Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In my ten years in New York City, I have seen many things: A cab burst into flames on 3rd Avenue, a man urinate on the side of a building in midtown in broad daylight and of course, the naked cowboy. But, I have never seen a rodent scamper across the floor of a restaurant first hand. Sure I have seen the news reports, watched the video of the mice which took residence at the Taco Bell in the Village, but nothing prepares you to see it with your own eyes.
We were in Philadelphia for a baby shower last week. “You don’t have to come to the shower and watch Marta open the breast pump and pacifiers.” I ensured M his presence was neither needed nor wanted at that event. “We will go out to dinner after with your friends on Saturday. Friday night I made some plans to have dinner with my brother and his wife. We will make a nice weekend out of it.” With the promise of a breast pump-free weekend, M gladly boarded the Amtrak train to Philly Friday afternoon.
My brother and sister-in-law had been eager to try a new Chinese restaurant that opened just down the block from their house in Society Hill. Being billed as “less greasy, more healthy” Chinese, Matt didn’t flinch when they suggested the restaurant. We entered the subterranean restaurant making our way down a full flight of stairs on Walnut Street to enter a surprisingly quaint and cute restaurant that was bustling with diners. Midway through a course of spring rolls and Wonton soup, something caught the corner of my eye. “Oh fuck, did you see that,” I said as I jumped onto the seat, trying to crouch down and not be so obvious.
“No. What? What are you looking at?” M said swinging his neck back and forth like he was watching a tennis match.
Rachel, my sister-in-law shrieked, jumping from her seat across from me and nearly standing upright on her chair. “I just saw it! There is a mouse.” She pointed to the corner of the room, right next to the swinging door that led to a kitchen. My brother seemed completely unbothered as he lifted his bowl of soup to his lips to drink the remaining contents at the bottom. “Every restaurant has mice. So what? Soup is good.” He reached for the remnants of Rachel’s spring roll. “You going to finish that? Guess not?” he said as he shoved the end into his mouth but not before he drenched it in a covering of duck sauce.
M tried to talk me off the chair. “Get down from there. You are a making a fool of yourself,” he said in a voice which attempted to be a whisper but was more of a shout. While we debated whether we should leave, tell the manager, or if my brother had his way – ask for more free food or tell them we are food critics from the paper, we heard the waitress’s loud blood curdling scream followed by a crash which came from the kitchen. The manager, who had been sitting quietly at a high-top table in the bar area, dropped the newspaper he was reading and rushed into the kitchen. Two seconds later, he came back for the paper, rolling it into a makeshift club and scurried back to the kitchen again. Over Olivia Newton John’s rendition of “Let’s Get Physical” which played softly from the surround-sound speakers, you could quite clearly hear the sound of newspaper slapping and more screams.
Slap. Whack. Slap.
The manager reemerged from the kitchen carrying the balled-up newspaper which I swear had something still moving in it, and went out the front door.
“I am NOT eating the chicken here,” I said.
The next night, M had sworn off Chinese forever. “Not only is it disgusting, greasy and smelly, but ALL Chinese restaurants are infested with rats.” It wasn’t worth arguing with him and I feared that after last night’s debacle, I was never going to be able to convince M to go out for Chinese ever again. “Well tonight we are going out for French food so no sesame oil and no mice.”
Oh, promises in vain.
After we finished the mussels and fries. After we downed two bottles of red wine. After we laughed with our friends who we hadn’t seen since the wedding. After we sampled the cheese platter. After the dishes were cleared and the restaurant quiet, and right as the waiter delivered the bill to the table – a mouse scampered across the floor.
I bellowed. Kate yelped. I resumed my position on top of the chair. M sunk his head in both embarrassment and disgust.
“We are two for two,” I said to M. “Two nights in Philly and two rodent sightings. How is it that I have managed to live in New York for ten years, in a city that has garbage rotting on the streets, a city that sometimes smells like dead rats, and I have never been at a restaurant when a mouse brazenly dashed around?”
“Don’t know,” M said as he signed the credit card slip. “Maybe the mice in NYC are smarter. Maybe in the City of Brotherly Love the mice think that slogan pertains to them too.”
Have you ever been at a NYC restaurant or Upper East Side restaurant and encountered a mouse?
Posted by Carrie Gross Pestronk at 11:11 AM