“Polite Notes of the Dinnertime Neighborly Etiquette Apocalypse” by David S. Atkinson
To: The Steak to the left on Roger Ebert’s dinner plate
From: The Baked Potato on the aforementioned dinner plate
This note is just to let you know that your juices are running over into my area of the plate. My personal space, if you will. I’m sure this is something that you simply have not noticed as of yet. As such, I wanted to bring your attention to this problem.
Lord knows, I do not want to be one of “those neighbors.” You know, those busybodies that complain about every little thing. I try my best to be and let be. We all have our different habits that someone is sure to not be fond of. If we cannot be at least a little tolerant then we will never be able to have a harmonious community.
However, I cannot ignore the flood on my portion of the plate. I tried to, I assure you I did, but finally I felt something had to be done, even at the risk of being one of “those neighbors.”
At first there were just a few clear yet red-tinged rivulets, glistening with streaks of your melted salty fat. But now my area is drenched, completely covered in a gigantic coagulating deluge. Your juice has even started soaking into me and I fear that I shall become soggy.
As I mentioned before, I am certain that this has merely escaped your attention. If you had been aware that this was going on, I have no doubt that you would have already corrected the problem. Thus, I only wanted to bring this matter to your notice so that you would have the opportunity to act upon it.
I look forward to many more pleasant years in this community and to having such a good neighbor as you. After all, we are all on this plate together. Please do not hesitate to let me know if there is anything I can do to assist.
Sincerely, your neighbor to the right,
The Baked Potato
To: The Steak to the left on big fat Roger Ebert’s dinner plate
From: The Baked Potato directly to the right on that plate
Your response to my note, if in all generosity it can be termed a response, shocked me. Frankly, it was rude- perhaps worse. I mean, you actually wrote “Dude, chillax! What’s your problem?”? What am I supposed to make of that?
As for my response, if I can even properly formulate one, is that I will not “chillax.” This is a legitimate problem. I will not ignore it. I will not go away. Honestly, I could take this to court, if it came to that. I am trying to be good neighbor, though, and be civil.
However, do not think I will not go to court if this is not resolved.
Regardless, your inquiry as to exactly what my problem is made me think that maybe you really might not grasp my situation. Perhaps we might make some headway if I can make you understand. You see, I am not just complaining because I am uncomfortable. Being wet (of course) is no fun, but I could survive if that was the extent of it. However, you have to appreciate what I have been doing over here.
For once I managed to get myself, after ensuring that absolutely all dirt and other particles were washed from my russet skin, perfectly cooked. You have no idea how difficult that is. Being just slightly undercooked will yield a flavor reminiscent of sour milk. Overcooked results in a better taste, though the mushiness and paste-like after reside is no picnic either. However, this time my cooking turned out perfectly.
After that, I split my topside just enough to release a small amount of heat so as not to burn our diner, but not so much that I would go cold too quickly. Then I threw in just a small amount of butter, a liberal amount of the best sour cream, and exactly the right colorful amount of diced green onions. I am talking about angelic-level perfection here, perfection and a tremendous amount of work.
However, the flood is ruining all my efforts. Your juices are soaking deep into my translucent white flesh, dissolving my consistency and destroying my perfect flavor. I realize you think dumping warm juices over everything just makes things taste better, but I, for one, do not agree. That is just not what I have worked for.
Of course, I do not expect you to fully appreciate this. Your opinion is that taste should be simple and uncomplicated, not so much craft and work. A simple tip cut crusted with salt and pepper, fried a few minutes on each side in peanut oil and flipped once in a while. Still, I hope that you can get where I’m coming from now and that this might make you more responsive.
I appreciate it if you at least made an effort to understand. Regardless, this situation is your responsibility and I implore you to take it seriously and correct the problem.
Regards, your neighbor to, and in, the right,
The Baked Potato
To: The Steak to the left on the hungry natural disaster that is Roger Ebert’s dinner plate
From: The Baked Potato on a more fortunate portion of that plate
Please accept my sympathy regarding your present predicament. It is unfortunate and I feel for you. I am sure that having pieces of you methodically sliced off is very traumatic. To then have those severed pieces chewed, swallowed, and subsequently digested only adds injury to existing injury.
However, though I commiserate, I must still think of myself. I cannot simply overlook things because you are going through a difficult patch. After all, we all have troubles. My life is certainly not free from them.
Take my sour cream as an example. I suspect that the temperature of the dining room has caused my sour cream to separate. Unpleasantly, a layer of water appears to be forming and I have to do something about it. Regardless, my sour cream problem would not excuse me should I harm you. No, I would still have to make you whole.
Of course, my problems might not be as pressing as yours. I do admit that. However, I am certain that even with your present position you might still find a way to ameliorate your spillage. Then, if there is any assistance I can offer you, I will certainly do so.
With best wishes for you in your trying times, your plate co-resident,
The Baked Potato
To: The Green Beans to my right on that bastard Roger Ebert’s dinner plate
From: The Baked Potato left on that lonelier plate
Dearest Green Beans:
Please accept the sincerest condolences that I can possibly convey. My heart goes out to you at hearing of the loss of your beloved Steak. I know my words cannot possibly assuage the hurt that you are feeling right now, but I have nothing to offer you that will and so I offer them anyway.
I am utterly beside myself. I had no idea that Steak’s situation was so dire. Here I was, firing off rounds of missives, worrying about a petty property line issue, and Steak was struggling through his (?) final moments. And now, Steak is gone. My behavior was unconscionable. I did nothing to help him (?) in his (?) greatest hour of need and I will never forgive myself.
Worse, to have my puerile complaint find you in the midst of you grief was an insult that I cannot even fully comprehend. I was not even aware that you and Steak were together. Looking back with what I know now, I find my actions staggering. I can only assure you, though I expect that you already know, that I never intended this result. I would never have written that last note if I had suspected.
As such, I am afraid that I will have to decline your gracious invitation to attend Steak’s service. Truth be told, other than this recent dispute I did not know Steak very well. He (?) was a good neighbor other than the juice river problem, but we simply did not have the opportunity to be closely acquainted. Given that most of my contact was in the form of these now hateful notes, I think it would be disrespect Steak’s memory if I were to attend. Again, though, my heart goes out to you right now. I do not expect that this hurt will soon fade, but I do ask someday you try not to think too badly of me.
Frankly, I am not adept at handling these sort of times in life. Roger Ebert is a mysterious sort of being in his ways and I do not understand why these things have to be the way they do. Why are we made if we are only to eventually be eaten? Is Roger Ebert just cruel?
Of course, there are no answers to such questions. All we can do is try to live the best lives we can, treat each other as decently as is possible, and hope all that is enough. As I have said before, we are, after all, on this dinner plate together.
Your humbled servant, your neighbor definitely on the left and not in the right,
The Baked Potato