Friday, May 18, 2012

Life Does Imitate Art!

I've obtained official, irrefutable evidence that life does, in fact, imitate art.  In this case, it took decades for this to reveal itself, but that doesn't make the story any less impactful.  On Thursday, November 12, 1992, the eighth episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons aired on Fox.  It was a classic episode--this was back when The Simpsons was in its comedy prime, many years before it's sad demise into mediocrity.  So for those of you who have forgotten the details of this episode, shame on you; I'll give you a recap of one of the episode's intriguing sub-plots.

Homer sees a commercial for an all-you-can-eat seafood special at The Frying Dutchman that's too good to pass up.  When he and Marge go to the restaurant, Homer immediately grabs a steam tray off the buffet line, cleans out the restaurant's shrimp supply, and polishes off two plastic lobsters along the way.  When closing time arrives at The Frying Dutchman, Homer hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, and the staff has to drag him out of restaurant--twice--to finally cut him off.

Infuriated by the premature ending to his all-you-can-eat meal, Homer hires a lawyer and sues the restaurant.  During the trial, it's revealed that after getting dragged out of The Frying Dutchman, Homer drove around Springfield searching for another seafood restaurant, then went fishing when he couldn't find one that was open.  In the words of Lionel Hutz, his attorney, "Do these sound like the actions of a man who had had all he could eat?!"  It's a storyline that's too absurd to happen anywhere other than a TV show--a cartoon TV show, to be more precise.  Or is it...?

Nearly two decades after that episode aired, a eerily similar story played out in Theinsville, Wisconsin.  The real-life Homer Simpson is 350-pound man named Bill Wisth, and a restaurant called Chuck's Place plays the role of The Frying Dutchman in this charade.  Like Homer, Bill decided to take advantage of an all-you-can-eat seafood deal--a Friday night, all-you-can-eat fish fry at Chuck's Place.

After Bill had downed twelve fish, Chuck's place was running out of the designated variety of fish that they were offering in the all-you-can fry and tried to cut him off.  The staff offered their large, angry customer eight additional pieces of a more expensive variety of fish for the inconvenience of the abrupt ending to his feast.  But even with twelve pieces of fish in his stomach and another eight in his pocket, Bill hadn't had "all he could eat," and he wanted to make sure the world knew it.

Bill called the police and filed an official complaint and now spends every Sunday picketing in front of Chuck's Place with a homemade sign reading "Poor Business Practices!"  Wisth vows that he will continue picketing until Chuck's Place finally makes good on its promise to give him "all he can eat."  As he puts it, "I think that people have to stand up for consumers."

The news coverage of the incident is priceless.  Be sure to take note of the quality workmanship on Wisth's sign, which appears to be little more than a torn-up box with a message written pencil, which is unreadable from a distance of more than five feet.  And the reporter can hardly conceal her disgust for Wisth's personal crusade.

I can only hope that you were able to draw a fair, level-headed conclusion about this situation.  With Bill Wisth's charming, charismatic speeches, it's far too easy to hear the details of this story and immediately applaud Wisth as a brave crusader for the everyday consumer.  He's willing to spend his valuable Sunday free time standing up for the common man, to the detriment of his personal fortune.

I'm sure Wisth would rather spend those hours working for a living so the that he could pay down that "running account" he has at Chuck's Place, but he's answering a higher higher calling in life.  It feel like I'm watching a white, modern day Martin Luther King Jr.  Someday, textbooks will reference the "We asked for more fish, and they refused to give us any more fish" speech the same way kids today learn about King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

There's no simple solution to the standoff between Wisth and Chuck's Place.  On the one hand, he's an alleged "problem" customer with an unpaid tab who violated the sacred rule of "all-you-can-eat" deals by sharing food with a non-paying customer.  On the other hand, you have a large, slow-witted man who was promised all he could eat, but who clearly did not get all he could eat.  Petty customer?  False advertising?  This could take years to snake its way through the courts.

But things don't have to be so complicated.  Since this story has already so freakishly followed the plot of The Simpsons, we only have to return to that classic episode for the answer.  In the end, Homer and the The Frying Dutchman worked out a perfect compromise: Homer was allowed to eat all he wanted in front of a large window, and allowed The Frying Dutchman got to use him as a freak-show attraction known as "Bottomless Pete, Nature's Cruelest Mistake."

If Chuck's Place is willing to part with some generous portions of fish, and if Bill Wisth is willing to part with a little more dignity, I think we have ourselves a classic win-win situation.  It's all going to come down to Chuck's willingness to compromise, because based on what I've seen in the news coverage, Wisth isn't exactly thrifty when it comes to shelling out the dignity.

Note: YouTube has an excellent movie trailer parody clip of the story and news coverage--click here to check it out, it's worth a look.

Here are some links with more coverage of the story:

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