"A pony bit me on the stomach in Chincoteague," Lou is saying as I sit down at the table.
Did I come in late? I say. Did I miss something?
"A pony bit him on the stomach in Chincoteague," Paulie says, looking over the menu. "Are we sharing or not?"
Don't start with this, I say.
"We're sharing," Lou says. "In a Chinese restaurant, you share."
Paulie starts flipping the pages of the menu, holding it up to the light. "Where is that written?" he says. "Where is the rule written that in Chinese restaurants you share? I don't see it? Do you see it?"
"Yeah," Lou says, "but it's written in Chinese."
I sigh. Whenever the three of us meet for lunch in a Chinese restaurant, we always have this argument. Lou likes to share; Paulie doesn't and I don't care.
"Let Roger decide," Lou says. "He'll break the tie."
I don't care, I say. You know I don't care.
"A tie!" Lou says. "That means we share!"
"Where is that written!" says Paulie, his voice rising. "Can somebody tell me where it's written that a tie means we share? Where? Show me."
Why don't we eat Italian? I say, throwing my napkin on the table.
"We sat down already," Lou says. "You drank from the water glass. You can't leave after you drank from the water glass."
"Another rule!" Paulie shouts. "Where is the Restaurant Rule Book where it says all these things?"
Paulie and Lou are two friends of mine, which is a good thing because otherwise I'd kill them both.
Tell me about the horse biting you on the stomach, I say. Let's talk about something pleasant.
"It wasn't a horse," Lou says. "It was a pony."
"And it's your fault," Paulie says to me.
Why my fault? I say.
"You told me to take the kids to Chincoteague, so I did," Lou says.
Which is true. I always advise people to spend their vacation dollars in Maryland, especially on those fine citizens who advertise their goods and services in the pages of The Sun.
In point of fact, I say, Chincoteague is in Virginia, but since you have to drive through a lot of Maryland to get there, we will count this.
"Why didn't you tell me the ponies bite?" Lou says.
How was I supposed to know? I say.
"You mean you've never been there?" Paulie asks.
No, I say. Why should I drive all the way to Chincoteague to see horses? I want to see horses, I'll go to the track.
"I can't believe this," Lou says. "He sends me into the jaws of death and he's never even been there!"
"I'll bet you've never even been to the Eastern Shore!" Paulie says.
Untrue, I say. I was there once. But it was hot. So I left.
"Let me show you the bite marks," Lou says, pulling his shirt out of his pants.
Please, I say. We're at the table here.
"I have purple bite marks," Lou says. "Because of you."
As it happened, Lou took his family to Chincoteague and when they got there they saw a bunch of horses in a pen.
"Corral," Lou says. "A pen is for pigs. For horses it's called a corral."
"Another rule!" Paulie shouts. "He's got a million of them!"
So Lou takes his two kids up to see the ponies and they are very friendly and one pony keeps nudging Lou.
"And then he just bites my stomach," Lou says.
He draw blood? I ask.
"No," Lou says. "But I've got welts. Purple ones."
So what do you want from me? An apology? I say. Here: On behalf of the people of Maryland and the horses of Virginia, we do hereby apologize for you getting bitten on your stomach. And next time please make sure your stomach does not look like a watermelon before approaching the livestock.
"Everything is a joke with him," Lou says. "It's not his stomach, so it's a big joke."
We see the waiter bringing our food and Paulie starts looking around the table for a fork.
"Use the chopsticks," Lou says. "In a Chinese restaurant it's an insult to use a fork."
"Where is it written!" Paulie starts shouting. "Show me the rule book!"
Friends. You can't live with them and you can't drown them in soy sauce.