Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

A Singular Eating Experience

clamSeveral years ago my brothers (Lanny and Doug) and I were on Long Island where Doug, a well-known performer of modern Jewish music, had a concert scheduled. The show was set for 7:30 p.m., with a sound check an hour earlier, but it was just 4:45 and Doug was hungry. Because a full stomach does not make for a comfortable and melodious performance, Doug opted for a snack at a nearby Sunrise Highway diner.

This was no burgers-and-breakfast boxcar on cinder blocks; the Merrick Diner was huge, but at this hour, far less than half-full. My brothers sat down; I went to the men’s room. When I returned, they had already ordered bowls of Long Island Clam Chowder (a red kind for those who know only New England white). A couple of minutes later, the waiter returned with their soups, and I dittoed, “The same for me.”

I began to rue my slavish conformity when Doug, several swallows in, asked, “What’s the clam situation in yours?”

“Mostly bits, and not too many of those,” Lanny replied over a lifted, carefully eyeballed spoon.

There must have been some clam jam in the kitchen because my brothers were down to bowl bottoms when my order finally arrived.

Challenged by their less-than-clamful experiences, I consumed my chowder with close attention to molluscan quantity, sieving the broth through my teeth and carefully consuming the potatoes and tomatoes without injuring a single ocean dweller. By the time I finished, I had sequestered one clam fragment, which now rested, pearl-like, on the shiny concavity of my spoon.

“This is just wrong,” I bleated.

“You should complain to the boss,” Lanny suggested, tilting his head toward the man who stood next to the cashier, looking managerial.

brothersIn any sibling grouping, there is an instigator (Lanny) and one or more stooges (Steve and Doug).

“Hey, Stevie. Taste this.”

“Hey, Dougie. Jump off the roof, and I’ll catch you.”

Spoon held unobtrusively at my side, I advanced to the cashier’s station. After determining that the gentleman was indeed the manager, I began.

“This is not a big complaint, but my brothers and I just finished three bowls of your rather tasty Long Island Clam Chowder, and we noticed that there seemed to be a significant lack of clams. In fact, this…” I held the spoon and its clam crumb aloft. “…was the only clam in my bowl.”

The manager responded without hesitation, “Makes sense. You notice we don’t call it Long Island Clams Chowder.”

Our laughter didn’t stop until we paid the bill, left a big tip, and went to Doug’s show.

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