Seymour Slap, Menudo, and the Oxford Comma|Wayne Rapp|Fiction

 

Seymour Slap was drunk. Not Bridgeport, Connecticut drunk where he knew every watering hole in his neighborhood and could navigate home no matter his condition. He was Tucson, Arizona drunk, standing outside a place whose name he couldn’t even pronounce, waiting for his ride, and feeling like he was going to throw up.

He was thinking of going back inside to the restroom when a red Jeep Wrangler came to a stop in front of him, and a head leaned toward the open passenger-side window. “Hey, Seymour, sorry I’m late.”

Seymour bent down a bit and peered into the window. When he recognized the young male driver, he wobbled towards the car and began fumbling with the door latch. The driver, pushing the door open from inside, almost knocked the old man down.

Carlos Osuna flashed a friendly smile, one Seymour had seen often during the semester Carlos had worked for him as an intern. “Hope you haven’t been waiting long. I don’t get up into the foothills that much. Wasn’t sure how long it would take me.”

Seymour crawled up into the vehicle and closed the door, but as soon as he did, he realized how warm it was inside and a wave of nausea overtook him.

Carlos noticed. “You okay, Seymour?”

“Yeah. Those damn tequila shots. These guys don’t get out of the office that much, and they come out to a place like this and think they have to play Mexican cowboys.” Seymour felt like he was slurring his words. Thought maybe he should shut up.

“This Mexican says the tequila’s alright. It’s probably the salt and lime that got you,” Carlos said and laughed.

“I hope I didn’t offend you with the Mexican cowboy thing. Wasn’t thinking.”

“No problem. When I got that email from you saying you were coming out, I was really surprised. I didn’t think you were the traveling type.”

“I’m not,” Seymour said. “Hardly ever travel. We’ve got new software ordered for producing the catalogue. The company out here developed it, so they sent some of the artists and the writers to get a little orientation. I didn’t want to come, but I think a group in the office begged our boss to make me, just to get rid of me for a couple of days. You know what a pain in the ass I am.”

Carlos laughed. “You got that right,” he said, but he knew that his passenger was in reality a perfectionist, someone who insisted that the words his writers produced be clear and accurate, as well as creative. He admired the old man for that.

When he glanced over at Seymour, he could tell something was wrong. The signs were all there: perspiration, the quick swallowing, and the look of panic.

“Pull over. I’m going to be sick!”

“No, no, Seymour. There’s no place to pull over. You can’t be sick in my car. Get your mind off it. Think of something else.” Carlos was thinking and talking as fast as he could. “The Oxford comma. That’s it, the beautiful Oxford comma. See it there in front of you. ‘The sweater is beautiful, comfortable, and durable.’ Remember? ‘This year’s rainwear is light-weight, weather-proof, and stylish.’ See the comma in front of the ‘and,’ Seymour? The all-important comma, the one that eliminates any doubt in the meaning of the sentence. The big, beautiful Oxford comma. See it, Seymour? See it?”

Seymour leaned his head back against the seat. “Yeah, yeah. You don’t have to overdo it. It worked. You talked me out of being sick in your car. You better get me to my hotel, though. It might not work so well next time.”

“Instead of taking you back to the La Paloma Resort, we’re going to go to a little hole in the wall restaurant in my neighborhood on Tanque Verde. You need a bowl of menudo so you won’t have a hangover tomorrow.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m sure you’re going to explain it to me. But first, explain how you remember the Oxford comma after all these years.”

“When Shirley and I showed up from the University of New Haven as your interns that semester, that’s almost the first thing you told us in our orientation. You said that you didn’t care what we had been taught about punctuation, that whenever we used commas in a series, you expected to see a comma before ‘and.’ Then you explained what the Oxford comma was and that without its use, there could be confusion in the meaning of the sentence.”

“So, you believed me?”

“You said if you ever saw one time that we didn’t use the Oxford comma, you would give us a negative evaluation to the university. Of course, we believed you. What you didn’t know, though, is that I went to Catholic grade school and was taught by nuns that that was the way you used commas. I just never knew there was a name for it until you told me. It was new to Shirley. She learned to do it just for you.”

“Shirley, huh? I had forgotten her name. Pretty girl. Were you two together? I never knew.”

“I remember seeing her a time or two at New Haven. She was in Communications, I was in English. I never spoke a word to her until we started working for you.”

“So, you weren’t together?”

“What would an Italian from New York possibly have in common with a Mexican from Arizona?”

“That’s something else I wondered about. How did the Arizonan end up in Connecticut?”

“All credit due the United States Navy. I finished my enlistment at the Submarine Base in Groton, and thought I would take advantage of the GI Bill right away. I’d had a couple of years of college and transferred my credits to New Haven.”

They drove for a few minutes in silence until Carlos pulled into a parking space in front of a small restaurant. On unsteady feet, Seymour headed to the restroom that Carlos pointed to as they entered the building. Once inside, he turned on the water in the sink, cupped his hands, and splashed the wet relief on his face. He patted his face dry with a paper towel and stared at his image in the mirror. There was nothing else he could do here.

Carlos was waiting for him as he entered the dining room and led him to a small table. As soon as they sat down, a waiter placed steaming bowls in front of them. “Menudo,” Carlos said as Seymour looked at him questioningly.

“I heard you say the word before, but what is it?”

“It’s a Mexican tripe soup. Got hominy, red chilli pepper, and other spices with the tripe.”

“No pork, I hope. I don’t eat pork.”

“Nope. Just good old cow’s stomach. Ready to eat unless you want to add some hot sauce, which I wouldn’t advise without tasting it first.”

Seymour lifted his spoon, dipped it into the bowl and began moving the contents around slowly. “And you think I should eat this because …?”

“A-number-one hangover preventive medicine. My father didn’t go out drinking with his compadres very often, but when he did, my mother always left a pan of Menudo on the stove before she went to bed. He always thanked her the next morning. Just like you’ll do for me tomorrow.”

With that, Carlos dipped his spoon into the menudo and began eating with gusto. He grinned at Seymour. “Try it, you’ll like it.”

Seymour stopped pushing the menudo around in his bowl and lifted a spoonful tentatively to his mouth. He sipped the broth then consumed the remainder of the contents. He smiled and returned to his bowl for another spoonful, “This stuff’s pretty good. Glad I didn’t add any hot sauce.”

The two ate in silence for a while. Carlos spoke first, “Tomorrow, after you finish your meeting. I’m going to pick up your hangover-free body and bring you to my house. Shirley wants to see you again and is going to cook you a brisket dinner that will be the envy of your Jewish grandmother.”

“That might not be hard to do. My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, but I thought you said you and Shirley weren’t together.”

“Weren’t then, but we are now.”

“You also told me the two of you didn’t have anything in common. New York. Arizona. Remember?”

“Still don’t, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love. It’s been working for six years now.”

They continued eating until Seymour broke the silence. “So, tonight is one of surprises, comma, menudo, and …”

“… no hangover period.” Carlos ended the sentence.

Seymour grinned and raised his spoon in salute.

 

BIO:

 

Wayne Rapp has written two books and numerous short stories, essays, and nonfiction pieces for publication. A collection of short stories, Burnt Sienna, was a finalist for the Miguel Mármol Award. A short story, “In the Time of Marvel and Confusion,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His creative writing has twice been honored with Individual Artist Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council.

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