>>> The Rollercoaster of Drama
By staff writer Simonne Cullen

June 24, 2007

Probably the holiday that my mom and I look forward to the least is Father’s Day. It’s not because I don’t have a great dad—I do. He’s helped me move in and out of countless dorm rooms and apartments, he sets up my air conditioner in the summer, and he makes sure that I always have enough windshield wiper fluid in my car. But my dad also has one vice that no one in the entire family can stand… and that is his love of “All-You-Can-Eat” Chinese buffets. And every year on Father’s Day he’s allowed to gorge himself there without any complaint from either my mother or me.

Not only can we not verbally complain, but there cannot be any eye rolls, muffled groans, muttering how there seems to be a lack of stray cats in the area, or only getting one plate. And I don’t know what more disconcerting: the fact that somewhere along the lines I agreed to these stipulations out of love for my dad, or the fact that my mom offered to fly us to Vegas for the day to eat at a real buffet on the strip and my father declined because he claimed that a 3-hour plane ride was too long of a wait for orange marinated duck (aka a combination of dog food and kitten meat).

“For as long as I remember there was always the red Jell-O that would leak onto the beef and broccoli tray.”

I can’t tell you what my early memories of the Chinese buffets are; I’ve almost managed to wipe them out completely. All I can remember is mom stopping at Walgreens on the way home to stock up on Tums and possibly a difibulator in case the twenty pounds of MSG my dad consumed stopped his heart. Other than that it’s all a haze of fried egg rolls, wonton soup, giant snow crab legs, red Jell-O, and tears.

My mom and I have a system now. We sit on one side of the table, my dad on the other. Partly because he gets up so frequently to refill his plate, but mostly because during the meal he is letting out brutally silent but deadly farts. The first year, when my mom didn’t know any better, she kept sniffing her plate to make sure she wasn’t eating rank food. Finally, after ten minutes my dad admitted that he was the originator of the foul order, but that still didn’t make the meal any more reassuring.

It’s not that I mind the actual buffet—it’s not even the unsupervised children running rampant with their balloon animals, or even the two construction workers who have not so subtly unbuttoned their pants and let the zipper down to make more room for food. What makes me want to just give up all consideration for my father and promptly leave is the 400-pound guy, with sweat pools on his shirt under his man-titties frantically screaming at the terrified 90-pound Chinese waiter, “WHERE ARE THE PLATES?! WHERE ARE THE PLATES?!!” when all the tableware is right in front him—he just couldn’t see it beyond his stomach.

If you’ve had the distinct pleasure and privilege of never eating at a Chinese buffet, allow me to break down the elements for you. There are at least three buffet lines. One filled with Chinese food you’d normally see at a Panda Express, the second containing Chinese soup and salad like you would normally find at your grocery store, and the third an array of random entrees you’d find at Kentucky Fried Chicken. For as long as I remember there was always the red Jell-O that would leak onto the beef and broccoli tray, but since when was corn-on-the-cob or buffalo wings an authentic Chinese dish?

Recently this year there has been a new addition to the restaurant. That’s right, a fourth buffet line… containing sushi. I stood back from it a good three feet, and watched as some small children reached for some—it’s really a poor reflection of their education when they can’t even recognize that salmon is supposed to be the color salmon and not a cloudy gray. Might as well have called it the E-coli dump. Right this way, fill up your plate with a dragon roll, then take a ride to the hospital, we offer free complimentary ambulance service. I’m just kidding. The ambulance is an additional charge.

Now I’ll admit a seafood buffet sounds appealing. And I’ve gorged myself on three plates of cocktail shrimp before, but it was in Vegas at a legitimate hotel’s buffet on the strip, and we were all very drunk and fabulous with our Brut champagne and shrimp cocktail. But these shrimp were under heat lamps, and I convinced a 5-year-old boy that the small lumps on the bottom of the tray were the shrimp’s eyeballs, and that if eaten it would put hair on his chest over night like a monkey. He ran away crying, but I’d like to think I saved his life.

Obviously there is a giant appeal for this kind of place. There’s one right by my apartment and it’s always packed. I couldn’t even tell you how much it costs per person because I refuse to pay for this form of torture, but they’re packing them in paying god knows how much for Ramen Noodles and chicken nuggets with a side of blue cheese dressing and banana bread with a spoonful of green tea ice cream, and nachos. And still every year we do it for you, dad. That’s unconditional love right there.