He was indeed the fattest man who’d ever been in my section. The hostess wasn’t exaggerating. She’d asked me to bring a chair because he couldn’t squeeze into any of the booths, but looking at him, I worried he might need something sturdier. A love seat, perhaps. Or a baby elephant.
The fat man looked me up and down. “You must be new,” he said. I told him I’d been on the job three months. “Ah,” he said. “That’s about how long I was off my diet.”
I offered him a menu but he pushed it away. “I always get the Frito Pie here,” he said. “But I’m watching my weight these days, so I’d like you to do something special with it.”
I asked what he had in mind.
“Make it a double,” he said. “Double the chili. Double the Fritos. Double the cheese.”
A small pastry box sat on the table before him. He opened the lid with one hand and reached for a scone with the other. “These are irresistible,” he said, bringing the scone to his lips. I expected him to devour it all at once. Instead, he unrolled his napkin and laid the scone upon it. “Best saved for later.”
I took the fat man’s ticket to the kitchen and stepped outside for a cigarette. A double Frito Pie. The normal serving is a thousand-calorie gut-buster of steaming flatulence and heart failure. And here he wants it super-sized. The very idea made me nauseous. Or maybe it was the nicotine. I still wasn’t used to smoking. I’d picked up the habit only recently because the other servers said it would boost my metabolism.
By the time I went back inside the fat man’s order was ready. “It wouldn’t fit in a soup bowl,” the cook explained, lifting a Dutch oven up to the pass. A lump formed in my throat. As I reached for the clay handles, the cook grabbed my wrists.
“It’ll be over before you know it,” he said.
I took a deep breath. The cook crossed himself. Then I made my way through the dining room.
The fat man stood up as I approached his booth and motioned for me to join him. I slid onto one of the benches. He sat back down and scooted beside me. His chair whimpered. Our knees knocked beneath the table.
“That smell is intoxicating,” he said, luxuriating in the Frito Pie’s aroma. For several long moments he seemed to forget I was even there. I noticed he’d removed the silverware from the table. That’s never a good sign.
I grew fidgety and briefly considered running for the door, but my nerves drew the fat man’s attention. He fixed me with a ravenous, dreamy-eyed look and positioned the Dutch oven directly beneath my chin. Then, before I could say anything, he dunked me in. My nose and mouth were instantly clogged with ground beef and corn chips. It was difficult to breathe. I ate frantically so as not to drown. This did not please the fat man.
“Eat slower,” he insisted. “Chew each bite 20 times.”
He gently massaged my scalp as he steered my head this way and that. The cheese was starting to congeal around the contours of my face. Whenever I moved, it peeled away like latex.
“Shlurp,” the fat man demanded. “I want to hear you shlurp.”
I shlurped and swallowed, over and over, as loudly as I could. At one point chili juice went down the wrong pipe. I coughed it up, then shlurped and swallowed it right back down.
By then the fat man was applying pressure to the back of my head, signaling me to speed up, as if I were a horse and he were a rider digging his heels into my sides. Thankfully, the Frito Pie had broken down into mush. I inhaled what was left in less than a minute. Like shotgunning a beer.
I came up for air. The fat man was hyperventilating and twitching with excitement. Next thing I knew, he was standing over me, grunting, pulling my hair until my mouth turned skyward. He snagged the Dutch oven by one of its handles and hoisted it high in the air. “Toss it back,” he squealed, pouring the remaining scraps down my gullet. “Toss it back like a pelican.”
The rest is fuzzy. I remember lying slack-jawed in the booth for quite some time while the fat man flicked chunks of buttered scone into my mouth. Every so often he reached over with a napkin and delicately dabbed away the crumbs and saliva from my chin.
Eventually the fat man spoke up. “Pay at the register?” he asked. I must have told him yes, though I don’t recall doing so. He stuck a twenty in my shirt pocket as a tip and patted me on the back. “See you next week,” he said. And with that he was gone.
I passed out for a spell. How long, I’m not sure. I came to when the hostess tossed a glass of ice water in my face.
“You all right?” she asked.
A clock on the wall said 9:40. My shift wasn’t scheduled to end for more than an hour. I needed to throw up and change into a clean shirt, but I couldn’t muster the energy for either.
“Are you all right?” the hostess repeated.
I told her I was fine, that I just needed a few minutes to pull myself together.
“Well, whenever you’re ready, there’s a diabetic at table five who wants one of everything on the dessert cart.”