The Disabled Table
The Disabled Table
by Fred Dungan


When I walked into Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Memorial Hospital in Loma Linda, California, I weighed approximately 145 pounds. When they wheeled me out one year later, I had dropped to 116 pounds. It isnít that they didnít try to fatten me up. The nutritionist made sure I got two ice creams with my dinner. Hospital food just didnít agree with me. In addition to tasting like cardboard, there wasnít nearly enough meat. Consequently, my emaciated (and butchered) body most closely resembles that of a concentration camp victim.

For Christmas dinner, there was macaroni and cheese. Lukewarm, white macaroni and cheese. The menu said prime rib, but that was simply propaganda meant for public consumption. Since most of the kitchen staff got Christmas off, there wasnít anything else to eat. It was just as well. They had lost my teeth during surgery and I had to gum my food.

Itís good to be back home. Nobody lectures me when I reach for the salt. But there isnít much to season. Iím in a wheelchair and canít reach the stove. Consequently, the freezer is stocked with frozen TV dinners. It isnít nearly as bad as it sounds. Nowadays, frozen dinners somewhat resemble real food. That is, of course, if you can afford to buy the best. Since Iím on a fixed income, I have to settle for what I can get. With the cheaper brands, the vegetable is almost always corn.

Easter dinner is yet another frozen TV dinner; this one happens to be processed turkey with instant mashed potatoes and stale bread crumbs drowning in thin brown gravy. Thanks to the good folks at ConAgra Foods (corporate conglomerate, acronym CAG on the New York Stock Exchange—it went from Consolidated Agriculture to ConAgra when it became too big for its britches), I'm enjoying ersatz home cooking served piping hot from my made in Korea microwave oven on a throwaway black plastic tray. The good part is that the vegetable d' jour is peas.

Since this is a special occasion, I'm washing it down with an artificially corked bottle (no cheap screw-on caps for me) of Australian Chardonnay from the 99 cent store. For a fruity wine, it's a bit on the bitter side, but after the third glass, I can hardly tell it from an expensive estate bottled vintage wine from California or France. Muscatel, Two Buck Chuck, Night Train and Thunderbird are for wine snobs. With 13.5 percent alcohol, Southeastern Australia Chardonnay is fast becoming the choice of discriminating winos like myself. Please be careful not to spill any, however, as it is liable to strip the paint off your wheelchair.

Iím divorced. You married guys donít realize how good you have it. I would do almost anything for a heaping helping of spaghetti in meat sauce made from scratch with tomatoes, crushed garlic, onions, brown sugar, green peppers, and Italian seasoning.

My service dog eats Alpo. Alpo is made from meat, smells great, and comes in a vast variety of flavors. At 88 cents for a 22 ounce, pull-top recyclable steel can, itís a downright bargain. So much so, in fact, that Iím tempted to try it. Bon apetit.

This page last modified on November 15, 2006.