The Glass Ramekin
by Sabra Embury
“Are you going to eat that last Southwestern eggroll?”
This is how Bret began our first conversation before adding my plate to his cluttered bin of mutilated leftovers. He wiped my table. He ate a fry from his bin. “Nice tattoo,” he said.
The design of my tattoo was based on Escher’s otherworldly House of Stairs, which in my mind was one of his more obscure pieces compared to the more recognizable “Drawing Hands” or his epically well-known selfie “Hand with Reflecting Sphere.” Bret not only recognized the piece but said it made me look mysterious–versus something more contrived. “Situations dealing with needles are pretty ominous anyway.” He said. “The process is not only delicate, but extremely painful and permanent.”
Compliments, they usually turn me off, but Bret’s compliment was perceptive. He got me. Like “got me” got me. I’ve been told I’m not the easiest person to read. I said thanks. He said he’d be back–that a party of eight was leaving. Chinese dignitaries, he said. “They drank all the Budweiser.”
I watched Bret as he made his rounds lifting half empty pint glasses off greasy tables, sometimes taking a sip of whatever was left. This made him seem like a rebel to me. Practical. And he obviously had a very healthy immune system. Although he admitted he did that less during cold season.
We spoke as he scratched at a scab from a burn on his hand. “Grease fires scatter like panic. They form archipelagos on skin,” he said. “Gotta be careful…”
“Aloe,” I said.
“Didn’t have any,” he said. “So caterpillars in a stair maze…”
“Scratch and sniff caterpillars smell like smoke and chocolate,” I said, taking a sip of my watered down coke.
He looked at me very seriously.
“Let’s get you a refill.”
I’ll admit Bret wasn’t really what I considered my physical type, at the time, being an entire foot shorter than me. He looked like one of those jockeys at the Kentucky Derby. Slight, a fraction of the average size for optimum speed. Bret was a human bumble bee. Or more like bees in general. He was skinny, probably about 4’8” standing straight. He looked twelve. He had a way with words, and that alone was pretty seductive. He was straightforward and open with me. His interest made me feel special. Like I was some benign, dark pool of lava whose essence alone called bluejays to sing on my shoulders. We exchanged poetry to read and critique. He recommended books that I devoured from start to finish in furious weeklong binges.
Our favorite place to go on dates was The Glass Ramekin, named for an infinite number of dipping sauces. Some were seasonal, like their pumpkin latte BBQ. Some were year-round staples: bergamot mayo. The sauces were served in miniature glass bowls to avoid things like pooling. For those like me who get grossed out by the unintentional congregation of flavors, this was a godsend.
The Ramekin was also known for a brunch-time cocktail called the One-Armed Rooster: a bloody mary topped with two sauce-glazed chicken wings. They boasted a rather large selection of exotic bleu cheeses, priced by stink and mold. And if some establishments were proud of their humidors, imagine the blissed-out smirks of cheese mongers sealed in the Ramekin’s so-called Stinky Room. The Stinky Room was sealed air-tight–so as not to offend the “scents and sensibilities” of others.
Bret hated cheese. This was one of my favorite things about him. That he was a direct inverse of people who took themselves too seriously. But sometimes he took it too far.
One night a guy called him Frodo. “Where’s precious?” he had said, scruffing Bret’s hair, just to wipe his hand on his shirt, as if he’d touched something gross.
This didn’t sit too well with me. I blushed–felt kind of sick. And Bret became furious.
Who knew you could get a ticket for an incident involving cheese? Or, even worse, go to jail for it? We left the Ramekin that night with a warning and a $100 fine. Which Bret only shredded and tossed in the cop’s face when he threatened to call his mother.
He decided to seek therapy after that. Based on a recommendation from the judge who slapped his wrist with a warning and 36 hours of community service. I went with him.
Bret’s psychoanalyst, Dr. Twente, was also on the side of small, physically. Which made it easier for Bret to let go. He was Dutch and into the original Star Trek with Leonard Nemoy as Spock. His exotic potted plant collection was enviable, if not intimidating although the air was always fresh in his office. But it was during these sessions–among the Kaleidoscope Orchids, Elephant Ears and Zebra Stripes–that we realized Napoleon complexes were very real. It didn’t help that Bret’s job put him in such a subordinate place with direct exposure to the patronizing demands of others.
Bret’s therapist didn’t believe in medication unless it was absolutely necessary. He thought it best to neutralize complexes brought by being called names like Tiny Tim, and scunt–the combination of both scab and runt. Both of which were pretty derogatory. But then there was his issue of having never having known his dad. Although his mom swears she’d had good taste in men at the time.
After weeks of council, through the professional recommendation of Bret’s therapist, we decided to get an emotional-support animal. Something tall to proxy swagger. We considered a Great Dane. A Pyrenees. I suggested an Irish Wolfhound based on their friendly faces and big feet. But Bret said he didn’t like dogs. Something about a traumatic incident in his youth..
“Dogs stink,” I said.
“Hey,” he said. Locking my eyes with a look that made my pulse really obvious.
I was pretty much done for the day whenever he made my cheeks flush like that.
Bret’s first emotional-support animal was a 16-feet tall giraffe named Lucy.
It sounds crazy but the fun didn’t last for long. After smacking her head on multiple stoplights in our rented convertible, we decided to take Lucy back to the wildlife sanctuary upstate where we found her. I mean, borrowed confidence is one thing but brain damage is pretty serious–especially when your brain’s the size of a small baked potato.
We found Patrick a few weeks later at GWAR concert. Long story short, we met a guy covered head-to-toe in 10-feet of anaconda who said his pet was eating him out of house and home. That he bought him when he was small when that movie about snakes and planes was all the rage.
When enough time had passed where the cheese incident had been pretty much forgotten. Patrick made his debut at the Glass Ramekin. Right on time for their weekly karaoke competition.
Bret was a sight walking in that night. 10 feet of Patrick’s slick anaconda body wrapped around his shoulders and neck like some glorious winter shawl. The part of Patrick that wouldn’t fit on his tiny body, we gathered and coiled into a borrowed wagon that I pulled behind him.
You should’ve seen the way the room parted to let us get by to the bar. “What can I get for The Big Man tonight?” The bartender said–kind of nervously. Bret ordered two beers filled to the brim with ice-cold deliciousness. Hungry? He said, thumbing the menu of appetizers. Then I touched his cheek feeling sort of emotional. “You have something on your face,” I said.
This is when Patrick started to squeeze–his forked tongue smelling the air nonstop. Someone beside us said, “oh shit” watching the whole thing through his cell phone. This is when Bret announced that it was “dinner time,” pulling a limp white rabbit out of his backpack like a professional magician. Some people (with really weak stomachs) left after Bret handed Patrick his dinner to squeeze and swallow whole. But to me it felt like I had a front row seat in a National Geographic documentary. Patrick was good as new after that. I patted his bulge and said “good snake” and we ordered some nachos.
Eventually it was Bret’s turn to take the mike at karaoke. He’d threatened previously to impress me with the greatest hits of Disney. But when he stepped to the mike he looked like some bizarro reincarnation of every shirtless frontman ever. I mean knew Bret was a talented guy. His poetry always made me feel horny and dumb after I read it–but this! This was a hidden talent of which I had no idea that he possessed. Standing there, not even flinching under what had to be the massive weight of Patrick, he hit every note which he sang to me–and me only. I’m not gonna lie–I literally melted.
When the song was over, Bret received a standing ovation from the crowd–which included a couple loose-looking women, with purple eye make-up. They asked if they could pet his snake. But Bret just ignored those people gesturing instead a “come here” motion with his one free finger.
The ladies stood aside as I walked to Bret, gliding by a wave of slow clap of murmurs, hands patting my back saying “go get your man,” and “lucky duck.”
I hefted past mounds and found Bret’s lips – and I have to say – the stars shine twice as bright when you’re right beside them.
As Bret prepared for his next song, he handed Patrick to a red-faced emcee who looked pretty hilarious buckled at the knees. “Sorry,” said Bret into the mike, “I need a stretch before this next one.” Patrick seemed pretty happy to sit there, his forked tongue smelling the air like some angry whiplash.
Sabra Embury‘s writing has appeared in the Believer, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Fanzine, Everyday Genius, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere. She lives Brooklyn.
Image via Creative Commons