The Battle of the Take-Out Menus

Kay Bolden

In quarantine, you only get one shot at dinner.

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Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash

One cold night in 1987, I picked up the pistol from my nightstand and fired a shot at my husband, who was looming in the bedroom doorway. He flinched and fell to the floor so dramatically that, for a second, I thought he was hit. But no — he was whole and unbloodied and alive. (I have terrible aim without my contacts.) And while we didn’t divorce for another two years, it marked the last time he tried to come to my bed.

This incident became affectionately known in my family as The One-Shot Rule.

The One-Shot Rule is invoked whenever one of us is stomping, screaming, or wildly overreacting to something that seems fine to everyone else. Running over the Xbox with your car, for example, because you couldn’t listen to one more minute of Grand Theft Auto. Or throwing an entire set of cookware in the trash because nobody would load the dishwasher and you’re not doing it anymore you’re just NOT.

Once the rule is called, the rule-breaker must stand down. “All right, that’s your shot,” someone will invariably say. “Now go to your room and calm the fuck down.”

Happened again just yesterday.

Why? Well, because there are six sentient beings quarantined in this house together — five full-grown humans, and one dog. And despite the collective skill and brainpower we surely possess … none of us will cook. Not one of us. Nobody.

Of course, one of us — not saying who — will live happily on Jack and Diet Coke and pretzels. And one of us will, without complaint, eat whatever falls on the floor.

The other four, though, engage in a mighty battle every day about … dinner. Oh they’ll make a sandwich for lunch, or grab a yogurt for breakfast. But dinner is too much pressure for one person to bear. Takeout is the only solution.

What will we eat? Do we want Chinese food, or veggie pizza, or chicken but not from that last place, or BBQ but the spicy kind, or pancakes we love pancakes, but not another burger because someone will literally die if they see a pickle?

And when? What time? What time to order so it arrives by that first time, not that second time, and not GrubHub because the food was cold remember, and the Dasher is better, and Uber Eats is slow and also kind of sexist, and Instacart workers are oppressed, and …

So, yesterday, as the first dinner shots were being fired across the bow of the living room, I picked up the only weapon I own now — a handful of takeout menus — and waded into the fray.

“Here’s my idea,” I said, fanning the menus out prettily on the table. “How about we each order what we want, from wherever we want.” I smiled brightly. “Everyone eats their choice, anytime they want, using whatever delivery service they prefer.”

Genius, right?

I flipped open my laptop. “Or, look at all these other online menus … ”

I looked around the room, at the faces of the people I love. People I wear masks and gloves for. People I turn my music down for, and walk a half mile to the mailbox for, and just built wire fencing for, after I planted tomatoes and zucchini, because the food supply might run out, and the deer in the backyard are treacherous. My father, his wife, my nephew, my son.

All staring back at me in stony silence.

“You mean, everyone’s supposed to order dinner separately?”
“But … then we won’t be eating together.”
“No way, it’ll be weird.”

I swallowed my irritation. These are stressful times, everybody says so.

“No, you guys,” I explained. “This way, everyone gets what they want. No arguing. Everyone’s happy!”
“Different restaurants? All those different smells? Ewww.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Dumbest idea I ever heard.”

Even my dog looked unimpressed.

“Fine,” I muttered. I slammed shut my laptop, and gathered my sad little menus into a neat pile.

“Hey, I do wanna look at that pink one, that’s a new one.”
“Yeah, they have those rolled up meat thingies, you know the — “
“What’s that blue menu, is that a sushi place?”
“No more sushi, damnit, we’ve had enough sushi to repopulate the ocean!”

Their voices got louder and louder, just background noise to me again, as I got to my feet and stepped closer to the fireplace. Such a lovely fire, and probably the last one of the season, it’s getting so warm out.

“Wait! Don’t toss the menus!”

“We haven’t read them yet, what are you — ?”

“Too late!” I chortled. “Too late!” The menus crackled and popped right in front of their faces. Ha!

My dad spun around in his wheelchair and lurched forward, but I ran for stairs, closing my ears to the sound of his thunderous voice.

“ONE. SHOT. RULE!”

That long ago night after I fired at my husband, I called my mother. She came over the next morning and took my gun away, and I never saw it again.

If she were here now, you know what she’d do? She’d be cooking dinner for me. Just ME, and not those whiners upstairs who invoked the One-Shot Rule and sent me to my room.

Dumbasses — they think they’re so smart. But I grabbed the the Jack and pretzels on my way down.

And I’ve still got my phone. I can order whatever I want.

I should text them first though, and see if they're getting hungry ...

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Digital nomad, traveling the world on my #GapYear at 60. I write about adventure, food, and family. What are you waiting for? It's only too late if you don't start now.

Chicago, IL
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