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The Furious Sneeze
by G David Schwartz

At Maximillion's restaurant people are frequently heard to say, "That's a million." The food is excellent, and the patrons appreciative. Each have what the other wants, so it was fortuitous that the restaurant went into business and the people kept them in business.

The former had polite eating habits, did not throw food on the floor, were accustomed to wait for the meals -- they being worth waiting for -- without bickering with the waiters who, it should be noted, were in no way responsible for the surge of people who showed up every evening.

The waiters did, however, encourage this behavior by providing excellent service. The restaurant owners themselves ought to share part of the blame for the crowds because their portions -- aside from being delicious, which was part of what made them worth waiting for -- was also "too much," in the words of one regular and, in the words of a visiting guest from Indianapolis, "Surely, surly a great heaping gob of food, I'll tell you  that."  In short, the guests had money and the restaurant had food for sale and others to cook the food and clean the plates. Can one imagine a better business arrangement than that?

The one other thing Maximillion's had which was appreciated by the guests was atmosphere. Max Maximillion, founder, owner, C.E.O., and head-chef, retired but still active in decisions, prided himself on the atmosphere of Maximillion's. Marble columns supported, well, nothing really because the engineering codes required that girders and cross-beams be sufficient to keep the roof from falling in. Everything Max Maximillion did was strictly within the codes of the city, and his feeding of hungry police was nothing more than a courtesy he bestowed upon them because they were protectors of the city and the trust. Rather than a form of bribery, his feeding them was a form of keeping them from sinking into bribery, which was apparently successful inasmuch as no police officer was ever indicted for any wrong-doing, and the only thing any one of them every received which was not strictly their due was, once in a great while, a little unexpected gas. But fine food frequently bestowed this little gift to take home and share with the kids.

The atmosphere was, in a word, endearing. The room was large, over-large, really, painted an enchanting royal blue. Giftedly white designs, ornate but not ostentatious, occurred every four or five feet.  I say 'giftedly,' because white should not be so white in a restaurant. One expects pasta sauce to be accidentally flung when the struggle is over and the spaghetti surprisingly gives way. One expects wine to be splashed by over-happy celebrants. One expect white to be dull. But no! Max Maximillion established the policy of scrubbing all the walls every night, a habit which was not in the city ordinances, but which has stayed with the restaurant every since opening day.

The scenes depicted in splendidly white painting were accurately thin and detailed drawings of La Scala Opera House and the Cathedral in Milan, the market place in Verona, the Spanish stairs and Trinity Church in Rome, the Coliseum, St. Peter's Church, the monument to Anita Garibaldi, St. Mark's on the lagoon in Venice, the ruins of Pompeii, and the Pinte Vecchio in Florence, as well as four houses neatly place in the center of each wall. Max Maximillion, and afterwards his son Ben, were found of explaining that these houses were "My Aunt Leona's, my cousin Antonio, my great Uncle Paulo and, ahh, that... that is the house in which I was born. My house." Ben repeated these explanations word for word, even though he was born in Trenton, New Jersey.

Ahh, to quote Max Maximillion, how I loved that restaurant. I loved the food, the employees, most of whom I knew by their first name, and I loved the other people who ate there. How much I miss going to Maximillion's for an obligatory plate of pasta forced on me between my walk from the station house to the alleys of my beat. But, as Max would say with a shrug of  his shoulders, things happen, and what can we do once they do?

I was the unfortunate witness to the destruction of my beloved Maximillion's. It was unfortunate because, with all the authority of the law behind me, I was helpless to preserve the restaurant. I saw most of the scene which destroyed Maximillion's, and could only hold on to the gold banners which ran around the walls of the restaurant like some of the other lucky survivors were able. It all started when those two lovers came into the restaurant. He was a tall, thin gentleman, obviously feasting on more love than bread, very unlike myself. She was a delicate creature, short, but very attractive. She was demur. When they first sat down -- Max, an old romantic pointed them out to me -- he whispered something in her ear. She blushed. He turned away and emitted a gentle sneeze. "Ahh, look at them.  Look at them. Oh, to be young and in love." I agreed with Max.

Their wine was brought. Max gestured for the head-waiter to come to him. "I want to make that bottle of wine a gift to them. Don't tell them who did it or why, just don’t put it on their bill. Okay?  And look, if they are honest folks, and they complain to you that it was not added to their bill, give them their whole meals free. Tell them the management honors honesty and love." Max then nudged me in the ribs and said, "The more love the more honest, ehh, Frankie?" I laughed, but watched the two young people.

He had apparently toasted her. She blushed again. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. She dropped her head and he, appearing surprised, sneezed louder than previously.

"He's catching a cold?"  Max said.

They chatted amiably until their salad was brought. She ate slowly, selecting pieces from the anti-pasta. He grouped large amounts of lettuce and tomatoes, onion and provolone on his fork and shoved his mouth full. Between bites they shared lines of observation. She said something, he reached over to touch her cheek again, and she responded by laying her head into the palm of his hand.

"How endearing. How endearing!"  Max said excitedly. "Roberto. When they are finished eating, give their bill to me. I will take care of it. Oh, these young lovers are so precious. So precious."

The young man withdrew his hand and wiped his brow. As he did so, another sneeze occurred. This sneeze was terrible loud, so much so that Max and I heard it from the back of the restaurant.

"He's got to go see a doctor. He's got to take something for that cold."

"Yes," I agreed with Max.

After salad, their large table was filled to capacity with spaghetti, bread and butter. I stood watching them eat. He leaned close to her after his first bite and missed her cheek again. As he withdrew, he emitted a seismographic sneeze. It was so loud and humorous that I swore the table shook. "Ahh, you are imagining things, you old goat," Maximillion said.

The young lady looked worried now for the first time. She leaned close to him, offering a tissue she pulled from her handbag. He took the tissue and sneezed an uproarious sneeze which literally blew the dished around on the table. The young man cupped his fingers to his mouth. The young woman jumped to her feet, came behind him, and leaned over to make sure he was alright. He shook his head to indicate he was. Maximillion's eyes were as large as marbles. The young man sneezed once more, a sneeze so powerful it elongated his fingers by twice their normal length.

I turned to Max. "What the..."     The next sneeze blew open the doors which led to the kitchen behind us. Max was dumbfounded. He tried to speak, but no words came out of his moving mouth. "Good gracious God," I stammered.

His next sneeze was so potent it blew the doors behind us right off their hinges. Pots and pans went flying in the kitchen as the staff were dodging the plates and trays and customers who flew in there with the gust of wind. Immediately another sneeze occurred, a sneeze so omnipotent it pushed La Scala Opera house through Aunt Leona's house, right into the lagoon of Venice (which was now in Florence).

Max and I made our way toward the front of the restraint while holding onto the hand railing on the wall. There seemed to be a moment of respite, so our progress was good.  We were close enough to hear the terrified young woman talking with the dazzled young man. Their voices were only murmurs, but we knew a steady stream of conversation was occurring between the sneezes. We were nearly at their table when a cosmologically ontological sneeze blasted away the entire back side of the restaurant from whence we had come. Between the clattering uproar of cracking beams, shattering chandeliers and agonizing cries of fleeing patrons we heard the following conversation. 

He said, "Oh, Jenny, please, please excuse me."

She said, "Excuse you! You had better excuse me before you send me flying back to my ancestry."

So saying she turned abruptly and left the restaurant. Once gone, the young man felt better. His nose was no longer flanging and tickling, and his shoulders relaxed. He looked relieved, and was straightening his tie and Roberto approached.

Roberto handed him the silver tray with the itemized list of consumed goods. "On Mr. Maximillion himself," Roberto said.

"Thank you, my good man."

Max looked incredulous.

"Thank you, again. The food was delicious."

Then a worried crossed his brow. "But I have apparently lost the woman I love over this dreadful incident. What am I to do now?"

Roberto obediently stood by the young man's side waiting to be dismissed. A girder which had been groaning above our heads suddenly uttered its bleak cry of broken despair and tumbled to the floor. The table between Max and I and Roberto and the young man was slammed into oblivion.

The young man, seeming to have missed this flurry of devastation, asked again what he was to do, having absent-mindedly stuck his fork in the remains of his spaghetti, twirling his fork, and looking perplexed.

"What, oh, what am I to do now?" He raised the fork to his mouth, noticed it was full of food, and answered his own question:

"Ahh, chew."