Attacked By Squirrels

I know that a lot of people wish Dirt Candy took more walk-ins and I know that it's frustrating when you come down here and the restaurant is full and I can't seat you, but that's no reason to just barge into Dirt Candy and seat yourself. And I wish someone would tell this to the squirrels, because on Friday night, that's exactly what one of them did.

"Squirrel, party of one.Coming through."


It was a nice night and I had the front door open to let in the breeze (not members of the Sciuridae family) when all of a sudden the dining room burst into chaos as a squirrel dashed in the door and made a beeline for the kitchen. No customers are allowed in the kitchen, and just because you don't speak English that doesn't mean you get an exception, so I was really annoyed. The squirrel lodged itself under the oven, next to the fryer, and there he stayed, refusing to move.

I think of Dirt Candy as my home, and I think of my customers as family, but if you crawl under my burners and refuse to come out, I'm going to poke you with a broom. I don't care who you are. I'd do it to my mom, I'd do it to Martha Stewart, and I did it to this squirrel. But still, it would not budge. I say "it" because I really didn't take the time to find out its sex and so I'm avoiding using gendered language because squirrels can be very sensitive about topics related to their sexuality. The dining room had come to a halt by now, and since animals of all shapes and sizes - from the tiniest goldfish to the wooliest mammoth, terrify me - I figured I could best serve the cause by hitting the floor and topping off everyone's wine.

"Hi, I'm Squirrel Girl. More wine? More wine? MORE WINE???"

Of course, I was only able to do this after I had been coaxed back into the restaurant by Kristen. At the first sign of squirrel I had fled to the safety of the sidewalk, but now she reminded me that if Dirt Candy was a ship, and I was its captain, and the squirrel was a sea monster, then my place was with my ship, pouring wine on the Lido deck. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the realization had dawned on my staff that if the squirrel wasn't coming out, someone had to go in. Mauro, my dishwasher, flat-out refused. In fact, he was so traumatized by this squirrel's behavior that the next night he quit. I don't blame him. Sometimes I'll have a customer who, like this squirrel, arrives having not washed in a long time and not wearing pants, and it makes me want to quit, too. Fortunately, Mel, my line cook, is made of sterner stuff. He does martial arts, has cat-like reflexes, and nerves of steel. If anyone was a match for the 1.5 pounds of snarling fury hiding underneath my burners, it was Mel. Layering rubber gloves and doing some quick tai chi exercises, he busted in down there like the SWAT team taking down a crack house. Before anyone could react, he'd grabbed the squirrel by the tail and pulled it out into the open. The only problem was: now what?

I was out on the floor taking food to people when I heard an unholy squealing coming from the kitchen. "...and on the right of your carrot buns is a cucumber and ginger salad with carrot halvah." I said, unphased by the bloodcurdling shrieking issuing from my kitchen. "Are they eating it?" my customers asked. "What's happening to that squirrel back there?" "Here, have some more wine," I answered. I've discovered that when there's trouble in the kitchen wine is a restaurant owner's best friend. Enough wine can make a customer forget anything, and if it's not working you can always leave the bottle and a straw. Finally, if push comes to shove, you can just club them over the head with the bottle and drag them into the back for quick disposal.

No shame in being vexed by squirrels, Dr. Doom.Happens to the best of us.

Back in the kitchen, my staff was realizing that their anti-squirrel plan had some flaws. Namely, how do they convince the squirrel to leave? Mel was dangling the squirrel by its tail, Kristen was coming up with Plan B, Mauro was refusing to have anything to do with it, and the squirrel was, understandably, livid about the entire situation. Unable to access Yelp! and leave a pointed one-star review, the squirrel had resorted to ear-splitting, high-pitched squealing. He had already bitten Mel once, but his tiny teeth weren't able to break through the latex glove and give Mel rabies, which was a stroke of luck because we were slammed at the next seating and he couldn't have gone to the ER to get a rabies shot until at least 1AM. Mel tried speaking to the horrible beast, whispering "Sssh...ssshh..." in its tiny ear, but to no avail. This squirrel was clearly not listening to reason.

Thank goodness my squirrel was not a member of SAG.It's impossible to get rid of a union squirrel.

Fortunately, we don't call Kristen "The Great Brain" for nothing. She and Mel concocted a plan to drop the squirrel into a garbage can and quickly close the bag, then lug him outside, put him on the subway, go uptown to about 180th Street, and let him go free. I use nuts in some of my dishes and I didn't want this little furry bundle of joy thinking he'd struck the squirrel mega-millions lottery and making a beeline back to Dirt Candy anytime soon. (Important Note To My Customers: Bagging and Dragging is not our standard practice for handling difficult diners.)

The plan went off poorly. Mel dropped the squirrel into the trash bag but before Kristen could close it he sprang out like a bullet and streaked through the front door where he, I assume, lurked for the rest of the night, trying to convince his tiny buddies to jump us our way to the subway. Divide and conquer - it's the squirrel way.

But my fears of the squirrel returning were alleviated when Kristen pointed out, "I can understand trying to be a walk-in once, but anyone coming back again knows that you have to make a reservation." You hear that, squirrels? I've got two words for you: Open Table. Get an account.

The coda to all this madness is that after years of hoping for a bigger review in the New York Times, I finally got noticed by their head reviewer, Pete Wells. At loose ends, and unsure of what to do with my thumbs in the midst of all the madness, I Tweeted about the squirrel in my kitchen. Pete Wells re-Tweeted it and lots and lots of his followers picked it up. So while the NY Times may not notice me for my food, they do notice me for my wildlife. Glass half full, Amanda. Glass half full.

I feel your pain, brother.