Way back in the 1940's, I vaguely recall getting a ticket for something that had to do with parking. It's been so long ago now that honestly, I've forgotten all other details regarding the incident except that my dear husband Saul (godresthissoul) thought it amusing that I'd gotten so out of sorts about the simple infraction. He'd paid it off immediately with no further comment, though I'd insisted we should contest it. Besides that one unfortunate ticket, in all my 91 years I've steered clear of any trouble with the law. ...until today.
Today was my birthday. As with most birthdays over the past two decades, my dear friends Alice, Nina, Dot and I got together to celebrate. It has become our custom over the years for the previous celebrant to choose the location for the next get-together. Three months ago, we'd all ridden up to Chattanooga together to a delightful spot on the riverfront that Nina's son had recommended when celebrating Alice turning 85. Today, Alice had chosen her favorite local restaurant called Longstreet Cafe, ("We put the Home in the Cooking!") famous for their fried chicken. Though I'd visited Gainesville occasionally over the years I'd yet to dine there, despite my best intent to do so, and was excited to finally try the "Best Fried Chicken you'll ever sink your teeth into" as our friend shared in the email chat when we were all planning the trip.
Though we are not generally a very rowdy lot, we are known to get a little boisterous when the four of us gather to celebrate a birthday. On these occasions, Dot can be a bit of a scamp with a penchant for bestowing the current 'birthday girl' with an elaborately festooned box holding gifts intended to bring blushes when opened in public. Because we've all become accustomed to her mischievous pranks, the tendency has become to unwrap her gifts with a certain degree of secrecy and caution. Rightfully so, as it seems nothing is beyond her! We've collectively received baskets of condoms, huge dildos, edible underwear - even a young male stripper when celebrating Nina's 80th a few years back at a Japanese steakhouse in Atlanta. The rest of us, being spared on the occasion of another's birthday, look forward to seeing what will surface when the celebrated victim eventually gets around to showing the table what Dot has gotten up to this time. Other than those moments of unveiling being filled with our hoots and howls, most of our birthday meals have gone off quietly, without a hitch as they say. Today was no exception, in the beginning anyway.
When I slowly unboxed four XXX videos with half naked men and unrobed women on the covers, along with a stack of vintage "Hustler" magazines bundled together with a polka dot pink bow, we all had a good laugh and began talking over each other. As Alice took to reading the names of the videos out loud, I noticed a fully uniformed police officer over her shoulder sitting at the booth behind us, eyeing us with what seemed to be suspicion. As he slowly ate his pie and sipped his coffee, I attempted eye contact with the intent to offer a smile letting him know that we were only up to harmless fun, however it was to no avail. He seemed intent on seeing malice from our table, which began to make me uneasy. My unsettling thoughts were interupted by Mae, the smiling waitress who had appeared to take our orders. We all settled on the fried chicken and salad bar, with the slightest prompting from Alice in that direction. There were so many options at the salad bar, I was afraid I wouldn't have room for the main meal!
As we were all finishing up our salads, Mae brought our orders and refilled our iced teas. I then again noticed the menacing police officer peering from above his seemingly bottomless cup of coffee with squinted, troubling eyes. I mentioned in a whisper to Nina what I'd noted and she brushed off my comment with lots of oooh's and aaahhh's directed at the plates Mae had set down before us. Temporarily forgetting about the officer, I grabbed my fork and knife and began digging into the hearty plate of food - and THAT is when the trouble began.
Before I'd barely gotten the first bite of chicken in my mouth, I saw him slide out of his booth, glaring at me with a look of official intention that could not be mistaken. Though I'd done nothing wrong, I felt my stomach twist up in knots and I felt certain that my fork would fall from my shaking hand. As I watched in horror, he stepped up next to me and I noted his nametag said Hooper. Further, his shining badge directed towards me at eye level showed that he was a Police Chief. "Oh my word. What trouble have we gotten ourselves into?" I thought to myself with a great deal of dismay.
When he said "Put down that fork and listen up" I listened up... and down and inside out. My goodness. He certainly had my full attention. I looked around the table panicked, to recognize that he'd gotten the full attention of each of my friends as well. With a stern expression he followed with "You apparently are not aware ma'am that it is against city ordinance to eat fried chicken with anything other than your fingers." then added "Fried chicken is a culinary delicacy sacred to this municipality, this county, this state, the Southland and this republic."
Well, what can I say? I was shaken right down to the core. I'd never, in all my life heard anything like this. I dropped my fork as requested when, from thin air, he pulled out a blue folder and started reading a citation for my arrest!
Though I wanted to protest and tell him that I only broke the rule because I never knew there could BE a rule so silly as that, no such words dared come from my mouth. Instead my jaw dropped as I turned toward my friends with tears forming in my eyes. When I looked at Alice however, my fears suddenly began to dissolve. She was obviously stifling a laugh as Dot leaned on her shoulder in my direction and let go of such a big hearty laugh that she actually passed gas. At this, Nina put her arm around my shoulder and all 3 of my friends grabbed my hands as they burst into laughter. With tears streaming down her face, Dot chortled "OHHHH we got you Ginny, we sure did!"
I looked back to Police Chief Hooper and saw that he could no longer keep a straight face. His charming dimples appeared out of nowhere rendering him completely unthreatening. Then shaking his head and chuckling, he clucked his teeth and leaned in to give me a hug, planting a kiss on the top of my head.
As I looked from Nina to Dot to Alice and then Officer Hooper, I was at a loss. Thankfully I was saved from having to think of a single word in response to the whole mixed up affair as Mae came out of the kitchen with a large cake blazing with candles. I looked around in disbelief to see everyone in the restaurant on their feet smiling at me and singing Happy Birthday in unison. Being filled with so many emotions I thought surely I'd need some help getting to my feet. Before the thought had barely formed in my head, the handsome Officer Hooper was helping me to my feet and all of my friends were out of the booth holding me up and rubbing my back as Mae brought the cake over with everyone gathering around still singing. What a hoot. My heart was still beating double time as my friends and I blew out every single candle together.
As Alice and Mae busied themselves with cutting the beautiful cake and doling out pieces to everyone there, a handsome lady in a pantsuit came over with Police Chief Hooper and introduced herself as Mayor Myrtle Figueras. As she gently took my hand, she said "I'm here to dismiss the charges of improper poultry consumption, but only on the grounds that you come back to visit frequently and eat lots of Gainsville chicken" which I readily agreed to do.
As I sat down to my piece of cake amidst the revelry, I left my fork where it'd fallen from my hand earlier and lifted the chocolate rose from the top with my fingers, making a silent pact to never ever use a fork in Gainesville again... just to be on the safe side.
Author's note: The above is based on this article from the 2009 Gainesville Times