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Burger du Jour
by Doug Dawson

Hi, Doc. How am I doing? Everybody asks you that nowadays and it almost sounds like a challenge and something one had better give the current response to, or else one is in trouble. (pause) What do I mean by that? Give you an example: came home from work yesterday and this guy shows up at my front door wearing the uniform, I call it. You know, baseball cap and some sort of Verizon, PEPCO, BGE, Xfinity, T-Mobile, Mint Mobile, Alibaba, Apple or some other company outfit and the second I see him I roll my eyes, thinking ‘just what I need, another salesman’ and I flinch as I wait for the inevitable ‘How are you?’ I open the door – which was a mistake, by the way – and he asks me the inevitable ‘How are you?’ at which point I just say ‘I don’t have to answer any questions,’ and he says ‘Have a nice day’ and runs off. I didn’t give him the right answer, see? I didn’t follow the script.”

Now what’s wrong with people asking how are you?” posed the doctor. “That the normal way to open a conversation.

I’m just sick of it,” say I. “And nobody cares how you are – they just want your money. Every telemarketer who pesters you on the phone starts off that way, so if you ever, ever pick up the phone and the person on the other end of the line asks ‘how are you?’ that’s your cue to hang up, unless you want to waste your time on these pests.”

“Ok, now that we’ve settled that,” said the therapist, why are we here today? Usually, you have something a little more substantial to tell me.”

Oh, it’s substantial you want. I’ll give you substantial; it’s my Uncle Philbin, now he was substantial.”

How was he substantial?”

“He substantially disrupted me, my family, two policemen and in effect, the whole neighborhood.”

And how did he do that?”

Well, suffice it to say he’d stand on the front porch and make loud noises – loud enough to disrupt the neighbors and bring the police.”

What sort of noises?”

“Let’s just say we call him ‘the grizzly bear’ and leave it at that.”

Okay, we’ll leave it at that, but it sounds like something is still bothering you – what is it?”

Maybe it’s just my life; I’m worn out – taking care of my parents and my family, dealing with the grizzly bear and I’m still not over him.”

“How are you not over him?”

It’s his dumb stories. I listened to them all and even believed a lot of them until I realized their all, as the British might put it, a load of rubbish. They’re so dumb – especially the last one.”

“Can you tell it to me? Maybe after I’ve heard it, I’ll understand why this uncle and his stories are unsettling you.”

“Okay, it goes like this: One night the kids were in bed and my wife turned in early. It’s just me and Uncle Philbin, each of us having a beer and watching TV. All at once he gets up, turns off the Telly – am I sounding British now? – and says to me: I got to tell you a story.’ Now I didn’t care too much for what was on the TV anyway, so I says to him, ‘all right – let’s hear your story’ and the way Uncle Philbin tells it, it goes like this.”

“One time I was driving way out west, when I was a younger man, that is. I was still with my wife back then and our daughter was living away at college. So, we’re on this trip and we’re both hungry, so we stop in this little diner type place – Joe’s Diner, I think it was and now that I think of it, I’m sure that’s what it was. We sache in, in a manner of speaking, we see a booth, we plop ourselves down in said booth, the waitress sees us, she brings us the menu and no, it’s nothing like “Five Easy Pieces,” with Jack Nicholson ordering what’s not on the menu, telling the waitress to hold everything else and then throwing a tantrum when he doesn’t get what wasn’t on the menu in the first place. I mean we cast a stern eye at this bill of fare in this out-of-the-way place, not expecting continental, exotic, world-class offerings, but the menu – the menu, I say again - was something else, something we didn’t expect in a joint like this. Now the food here is no doubt mundane, run-of-the-mill, quotidian, hum-drum, work-a-day … to call it ordinary is giving it …”

Okay,” said the therapist. “I understand - the menu is very plain.”

No, doc – you’re talking about the food – that’s pretty plain, but I’m talking menu here and get a load of this: it’s divided into two parts; the one side says “A La Cate Dining,” like you are in a five-star eatery, and let’s make that The Brass Rail in downtown Manhattan. And the other side of the menu says – drum roll – “Du Jour Menu” – hey, you aren’t laughing – what’s wrong? So, let’s get to the food and once again we are talking plain and ordinary here: the “A La Carte” menu lists your basic sandwiches – your ham and cheese, your basic club sandwich - complete with toothpicks to hold the pieces together, your grilled Rueben on rye, your basic chili – with the possibility of cheese, no less, your basic grilled cheese, with your choice of white or wheat bread and then there’s your desserts menu, which consists of your basic lemon or apple pie and your choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, with the possibility of nuts and a cherry on top.”

I didn’t know that along with a discussion of a very odd uncle and his motor trip out West, I’d be treated to a listing of the entire menu of Joe’s Diner. It’s making me hungry – maybe we should end this session early and go out to lunch.”

“Sounds like a plan, doc but you haven’t heard the best part. And here it comes, the jewel in their crown, their magnum opus, their claim to fame, their tour-de-force, their piece-of-resistance: Ta da! It’s on the “Du Jour” side of the menu and it’s the Burger du Jour!” Ever heard of that?”

“Can’t say as I have. I’ve heard of soup du jour ...”

“Of course you have, doc - you’re a man of the world, a boulevardier, a bon vivant, a sophisticate, a cosmopolitan, a flaneur, a ….”

“You and your big words. Quit showing off your vocabulary and say what you have to say and be done with it, will you?”

“Will I? You bet I will and back to my uncle’s story and he put it like this.”

“First, let me mention that there are not one, not two but several Du Jour items you can get here – the place is a veritable Horn of Plenty. There’s the Burger Du Jour, the Soup du Jour and now for the topper – the Jell-O du Jour. You’re still not laughing doc – this a bad day or something? Let’s briefly revisit the Burger du Jour. As the waitress explained it to me, it’s a plain burger with lettuce, tomato, and the usual doses of salt, pepper and a little fancy ketchup. Now what makes it “du Jour,” you’re no doubt wonder? Well, every day when Joe goes to the market to buy his hamburger meat, he gets something a little different: one day it’s ground chuck, the next day ground beef, the next day it’s sirloin, the next day the meat is prime rib and so on.

“The waitress explained the “Burger de Jour concept as follows” We not only use different meat every day, by Joe flavors it a little differently: one day he puts a little Lowry salt in for flavor, the next day a little lemon juice, the next day some paprika and other herbs and the next day something else, so you never know exactly what it will be. Whatever he puts in it, it’s subtle, but it’s there. People who order our Burger du Jour seem to like the surprise, the change, the magic, if you will, so that’s why we keep it on the menu. I asked about the soups du Jour and was told they are Campbell’s Chunky canned soups – no homemade soups here. And as for the Jell-O du Jour – what is there to say? It’s just your standard packet of Wal-Mart’s own brand, their Great Value Jell-O mix, but a different flavor every day, so you never know what you’re going to get.

Before I leave this subject, which is no doubt making you hungrier ever minute, let me mention one more thing from the “A La Carte Dining” menu – it’s Joe’s selection of burgers. There’s your “Plain-As-Day Burger” – just a patty on a bun – you add your own salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard or whatever you want. Then there is the “Chili-On-Top-Burger,” a patty with a smattering of chili on top, and it’s their own special recipe – with their own ‘secret sauce,’ mind you. They have a very nice “Vegetable Medley Burger,” with lettuce, tomato, onions, mushrooms and a few sprigs of parsley on top, with a twist of lemon – minus the rind - mixed in there somewhere. Lest you think we’re running out of options, there is the “Oktober Fest Burger,” and that is the spelling they use and made with beer for flavoring. They even have a delectable-sounding Steak-Burger,” which is a small Delmonico steak on a bun, and it’s topped with A1 steak sauce. There is also Joe’s Triple Cheese Burger, with Swiss, American and another cheese he chooses. If you think you’ve heard them all, think again: if you’re really hungry there is the house special, the “Joe’s Diner Burger Special;” 18 ounces of meat, and it’s so big the burger hangs over the sides of the extra-large Kaiser roll. Not only that, it’s got Thousand Island dressing, chopped onions, chopped mushrooms a large slice of “killer tomato” and an optional slice of extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

“When we were finished eating Joe came over to see if we liked the food. I said “food’s great, Joe, but I never expected to see terns like “a la carte” and “du Jour” on a diner’s menu.”

Oh, that was my idea,” said Joe, proudly. You see my mom came from people with money and she was used to dining in fine restaurants and took me to places like that, so I got used to that terminology. I wanted to go to Paris and study French cooking when I grew up, but the way things worked out I married young, started having kids and had to go to work right away, so with a little help from my folks I opened this place and I’ve been here ever since.

Well, maybe you didn’t make it to Paris, but you serve good food and you’ve managed to give a little Old World, European flavor to this place, the way you set up the menu – and I like the idea of a different burger every time - always a surprise.”

“Joe thanked me for the kind words about his menu and we walked out, never to return.”

“Ok,” the doctor said. “All right, but some of those offerings sound like nonsense and I get it that Joe’s Diner has a good selection of burgers. But did the menu really say “Burger du Jour?”

According to Uncle Philbin, it sure did and you can call things du Jour and A La Carte if you know what you’re doing, if you know what you’re talking about, if you’re on top of things, if …”

“If, if, if – you’re babbling again - just listening to yourself talk.”

How dare you? Just kidding, doc. You see, it’s when somebody who doesn’t know what he’s talking about does this stuff – you know, the du Jour thing, that he gets himself in trouble. It’s the pretension of this place that got to me. It’s really kind of a masterpiece of a misnomer - I mean who in the world ever heard of a ‘Burger du Jour? That’s like ordering a glass of water du Jour, like which brand of bottled water do you have? Sounds as stupid as banana du Jour. It’s brilliant, actually - kind of like something Mrs. Malaprop might have said out loud.

“I remember that name – it’s from a play and you were about to quote it, right?”

I was, but how did you know that?”

It doesn’t require a Sherlock Holmes – remember him? You work in every big word and every quote you’ve ever wrapped your head around, so whenever I hear a proper noun, I know there’s a quote from a book, a play, a movie or a song or else there’s another little story coming.”

“Guilty as changed. But Uncle Philbin gets in the last word. After he told me that story about Joe’s Diner, he said to me “No more places that think they’re fancy or continental, or whatever they think they are. From now on, when I’m in the middle of nowhere I’m going to stick to places that just say “EAT” or “FOOD” or “REST STOP.” Now I’m done.”

“Good story, and it was nice of Uncle Philbin not to let Joe think his menu was silly – might’ve let the air out his tires, so to speak. Now take two aspirins and call me in the morning … (long pause) … just kidding. I almost forgot about the basic thing that seems to be bothering you, the reason you started coming to me – you still haven’t spelled it out. Can you do that now?”

“I think I’m just worn out, doc. A lifetime of taking care of people – first my parents, then my family and then Uncle Philbin. He’s gone, but the after-effects of his presence and his nonsense are still with me.”

“From what you told me it sounds like he more or less took care of himself – you know, pulled his own weight and so forth.”

“It was the weirdness, doc – it wears on you. I was already worn out, then he shows up with his sob story about having no place to go, so we took him in and then it was the cops and the neighbors after us and then there was this horrible belch in my house – I can’t take it anymore.”

Forget the two aspirin, I’m writing you a prescription for something that I think will calm your nerves. I want you to take some time off, if you can, get this prescription filled, take two of them every day and call me in two weeks and let me know how you’re doing. One more thing.”

“What’s that.”

“Better keep away from Uncle Philbin – I don’t care how good his stories are.”