Tallahassee, Florida – 1986-87
I don’t know whose idea it was, but somehow I was given the task of preparing dinner for our at-home double date with my roommate David and two sisters (who shall remain nameless) from the church I was attending. Well, I suppose the correct term is at-APARTMENT double date.
My date was someone I had been harboring feelings for since we started college as freshmen together in 1985. She attended Florida State University while I attended Florida A&M, a half-hour walk away. David’s date was one of the sexier girls from FAMU who had recently joined the church (I know. “Sexier” is an inappropriate choice of words, but hey, I knew her BEFORE she started attending). I know I had no business thinking of her like that, but as they say, “fact is…”.
Our apartment consisted of four roommates, two to a room. Not being much of a cook at the time, I asked Herb, our unbelievably amazing chef, to prepare the meal for us. Herb’s cooking was so incredible that people often drove to our apartment after church services to enjoy his culinary talent. I often joked that if I ever gave up on women, he’d be The One.
Unfortunately, I was reminded that a vital part of the Christian dine-at-home dating process was “putting in your own work”. This is one of the ways you asserted yourself as a potential leader.
Waitaminute. How in the world did I end up with the responsibility of cooking? What was David’s job? Had I volunteered to cook when asking my date out to convince her to go out with me and/or impress her? My memory fails me, but I guess it doesn’t matter now…
Again, not being much of a cook in college (and bereft of nearby parents to help with any problem-solving issues, all the while having had zero practice in the dorms), I decided to keep it simple. I knew a good deal of basic recipes, but I didn’t want to put a whole lot of time and effort into it. I had already planned to serenade the ladies on soprano sax as I had done a year prior in our living room with another church sister. Thus, in my hubris, I figured that my “surprise concert” would win the night no matter what happened during the meal.
Fast forward to date night.
Once everyone gathered around the small apartment table, David blessed the food (which is about all that he did) after we pulled and slid our dates’ chairs in to set the chivalric tone.
I served a homemade salad, prior to the meal, which they enjoyed very much. They both expressed their excitement about what was coming next because it “smelled delicious”, but wasn’t what they thought it would be. Somewhere along the way, they got it in their head, or someone told them, that I was making smothered porch chops.
Lesson #1: NEVER make a date promise you can’t keep.
At the time that they agreed to go out ( dine in) with us, I had teased their palates, promising to surprise them with a special, home-cooked meal. THEY automatically assumed it would be something spectacular. Well, truth be told, I suppose I DID mislead them just a tad.
When they saw the main entrée I had prepared with the cornbread and steamed broccoli, stunned looks quickly covered their faces.
My Chef’s surprise? Something simple: Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni!!
(Making it was easy enough. Nobody messes up Hamburger Helper, right?)
It’s the “Jesus” in them that forced them to smile reluctantly, yet politely.
Each one took a forkful and both froze in mid-chew. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong with how I made it. In fact, the initial product was perfect. It was the creativity that did me in.
Lesson #2: NEVER deviate from the recipe.
You see, I added barbecue sauce to the pot (something we often did at home in East Chicago, growing up). An oddly abnormal amount.
And how did they like it? Let’s just say that it wasn’t something EITHER of the girls was used to, or found to be a welcome surprise.
I asked if they were alright and both of them simultaneously looked at me with that, “Kenny, I like you and I want to go to Heaven, so I’m not allowed to say that I want to spit this out on my plate and run all the way home screaming” face. I told them about my “secret ingredient” and they both smiled and reached for their drinks after forcefully swallowing my dish.
Lesson #3: NEVER introduce your personal preferences to the mix when it borders on insane.
Correction – Kool-Aid with Grape Crush pop. Another Davis habit. Oftentimes, we added pop (it’s not SODA) to the drink for an extra kick. If not Coca Cola, then something grape or strawberry. Probably something I’ll talk about when I write the book, “Games Ghetto Kids Play” which will include home recipes such as syrup sandwiches and sugar water.
Thankfully, neither of them spat their drinks out into the air, but BOTH of them quickly emptied their mouthfuls back into their glasses.
I never did get to the serenade.
All I could do was sit quietly in shame as we watched our PG-Rated VHS movie selection. They greedily scarfed down the Whataburger cheeseburgers and soft drinks that we ran down the street to pick up (they’d already been forced to eat cornbread and broccoli as their appetizers while they waited).
I sat quietly, off to the side, scooping in mouthfuls from my double-sized bowl of Hamburger Helper, hoping to silently prove that it was a tasty treat.
I’d be stupid to think that word hadn’t spread among the brothers and sisters at church about our, well MY, disastrous date.
In fact, I got my confirmation by the side-eyed smirks and head shakes of disapproval that I spotted throughout the congregation during Sunday morning service and fellowship.
If I had any lingering doubts, it would have been cemented by the brothers. All of whom looked on me with disapproval, as if they wanted to approach and offer me cooking lessons and Dating Do’s and Don’ts.
Of course, none of them were that daring. I was known as a “converted, yet struggling street thug” throughout the church’s college class community. People often avoided confronting me about any gossip-based allegations for fear that I would “smite” them for stepping to me wrong. Hey, to smite someone was biblical and I truly believed in practical application.
But it wouldn’t have been necessary for anyone to counsel me anyway because I never invited or agreed to host an in-house get-together or double date again. At least not with people from church. My heart couldn’t have handled anymore delicate rejection.
The moral of this food fiasco? Let me put it this way: Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Maybe I should have tried that. But then again, knowing me, I would have served raisin bread with icing and drowned a can of sardines in tartar sauce, hot sauce and mustard.
And that would have been…
…another Church Tale.
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