Tag Archives: Dining

The Celestial Salad Bar (Two)

Photo by Cats Coming on Pexels.com /

Albom Riff handed over the cash for the room at the Robin Hood and took his key. It was a real key, a brass key, attached to a yellow piece of plastic shaped like a diamond and with the room number 9 etched into it. “Thanks,” he said to the woman behind the counter, and to number 9 he went.

He sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window at the cold, gunmetal, western town with its hints of beauty, isolation, mystery, loneliness. Loneliness. He was lonely. But no one knew it. He thought about Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the J-Bob’s restaurant and wondered if he should call her. He dug out the piece of paper with her number and looked at it. Maybe she could help him figure out why his driver’s license claims he’s a resident of Raton, New Mexico. How can that be? he wondered. “I’ve never been here in my whole entire life,” he whispered aloud to himself.

The room phone suddenly rang, and Albom nearly jumped through the ceiling. It was a clanging, obnoxious ring that broke the pure silence catastrophically. He went to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Did you enjoy the salad bar, Mr. Riff?” The voice was deep and slow, like a dangerous cover up.

“Who is this?”

The line went dead. Albom hung the phone back up. He went to the window and peered out. There was a man standing on the edge of the parking lot. He wore a black jacket and sunglasses. He seemed to be staring right at him, Albom felt. He moved to the door and opened it. The mysterious man had disappeared.

 The phone rang again. Albom rushed to answer. “Hello!”

It was the man with the deep voice once again. “What was your favorite item on the salad bar, Mr. Riff?… The iceberg lettuce perhaps? Do you know what happens to icebergs, Mr. Riff?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “They fall apart when the heat is on.”

The line went dead once again.

Albom marched back to the J-Bob’s, a haunting howl from the bottom belly of the city followed him there. He found Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the salad bar, and she was just standing there still as stone and staring.

He took hold of her wrist, and she suddenly came out of whatever hypnotic state she was in and turned to him with a look of fear and surprise. “What are you doing?” Albom asked her.

“I was… I was looking at the salad bar.”


“It’s part of my job,” she answered. “I must make sure the items are well stocked and appear fresh. It’s very important work.”

“There’s something weird about this salad bar,” Albom said, and he pulled her over to an empty booth and they sat down. “What the hell is going on around here?”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels stared at him with a blank expression. “You just couldn’t wait to see me again, could you?” Then the stiffness of her face came undone and she smiled. “Do you want more salad bar?”

“No. I want to know if you’re fucking with me!”


Albom retrieved his wallet from his pants and pulled out his driver’s license. He slapped it down on the table before her. “Why does my driver’s license say I live here in this town?”

She picked it up and looked at it. Her eyes shifted to Albom for just a moment and then back to the license. “Wait. You live here? I thought you were from somewhere else. You sure did make it seem like you were from somewhere else.”

 “Somewhere else,” he mumbled.


“It’s a song… ‘Everyone I love lives somewhere else.’”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“And someone strange called me at my motel. Twice. And there was a man outside in the parking lot. I think someone’s watching me, following me.”

“Why would anyone do that?”

“I don’t know, but I really believe this all has to do with your god damn salad bar. What else do you know?”

“I don’t know anything. Maybe you’re just crazy. Hollywood Helen on Wheels got up out of the booth. “I have work to do,” she said, and she walked off.

Albom Riff leaned back in the booth for just a moment before his eyes were drawn back to the salad bar in the center of the restaurant. It appeared to glow. He heard Tibetan meditative music in his head. Then a voice repeated the word “Iceberg, iceberg, iceberg…”

Albom quickly got up and rushed over to the salad bar. It glowed delicious before him. He snatched up a white plate and began crazily filling it high with iceberg lettuce from the large clear plastic bowl set in a swamp of crushed ice.

Hollywood Helen on Wheels noticed him from afar and called out to him, “Hey! You have to pay for that.”

He swept an annoyed glance toward her. “Oh, I’ll pay for it. I’ll fucking pay for it!”

Heads turned in the restaurant as joyful cowboy music softly played overhead.

Albom topped his lettuce with croutons, sunflower seeds, bacon bits, some shredded cheese, black olives, pieces of hard-boiled egg. He ladled orange French dressing over the top of his little salad mountain and watched it run down the sides like lava flows down the side of a volcano. He set that plate aside and grabbed a clean one and began to fill that with other salad bar items: Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, oiled mushrooms, a spiral pasta salad, pickled beets, banana peppers, cottage cheese, cling peaches, gelatin with grapes set inside that looked like monster eyeballs, and finally a clumpy potato salad.

He took both plates back to the empty booth and sat down. He waved a hand in the air to catch the attention of Hollywood Helen on Wheels. “Excuse me miss? Could I get some service over here?”

An exasperated Hollywood Helen on Wheels approached the table with attitude. “Just what the hell is your problem, mister?”

“I don’t have any silverware, or a napkin, or anything to drink.”

She glanced at the two heaping plates of salad bar food. “I sure hope you plan on eating all that. Be a god damn shame to waste all that. That’s enough to feed four people. You should be ashamed of yourself. Pure gluttony.”

Albom pointed at her. “Look, I’m telling you. There’s something about that god damn salad bar that isn’t right… And I’m looking into it. There’s also something not right about this whole town and why I’m here. And I’m looking into that, too.”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels scoffed with a chuckle. “What are you… A salad bar detective?”

Albom Riff laughed out loud. “That’s a good one, baby, but you’re not wrong. Now can I please get some silverware and a Coke.”


The Lobster Guy (Seven)

Photo by Jennifer L.K.W. Cinder

The whispering gaunt of psychotic skies played ceiling to the moment when Truman Humboldt first stepped out of the lobster-red rental car in the parking lot of a Lincoln, Nebraska Red Lobster restaurant and took in an enormous breath.

He looked at the sun. He trembled. His throat was dry. Something suddenly made him cry. His lobster ghost companion floated close to him and wondered, “Why are you crying, Truman? Aren’t you happy to be at Red Lobster at last?”

Truman wiped at his cheeks with the back of his hands and smiled. “These are tears of joy, my dear apparition. Tears of pure joy. I can’t believe I’m here… Here! At a real Red Lobster, not just one in my tormented dreams.”

The lobster ghost wrapped a glowing claw around him and gave him a comforting squeeze.

I think I’m ready. Can we go in now?” Truman said.

“Lead the way.”

Truman pulled the doors of his cathedral wide open with a gush of orgasmic ta-da! He stepped through the foyer and into the lobby. The smell of Red Lobster assaulted his olfactory senses in a heavenly, seaside way. Truman felt completely at peace as he admired the décor of an authentic Red Lobster.

He was immediately drawn to the gurgling sound of the lobster tank they had there, and he went to it and gazed into the clear, cool water. A handful of tomatoey, maroon-colored lobsters warbled in the distorting life-giving liquid as they hovered near the bottom of the tank, claws banded and the crustaceans looking like unidentified submerged objects: Alien USOs.

“Hello there, my delicious little friends,” Truman said to them. “Did you know that some scientists believe lobsters didn’t originate on Earth. I believe it too, because you are a great wonder of the universe and deserving of a grandiose origin story.”

When the lobsters didn’t reply, Truman removed his top hat and put his face directly into the water and repeated his greeting, his voice now bubbly and garbled. “Hello there, my delicious friends…”

Someone tapped him on the shoulder and Truman shot up out of the tank, his face and hair wet and flinging droplets. He had been horribly startled.

“Sir. I’m going to have to ask you to not play in the lobster tank.”

“What? What!?” Truman said, disoriented.

The small hostess with long black hair and clutching Red Lobster menus gave him a sour smile. “You can’t play in the lobster tank. People eat those. You can’t mess around with other people’s food.”

“Oh,” Truman said as he straightened up and played dumb. He wiped his damp hair back with his hand and replaced the top hat atop his head. It was somewhat crooked. He was suddenly embarrassed. “I thought they were there for the amusement of guests. Like a zoo. I must have misunderstood. My apologies.”

“Hmm, yeah,” the hostess said. “First time to Red Lobster?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Yes. Terribly so.”

“I’m so sorry. It’s just that I’m so damn excited to be here!”

“Right, sir,” the hostess said with little interest. “Just one for dine-in today?”

“Oh, no. There’s two of us.”

The hostess was confused. “Are you waiting for the other member of your party? I’m afraid I’m not allowed to seat you until all members of your party have arrived. We’re a very popular restaurant and in a sense of fairness to all our guests…”

“No. He’s right here,” Truman interrupted, and he made a gesture to his side with his hands. “This is my good friend. We’re having lunch together.”

The hostess chuckled. “Nice one. Follow me, please.” As they walked, the small hostess turned around and smiled at him. “I love your outfit by the way. I’ve never seen anyone come in here wearing a full-on tuxedo. It’s so bizarre.”

“Why thank you my dear. It’s a very special day,” Truman replied, as he followed her through the restaurant with a gentleman’s strut, pumping the walking cane he had gripped in one hand. “It’s colored red like a lobster… I’m paying homage to the wonder that is Red Lobster.”

“That’s wonderful. A true fan.” The hostess stopped at a booth right by a window. “Here we are.”

Truman removed his top hat and bowed to her politely. “This will be perfect, thank you very much.” Truman slid into the booth. He set the top hat and cane aside. He pulled off his satiny gloves one finger at a time and set them aside as well.

“All comfy?” the hostess asked with a sprinkle of annoyance.

“I think so,” Truman answered.

She handed him one menu. “Enjoy your meal,” she said, and she started to walk away.

“Wait!” Truman called out.

She stopped and turned.

“You didn’t give my friend here a menu.”

The hostess looked at the empty booth seat across from Truman. Then she looked at the wanting grin on Truman’s face. She reluctantly went and placed another menu down on the table. “There you are,” she said with a bitter smirk. “Enjoy.”

Truman opened his menu as if it were a magical book and his eyes ballooned with delight. He began to study it with great interest, saying aloud things like “Oh, now that looks yummy.” And “Oh my, that just looks fantabulous.” And “Good Golly Miss Molly I’ll have that!”

He looked across the table at the ghost lobster who was also flipping through the plastic pages. “What looks good to you?” Truman asked.

“Hmm. Well, I honestly don’t know if I could get myself to eat lobster. That would be kind of weird. Perhaps I would fare better with some popcorn shrimp or fried flounder.”

“Then I would suggest the Sailor’s Platter… Right there on page 4. You even get a couple of sides.”

The lobster ghost chuckled. “Wow. You should work here. You certainly are a positive ambassador for the Red Lobster brand.”

A lightbulb illuminated over Truman’s head. “You know what… You may have just hit the lobster on the head with a lobster mallet. Why did I never think of that!?… Oh. I know why. Because crummy Neptune, Nebraska doesn’t have a Red Lobster!” 

The volume of Truman’s voice attracted the attention of other diners and there was a soft ebb and flow of whispers and troubled glances.

“Calm down, Truman. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself.”

“I’m sorry. I just get so god damn pissed off about living in that shit hole town!”

Someone hushed him. “Shhhhhhhhh.”

“Watch your language,” another uptight diner grumbled from some unknown spot in the restaurant.

“Truman. Lower your voice,” the lobster ghost gently pleaded. “And why do you stay in that horrible town anyways? You’re a grown man. Make a change for crying out loud. Have some pride in yourself and take a step forward. Move to Lincoln, Nebraska and get a job at Red Lobster.”

Truman took in a shocked breath and sat back in the booth. “You just blew my mind, my eerie lobster friend. There I was this whole time, rotting away in Neptune, Nebraska, breaking chicken necks and punching a register at some shitty grocery store. There I was, pining over a woman I could never have. A woman who would rather settle for crap. No one ever appreciated me. No one even cared if I existed. And now to think, that I could possibly work here, at Red Lobster. My sails have swelled to full speed ahead.”

“Well, there you are. You have a goal for yourself. A dream to chase.”

A worried look suddenly transformed Truman’s face from glad to sad.

“Now, what’s wrong?” the lobster ghost wanted to know.

“Who am I kidding? I can’t work at Red Lobster.”

“Why not?”

“Because… It’s Red Lobster. It takes years of intense study and training to work at Red Lobster. I just don’t have the credentials.”

The lobster ghost slammed a big claw on the table. “Damn it, Truman. There you go again! You’re always selling yourself short. You don’t need study and training… And you know why?”

“Why?” Truman snapped.

“Because you have passion. And passion for what you do is more important than anything you can learn from a book or a classroom. You have more passion for Red Lobster than anyone I have ever known. They would be lucky to have you. Very lucky indeed.”

Truman smiled and straightened himself in the booth. “You know what. You’re right! I don’t need to settle for my bullshit existence! I’ll blow their balls off with my passion for Red Lobster. I’ll be the best employee Red Lobster has ever had! I’ll do it!”

And just then, as it often does for poor Truman Humboldt, the needle on the record came to a violent, scratching halt when a plump young woman with 80s hair appeared at the table. She had a fake smile plastered within a swampy sea of shiny makeup that made it look as if her face was merely a mask torn from a children’s coloring book about happy clowns.

“Hello there,” she said with a jubilant and annoyingly peppy voice. “Welcome to Red Lobster. My name is Maggie and I’ll have the wonderful pleasure of taking care of you today.”

“Maggie!?” Truman yelped. “Why, isn’t that just dandy as candy!”

Maggie’s demeanor immediately drooped. “Sir? Is there some sort of a problem?”

“Oh, nothing Maggie, don’t mind me. I just recently had my heart thrown into a rusty blender by a wretch of a woman named Maggie. It’s no big deal. I’ll get over it because I have dreams that are far bigger than her. But enough of that, when could me and my friend here get some of those yummy biscuits?”

Maggie the waitress glanced over at the empty side of the booth. She looked frightened. “Your friend, sir?” she said, trying to chuckle. Truman winced as he suddenly realized she resembled the clerk at the car rental counter in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. “Gobble. Gobble.”

“Yes, Maggie. He’s sitting right there. Please don’t be rude and ignore him. Perhaps he’d care for a cocktail. Maybe one of those fruity things in the tall glass with the lobster straw. Huh. What do you say to that, pal?” Truman waited for an answer from the lobster ghost. There was none and he looked back at Maggie the waitress. “Apologies for my friend’s behavior. He’s the shy and quiet type. Just bring him one. He’ll drink it. And I’ll have a cranberry Boston iced tea with an orange wedge nestled atop the rim of the glass. Can you handle that, Saggy Maggie!?”

“Absolutely, sir. I’ll get that right away.” She quickly scampered off, feeling small and with her sensitivities crushed, her rising soft sobs bobbing on the air like a buoy in the ocean.


To read previous episodes of this story, visit cerealaftersex.com.