No God In My Cod

©2017 Hal Padgett

 

—This really happened—

 

Word on the street was that eating at the Dilly was cheap and convenient. So there I was, slogging through the chow line, shunning the offer of iceberg lettuce and pale tomato wedges smothered in Miracle Whip. My metro-sexual acquaint-ances would no doubt be lunching in San Marco bistros or upscale ethnic dives in Riverside, nibbling on $8 appetizers and $18 entrees. No dish would be finished; no thought would be given to the gaucherie of Styrofoam take-out containers.

 

My every extroverted tendency had shut down, so I felt fortunate to find a booth twenty feet from the nearest diner. Crestfallen, I stared at my food as a kitchen hand walked by and sat down with his tray across the room. He bowed his head in prayer. If he was giving thanks, then he certainly wasn’t having what I was having.

 

The unexpected presence of the exact spiritual opposite I never knew I had was unsettling. In the moment’s distraction, I tried to meet him soul-to-soul by ignoring the principle of separation of church and chow. But a quick prod with a fork into my unrecep-tive rectangle of fish confirmed what I already knew: there was no God in my cod.

 

I was besieged by grim, cotton-mouth memories of the school cafeteria in the early 1960s, before the convening of the Second Vatican Counsel paved the way for Salisbury steak to replace the square cod fillet as the standard Friday entree. And now there was Piccadilly’s dirty lie—my entree, falsely billed as catfish (although without the barb and whiskers my case was nearly impossible to prove).

 

There was penance aplenty in the side dishes, but alas no glimpse of God. No salvation in the collard greens as reedy as the bulrushes of baby Moses’ getaway basket. No salvation for cornbread drier than the desolate plains of the Sinai wilderness. The dehydrated lump of lima beans had shaped itself into a salty ziggurat that would touch neither Heaven nor my mouth. For a delirious instant the Virgin Mary revealed herself to me—but it turned out to be a stranger’s greasy thumbprint on a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce.

 

I was weak and unable to devote another second to gnawing the indigestible gnomic cud of Does God Hate Piccadilly Customers? Moot point or not, all doubts were quickly erased when my quasi-waitress made her first appearance. She looked at my full glass of water then asked if I would like more water. After realizing it wasn’t a trick question, I replied “No, thank you,” then arose and pulled out a dollar bill for tip.