Hello, Dalai

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The Dalai Lama is in Utah County this weekend, speaking at, of all places, Utah Valley State College. (What, was Provo High School booked?) Earlier this week, the Daily Herald’s Eric D. Snider was granted an exclusive interview with Mr. Lama, held at T.G.I. Friday’s. Here is a transcript of that historic meeting.

ERIC: Your Holiness, it’s an honor to have you here at T.G.I. Friday’s.

DALAI LAMA: Thank you. I am glad to be here.

ERIC: What’s the deal with Friday’s, anyway? Do they think all the weird stuff hanging on the walls somehow makes the food taste better? Are their chefs inspired to greater culinary heights because there’s a washboard from the 1920s that says “Coca-Cola” on it nailed to the wall behind them?

DALAI LAMA: That is a good question.

ERIC: Anyway, I wanted to ask you — oh, here’s the waitress.

(Eric and the Dalai Lama place their orders. Waitress leaves.)

ERIC: Did you notice she did that server squat at our table?

DALAI LAMA: The server squat…?

ERIC: You know the one, where they crouch down next to you instead of standing up like a Homo sapiens? I don’t like it. It seems too informal to me.

DALAI LAMA: (nodding thoughtfully) A restaurant should maintain an air of formality….

ERIC: Also, I don’t like people squatting next to me. Nothing good ever happens when people squat.

DALAI LAMA: Perhaps you are interested to know the subject of my address this weekend.

ERIC: Ah! Yes. Please tell me.

DALAI LAMA: I will speak on the obligation each of us has to make the world a better place.

ERIC: Did you notice she also didn’t write down our order? She just memorized it.

DALAI LAMA: Yes, well, her memory must be good.

ERIC: That always makes me nervous. I don’t go to a restaurant to be entertained by feats of memory. Is she a waitress or is she The Amazing Kreskin? “Here’s your sandwich … AND WITH PICKLES!”

DALAI LAMA: The Amazing Who?

ERIC: Kreskin. I think he might be Buddhist. Do you know him?

DALAI LAMA: I don’t believe so.

(Waitress brings appetizers.)

ERIC: Oh, good. Have you had these mozzarella sticks before? Man, they’re tasty.

DALAI LAMA: To the naked eye, they seem to be nothing more than fried cheese.

ERIC: Yeah, but somehow they turn out really good.

DALAI LAMA: As I was saying, about my speech….

ERIC: What’s the deal with appetizers, though? They’re called “appetizers,” so I assume the purpose is to get our appetites going for the main course. But if you’re trying to make someone hungry, wouldn’t giving them food be counterproductive? Seems like that would make you LESS hungry. I mean, if they really want to whet my appetite, the thing to do would be to bring out the appetizers, wave them in front of my face, and then take them away again.

DALAI LAMA: That is an interesting idea.

ERIC: But for that matter, do I need them to MAKE me hungry? I walked into the restaurant; I must be hungry already.

DALAI LAMA: I believe the appetizers are meant as a light way of beginning a heavy meal. You must crawl before you can walk.

ERIC: No, because most appetizers are really heavy. For crying out loud, these cheese sticks are nothing but grease and fat, and plus, they cost almost as much as an entree. And besides, I don’t think I need the restaurant’s help preparing myself for a meal. I don’t need to coat my stomach with a layer of onion rings before introducing the main course. I’ve eaten before. This is not my first meal.

DALAI LAMA: I would not accuse you of such.

ERIC: Why are you defending the appetizers, anyway? Are you getting a kick-back from Friday’s?

DALAI LAMA: I assure you, I am not.

ERIC: I’m still worried about that squatting waitress not writing down our order. If my sandwich shows up with a tomato after I specifically said “no tomato,” I’m not tipping her.

DALAI LAMA: I’m with you there, man. No service, no tip.

ERIC: Amen, brother. Hey, it’s been good chatting with you.

DALAI LAMA: Will you be at my speech Saturday?

ERIC: Can you give me a shout-out?

DALAI LAMA: You know it.

ERIC: Right on.

DALAI LAMA: Word.

This column began life as a report on a lunch interview I actually had with Alan Stoffer, brother of Julie Stoffer, the BYU student who appeared on MTV's "The Real World" in 2000. Some interesting things came out of the interview, but to liven up the column, I started going off on tangents about the minutiae of restaurant dining. Then it occurred to me to let that be the entire column and avoid ever getting to the point, and I realized that premise would be funnier with a bigger-name celebrity. The Dalai Lama was visiting Utah County in May, so I held the column until then.

My concept for it was that it would be a narrative report on the interview, but the script format wound up being more entertaining, to my mind. The Dalai Lama makes a great straight man, and even when it's only fiction, I can be such a jackass.

You'll notice the Dalai Lama never actually eats the mozzarella sticks I ordered. This is because someone told me as I was writing this that the Dalai Lama is a vegan -- which I have since discovered is not true. He's generally vegetarian at home, but not always when he travels. So I suspect if I'd really had lunch with him, he'd have chowed down on mozz sticks.

People HATED this column, if the comments at the Herald Web site were any indication. Readers were upset I would treat the Dalai Lama so disrespectfully, mentioning him in a humor column apparently being a sign of disrespect. (If you look again, you'll notice I didn't make fun of or belittle him at all. Putting the slang term "word" in his mouth is not belittling him, unless he has absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever, in which case he should subscribe to the Herald.)

I got several cancellations from my e-mail list after this. None of them said it was because of the column, so it's possible it was coincidental. But I don't think so.

I stand by it. The joke was at my expense, not the Dalai Lama's. If you don't understand how comedy works, I'm not going to explain it to you.

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