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With all the Christmas cards and packages at this time of year it always takes them longer to sort the mail over at the post office, so over at the Mainly Eatable Diner we have more time to chew the fat and talk about the important issues of the day.
On this particular morning the hot topics were “clam chowder” and “digital TV.” There’s just no telling from one day to the next what the topics will get us going.
Palmer Hart, a local woodland owner, got us onto the topic of chowder when someone asked him how his recent trip went. First, you have to understand that Palmer is not what you’d call a world traveler. In the last 10-15 years he’s only left the state a half-dozen times and even then, it’s likely he didn’t get further than New Hampshire or Vermont.
Anyway, before he could launch into his story about his trip, he had to tell those of us who weren’t up to date that he went south to attend a conference on woodlot management.
Surprised that Palmer would venture so far outside Maine, Elmer Tibbett’s piped up and asked: “How far south did they make you go, Palmer? Washington, Atlanta? Miami?”
Turns out the conference was in Providence, which is about as far south as Palmer’s ever been and is ever likely to go.
Palmer said he liked Providence well enough and was surprised to see that it was even bigger than Portland.
He said the only real trouble he had was in the restaurants. He always has trouble in restaurants with food items he’s never heard of and can’t pronounce. And in a place like Providence, all the people talk so fast and so funny you can’t understand a word they’re saying anyway.
Palmer said he always remembered the worldly advice of Tink Billings: “Never order the soup du jour, because you never know from one day to the next what it’s going to be.” Nevertheless, he still had with some restaurants.
He said one day he went into the hotel restaurant and ordered a bowl of clam chowder for lunch. Simple, right?
Well, a few minutes later, the server plunked down in front of me a steaming bowl of something - but it definitely wasn’t clam chowder.
Before I could say anything she was out of there like a shot. You know how fast those big city waitresses are. We all nodded.
Course, not knowing what it was I didn’t dare touch it. Finally she’s back to ask if “everything was all right.” I said “it’s not all right from where I sit.”
“What’s the problem?” She asked.
I said, “I don’t know what’s in this bowl you brought me, but there’s definitely something in there that’s injured and appears to be hemorrhaging.”
Palmer began chuckling and then said: “Turns out, it wasn’t that at all. Down there in Providence, they intentionally put tomato sauce in their clam chowder instead of milk, like you’re supposed to. Then, they call it Manhattan clam chowder just to deflect the blame, I guess.”
No wanting to start arguing over the merits of one or the other – red vs. white - we all just sat there nodding, hoping someone would change the subject.
Finally, Hollis Watts broke the silence by asking if we’d bought our digital TVs, to be ready for the big changeover in February.
Harold Hupper piped up and said he thought the whole thing was a government plot to get everyone signed up with cable. He said he applied for a ‘converter’ coupon the government’s giving out but they wanted much more personal information than he thought the transaction deserved so he’s planning to go without his TV for a while and will be listening to more radio.
At that point we all got up to go but figured we’d be hearing more from Harold about the government’s digital-converter conspiracy.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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