How my mother taught me a valuable lesson and why I avoided Danver's restaurant for years because of it:
As a young man growing up in Raleigh, my band of friends and I roamed far and wide. And by far and wide, I mean as far as we could walk once someone had dropped us off at the Raleigh Springs Mall.
Once the miracle of Hot Sam's pretzels had worn off and the siren's song of King's Palace arcade had faded, we would adventure AROUND the mall. It made us feel extremely cosmopolitan and world-traveleresque to visit some of the businesses nearby.
One of those businesses is the venerable "Danver's" restaurant, which has been "serving delicious meals in Memphis for over 40 years".
LOVE the salad bar, the sandwiches, the down-home ambiance. It was the perfect place for a gangly-group of young teenaged boys to adopt as our 'official hangout". (One salad bar will feed a lot of people. I'm not proud of that.)
So one day, I'm there with Ryan Parker, David Bellew, and Kevin Brinkmann (all thugs). We're eating and laughing at what I'm sure were extremely sophisticated and high-brow jokes. Then we left to go on an Australian-themed walkabout.
Once we leftf the restaurant, my friend Kevin starts laughing maniacally. (Now, Kevin didn't laugh often, but when he did, it was maniacally. And usually for good reason.)
Kevin had a crazy look in his eye that day, my friend. And as he cackled and hopped around, he pulled something out of his pocket: a plastic squeeze bottle of Danver's barbecue sauce.
Now, this is probably a good place to tell you I don't condone thievery. I believe that "Thou Shalt Not Steal". And for the record, I know that today, Kevin would agree with that also. But we're dealing with a (pre?)pubescent teen brain here which has defied logic and baffled science for thousands of years.
But this daring theft had Kevin electrified. If I remember correctly, the rest of us were not nearly as impressed at his having procured a dirty plastic squeeze bottle of room temperature barbeque sauce, but whatever. I didn't want to rain on his parade.
So the evening went as they normally did. Us talking alot about girls. There being absolutely no girls involved. And then us going home.
And that's where this story takes a horrible turn for me.
Kevin's mom, the wonderful Patti Brinkmann, had her hands full with 3 rambunctious boys. Kevin knew this, as he was one. And he didn't want to have to explain to her about this horrendous crime. And that's where I made a crucial mistake. Kevin quietly pulls me aside as we're all parting ways. "Kevin does not seem to be full of spirit and bravado", I seem to recall saying to myself in a very mature young teen voice. Kevin, looking more furtive and nervous than seemed healthy whispered: "Dude. Would you please hide this in your fridge for me? My mom will KILL me!." And as fate would have it, with no warning from my spidey-sense or the universe fatefully answered:
I remember - in slow motion - taking the sauce encrusted plastic harbinger of doom from his clammy hand....fade to black.
Things speed up here. I'm sure I took the bottle home, stuffed it in the back of our refrigerator, promptly forgot about it and went on with my life. My happy, normal, life.
And then came the day.
I'm walking by the kitchen and I notice my Mom is agitated. I wasn't alerted "sonically", as she wasn't making any noise. Rather, it was the tight, grim line that used to be her mouth that was commanding my attention. And her eyes had that angry squint.
"Could you come here please", she quietly asked. Very misleading.
"Sure!", I agreed with no idea of what was about to occur.
"Can you please tell me what this is?" she said, gesturing into the open fridge door. She said please. I'm still unaware.
And as I rounded the corner, and my eyes fell upon her discovery (which she had placed front and center), my brain did that "moving hallway" thing you see in movies when someone has a horrible moment surprise them.
"It's barbecue sauce", I replied in super-slow-motion. I wasn't thinking clearly.
"And WHERE did it come from?" she said, the electricity beginning to spark from the tips of her windblown hair. Which was odd, because we were still in the kitchen. Also odd, because it CLEARLY said "DANVER'S" right there on the bottle.
And this is the hinge on which my experience swung.
In hindsight, speaking of CLEARLY, I CLEARLY should have said:
"Kevin stole it."
InSTEAD, I said:
"Uhhh, I stole it?"
And that, my friends, is liftoff.
is how I remember her next few statements.
I also remember thinking, "WHY DID I SAY I STOLE IT?" followed by "WHY AM I NOT TELLING HER KEVIN REALLY STOLE IT?" followed by "HOW AM I THINKING IN ALL CAPS?"
Looking back, I guess I was trying to protect Kevin. He had convinced me his mom would be far less understanding about this situation than my mom would be. History would not support that, but when you're in the eye of the hurricane you simply go in survival mode. So instead I said:
"Mom - I'm sorry. I stole this. It was wrong."
Now, I have a great mom. She was trying to raise a young doofus and turn him into a respectable young man. She was raised by good people. They all had solid morals. They knew stealing was wrong. And she thought she had walked into a teaching situation. And she had a solution.
"Well, you know what you're going to do now, don't you?"
"I'm driving you to Danver's RIGHT NOW and you're going to walk up to the manager, apologize and RETURN IT!!!!"
So we drove in silence in our maroon Malibu Classic. Her seething at her idiot son. Me seething at my idiot friend. Clutching the belief that I was a martyr being unfairly persecuted as fiercely as I was clutching that stupid plastic bottle of barbecue sauce.
We pulled into the Danver's parking lot, and she parked directly against the windows. I later realized it was so she could watch me go in and apologize. She turned to me and growled: "GO."
I clearly remember it took a thousand slow steps to get inside.
I found myself in the middle of Danver's. It wasn't very crowded. And I was holding the wretched crusted cursed bottle that - as I remember - now seemed to weigh 45 pounds.
I waited there, feeling every heatlamp upon my shamed face, agonizing as every employee and customer spoke about me in hushed tones, condemning....judging.....disgusted.
I finally saw what appeared to be a manager. I knew he must be as he was an elderly 22 or so and was wearing dark polyester slacks.
"Sir", I mumbled, "are you a manager?"
"I am!" he cheerfully announced, seeming to notice me for the first time. "What can I do for you?"
"I have something to tell you", I said, studying my shoes and the carpet. "My mom drove me out here..." - and I gestured out the window to where we could both see her gripping the steering wheel and glaring at me - "...so that I could give you this."
I guiltily raised my arm and presented the burgled item. I clearly remember him looking down, eyes confused, wondering what in the world was happening here.
"I stole your barbecue sauce. It was wrong. I'm very sorry."
And then he said the words that I'll never forget as long as I live.
"Seriously? That things worth like 24 cents. You could have just kept it." Then he was disgusted as he had to take it from me, and he walked away.
I would never see that man or that plastic bottle of barbecue sauce again. I wouldn't walk into a Danver's to eat for many, many years simply out of guilt (I was sure they'd still recognize me.) And it wasn't until many years later that I would eventually tell my mom the truth: "I DIDN'T STEAL THAT BARBECUE SAUCE!". (she was all: what sauce?)
But the timeless life lesson remains. YES, Danver's makes a delicious barbecue sauce. YES, their horseradish is also fantastic. And YES, if you're going to pay the exorbitant price for the "All You Can Eat" salad bar, go hungry to get your money's worth.
But for the love of all that's holy, DON'T TAKE THE FALL FOR KEVIN.