LAKE GEORGE, New York. It’s 5 p.m. and the dinner hour for most guests at the posh Martin Van Buren Inn in this Adirondack Mountain resort town is still several hours away, but one couple sitting in the parking lot appears ready to begin their evening meal. “We want to get them during the blue-hair dinner hours,” says Tony Tomasetti, and his partner Mike Adamley nods in agreement.
“Them types haven’t got long to live,” Adamley says as he watches an elderly gentlemen make his way up the ramp to Ye Old Kinderhook Grille with the assistance of a walker and his much-younger wife. “If any of this stuff infected a little kid who come in here for chicken fingers I could never forgive myself.”
The two men get out of the car and, after confirming their reservation at the maître d’s station, sit down at a table overlooking the water. Drinks are served, and then a waiter re-appears to take their orders.
“Do you have any questions on the menu?” he asks.
“Yeah, I got a couple of questions,” Tomasetti says innocently, and the waiter replies with a friendly “Fire away!”
“What’s the story with the quotes all over the place?” Tomasetti asks, his tone turning from cordial to cold.
“I’m sorry?” the waiter asks.
“You got ‘Original recipe,’ and ‘Home-made’ and ‘Farm fresh’–all in quotes.”
“Is there a problem with that?”
“Who you quoting?” Adamley says, jumping into the fray.
“Well, nobody, I guess. Or maybe somebody said it once, so now we’re . . . repeating it?” the waiter essays without confidence.
“Waiter, there’s a semi-colon in my clam chowder.”
“It’s not good English,” Tomasetti says. “I’m gonna have to write you up,” he says as he takes out his wallet and flashes the badge he carries as a duly-authorized officer of the New York State Punctuation Police, a/k/a “The Punc Patrol,” which metes out fines to retail establishments for misuse of punctuation marks, producing revenues that help balance the state’s budget.
“Don’t let it happen again,” Adamley says sternly to the waiter, who turns the violation ticket over the restaurant manager. “Second violation is double fines.” With that the two gendarmes de ponctuation hit the road, comforted by the knowledge that their efforts to keep the pure language of New Yorkers free of extraneous marks and symbols is making a difference.
“You see the look on that guy’s face?” Tomasetti says to his partner. “He was like ‘What’d I do wrong?’”
“I know,” Adamley says as he shakes his head. “Ignorance of the rules of punctuation is no excuse.”
“Whadda ya say, you wanna go in here?” Tomasetti asks as he slows down outside The Garden of Enid, a vegan restaurant owned by Enid Pfalscroft, a tall woman with long greyish-brown hair who boasts that patrons will find it hard to tell the difference between their entrees and the compost heap out back.
“I dunno,” Adamley says, surveying the scene. “I’m thinking she’s educated, probably not a target-rich environment as General Schwarzkopf used to say.”
“I bet you a tofu burger you’re wrong,” Tomasetti says.
“You’re on,” his partner says, and the two pile out of their car and take a seat at a long communal table that has yet to fill up.
“Welcome to the Garden of Enid!” their server, a young woman who identifies herself only as “Caitlin” says. “Have you ever dined with us before?”
“No, what’s the deal?” Adamley asks.
“We have an all-you-can-eat buffet, or you can order from the menu.”
Adamley eyes Tomasetti and says “We’ll take a look at the menu.”
When the waitress returns she hands each man a bill of fare that’s big enough to make a shutter on the historical building they’re sitting in, but the fixture-like burden isn’t enough to break Tomasetti’s gleeful mood when he takes a gander at his choices. “It looks like they’ve got salads’ and soups’–with an apostrophe,” he says to his partner, who grimaces knowing he’s going to have to pick up the tab.
“All right– you win,” Adamley says. “Take it easy on me, would you?”
Caitlin returns and asks if they’re ready to order, to which Tomasetti replies “In a minute–first we have the little matter of stray apostrophes to clear up.”
“Apostrophes? You mean on the Caesar salad?”
“Was that ‘so wrong’?”
“No, those are anchovies. You got apostrophes all over the place here,” Tomasetti continues, pointing at the menu. “Do you even know what an apostrophe is for?”
Caitlin, who is majoring in Independent Studies at SUNY-Cazenovia, shrugs her shoulders and then speaks in an uncertain tone that suggests she’s guessing. “It means . . . there’s an ‘s’ somewhere nearby?”
“That’s what everybody seems to think these days,” Tomasetti says as he pulls his ticket book out of his back pocket and begins to scribble. “It’s used only to form possessive nouns, to indicate the omission of a letter in a contraction like ‘can’t,’ and sometimes the plural form of letters and figures–got it?”
Caitlin looks down at the violation notice–$50 per inappropriate apostrophe, a total of $150, and tears begin to form in her eyes. “That ain’t for you to pay,” Adamley says, trying to comfort the young woman. “Under the doctrine of respondeat superior it’s your boss’s problem.”
“Okay,” she sniffles.
“He picked that up at night law school, miss–don’t take him too seriously,” Tomasetti says with a well-tempered smile.
The young woman disappears and returns with tofu burgers and zucchini fries, and the two men dig in. “You hope you can turn a young kid like that around before it’s too late,” Adamley says.
“You mean like a smiley-face on the bill?”
“Don’t get me started,” Adamley says as he mops his plate with a gluten-free bun. He grabs the check when it comes and the two get back in their unmarked car, sated from their healthy repast. As they cruise down State Route 9 it occurs to Adamley that, given the low-calorie meal they’ve just eaten, he can indulge himself in an after-dinner treat that would otherwise be verboten under a dietary regime imposed by his wife.
“You wanna stop for an ice cream cone?” he asks Tomasetti.
“Sure, I could go for some butter rum right now.”
The late model sedan pulls up to I Scream 4 U, a late-in-life career change for Jed Cruet, a former Wall Street banker who tries to express his long-suppressed creativity by assigning allegedly humorous names–pushed across by exclamation points–to the various ice cream flavors he sells.
“What’ll you guys have?” Cruet asks as he sticks his head up close to a window screen to take the incognito cops’ order. “Some Very Very Berry!”
“Some Really Rocky Road!”
“How ’bout Strawberry Cheesecake 2 Die 4!”
The two look at each other, then move in for “the collar.”
“You have the right to remain silent,” Tomasetti says grimly. “You better use it.”
“What–what did I do?”
“You got three exclamation points right off the bat where you’re only zoned for two.”