|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious.||Rowena Gets A Surprise, Part 5|
Rowena answered the phone to find her sister on the other end. “It's so exciting!” Maralynne said.
“Haven't you heard?” Maralynne was beside herself. “Chow Hall is coming to town!”
Rowena took a very, very deep breath. “How nice,” she said. “For how long?”
“Just one show.” Maralynne was disappointed. “Just think if they were moving here and we could go see them all the time and maybe they need a Girl Assistant and of course I'm available.”
Rowena decided to ignore this last. “So they have a studio audience for this? Are you going?”
“Of course we're going! If you have anything scheduled for the nineteenth, cancel it. Sammy too. This is the big tour! This—”
“Wait a minute,” Rowena said. “What do you mean, cancel—”
“I got five tickets! For me and Chester and you and Sammy and Mom. So—”
“Maralynne. I am not really much of a fan—”
“You have to go! Everybody has to go! It's great! And if they don't get enough people they'll cancel! You don't want them to cancel. They'll never come back!”
“It happened in Macon! It almost happened in Salt Lake City! You can't let it happen here. You can't—”
“And Joe and Harry say they're real disappointed because Macon rhymes with Bacon and Salt Lake . . . you know . . .”
“Are you sure that isn't why they got kicked out?”
“Rowena! Joe and Harry did not get ‘kicked out.’ They—”
“Forget it; forget it; sorry. Look, Maralynne, I'm not sure—”
“Rowena,” said Maralynne impressively, “you have to come.”
“I'll check with Sammy,” Rowena said, defeated. Because she knew Sammy would take it as a joke.
“And your mother too?” Sammy laughed.
“She thinks they're cute. She thinks they're cute and that's quite enough for her.” Rowena set the salad on the table and rolled her eyes.
“Makes sense to me,” Sammy said.
“My mother is not a guy.” Rowena made a face at him. “Anyway, I'd like to think that even a guy might have some standards.”
He grinned. “Hey, only the best for me.” He leaned over and kissed her. “So when is it?”
“The nineteenth, and I hope you're busy with something that makes a good excuse for me too.”
“Sorry.” He looked unrepentant. “You'll just have to hope that either Joe and Harry don't have enough fans here, or they're not all as enterprising as your sister.”
Rowena gave a small shudder. “Imagine a roomful of Joe and Harry's fans,” she said. “Why do I always feel obligated to do these things? Are you—what about Chester? He's going to have to sit there and watch Maralynne get all . . . You know how she is.”
“It won't be that bad,” Sammy said. “As for Chester, I'm sure he's seen plenty of this before.”
“Look at it this way: If he's not okay with it, maybe you can help. If he is okay, you've got nothing to worry about.”
“Except being locked in a studio with Maralynne and my mother and a bunch of Chow Hall fans.”
“They're harmless,” Sammy said. “Not in the best taste, perhaps . . .” Rowena laughed.
“Don't worry,” Sammy said. “Everything will be fine.”
As it happened she didn't have to imagine the studioful of Chow Hall fans; she got to see them. Maralynne called to announce, in great excitement, that the show would take place, and she was even more excited when she arrived to pick them up. Maralynne had insisted on driving, on the grounds that she had not only found the studio on the map but had driven out to it four times already to make sure she could find it. “Hurry!” Maralynne cried, as Rowena slid across the back seat towards her mother. “We don't want to get stuck way in the back!”
Speak for yourself, Rowena thought. Sammy climbed in beside her and Maralynne took off almost before he had his door closed.
“Maralynne, be careful,” Rowena's mother said. She studied Rowena critically. “Are you quite sure you want to wear that blouse on TV?” she asked.
“I'm not going on TV.” Her mother, Rowena noticed, was dressed to the nines.
“You are if they pan over the audience. Have you thought of that?”
One thing Rowena did not want was to be spotted in the audience of a Chow Hall broadcast. “If they pan in our direction, I'll duck,” she offered. “How's that?”
“And let people think there's an empty seat?” Maralynne cried. She swerved abruptly into the right lane to pass the car ahead, and two horns honked.
“Maralynne,” said their mother, “don't do that.”
“But there's less than two hours!”
“Two hours?” Rowena had not asked when the show actually began. She had simply followed Maralynne's departure schedule.
“You won't get there much sooner, Chicken,” said Chester mildly. “They did a scientific survey—”
“Oh, you,” said Maralynne. The car ahead of them stopped for a traffic light and she jammed on the brakes. “Stupid signal,” Maralynne said. “And that stupid driver; he coulda run that one.”
“Look at that! Look at that! We just passed that car a minute ago and he's ahead of us now!”
“If they make us late and we have to sit in the back and—”
“What would Joe and Harry say,” Rowena found herself asking, “if we got killed on the way to their show?”
There was a silence. Sammy squeezed her hand; she was sure he was thinking, as she was, that Joe and Harry would probably never hear of the accident and that even if they did, they would have no reason to connect it to their show. “I bet,” Sammy said, “they would feel terrible. They might even cancel their next appearance.”
“Maybe all of them,” Rowena said.
“Shit,” said Maralynne, awe in her voice. And when the light changed she pulled away a little less recklessly.
Despite Maralynne's sudden care behind the wheel, they arrived at the studio an hour and twenty minutes before the stated time. They were not the first. Maralynne was nearly enraged to see the line outside.
“I knew it! I knew it! You made me late! You and your safety and everything! I'll never get to see Joe and Harry properly and I'll—”
“Maralynne,” said Chester, “the doors are closed.”
“What? They're shutting me out? They can't do that! I'm their biggest fan! I'm a—”
“Lady,” said the man in front of her, “ they're not letting people in yet.”
“You'll get in,” he said, “as long as you have your ticket.” Maralynne sighed audibly, clutching the official Chow Hall envelope in which they'd arrived.
“Oh, thank you,” she told the man. “Thank you so—I am so—”
But he was patting his pockets, distressed. “Oh, no! I must have left—shit!” He turned a bit wildly to Maralynne. “Look, I gotta go; I'll be back in a few minutes. Will you save my place for me?”
“In front of me?” Maralynne cried. “Not on your life!”
“Maralynne—” said her mother.
“I came here to see Chow Hall, and I'm gonna—”
“Why don't we all sit together,” suggested Rowena's mother. “Wouldn't that be nice?”
“What if there aren't that many good seats together? What if there's only five?” A look of horror came over her face. “What if there's only four? What if—”
“Okay, Chow Hall fans!” cried a voice up by the door. “Here we go!”
And the line, with much cheering, began to move.
Maralynne charged down the aisle, pushing Chester ahead of her and literally pulling Rowena by the hand behind her. The seats she found them were not in the first row, but they were close enough to suit her. The man who'd been ahead of them in the line ended up sitting five or six people away. Rowena settled more or less comfortably; Phase One of the ordeal was over, and even though she had Maralynne on one side of her, she had Sammy on the other, and her mother clear over on Sammy's other side.
Now for Phase Two.
Maralynne leaned over Rowena to say to their mother, “Look! It's the kitchen!”
“And in just an hour Joe and Harry will be there. And here we are!”
“How about that?”
“Only an hour to go!” Maralynne said.
“They are cute, aren't they?” Rowena's mother observed.
“They are sooo cute! Even if they couldn't cook a thing I'd watch them.” Rowena looked past her sister to see how Chester was taking this. He sat staring straight ahead.
“Are they married?”
“I don't know. It doesn't say on their Web site or anywhere.” Maralynne looked at her watch. “Only fifty-seven minutes to go!”
Before long, Rowena was feeling a bit impatient herself—not just to have the whole thing over with, but to see Joe and Harry replace the exceptionally corny comedian who inexplicably reduced Maralynne and indeed most of Joe and Harry's fans to near-hysterical laughter—Chester included. He was turning very red, and seemed to have trouble breathing. Rowena became concerned.
“Is he okay?”
“He really likes puns,” Maralynne gasped between giggles. “Once he figures he knows you—”
“What kind of fruit repeats what you say?” the comedian asked. “A pear-ot!”
Not all of his jokes were puns, but there was a strong food theme. Rowena tried not to look too pained, but the comedian didn't seem to notice. Rowena suspected he had seen this sort of reaction before.
“Are they ready?” the man asked somebody in the wings. And then he turned to the audience. “Are you ready?” An approving roar. “O-kay! Hang onto your taste buds, guys; put your mitts together and fork over some applause, 'cause here's Joe and Harry!”
Rowena thought her sister was having some kind of attack. Maralynne was on her feet, shrieking at the top of her lungs, trying simultaneously to clap her hands and wave her arms while wiggling just about everything else. She wasn't the only one behaving this way, but Rowena wasn't sure whether this made things better or worse.
“Jooooooe!” Maralynne screamed. “Harrrr-eeeee! I love yooou!”
Rowena looked apprehensively at Chester, who seemed to be staring at the seatback in front of him. “Maralynne,” she said futilely. She raised her voice. “Maralynne! Sit down!”
Joe and Harry finished waving at the crowd and began to signal for silence. Eventually even Maralynne subsided. “Welcome to the Chow Hall kitchen!” said Joe or Harry, which almost started another riot. “In fact, welcome to Chow Hall,” said Harry or Joe; and it was some time before they could say anything else.
“We're so happy to be here,” said Joe or Harry. “We have always wanted to come to . . . where did you say we are, Joe?”
“Check your ticket, Harry. No, not your speeding ticket.” Joe grinned at his audience, most of which seemed unduly appreciative. Rowena's mother leaned over Sammy and almost over Rowena to a loudly-laughing Maralynne.
“Why would he have a speeding ticket if he took the train or a plane or something?”
“If he has a plane ticket or whatever, to show him where he went, why—”
“Maybe it's from a rental car,” said Maralynne impatiently.
“It's a joke,” Rowena said.
“You have to be able to concentrate to cook,” said Rowena's mother. “Are you sure—”
“Ssssh!” said Maralynne.
“Mom,” Rowena said, “it's a joke.”
“It's just a joke. Don't worry about it.”
“Sssssssh!” said Maralynne. And she did, for once, as Joe and Harry described the day's delights.
“Today's Guy Food is Shredded Cheese Toast, which is kind of like the grilled cheese sandwich we had some time back, only quicker and easier. Our Pickle Pointer is a leftover, as it were, from the canceled Macon gig: Pickled Possum.”
“No wonder Macon canceled,” Sammy whispered in Rowena's ear.
“I told you, Joe; we should have done bacon in Macon.” Maralynne laughed immoderately at this, despite having heard it before and even having told it to Rowena. “Or Pickled Porker.” More laughter.
“And finally: Spam & Bean Cornflake Bake. This is the reason we're doing Shredded Cheese Toast; they go so well together, it's worth making two kinds of food for the same meal.”
“As long as one is as easy and quick as Shredded Cheese Toast.”
Rowena's mother leaned over again. “Do they ever do vegetables?”
“What?” demanded Maralynne, eyes on her heroes.
“It's Guy Food,” Rowena said. “Despite what they say about having a special segment for it, it's pretty much all Guy Food.”
“Sssssh!” insisted Maralynne.
During the taping of the half-hour show, which in reality lasted a good deal longer than half an hour, though not nearly as long as it seemed to Rowena, Rowena learned several things. She learned that her sister was capable of laughing at the same joke through four or five takes, each time as if she had never heard it before. Exactly as if she had never heard it before. Rowena also learned that she still could not tell Joe and Harry apart, no matter how much she tried to care; that her sister was much less tolerant of other people's remarks when Joe and Harry were performing; and that her mother was indeed capable of setting aside minor issues like vegetables when faced with more vital concerns.
Joe and Harry had just removed their toast from the toaster and were sprinkling it heavily with shredded cheddar from a pre-shredded-cheddar bag. “A girl might grate it herself, but we're guys,” one of them said, and grinned up at the assembly.
“He smiled at me!” cried Rowena's mother.
“No, he smiled at me!” Maralynne glared at her from around Rowena and Sammy.
“He smiled at me!” Rowena's mother was offended.
“You're crazy,” Maralynne said, inches from Rowena's face.
“He is so cute,” Rowena's mother said, gazing again at the “kitchen” and its occupants. And from that point she watched the show in half-dazed contentment, even smiling though the Pickled Possum instructions.
“Well,” said Joe (unless it was Harry), “That's about it for this very special Chow Hall, taped in front of a live audience in—” He motioned for the audience to yell the name of their city, which they enthusiastically did. And then his compatriot took over.
“Of course we like to think that all our shows are special, so we hope you'll tune in next time too, when we tackle some tasty tidbits. Our Guy Food will be Hot Chocolate with special added flavorings—”
“Like orange, mint, and vinegar.”
“Don't give away all my secrets. After that, we'll pickle up some potatoes, and finish by making Marshmallow Fluff With Sugar Sprinkles. So until then, this is Joe—”
“And our special studio audience, reminding you to . . .” And he cued the audience again, and all around Rowena came the roar, “Cook up and chow down!”
“Goodbye!” And the taping was over.
Rowena bent thankfully for her purse, but it turned out she couldn't leave yet. Instead of making a decent departure, Joe and Harry came down from their kitchen to talk to the audience. Rowena slid towards the seat of her chair and hoped that Maralynne, wildly waving her hand, would not be called on. And though she thought she saw Joe and Harry look several times in her sister's direction, the session was concluded without her input.
Maralynne crossed her arms and bounced in her seat. “I would be such a good Girl Assistant,” she pouted.
“But stick around,” Joe or Harry said, “and right over there you can buy your souvenirs, to remind you of this special day—and to help you in your own kitchen at home. Chow Hall cookbooks, aprons, mitts, trivets, mugs—you name it.”
“We'll be manning—or guy-ing—the booth ourselves, so come up and say hi,” added Harry or Joe. And off they went in the direction indicated.
“Well,” Rowena began. “Looks like—”
But her sister was already gone, pushing through the crowd in pursuit. She did say something as she went, but it was not very coherent.
“Well,” Sammy said, “looks like we're gonna be here a while longer.”
“They're so cute,” said Rowena's mother. “And such good role models for young men today.” Rowena looked at her, then at Sammy.
“Role models?” Rowena asked. “Didn't you say that joke about the speeding ticket—”
“Do they give you any ideas?” She was addressing Chester—and Sammy.
“Actually,” Sammy said, “I learn a lot more from watching Rowena cook.” The way he said it made it sound more like a compliment to Rowena than a remark about Joe and Harry.
“I made a grilled cheese sandwich,” Chester offered.
“How wonderful,” Rowena's mother said. She began a long, almost entirely one-sided discussion about Modern Times and Togetherness in the Kitchen and how, while nothing could be better than a wife who looked after her husband, a modern-style husband who could help out from time to time—not that he should have to do this often—and how young men Needed an Example to Inspire them . . .
Rowena did her best not to listen, though she couldn't help thinking that young men would do better to become Inspired by a Good Example. She waited as patiently as she could for her sister's return. She couldn't turn to look without turning her back on her mother—and she felt rude enough already, just not-listening to her—but every now and then there seemed to be a commotion of some kind, coming from the sales table. She tried not to feel nervous.
It seemed to take a very long time, but eventually Maralynne was back. “Well,” she said, from behind Rowena, “they aren't staying here and they don't need a Girl Assistant, but at least I got a lot of stuff.”
So she had; both arms were full. “Maralynne,” Rowena said, “I thought you already had a Chow Hall apron and . . . everything.”
“Yeah, but sometimes it's dirty and . . .”
“How many do you need? And—what is that, three cookbooks? Four?”
“I wanted Joe and Harry to see how loyal I am,” Maralynne said. “Plus I just did my Christmas shopping. Early, for once.” Suddenly a look of horror crossed her face, and she half-turned away. “Don't look.”
“Our eyes are sealed,” said Rowena's mother. “Maralynne, you always know just the right thing to give.”
“Too bad they don't need a Girl Assistant,” Chester said.
“Well—it made sense when they explained it. Harry said I would be too distracting.” Whatever disappointment she had suffered seemed to have been eclipsed by Harry's remark; Maralynne turned her head and gave Chester a very meaning smile. “Here,” she said, transferring her cargo into his arms. “I'm going to the Ladies' Room.”
“I'll come with you,” said Rowena's mother. And they left, chattering happily.
“So cute,” Rowena's mother said, as they faded out of earshot.
“Well,” Rowena said, “they've sure been having a good time.” She wanted, somehow, to apologize to her sister's boyfriend.
“Yep,” Chester said.
“Maralynne . . . sure likes the show.”
“She loves Joe and Harry,” Chester said, “like I love pizza.” And he smiled. “Pizza,” he repeated, earnestly.
“I am so glad,” Rowena said, “that it's over with.”
Sammy laughed, easing himself onto their couch. “I've had better afternoons,” he said.
“You don't suppose we are going to be visible when they air the thing, do you?”
“Maralynne might, or your mom. But I don't think they're going to want to show a couple of unappreciative heathens like us. Although,” he went on, “I fully believe that was you Joe smiled at, ugly blouse or not.”
“How do you know it wasn't Harry?” Rowena asked, and then something occurred to her. “My mother gave me this blouse,” she said. “This blouse that she said was too ugly for that stupid show, she gave it to me herself.”
Sammy laughed, then patted the couch cushion next to him. “Come here,” he said. Rowena came.
“Now,” Sammy said, “didn't I tell you everything would be okay? Including Chester?”
“I was afraid for a moment she'd try to move to—wherever they do the show, and insist he come with her.”
“He might have done it. But that would have been his choice.” He stroked her hair. “If she'd really wanted this gig, or gag, perhaps.”
Rowena groaned. “Are you sure it's over?” she asked. “Are you going to be doing food puns at me now?” Sammy laughed.
“Maybe,” he said, “you'll just have to take my mind off it.”
Rowena laughed. “Well, I can try,” she said. She snuggled closer. “I can certainly try.”
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