago. Still, it made our bland Okie-style sweet-n-sour chicken seem very nice by comparison. Erin still wouldn’t eat it though. Perhaps another story was in order.

Story Within a Story #2

Again in graduate school, we were to attend a conference in San Antonio. The department chairman rented a station wagon to haul all the grad students in; I was elected driver. (He, himself didn’t ride with us. He went in a much nicer vehicle with some of the other intellectuals.) Along about Waco, I heard a sound that sounded for all the world like someone peeling a boiled egg. There’s little reason for that sound to occur in a station wagon in I-35 so my interested was piqued. My interest was immediately overshadowed by a horrible smell. It was as if we had hit some road kill and it had been splashed into the car.

I rolled down my window. I said nothing.

It was definitely biological in origin so, naturally, I thought of something intestinal. Perhaps our cultures are so different that that sort of thing isn’t taboo. Still, things were becoming intolerable. Nobody said anything and the air cleared after awhile. I brought this up later at dinner. One of the other students filled me in; our Chinese graduate students had brought along some black eggs with them. Black eggs? I thought. I was intrigued; my fellow student was not. He had been up close and personal and he was disgusted. He told me the details:

“Apparently, they bury them in the earth until they putrefy to that black color. Quite a delicacy it seems.”

His facial expressions during this were memorable; he was very nearly nauseated at the very thought of it. I was aghast. Naturally, my own mealtimes seemed more pleasant than ever for the rest of the trip. But Erin still wouldn’t eat.

Story Within a Story #3

Sometimes it’s just a question of manners. Someone puts a plate in front of you and you eat without comment. That’s how it happened once while I was in college. I was living with three other guys in a house and we each took turns cooking. Thursday was my day and weekends we were on our own. I had no problem with this since Melissa and I were engaged at the time and she lived a couple of blocks away. I would stop at her house on the way home from class and she would politely provide me with a recipe from one her room-mate’s cookbooks. But my housemates had to come up with their ideas on their own and sometimes resorted to simply reading the boxes of dry stuff like rice. That’s what happened one night when we all had tests and nobody had any imagination left. These guys were majoring in business so they had little imagination to begin with. We came to the table to see white rice with peaches arranged on top in a little pattern.

Rice with peaches. Hmmmm…..

I kept my mouth shut because, of course, I didn’t want to cook and the other two guys obviously felt the same way but the look on their faces said plainly:

What is that!?”

To top it off, Melissa dropped by for some reason and took one look at the table and blurted out the obvious:

What is that!? Rice with PEACHES?!”

It was an undiplomatic moment. Nobody said anything; the meal went on for some awkward minutes before and Mel and I left for the library.

Sometimes you just eat what you’re given because you don’t want to volunteer to fix anything better. But still, Erin did not eat. I caved in and we went to Sonic.

As much as I’d like to leave you with the impression that I really did tell these stories to entertain Erin, I wasn’t mentally quick enough to think of it at the time. We just sat because the food line was absurdly long. We had gotten near the front and were seated and finished long before those at the end of the line. We certainly would have had the time to tell these stories and more but instead, we just sat while Erin yucked it up with some other little girls from her class. She’s never really bored for long – too social. The program started soon after that and things got better – they had a real gong!

But I still had to take Erin to Sonic on the way home.