Columns

2012.02.29 Dinner with the Pope

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

My old college friend, John, had a birthday party Saturday night and we were invited. Colleen was away visiting a grandchild so I headed up to Livonia on my own.

I don’t know what the significance of turning 62 is about. Maybe John was just in need of a party. The invitation arrived a couple of weeks ago along with a page of menu choices.

“The food will be served family style from a central lazy susan. Please select from the list what you would like to eat. Quantities will be based on the number of people who want to eat the same thing.”

This wasn’t something from the restaurant.  Every party guest received a form with their name at the top of the page. No, this was a form from someone with highly-developed organizational skills, also known as John’s wife, Catherine.

I didn’t understand most of what I was reading—fritto misto, pizza con formaggio or margherita, penne san remo, saltimbocca, etc.—but I picked out a few recognizable items and sent an e-mail to Catherine.

When the day arrived, I drove to the home of two other college friend invitees in Plymouth and we made the final leg of the trip together. 

From the outside, Buca di Beppo in Livonia looks like one of a dozen modern restaurant chains, but then we walked inside. We followed our staff person down a hallway and into the kitchen. We passed a dinner table located right there in the kitchen on our way to the Pope’s Room. We had our own little basilica with an enormous round table ready for 18 guests.

On the drive to the restaurant, I said to Deby and Rich that every time I go to an event such as this, I think to myself, “Maybe this will be the night that I act sociable and talk to strangers, but most likely I’ll just be off to the side hanging out with Rich.”

This setup didn’t really allow for anyone to hang out in the corner since there were no corners. There was no room for wallflowers because everyone was up against the wall, which was the same thing as being at the table.

Not everyone was up against the wall. A bust of the Pope was in the middle of the table on the huge Lazy Susan. Deby decided it must have been Pope Gregory XIII who straightened out the calendar dilemma back in 1582. Whoever it was, his piercing gaze forced guests to ask, “What are you looking at?” as he slowly twirled around the table.

First the breads arrived—four or five different kinds—but I hadn’t selected any bread from the pre-order menu. Actually, I didn’t really remember what I ordered two weeks ago, but that didn’t matter because Catherine knew. She had a list and she had made little stickers to place on cards.

As the shrimp scampi made its way around the table, the names of those who ordered it were posted. After those people were served, Catherine removed the names and the dish was fair game for anyone.

And don’t worry about germs from the 18-member family. There were three or four bottles of anti-bacterial hand wash on the Susan and Catherine urged us all to use it frequently because there was sickness going around. Leave it to a nurse to think of that.

Leave it to non-participating guests like Deby, Rich and I to avoid that stinky stuff and remain public health nuisances. I can’t imagine rubbing that all over my hands and then picking up a piece of bread. I’ll just take my chances with the potential of germs.

The introduction of guests revealed that most people at the table were relatives of the hosts, including five nieces who played “I Spy with My Little Eye” off and on for at least two hours. This is a testament both to their observational skills and also to the amazing amount of detail in our basilica.

There were photographs of the Pope everywhere, along with statues, emblems, paintings and banners. “I spy a golden toenail.” “I spy a papal wristwatch.” On the domed ceiling were three angels—one with crossed eyes and misplaced genitalia. So much to spy.

I’m sure everyone ate more than what the little stickers indicated was theirs. Whenever we eat with John, there’s an excess of food. We departed with heavy stomachs.

Deby and Rich took me back to my vehicle and I set out wondering when fatigue would take over. I’m pretty good at driving when sleepy. I do it every Tuesday afternoon and never have to shut my hair in the window as an alarm. 

It was somewhere past Clinton when I noticed it coming on after a full dinner and lack of sleep, but I fought my way through, wondering only once where the heck I was. I was extra careful after Deby told me about Rich getting into a head-on collision with a driver who fell asleep.

I made it home just fine. A good time was had by all and I have a container of garlic mashed potatoes waiting for lunch. Yes, organized Catherine brought along a generous supply of containers for take-home. No food went to waste, but much food went to waist.

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