Despite posing for many years as a pessimist, my father is really a romantic. When, many years (now decades) ago, we temporarily moved from our home in Alaska to the South Pacific, he was determined to visit Majuro. Nineteenth-century writer Robert Louis Stevenson had described this tiny atoll in the Marshall Island Chain as “the pearl of the Pacific”: we had to go there.
When we arrived we found a narrow island, sometimes no wider than a road. The pale gold beaches were covered with glass, the green-blue water was polluted from the sewage pipes that emptied right into the lagoon, and the population seemed to have no other option for employment than serving as taxi drivers. Our hotel had a naked gardener, which I could hear my parents worriedly discussing; we children didn’t care, as we were really interested in the pigs. The pigs that grazed around the hotel were the nicest I’ve ever seen (and I don’t, as a rule, like pigs thanks to a certain pig that devoured one of our chickens).
The yacht club that my father had fantasized about turned out to be a dingy room with a garage door entrance with a few wooden spools for tables and seating and no drinks in sight. My father was rather dejected, but he was determined to find the pearl amidst the (rather sweet) swine. We took a cab ride (my mother checking before our entrance for the best bargain: “Children go free?”) to dinner at one of the island’s few restaurants, called the Kit Kat Klub.
The restaurant was small and cozy and it had an extensive menu written on a large board. My father got hungry reading the list, which included pork chops, roasted chicken, and hamburgers. However, when you asked about anything it was “off.” Everything was “off.” Only hamburgers were on. We ordered hamburgers.
We waited, and waited. The waitress appeared from the kitchen bearing tiny plates. She moved forward, or at least we think she moved. The motion was so slight it was hard to tell. She shuffled towards us so slowly that it seemed like she was almost going backwards. It took an eternity for her to get to the table and deliver the hamburgers; then, the whole process was repeated in reverse. We were starving. The tiny plates turned out to look exactly like plastic doll plates, each with a tiny hamburger. It was not a satisfying meal, but from then on our family had a new shorthand for anything/anyone moving so, so slowly: “a Majuro shuffle.”
We also ate at another restaurant that did actually have a bit of variety on its menu. I remember being very excited to see mashed potatoes, one of my favorite foods. We found spiders in the mashed potatoes. From then on the restaurant was christened “The Itsy-Bitsy.” Every night became a choice between the Kit Kat and the Itsy; as a result, those few days on Majuro felt like weeks, months, years.
Another food misadventure occurred when I was living in San Francisco and working in the not-so-glamorous job of a movie Production Assistant. One of my jobs was to order lunch for the production office staff: I ordered a lot of lunches. One day I decided to try out a deli in downtown San Francisco. I ordered, picked up the order, and then distributed the food. A few minutes later, my boss appeared. She held out her cup of chicken and matzo ball soup: “Take a look,” she said. Another P.A. and I stared into the cup. There it was, floating on the top: not a hair or a sliver of nail, no—nestled amongst the matzo balls and the chunks of chicken was an entire human fingernail. Needless to say, there was a very interesting conversation with the deli only a few moments later.