During my military days in Germany, there was a fair amount of having a beer or two at lunch.  If it was a going-away for someone – and those were legion – it was not uncommon to whip a boot out.  Not a leather boot, but one made of clear glass, big enough for someone with a petite foot to slip on.

The tradition of the boot is:  The barkeep fills it with beer and the boot is passed around a long crowded table of well-wishers.  The object is to A) Party, but also B) Finish the last swallow of beer which forces the person before you to pay for another boot.  Nobody wanted to get stuck with a boot bill, so when there wasn’t much beer left, people worked a little harder to finish it off.

Only one problem.  The boot has a built-in calamity.  Depending on how you tip that last bit of brew, there can be a backwash backdraft effect.  It is fairly easy to accidentally introduce an air pocket into the toe portion which then forcefully blows beer up all over you and your crisp uniform.

At one of these luncheons, I sat directly across from a couple who were strictly Mormon.  Strictly.  They didn’t even drink hot chocolate because of the minute amount of caffeine.

When the boot swung around their way, they smiled, politely demurred, and passed it on.

Going-away luncheons could get rowdy.  It was not unusual for boots to be followed by shots washed down with individual servings of beer.  Bottom line not up front:  A lot of alcohol was consumed at these soirees.  We always picked local gasthaus accommodations so people didn’t have to drive.  Safety-wise, by the time you walked back to work and slumped in your chair for several hours, you were safe to drive home.

This 1980s routine would never be encouraged in the military today.  It was just a different time when even commanders occasionally showed and got inebriated with the troops.

Everybody knew the gig.

Including the Mormon couple across from me.

Still, that didn’t make what I did right.

It was toward the end of the festivities.  Food and drink had been plentiful.  People were loud.  Laughing.  Me included.

I went to reach for my fresh glass of Pils.  I misjudged the short distance from my hand to the glass, and in one swooping bump, knocked my full glass over, whereupon the beer made a direct dart for the Mormon wife across from me.

Oh, I got her good.  No doubt.  Drenched.

Her conservative dress buttoned at the neck came down to within 6 inches of her ankles.  Beer droplets sprayed up on her top half, but most of the liquid mass dumped off the edge of the table straight into her lap.

She and her husband were up out of their chairs instantly.  She stood there with beer staining the front of her dress,  drops dripping onto her shoes from her mid-calves hemline.

They didn’t get mad.  They didn’t cuss me out.  They were very Mormon about it.  Understanding, even.

When we all walked back to work, the Mormon woman, who had attended for the sole purpose of accompanying her husband, drove home by herself.

I know she smelled like a brewery.  Probably stunk up her car a little.  Then she had to wash everything.  Her dress, her underwear, her person.  And hopefully she got the crime scene cleaned up prior to the kids coming home from school.  I would hate for her children to think their Mommy had gone off the deep end at my expense.

But hey.  That was decades ago.  Either they’ve forgotten the incident or they are still praying for my redemption.  Either way, I’m good.

Everyone has had a bad lunch date here and there.

Some of my most interesting lunches were the ones where I didn’t actually eat lunch.

My most expensive lunch without food involved cost me $500.  What?  Yeah.  That was 1989.  Paul McCartney was sweeping through LA playing a 4-day Thanksgiving gig at the Forum.  Tickets were sold out in a couple of hours.  I contacted a guy who put an ad in the newspaper.  He had two 13th-row center tickets for $250 each.  Nowadays that’s what they’d charge you at the box office, but back then, these were scalper rates.

I called his number.

He gave me the rules.

“So listen, tomorrow, I want you to meet me on this street corner in LA.  You pull up to the corner with $500 in cash.  I’ll be standing on the corner with the 2 tickets.  You don’t get out of the car.  You stop at the light, you hand over the money, and I hand over the tickets.  We part as friends.”

Sketchy as the arrangement was, I actually signed up to this.  I was trusting Paul’s karma to protect me.  The seats were legit.  And it turned out to be one of the best nights of our lives.  So maybe it was worth skipping food that day.

It was around that time I was on a business trip.  California?  Colorado?  Texas?  I think it was a conference in Texas.  Can’t remember.  But I remember we had python for lunch.

Calm down, we didn’t actually eat a python.  No.  Rather, I and a small group of conference attendees were invited to a local abode to see a python during our lunch break.  So the intent was not to eat, but rather to go see some dude’s python eat.

We followed this guy to his house and went inside where he led us into a room with a rather large rectangular container centered in the middle of the floor.  There was a top secured on the container.

Python guy looked at us and cautioned, “Okay, the snake is pretty hungry, so you might want to take a step back.”

We did.  As you do.

The plan was to feed the 9-foot python, but first, you had to get the lid open to get the food into the snake’s habitat.

Our host grabbed a cowboy hat, but he didn’t put it on.  He stood with one hand resting on the edge of the lid and used his other hand to cup the cowboy hat like he was poised to put it on.

“She’s gonna be fast, I’m just warnin’ ya.”

And she was.  The lid was quickly picked up by the corner and the big snake didn’t hesitate to lunge.  The moment it zipped up toward its owner, the guy plopped the cowboy hat down over the snake’s head.

It was a comical effect because the snake seemed confused, not sure of its next move.  While the owner dropped the food in, the top part of the snake remained extended upright, darting to and fro with a cowboy hat draped over its head.

Then in one continuous motion, the dude used the cowboy hat to push the snake’s head down and close the lid.  The confused python settled down into the container to enjoy lunch.

The owner told us he was a snake breeder and proudly announced his pet python was pregnant.  He told us the first time snake eggs were supposed to come out, they didn’t.  This was followed by the smell of rotting decay.  He called the breeder who had gotten him started and was told that with their first “litter,” snakes can’t often discharge in captivity.  Solution:  Secure the snake and physically put your hand in the snake to remove the dead little ones.  So he had to do that.  And sure enough, his sage friend was right – “litters” after that had been normal.

You know, however delivering baby pythons fits into normal.

During the early 90s, I worked in upstate New York.  One day, I was invited to lunch with a group from work I normally never went to lunch with.  There was a big guy named Paul with us.

Paul took us to his favorite pizza joint.  He was a regular and the staff greeted him (and us) warmly.

The waitress went around the table and finished with Paul’s order.

“The usual?” she asked.

Paul nodded.

As she went to leave, Paul stopped her.

“Hey –“

She stopped, smiled, and cut him off.  “I know.  Unsliced.”

When we got our pizza, Paul took his unsliced pie and rolled it into a cylinder.

This was a large pizza, not some personal pan rendering.

What followed was something out of a National Geographic wildlife special.  Paul took his rolled pizza into both hands, angled it above his head, tilted his face upward, disengaged his jaw like a pet python, and shoved the end of the pizza roll into his mouth.

He ate the whole thing, albeit not all at once.

I hadn’t come for a show, but I got one.  And this wasn’t the 4-dollar show.  No.  This was the $4.50 show as Steve Martin might say.

Decades later when I put that into a scene for our movie Faux Paws, audience members thought I was brilliant.  Like, who would ever think of that?

I am quick to tell them I didn’t think it up, I actually saw someone do this.

I kept that one in my mental Rolodex for over 20 years before I could put it to good use.

That happened in Rome, New York.

So did the Peking ducks.

I used to work with a Chinese IT program manager named Paul.  Sometimes Paul traveled from our California plant for meetings at the base I worked at.  Not far from the base was a Chinese restaurant I drove by each day on my way to and from work.  It was Paul’s favorite.  He marveled about that joint.

“I always have the Peking duck and I swear to you it’s the best I’ve ever had.  It’s so fresh!”

After Paul’s recommendation, I went there a few times.  And then one morning on my way to work, I saw the place was closed.  Overnight.  Barren inside.  All the signs taken down.  Nobody home.

One wondered what could have caused the demise of an eating establishment that on the surface seemed very successful.

We didn’t have to wonder long.  About a week after the mysterious closing, an article appeared in the city newspaper about the family who owned Paul’s favorite Chinese restaurant.

The family had been arrested at Niagara Falls, some 3 hours away from Rome.  It seems they were making weekend trips to the Falls.  Like, every weekend.

The National Parks guy that caught them said he watched the family having a picnic sitting in a circle on a blanket.  In the pouring rain.  So the National Parks dude hid from a distance and observed one of them get up from the circle, walk over to where ducks were waddling around, club one over the head, and bring it back to their car, whereupon the trunk was popped to reveal a cooler which the Chinese clubber threw the bludgeoned duck into.  Then he went back and sat with his family having their picnic in the rain.

It was an easy collar.  When the authorities swooped in to arrest everyone, they found the cooler in the family’s trunk chock full of freshly dead ducks.

I’m sure when the family sat around their dinner table drawing their ingenious cost-cutting strategy out on a bar napkin, the plan seemed sound.  Too bad greed got in the way.  If only they hadn’t picnicked in the rain, they might still be in business.

‘Cause lemme tell ya.  Paul was right.

That was some damned good Peking duck.