On What Would You Do?, a hidden-camera show on network television, actors play out scenarios in public places to expose the apathy Americans have for, well, just about everything.
The situations usually involve some moral or ethical dilemma and, as viewers, we are appalled that more people walking down city streets or eating in diners don’t stick up for the gay, fat, abused, discriminated or slow among us. You may not have seen the program, but my brother “Crazy” Eddie and his wife Sandy love it, or so they said when my family visited theirs over spring break. The eight of us were eating together at Fulton’s Crab House in Downtown Disney; like every other structure in Mouseschwitz, the riverboat was a replica, but the food seemed very real and quite delicious. Breaking bread with my actor-brother in a public place is like riding a roller coaster through downtown Manhattan. The velocity of his speech is shocking; the way he changes subjects and voices mimics a thrill ride’s sharp twists and turns, and a crowd usually forms sometime during the meal.
Since I live in the desert, I ordered an embarrassment of crab, including a cast that had been sliced by an actual laser, which seemed right given the highfalutin way Disney rolls. I half-expected some sort of pyrotechnics to emerge out of my seafood bisque, costumed characters to come by and refill our water glasses. But the real show at Fulton’s was Eddie. After firing off a few pirate jokes in a dead-on Capt. Jack Sparrow voice, Eddie grabbed some discards from his platter, turned around, then turned back like he was about to do his impression of Richard Nixon. Protruding from his lips were crab claws wiggling in the way a crab’s might if it were alive and stuck in a grown man’s mouth.
“Help me,” the crab cried. “Please help me escape.”
I understood the sentiment.
If our eight-top hadn’t been loud enough before, the eruption of laughter sealed our place in the obnoxious table hall of fame. I could tell by Eddie’s glaring look that I didn’t laugh hard enough for his liking. He wants everyone in his party to live by Jeff Spicoli’s credo and have “a good time all the time.” So much so that the next day, after 12 hours racing around Disney like meth-injected rats, he would chastise us for missing the fireworks because they are “totally awesome” in a way that no other explosions in the sky could ever compare since the Chinese invented gunpowder in the ninth century.
As if to extract revenge, Eddie called our young waiter over and told him I felt very uncomfortable eating shellfish without a bib.
“Right away, sir,” the server said, and returned with one of those plastic-bag-type deals, a big red lobster splashed across the front like blood splatter.
“His hands are moist,” Eddie said, squishing the last word so it sounded positively pornographic. “Could you tie it around his dainty neck?”
I waited tables for more than a decade. Whenever I eat with my brother, I think that this time the waiter will tire of the jokes, puns and goofy requests but, no, everyone loves Crazy Eddie: waiters, hostesses, toll booth collectors, not to mention the hundreds of co-workers in Disney parks who know him by his omnipresent tie-dye T-shirt. As I sat there like a toddler, with a swath of plastic fastened about my neck, my sister-in-law snapping photos with her phone, I thought of What Would You Do?, America’s Funniest Videos for the morally lazy. “What should I do?” I wondered as the stream of people coming by to see the floor show I once called my extended family thickened.
Luckily, the waiter was one of the gawkers. I pointed at my empty beer glass but stared directly at my baby brother. “Gimme more,” I said.
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.