There were three of them, sitting at the end of our table at Benihana, the Fungus-Fearers.
Oh, that isn’t what they called themselves, of course. It’s what I called them in my head.
In reality, they simply looked at their bowls of mushroom soup and elected their pumps-and-pearls wearing spokeswoman to speak for them, her prissy voice pushed from her pursed lips as if she resented having to speak of such things.
“We neglected to inform you earlier,” she said, her tone haughty, disdainful, “but we – none of us – do not care – for mushrooms.”
The chef, an affable local man who had engaged the other five of us – my husband and our friend, and a fun couple at the opposite end from the Fungus Fearers – quite easily, immediately became contrite. “I’m so sorry,” he said, as if the fault was his. “Are you allergic? Your meal doesn’t come with any more mushrooms, and neither does hers – ” He gestured to the cardigan-clad younger woman between the one in pearls and her bald, male, companion, obviously their daughter “- but yours does.” He continued, addressing the man, whose body was angled toward his family, and hand was cradled protectively around his glass of chilled Chablis, as if he might not be allowed another.
“No, not allergic. We just… dislike them.”
“Alright then,” the chef replied. “Because if you were allergic, I’d make sure your food was cooked before they touched the grill.”
The girl, who had insisted she’d ordered tuna, not chicken, then refused to eat the tuna because it was rolled in sesame seeds. (Apparently Fungus Fearers are incapable of reading menus.)
While the rest of us laughed with the chef, and with each other, becoming temporary friends, though we’d never met before and would never meet again, the three at the end remained stiff and aloof.
Why, I wondered throughout our meal, and after, would you come to a place like Benihana where you know you’ll be seated with strangers (they were clearly familiar with the setup) if you don’t like sharing space with strangers?
And how could anyone possibly be so agitated over mushrooms?