Dear Giuseppi (or was it Giovanni?):
We were enchanted by your Italian restaurant in lower Manhattan last weekend. The view over the harbor was impeccable; the rain held offshore and we ate quite contentedly al fresco on your brick patio.
We are writing you, first and foremost, to apologize for the linen napkins. I know that to be a restaurateur is to live on a knife’s edge–so many restaurants are closing these days–and even something simple as the theft of a few napkins can peck at your already low margins. But after you read why we needed them, and what those napkins lived through, you will surely agree that the only honorable course of action was to dispose of them as discreetly and determinedly as possible.
The problem, you see, was our son. Surely you noticed what a playful and serene boy he was throughout the evening. Your attentive waiter even seemed charmed by him–who wouldn’t be by a toddler who tells you in his wobbly voice, apropos of nothing, “I cute”? He ate well, working the bolognese and muffuletta with a zeal that would have made any nonna proud.
What neither you nor we could have guessed from his continuously pleasant demeanor was what godless carnage was brewing, shall we say, below the diaper line. As it happened, the midsummer breeze bent away from our table, so we could not smell the brimstone even after it arrived. And again, his face–what kind of poker-faced devil grabbed hold of this child?–betrayed nothing of the colonic calamity that was to bring our pleasant dinner to such a shameful end.
To be perfectly mechanical about it, the boy was strapped snugly in a high chair three feet of the ground. How he managed to expel all that polpo out of his vongole with enough force that it actually pooled on the patio a foot to the side of his chair is a scatalogical marvel. I cannot take credit for this talent, if we can call it that, because I have no experience with it. He must have gotten it from his mother’s side: indeed, his mother returned from a recent trip to California having been given a bag of dried wakame by her own father, who told her solemnly that it was the best way to cleanse one’s bowels.
Whether anyone had been supplementing the boy’s diet with wakame is a question that I will leave aside for now. All I know is that when we, bellies heavy with butter-based sauces and caraffas of chianti, sought to leave, we went to retrieve the boy from the white plastic high chair. Parts of him that should have been dry were instead quite wet.
We hesitate to admit to you–a man of obvious taste and standing–that we were not at all perturbed when we reached for the high chair buckle and felt that the boy’s shorts were wet. Without a visual inspection,we naturally assumed it was just urine. As shameful as this is to say, we have grown quite comfortable with urine. We are peed on with regularity, and each morning we lift a urine-soaked boy out of bed. It is only through the grace of habit that we even bother to wash our hands afterward. We are parents of young children, survivors of the exploding horrors of childbirth, inured to mucus and meconium alike. Urine gives us no pause.
You know by now–likely you knew just moments after we fled your restaurant with a naked baby and three horribly soiled linen napkins–that the dampness we felt was not urine. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t what you think it was either. Because no living creature could create something that vile. It would have no purpose in nature. no category under Darwin. So I am content to think it was some prankster’s concoction, a tincture of wolfsbane, sulfur and brown dye #70 meant to hound us from your lovely establishment forever.
We are afraid it worked. Even though we scrubbed those bricks of your patio quickly and desperately and cleaned off the highchair with the last of our wipes, you surely have not forgiven us. Those linen napkins were high-quality and surprisingly absorbent, but that mattered not. Your waitstaff may not have noticed our ministrations while we there, but when they moved in to change the tablecloth and prep the table for the next diners, there would have been no escaping the awful truth of what had transpired.
We can only picture what happened next. A gathering odor that forced diners to leave, a failed health inspection, a court-ordered burn of all the furniture on that patio. We imagine you there, tearing off your apron and throwing it onto the fire in disgust, while your angriest son, a man already, ripped out the offended bricks from the patio and heaved them into the East River. Your wife did her best to remember a Calabrian curse, which she muttered darkly as the flames licked at the roofline of the building. We had our meal there only three days ago, but we are quite certain that your restaurant is no more, and that it is our fault.
For this, we apologize heartfully. If it is any consolation for the loss of your business and all of your dreams, our son’s bowel movements have since returned to normal.
Con l’occasione porgo distinti saluti.