If you venture north of Panama City, away from the beach and the restaurants adorned with giant fiberglass crabs designed to attract tourists, or their kids, through Lynn Haven and toward Southport, you might find a little place called Penny’s along the Fanning Bayou.
Penny’s is what the locals call a “local place”. Tourists who find it brag that it’s a “local place” also, but since my great-aunt (hereinafter just “aunt”) was a real local by way of Dothan, we tourists felt an extra special kinship to Penny’s. My aunt, a waitress at some of the nicer restaurants in Panama City for most of her adult life who could, therefore, pick fresh seafood from fake by sight, liked Penny’s because they served real scallops. “Those places that serve scallops the size of silver dollars are really serving shark. Shark. And calling it scallops.” That’s what she said.
I’m not really sure how this party came together, but sometime in the summer of 1999 or 2000, Leah and I went with my mom and dad, my aunt (the local), Leah’s brother Jarrod and one of his friends, Harper, to Penny’s one Friday evening. I’m sure that we were all over dressed, being tourists on a Friday night.
The salad bar at Penny’s rests in the hull of a tiny sailboat. Really! Like a child’s beginner sailboat. It really made an impression on Jarrod. “The salad bar is a sailboat!” he said more than once. I’m not sure what he thought the salad bar at a place called Penny’s on the shores of the Fanning Bayou would look like, but apparently a sailboat was beyond his expectations.
We had a meal, I’m sure, but I can’t recall what I ate. Whatever my aunt recommended, I’m sure. This story isn’t about food, though.
Around the turn of the century, there was an actor named George Clooney who actually starred in TV shows and movies, and some people said that I resembled him. Or he resembled me. Now I’m gray-headed and overweight and don’t own a pot-bellied pig, and George does things that doesn’t put his face on TV once a week, so people don’t make the comparison between he and I any more. We had a good run, Caesar hair style and all.
Penny’s is one of these places where you pay as you leave and I, as you’re supposed to, got up to pay the bill. I went to the counter and handed the lady my ticket while mindlessly looking at all of the fish pictures and hurricane pictures, when the lady asked, “Anybody ever tell you that you look like George Clooney?”
Now, y’all, I’m not really a mean person. I’m introverted. I don’t like the attention. I’m not strong at the chit-chat, but I’m really not mean. So, I did what I normally did when I heard that question for which there’s no good answer, I continued avoiding eye contact and kind of shrugged and acted goofy and just handed the lady my debit card. Jarrod, who was standing beside me at the counter, sensed my uncomfortableness and responded with something that a 20-year-old college boy would say. I don’t recall what it was, but as the cashier slid the receipt across the counter for me to sign, she made the comment, “Yeah, well, it could be worse. People could tell you that you look like Roseanne Barr.”
Without ever laying eyes on this woman, I said, “yes, that would be awful”. A split-second later, for the first time, I looked up at the lady as I handed her the signed receipt. I am not writing this if she wasn’t the spitting image of Roseanne Barr. The look on her face staring back at me. I’ve never felt that I, intentionally or unintentionally, offended anyone as much as I offended her.
Jarrod, who loves a good train wreck, practically falls to the floor in the exact opposite emotion of my embarrassment. I am trying to stuff my copy of the receipt in to my wallet and skedaddle out of there as fast I can, and he’s hyperventilating in laughter.
We never went to Penny’s ever again.
Think before you speak. Look before you speak.