The kangaroo court was in session. I just wanted to enjoy my meal at Frank’s Soup Bowl in peace, but Eugene insisted on disciplinary action. He was adamant that Rick was in serious violation of the code and ethics of our loosely structured food group. “How can a guy just forget about the dates? What’s this, like the sixth straight he’s missed? He needs some sort of punishment for his actions,” Eugene clamored.
I was picking at the brownstew fish in front of me, doing my best to tune out Eugene’s bellowing. The fish at the tiny Jamaican, take-out mostly place, smothered in a light brown gravy was cooked to tender perfection. When Rick, the day before we were to meet and who was supposed to chose the eating venue, for the second straight time bowed out, Mike from Yonkers stepped in admirably and quickly chose Frank’s Soup Bowl in the Caribbean enclave of Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.
I deftly separated the meat from the bones pulling away the fish’s carcass. I took a bite of the moist meat. “He’s got a baby at home,” I said, in Rick’s defense. “I’ve been there. I know what that can do to short—and long term memory.”
“Oh, stop making excuses for him,” Eugene scoffed.
I shrugged and concentrated on the fish. Not only was it the second straight abrupt cancellation for Rick, he had been absent for most of 2013’s gatherings.
Zio, conciliatory by nature, after slurping a few spoonfuls of the red bean soup, agreed. “I mean, really, how do you forget? Even I saw the emails.” This from a man who is famous for not reading emails. See our last adventure at Hong Kong Café ( Cantonese Cappuccino).
Gerry didn’t let the proceedings diminish his enjoyment of the plate of fish escovitch, that Jamaican specialty, steaks of king fish marinated in pickled onions, cabbage, allspice, and peppers. “A lifetime ban?” he suggested semi-seriously but without a bit of rancor.
“Rick’s a vital part of our group,” I said in his defense. “What would we do without him? Who could replace him?”
“Yeah, but he’s never here, so what’s the difference?” Eugene responded, his mouth still stuffed with jerk chicken. “Oh and by the way, this jerk chicken is excellent.”
Being a jerk aficionado, the chicken, though roasted slowly, the meat moist and pulling clean from the bone, lacked the fire and the smoky flavor found in Jamaican roadside jerk and what I come to associate with the dish.
I shook my head. “No a lifetime ban is too severe,” I said.
“A year? Six months. You gotta do something?” Eugene was insistent. “Come on, you’re the commissioner. Don’t let him slide. We have to send a message here.”
Mike from Yonkers thoughtfully added a plate of jerked oxtail, some codfish fritters and sweet plantains to our table. I grabbed an oxtail and sucked the meat from its hard, gelatinous tendon. The richness of the meat helped temper the heavy burden that had been placed on my shoulders.
“We’ve all made mistakes over the years,” I said, trying to get Eugene and the others to see that we should not be so harsh.
“Speaking of mistakes,” Zio said. “Did you see that Uncle George’s in Astoria closed?”
In our early years, Zio brought us to Uncle George’s Greek tavern and he’s had to live down the unfortunate experience ever since.
“Yeah and that place Gerry had us schlep out to in Sheepshead Bay?” Eugene said.
“That Turkish place was good,” Gerry responded.
“Yeah, but we had to go to the ATM after it was so expensive.”
“Who am I to say anything,” Mike from Yonkers replied. “I picked that place in the East Village with the tablecloths and candles. What did I know?”
“You’ll never make that mistake again,” I said wiping my face with one of the countless paper napkins on our table while eating the jerked oxtail with a plastic fork out of an aluminum take-out container. “The point is, no one is perfect. Rick has a lot on his plate these days. Cut him some slack.”
“Sheesh,” Eugene muttered.
“You can’t not penalize him,” Gerry stated.
“But is it fair that he is not here to speak in his own defense?” I asked.
Zio laughed. “That’s the point, he’s not here.”
I nodded. He was right. We were finished at Frank’s Soup Kitchen but I hadn’t come to a resolution concerning Rick. We headed outside to the street. It was a beautiful, cool Summer evening and we lingered outside the restaurant before going our separate ways.
“Well?” Eugene wanted a ruling.
“I’ll think of something,” I said, postponing my decision for the time being.
“You better,” he said. “Step up on this. The integrity of our food group is on the line here.”
Gerry turned to Eugene and raised a bushy eyebrow. “What integrity?”
Frank’s Soup Bowl
3580 Bronxwood Avenue