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EATERS OF WELL-DONE MEAT GO WAY OF ALL FLESH

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You see them huddled in the darkness outside homes and restaurants, the tips of their cigarettes glowing in the dark like lightning bugs. They're smokers seeking solace from one another because they have become outcasts in our society.

Very soon - I know these things - they will be joined by a new group of exiles who will be sitting on curbs balancing a plate between their knees. They're the meat eaters who like their animals well-done.Don't think I haven't seen the look of disgust on the waiter's face and those around the table when I insist there not be a single drop of blood on my plate.

There's something macho and adventurous about the "rare" and "medium-rares." As I watch these diners poised over plates of raw meat, they look like they're part of a pack on "Wild Kingdom." I wouldn't be surprised if they also ate raw oysters, rattlesnake meat, and tamales with the husks on.

After I have whispered my instructions of "well-done, please," the laughter begins. Conan O'Brien should get such laughs. Then I sit back and wait for the smug lectures on what I can expect to get: a hard, charred piece of meat that will have the flavor of a conveyer belt.

Occasionally, a waiter will return to the table to report, "The chef suggests you order your meat medium-well or it will be dry."

I stand firm and insist, "Well-done."

This means that the meat he has waved a candle over for the rest of the table arrives 10 or 15 minutes before my "well-done." I watch my dinner companions scarf down meat that is still making whimpering sounds.

There's a stigma that "well-done" disciples must endure, a sense that the eater lacks sophistication. No one at the table would be surprised if I used a finger bowl to scrub up to my elbows.

As I am the last one served, they all watch as I saw away. "That must be tasteless." "It looks so dry." "I can't stand to watch good food ruined." "I heard blackened food is carcinogenic."

It's going to happen. One night we'll go into a restaurant and the maitre d' will say, "Rare or well-done seating?" There will be a sign displayed, "Thank you for not ordering meat well-done."

Hostesses will suggest you step outside to finish your steak, and this pathetic little group will sit in the darkness and observe, "I've been eating well-done meat since I was a teenager and just can't stop. Maybe someday there will be a patch for it!"