Heavy Meddle

In the mid-2000s, when my husband Robert and I still lived in Chicago, we would split Mother’s Day duties with my sister Debra. Robert and I would take my mother Mindy to dinner on Saturday night. Debra, her husband, and kids, would take my mother to brunch on Sunday. Mindy had come a long way since the early days of my courtship with Robert. Over time he had endeared himself to her, rising to the occasion and making himself indispensable when my father died, suddenly, at 57 in the mid-90s, and we were devastated, incapable of making basic decisions.
Robert got a red wine stain out of Mindy’s white carpeting in the dining room. He hung artwork on her walls – he knew his way around a hammer better than me. He assisted her in sorting through and packing up her belongings when she sold the house where I grew up and moved into a condo. He shared his favorite recipes with her and praised her less than praiseworthy cooking, occasionally offering advice wrapped up in a compliment.
Nevertheless, she and my father had refused to attend our 1994 commitment ceremony. Their absence was painfully obvious among the 100 or so guests, family members and friends alike, who went out of their way to provide extra comfort, love and support. Since then, Mindy more than made up for that faux pas, attending our 10th anniversary party, riding on a float with us in the Pride parade, and being as PFLAG as she could possibly be.
At the time of this Mother’s Day dinner, Robert was a full-time schoolteacher and a part-time restaurant critic. He had been writing about food (and more) for the LGBTQ press since the early 1980s and his columns and reviews were popular with readers, both gay and straight. It wasn’t uncommon to walk into a restaurant and see one of his favorable reviews framed and hanging on the wall.
A month or so before Mother’s Day, Robert and I had eaten at a new Italian restaurant on Clark Street in Andersonville that we both liked. The new restaurant was attached to an old, established neighborhood favorite. The owners, it seemed, saw the way the area was becoming a hip and trendy dining destination and decided to update its old banquet hall into a more upscale and pricey venue. Robert’s glowing review had already run in the publication for which we both wrote. We thought it would be a lovely spot for dinner with Mindy.
Falling in mid-May as it does means that Mother’s Day can be chilly in Chicago. This particular Saturday night was no exception. The hostess greeted us, checked our names off the reservation list, and walked us to our table. Still standing, Robert and I took off our jackets and put them on the backs of our chairs. For some reason, Mindy, who was next to me, was struggling with her own jacket.
Seeing this, Robert said, “Gabriel, help your mother off with her jacket.”
The hostess quickly responded, “Oh, I’m sorry, dad, I’m in the way.”
Mindy, Robert and I all shot each other the same flummoxed look. Yes, my mother looks wonderful for her age, but Robert is only six years older than I am, and 14 years younger than Mindy. True, his thick head of hair was salt and pepper grey. But the restaurant wasn’t that dimly lit. Once seated, my mother said, “I must be looking pretty good tonight.”
We perused the menu, discussed our dining options, and made our dinner selections. Mindy and I ordered the pasta, Robert ordered a steak. The first courses came and went without a hitch. Then our dinners were delivered.
The first few bites were delicious. The gnocchi I ordered were perfectly prepared, airy pillows of pasta, the food was as delicious as on our first visit. Then, as I was chewing, I felt something strange in my mouth. I reached in and pulled out what looked like a small piece of corkscrew metal. I showed it to Robert and my mother who looked on in astonishment.
We flagged down the waitperson who, in turn, flagged down the hostess and the manager. Apologies were expressed and another order of the gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce was delivered to the table.
No sooner had the plate hit the table then Mindy had the exact same experience with her dish. She reached into her mouth with her well-manicured index finger and thumb and retrieved a similar small piece of corkscrew metal. Once again, the waitress, hostess and manager appeared at our table. Apologies were offered, but my mother declined a replacement dish.
Whatever dinner conversation we had been having before that ceased, and we became laser-focused on the mysterious metal in our meals and in our mouths. What could it be? Where did it come from? Why was it in our pasta and not in any of the other dishes? We looked around the crowded restaurant to see if anyone else was having the same experienced. It didn’t appear that way.
Shortly after we declined the waitress’ offer to look at the dessert menus, and requested the check, the chef and the restaurant manager appeared at our table. They had, it seemed, solved the mystery.
In the kitchen, the pots and pans that were washed by hand were cleaned with stainless steel pot scrubbers consisting of metal coils, which made nicks and cuts in the cookware’s cooking surface and a few of the metal coils got caught in them and became stuck. When said pots and pans were heated up during cooking, or ingredients were stirred, the stuck coils became detached and mixed in with the food. We were collectively relieved to discover that there was a simple, if potentially dangerous, solution to the mystery. The manager and chef apologized, and the manager assured us we wouldn’t be charged for the dish.
When the check arrived, we were surprised to see that we had been charged for two of the three dinners, including the pasta dish with the choking hazard. Robert and I decided that it wasn’t worth making a fuss over and paid the bill. The three of us put on our jackets and headed for the exit.
Robert and I were already out in front of the restaurant when something in the vestibule caught Mindy’s eye. Hanging on the wall in frames, were some of the favorable reviews that the restaurant received since its opening. Included among the framed reviews was the one that Robert wrote.
My mother, all 4 feet 11 inches of her, reached up to the framed review and took it off the wall. She walked over to the stand where the hostess and manager were deep in conversation, shuffling and straightening a stack of menus. She plopped the review on top of the pile of menus and said, “My son-in-law wrote this review. He said a lot of nice things about this place. You should be glad that tonight he was off the clock.”
She then turned on her three-inch heels and headed for the vestibule. She joined us on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant where we had been observing her with pride through the large picture window. To no one’s surprise or dismay, a few months later, the restaurant closed its doors for good.

Gregg Shapiro is the author of nine books including the forthcoming poetry chapbook Refrain in Light (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2023). Recent/forthcoming lit-mag publications include The Penn Review, RFD, Gargoyle, Limp Wrist, Mollyhouse,Impossible Archetype,and Panoplyzine, as well as the anthology Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology (Madville, 2023). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in South Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.