Dinner Plans

The Cast: Cindy (mom), Myself (dad), Sarah (sad),

The tears were streaming down her face. That was my fault. I did that.

If you’ve ever been out to eat, then you probably have a favorite place to do so. This story revolves around one of those such places.

There is a neighboring town, wherein there used to be a restaurant that was a family favorite: Ruby Tuesday. When I say family favorite, I mean just that: my family loved it. My brother, his then-wife, and their children. My wife and our children. Even my mother and father liked it. The place had good food, good service, and it had reasonable prices. My favorite reason for going: The Strawberry Tallcake.

This is not the one from where I live but, it is a good representation of the restaurant.
Image curated at Nation’s Restaurant News.

The Strawberry Tallcake was like heaven in dessert form. Only better. Okay, that last part might be slightly blasphemous so, I’ll just say The Strawberry Tallcake was really, really, really, really good. Really. It was a dessert intended for two (or more). I enjoyed eating it all on my own—my wife was never offended. Ever since I was a child I have enjoyed strawberry shortcake. The spongy cake, the sliced strawberries, the cream… So, so, so good… I love the way the sugar when added to the strawberry slices, would syrup up. My mother could always get it just right.

Again, I have always loved that yummy dessert, so, when the opportunity came to have a large portion of strawberries, sponge cake, cream, and ice cream (enough for two or more) available, I jumped at the chance. My then-sister-in-law laughed when she found out that I was serious about eating it all by myself. She did not believe that I meant it. I did, and I did.

The Strawberry Tallcake. Image curated at Facebook, Ruby Tuesday.

My point was… Is…? Is? Was? Honestly, I’m unsure of what tense to use here. Sorry about that. Let’s just move forward with: So, after having tried that scrumptious heaping helping of heavenly deliciousness I knew I wanted to come back. And we did. It was on one of those occasions that I made my oldest daughter cry.

You’ve all seen those claw machines with stuffed toys that look like all you need to do is pop in a quarter (well, they used to be a quarter, but now they’re more like a dollar or more) and you’ll have your prize? You know what I’m talkin’ about, right? Yeah, I know you do. I’m sure most of us have innocently believed that we could win at those games every. single. time. Then we lost all our money and didn’t understand how or why. They are both the best and the worst. They really are.

Many years ago, my brother taught me the secret to winning. Given the age of the game, I know the strategy has changed. I know that the people that pack those containers of stuffed, childish delights place the prizes in just a certain way. I also know that the system is rigged against the player more than it ever was before. Still, years ago, I knew the secret and used it to get prize after prize after prize.

Once, while on a double date, (using the technique I was taught) I won a rainbow-colored dog for my date on my first quarter. The other guy wanted to impress his date and spent almost $10 and still didn’t get a thing—well, nothing except a pathetic “Thank you” from his date, anyway.

For many years I would capture several other prizes that would include an Edwardo (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), and a Scotty (Star Trek) using the simple trick of observation from two angles. See, you gotta line the claw up in the front as well as the side. You need two people for this. Nowadays, you also need to have the right toy in the right position (loose and/or near—if not on—the top). Additionally, it helps if the toy has a form that the claw can easily grip onto, like a sphere or bulge. A tubular shape does not grip at all well. These are the basics.

Edwardo is in the center, and Scotty is in the back on the left.

After an evening of shopping, my wife and I thought it would be nice to splurge and go to Ruby Tuesday. This place was a treat for us. Money was usually tight back then, and so, if we had to do some shopping, this place was like a reward/treat for us and our children. Everybody loved it. Until we didn’t.

Every child has their thing. It could be a love for a cartoon. A cartoon character. A game. Maybe a certain toy… whatever it is, you had one, your child has one, we all have one. My oldest—at the time—loved Pokémon. She wasn’t obsessed with it. She didn’t need to ‘catch ’em all’ or anything like that. There were just some characters that she really liked. My wife and I would then endeavor to find the toys of those specific Pokémon that she preferred. One of her favorites (and mine—still) was Bulbasaur.

We had a small stuffed Bulbasaur that could fold up, into a Pokéball and then back into the Bulbasaur. It was comfortable to hold in the hand. It had a cute little face. It was adorable. I understood why she liked it. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but it also was a cool Pokémon with cool attacks. I feel it’s important to say that only one of my children has ever had a Pokémon deck of cards. She now has enough to play a second person. None of us have ever played the card game. I’m okay with that.

At any rate… as the night drew to a close, and after another great meal (and dessert), my wife, myself, and our (at the time) two children went to leave the restaurant, for home. On the way out was a claw machine. Right near the front of the machine was a large Bulbasaur stuffed toy. It caught my eye. The tease.

“Honey…” It was said in such a way that my wife knew it was meant to get her attention and that she need to see what it was all about. She gasped, my oldest gasped, and my youngest cooed (he was an infant in a car seat). There it was, a Bulbasaur in the perfect spot. It was only inches from the drop shoot. It was on top of everything, there were no toys holding it down. The plant on its back would ensure perfect placement and grip from the claw. This was doable. This was a sign.

My wife thinks it’s important for me to note that our daughter was, “old enough to get her heart broken, but young enough to not know why.”

I put the two requisite quarters into the machine. I lined up the claw from the front. My wife helped me line it up from the side. I pressed the button. The claw descended. It placed itself perfectly about the plant bulb on the Pokémon’s back. The claw lifted. Up went Bulbasaur. The claw began to move toward the shoot. Bulbasaur began to slip—the weight from his head made him fall slightly forward. No worries. The distance was short and, worst case scenario the toy would be dragged into the shoot and dropped—albeit, less dramatically.

Then it happened. The absolute worst thing. It dropped. But, just the head. And, it caught the lip of the shoot. This caused the Bulbasaur to slip from the claw and land in a pocket of space that had here-to-fore gone unnoticed. No worries. A couple more quarters and I would surely pull that Pokémon free and it would be ours!

Nope.

That claw would sort-of-grab the haunches of that stuffed creature and then slip free again and again. The second and third attempts allowed me to properly gauge the exact drop and grab zones. I would get it on the fourth try. And, I did. Bulbasaur was rising like a phoenix (or an appropriately similar Pokémon) into the air and about to drop into our arms.

Nope.

If I had been able to grab the plant bulb, it would have worked. The claw would have handled the weight. However, with it only being able to grab a foot, there was too much mass on one end and not enough purchase for the claw on the other. He dropped. Again. Only this time, it was deeper, and the added height and familiar angle of approach allowed Bulbasaur to wedge himself in good and tight.

My wife and I scrambled to find whatever loose change we could in our efforts to bring that little guy home with us. At this point in the evening, my daughter was beginning to cry. It wasn’t the cry of a spoiled brat who gets everything they want. Heck, she wouldn’t have known it was even there had it not been for me. No, this was the cry of a child who had recently fallen in love with her favorite toy she never knew she wanted, combined with exhaustion from a long day of walking and shopping. It was past all our bedtimes.

With each additional attempt, I could see that pesky Pokémon moving just a smidge closer to freedom—and to us.

I found myself rifling through the glovebox of our car, the ashtray, cup holders even… I was discovering crusty chunks of who-knows-what under, and in between, the seats. Underneath them, I found I did not like what I found. In my utter desperation, I even paced the parking lot a few times in a vain attempt to locate any bit of change that I could convert into a quarter at the register of the restaurant. In the end, I only had two attempts left. Neither paid off.

With tears in her eyes, I scooped up my daughter, and we headed for home.

My wife did her best to console our oldest. All I could do was kick myself for ensuring my child that I would catch that Pokémon. Then I made myself into a liar when I didn’t. I wanted to cry too. It was a rough night.

Looking back, I don’t recall exactly when I made it—if it was that night or the next—but, determined to make up for my failure, I made for my child a Bulbasaur.

Using craft foam and a rudimentary recollection of the Pokémon, I drew, then cut out the critter, and fixed it to the wall near her bed. When she woke and found it there, she squealed with delight. That was my fault. I did that.

Bulbasaur stayed on that wall for many years. When we moved to our current home, it came with us as it had been passed down from one child to the next. As of now, it resides on a wall inside the closet of the guest room—what was once my youngest’s room. I think I need to frame it and bring it into my studio. Yeah, I like this plan.

The old, doodled on, stabbed, drawn on, pulled apart, faded, played with, Pokémon, Bulbasaur.

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