31

Dec 12

GONNA EAT THAT EGG ROLL?

Americanized Chinese food is readily available three hundred and sixty-three days out of the Gregorian year.  Nom nom nom, kung pao chicken and moo goo gai pan for all.  The other two days require a little patience and even some strategy to munch on shrimp and lobster sauce in a timely fashion.  Even more impressive is if you get your order at all.  If you would like to witness the slow devolution of the human race in a controlled environment, look no further than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

I had the pleasure of picking up the family Chinese food order on Christmas Eve.  It was handed to me in a cardboard box, a box I might have used to put personal belongings in on moving day, making that the happiest and most depressing evening of my life.

I'm very hungry.

I’m very hungry.

While I was waiting for my thirteen pound order to be wokked, an old man wandered into the restaurant and started a fight with the woman manning the counter.

Several gray hairs earlier, I worked at McDonald’s to bring in some extra cash, and the single most annoying thing to happen near the end of my greasy shift would be a soccer bus pulling into the parking lot.  Aside from despair and suicide, two thoughts would roll through my mind:

1)      It is imperative that I leave on time regardless of food safety;

2)      I don’t care about who orders or gets what.

That established, hamburger buns would fly, patties would splat on the tile floor next to the bun it was supposed to be on, and food that didn’t belong in the fryolator would boil into the fryolator.  A good chunk of the storeroom freezer needed to be cooked that very instant with no delicate way of doing it.  There was a period of time when I wouldn’t even look at a McDonald’s knowing what I knew after I left.  Time heals all greasy wounds.

This old man ordered something with something else, hold the annoying, with a side of gross.  His wife called in the order; where is it?

“Number thirty-three,” he said, “number thirty-three.”

Broken English with a few exaggerated hand motions.  “No thitty-thee.”

My attention was screwed to an enormous fish in a very small tank.  I couldn’t place it – was it a Chinese eel?  Or just a disgusting eel?  I nodded amiably, sarcastically appeased by my fishy answer.

DAYUM!

DAYUM!

“This must be a joke.  No thirty-three?  I ordered a thirty-three!”

This nasty eel turned hard to port and did his best to lap the goldfish bowl, scraping glass on his way by.  I bent over and mimicked its undulating mouth.

“No thee-thee,” she snipped.

“This must be a joke,” he repeated.  He nosed up and threw his hands into the air.  I thought it a little dramatic that he did so after he made his objection.  The eel charged the glass with what little room he had, realizing that I was ceding my attention to some other dope in the room.

“No joke.”  Stern.  Like telling a child that he forfeited dinner for behaving badly.

“Give me a phone,” he decided.  “I’ll call my wife.”

“No,” the woman said.

I sidled up to my wife, ready to take in the shit show.  The eel watched with a special gnosis.

“Fine,” the man grumbled.  He pulled an antennaed dinosaur from his pocket and stared down the bridge of his nose.  The woman directed traffic around the wreck, handing out bags of food in exchange for plastic swipes.

“Do you think—”

My wife hushed me.

“Yah hallo?” the man was saying.  “Hallo?  Yah.  I’m here and they don’t have the order.”  The man cocked his shoulders.  “Yah!  They don’t have the order!”  He suspended his free hand in the air away from his body, palm out, waiting for his meal to fall from the sky.  “Yah.  It’s a thirty-three, right?—thirty-three?  Yah, that’s what I told them.  They don’t have a thirty-three.”

The woman cleared out the line behind the old man.  I counted about a hundred and fifty in receipts.

“Okay.”  The old man pocketed his phone.  “Yeah, my wife said she called in a thirty-three.”

I sighed.  My wife sighed.  The eel sighed.  A few bubbles wiggled to the surface.

“Okee.   We cook now.  Okee?”

“No!” He pounded his fist against the particleboard counter.  “I called it in like I was supposed to!  I want it now!”

“Thee-thee?” a cook called from the back.

“YES!” the old man hollered, lunging past the woman with his index finger.  “Thirty-three!  That man has my order!”

“No no no—” the woman urged, backed hurriedly by the kitchen staff.

“Ahhhhh,” the old man huffed angrily.  He threw his palms into the woman’s face and shook them pinky to thumb.  “This is a bad joke, a bad joke,” he chanted.  “A bad joke.”

“We cook—”

“Forget it,” he interjected with biblical importance.  “I’m leaving.”

The man ruffled the collar of his faux leather jacket.  He turned, pushed open the door.  The bell attached to the hydraulic swing-arm clattered against the glass.  He shot one last forlorn look back at the woman before the door eased shut.  The woman pounced on other orders piling behind her on the stainless steel prep counter.  I turned to my wife.

She smiled.  “Do you think he’s at the right restaurant?”

“Nope.”

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