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Flash in the Pan

Size matters at the Symes Hotel



I dig a restaraunt that I can walk into dripping wet wearing my Brazilian Speedo. No shirt, no shoes: no problem. Hot Springs, Mont. USA. I spot the waitress on the other side of the crowded dining room. I walk over, drip drip.

“Can I order now” I asked, “before the kitchen closes. And then go get dressed, and then come back and eat?”

“No problem,” she said.

On the menu was fried trout for $13.50. It almost goes without saying...However, I had been eating smoked steelhead for two days straight—hooked and bonked by my buddy Pumpkin and smoked by ours truly. So at that moment, I was feeling saturated with salmonid. The Thai stir-fry chicken curry looked good. I wondered if they could make it sans chicken?

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m what they call a Menu Blackbelt. I study the menu, grill the waitress if necessary, and learn what I need to know in order to accomplish the objective: Order the best food possible. Ever-so-rarely at the table does anyone ace me by ordering something better.

I ordered the stir-fry curry. And so what if I wasn’t really wearing my Brazilian Speedo? I could have been, even though in truth I was dripping wet in my North American-style trunks.

On my way back to the pool, I snagged a plastic bag at the front desk. I gave the bag to Gimp, whose arm was in a cast, held constantly above water level. I still had time for a quick soak. Ah, the sulfur waters of Hot Springs, Mont. It’s reported to be the second-best water in the world for soaking, behind a resort in Germany that charges $50 an hour, they say. The designation “best” refers to the balance of minerals that soften the skin and heal your ailments, they say. All I know is, it smells like that old fart-heated tub we had growin’ up, but it left my skin smoother than an air hocky table. Gimp asked me to order him a stir-fry.

I dig a dining room you can walk into carrying your clothes. I ordered for Gimp and then went and got dressed. Back at the dining room for the third time, our soups arrived. It was beef and vegetable soup, savory with cabbage. Gimp’s bowl had approximately twice as much as mine. After my supply was exhausted, I realized that, sadly, Gimp’s soup was getting cold, so I decided to remove the upper, cooler layer, exposing the hot core of his soup, so his first bites would be hot and satisfying. When Gimp still didn’t show up, I removed another layer for him.

Def Girl appeared in front of my table, asking the waitress “Can I order something now, before the kitchen closes, and then go change?” The waitress nodded.

Then Def Girl began grilling the waitress with carefully-crafted questions, like Chef Boy Ari is supposed to do. “What do you have that’s big?” she said.

The waitress said “Well, I was going to recommend the stuffed portobello mushrooms because I usually tell people that they’re as big as my face. But we’re out of those, so I would go with the fried trout. It’s huge.”

Def Girl ordered trout, then went to the changing room. The stir-fry was rich with coconut, curry and peanut, satisfying to the core, and the vegetables were all cooked perfectly. Gimp’s stir-fry was about twice as big as mine, but Def Girl, wearing clothes now, was assisting to his left.

She didn’t have her hearing aid, having removed it for her soak, and she was talking like she was wearing a loud Walkman. Especially when her trout arrived.

True, it’s difficult to describe how big this piece of fish was without sounding preoccupied with let me talk about the flavor instead, flavor being a quality that can be qualified in ways far more subtle than the crude-yet-conveniently-quantifiable terms of measuring units.

It tasted exactly how you want fried trout to taste, with lemon. The flesh was warm, yet almost still-quivering in the thickest parts—that moment of inertia that is neither raw nor cooked. Wow. And it was big, which meant large samples were circulating the table. That’s when Vegan Chocolate Cake Fairy pranced into the dining room.

Next thing I know, she was slicing me a piece. “OK, so it’s vegan chocolate cake with one egg,” she said. “One egg. It’s gotta rise somehow for crap’s sake.” “No problem” I said. Truly, it wasn’t. Except, I wonder, what does egg have to do with rising?

“You should write about my cat, Chef Boy Ari” she added. “His name is Muffy Greypants.”

I nodded. Note to self.

Def Girl pointed to the bill. “Dude! Mine was only $1.50 more than yours—it’s practically the same price! No offense, but I got a big-ass piece of fish, and you had a stir-fry. That was a damn good piece of fish.”

Nobody denied it. It was a big-ass piece of fish.

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