Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Last time, I told you about how I became the world's youngest professional blackjack dealer. At the end of that piece, I promised to tell you about the time I ate a hippopotamus.
No, I’m not tripping.
As I explained in the other piece, I worked for an outfit that ran Monte Carlo or Las Vegas nights. These were affairs wherein our organization was hired to provide all of the equipment and personnel needed for a night of gambling. I mostly worked as a blackjack dealer during these events, but did occasional turns as a roulette croupier, stickman on a craps table, or other gambling-related chores.
Well, one time we were hired to set up at the New England Aquarium. It was a private function, played totally with “fun” chips; that is, no real money exchanged hands and all winnings were paid out, at the end of the evening, in prizes provided by the organization who had hired us as entertainment for their members.
We set up our equipment at various places throughout the Aquarium. If you’re familiar with the Aquarium, you know that it is built around the main exhibit area, a huge central fish tank. A large ramp circles this tank and takes you up higher and higher as you walk it. There are other exhibits off to the side on the ground floor. That area is level, of course. Since a craps table needs a level area, we set that up near the entrance. The roulette wheel also needed someplace where the results wouldn’t be skewed by gravity, so they set up near the craps table. However, blackjack tables were set up at various places around the central fish tank and at other exhibits. Cards don’t need balance.
I was dealing blackjack that night and my table was set up in front of the railing that enclosed the penguin exhibit. What with the plethora of cute penguins populating movies these days, you may find the following hard to believe, but please take it from someone who spent three hours with them one night. Penguins are some of the most prodigious farters in the animal kingdom.
Every couple of minutes, while I worked this table, there’d be a loud blast of penguin ass trumpet. I wanted to make sure that the people playing at my table knew that it wasn’t their dealer who was fouling the air, but I couldn’t very well interrupt play every time it happened to say, "It's not me! It's those filthy birds!" I mean, I had to assume this event was being held at the Aquarium because these people enjoyed creatures that lived in the water. Maybe the people at my table were big-time penguin aficionados. If I insulted the penguins, I might cost myself a tip or two.
(Of course, if they didn’t care about penguins and they thought I was the one farting, I sure wouldn’t be getting any tips for that, either. It was pretty much a no-win situation.)
After dealing cards in front of the farting penguins, I was told – along with the rest of the crew –that we were invited to join the members of the sponsoring organization in the large main dining room of the Aquarium for dinner. This wasn’t a total surprise, as many of the people we worked for allowed us to scarf from a buffet or whatever, but this was a black tie and tails crowd. The dinner promised to be a decent one.
As we entered the dining room, we found out just how unique a dinner this was going to be. The sponsoring organization was made up of big-game hunters. We had been invited to partake of their various catches, kills, and trappings.
Here are the meats that were on the menu: Elk, Wild Boar, Deer, Rattlesnake, Lion, Bear, and Hippopotamus.
For some of the guys, this was not the meal of their dreams. My Dad, for one. He was a person who loved a good meal - quite a good amateur chef, actually - and he enjoyed dining at fine restaurants worldwide. However, his palate was rather limited. He hated fish, he hated garlic, and he was not a big fan of anything he hadn’t eaten at least once before in his life. If he had to do so, he would eat at a McDonald’s in a foreign city rather than subject himself to the local unfamiliar cuisine. The prospect of chowing down on a big plate of Yogi & Boo-Boo was not something he relished. He was also deathly afraid of snakes, so he didn’t even want to be in the same room as a rattlesnake, even it was deep-fried.
On the other hand, I was ready to try everything. I was a little bit hesitant about the lion, having had cats for pets for most of my life, but I figured this was probably my one and only shot at it, so I took a lion steak covered in gravy back to our table. My buddies from the crew all had plates full of strange and interesting things, none of which were identifiable unless you asked. Odd conversations were the order of the day.
“Hey, Rusty, what the hell is that?”
“Venison. It tastes a bit like corned beef. What have you got, Brian?”
“I think it’s bear.”
“You think it’s bear? Don’t you know?”
“Well, the sign said bear but it was kind of in-between two different plates of meats and the other sign said elk. I’ve never had bear before, so how can I be sure?”
“Ask it if it shits in the woods.”
Lion was not the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Maybe lion is swell and the gravy was bad; I’m willing to allow for benefit of the doubt. In any case, I had one big bite and decided to go get something else.
I returned to the table with a plate full of hippopotamus.
“Hey, Jim, that looks pretty good! Is it beef of some sort?”
“Hippo? Man, it looks like prime rib!”
I replied, with a mouth full of hippo, “Iggseggslent!”
I swallowed and said, “It’s excellent! It tastes like prime rib!”
I (excuse the expression) wolfed down the hippo and went back for seconds. It really was that good. Many of the crew followed me to the hippo station.
After the excellent hippo, I decided to try something else. Who knew? Maybe rattlesnake would be excellent, too.
Nope. Rattlesnake was most decidedly NOT excellent. I went back for thirds on the hippo.
For dessert, there were chocolate-covered ants and some sort of deep-fried honey-covered grasshoppers. I decided that I preferred to keep the taste of hippo in my mouth rather than eat bugs.
All in all, the hunters were a fun bunch and it was very nice of them to share their bounty with us. I have to say I was glad they didn't have fillet of flatulent penguin on the menu. However, the next time I see hippo on the menu, I will definitely order it.
Next in the parade of my past jobs: Barker on a Walking Charlie.
Soon, with more better stuff.