Blueberry pie on our shirtfronts

Why Barrows went to all the buffets was of course his own concern. Perhaps Barrows was a buffet inspector. Possibly Barrows was into buffet contests. It may be Barrows endured buffets, like a runner endures the Boston marathon, for the glory. In any case, Barrows was seen, more often than not, by one or another of us (you know how it is - now and then you have to go to one for one reason or another), struggling through a buffet line, then laboring to find a seat, while precariously balancing his heaped plate and overfilled beverage cup. Finally, there was the traditional spilling of food and drink, on the one or another of us, unfortunate enough to be at the buffet with Barrows.

Barrows should have improved, buffetwise, with experience. We can try to sympathize with his shortcomings somewhat, I suppose. Few among us have avoided all buffets: inching along behind the lady who meticulously examines each individual string bean, pea, carrot, before committing same to her plate; biding one's time in the leisurely wake of the gentleman who pauses often to meditate upon the manifold intricacies of deviled egg, grape Jell-O, pickled beets, and cauliflower and cheese. And where did you put your mounded plate while you poured lemonade from a pitcher into your cup? And who can forget the grim search for a place to sit; and finding none, having to try to eat, and drink, in midair , without knife, fork, or spoon? Our buffet food-stained clothing bears vivid testimony to Barrows's enormous lack of buffet-savvy, and largely accounts for our inability to sympathize with his shortcomings, very much.

At the Library Association buffet, Barrows was a maelstrom of strawberry shortcake, butterscotch pudding, beans, and franks, iced tea, cole slaw, diced carrots and peas, and lime Jell-O with nuts. Heaven knows we tried to avoid him. When Crowley, Silverstein, and I saw Barrows approaching us, wearing his food like armor, we retreated. But it was no good. Barrows overran our position and zapped us with food. It was time, Silverstein said, to fight back! Disdaining the enormous wedge of blueberry pie Barrows wielded like a club, we crept up on the menace to instruct him on proper buffet etiquette. But Barrows easily slipped away, leaving traces of blueberry pie on our shirtfronts for our trouble.

Barrows, in his element (the buffet), was invincible, and not tractable. If we would instruct him in proper buffet deportment, it was obvious we must intercept him - in the interim after he left his Studebaker and before he entered the line of people at the buffet table. Nobody, certainly, would be in any condition to speak to Barrows after a buffet. At the Optimists Club buffet, determined to counsel Barrows on correct buffet manners, we stationed ourselves at strategic places around the buffet complex. Fadiman, spotting Barrows on his way to the buffet line, gave three shrill whistles, and we were alerted. McGintey was in hot pursuit of Barrows but lost him when he darted between a lady picking buttercups and a gentleman and lady bird watching. Saroyan identified Barrows at the buffet table, loading his plate, but made a gallant effort to instruct him, in vain. Saroyan slipped on morsels of orange Jell-O (with celery in it) that had dropped from Barrows's plate. We kept our distance and grimaced as Barrows taunted: ''My buffet style is impeccable!''

There is no bully like a buffet bully. Although we tried, in due course, several other ploys, to try to instruct Barrows in the proper behavior of the buffet, it was all to no purpose. McLawson, Kinstrey, Nasby, Poe - all reported suffering great quantitites of Kool-Aid, macaroni salad, cheese dip, something moistly carroty and raisiny, something moistly pink about their persons, for their trouble. The possibilities exhausted, we had no further choice but to eschew buffets forever. Or as much as possible. Sad, but one can stand only so much buffeting about.

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