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"Rice, steamed vegetables, and more rice, to go, please."

In 18 issues of this zine, how many words have I written about the stupidity of others? Lotsa thousands, that's how many, but now it's time to write about the dumbness of Doug.

 ♦ ♦ ♦

When I'm done selling fish on Telegraph Ave every day, I disassemble the cart, which involves putting my light equipment into a pack, folding the big metal display (a fireplace stand, actually) and putting it into its box, collapsing the table and chair, and lashing everything to the handtruck.

Last thing before rolling away, I look at the spot where I've worked all day, to make sure I haven't left any litter, dropped any merchandise on the sidewalk, or forgotten anything valuable.

Yesterday, with Xmas approaching and all, the street was extra crowded with both customers and vendors, and there wasn't any ground space available on the vendors' side of the sidewalk, so I put the box a few steps away, leaning on a storefront, while I bungeed everything to the cart. And then —

I forgot about the box, with the display inside. When I did my last double-check it looked like nothing was left behind, because I didn't think to look at the building.

Ah, shit. The fireplace stand is only worth twenty bucks or so, but to save time I never take the magnets off the display, which means 50-60 fish magnets — $4.50 each — were in that box I abandoned. I left about $225 worth of stuff in a cardboard box on the Ave.

It wasn't until this morning that I noticed what was missing. Pretty stupid, Doug. When I hurried to the Ave, I stupidly hoped to see fish magnets strewn across Telegraph. I could wipe them off and sell them, but no.

In the store where I'd left the box out front, and in the store next door, and the store around the corner, I asked if anybody'd seen a bunch of fish on a fireplace stand. One wiseass told me to ask the fat, ugly street vendor who sells fish.

I asked the vendors I'd worked near yesterday, but nobody remembered anything. Do they hate me enough to lie, I wonder?

Asked the street sweepers, the guys who come by with broom and basket every couple of hours.

Asked a few homeless men I'm fairly friendly with, and asked them to spread the word that I'll pay fifty bucks, no questions asked, for the return of the fish.

Seems highly unlikely, though. Some lucky bastard found a whole lot of nifty stocking-stuffers, and finders keepers.

Losers weepers. $225 obliterates every penny I've saved to move to New York with my fuck-buddy. Jay doesn't owe me money for selling fish; I owe her money for all the merchandise lost.

Add to that, or subtract, that almost nobody bought any fish today, and I was in a pretty shitty headspace. At one point I stood up and shouted at some people walking by, "Hey, it's Christmas, ya bastards — buy my god damned fish!" Surprisingly, this didn't result in increased sales.

Most jobs, you'd be fired for an outburst like that, but I work alone. Umberto was nearby, and he baby-talked me until I'd regained my composure, but I lost it again a little later, at lunch. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

In my panic this morning, packing sandwiches seemed like the least of all possible worries, so I'd come lunchless. By mid-afternoon, I'd developed a fierce hunger headache, so I left my stand in Umberto's hands, and walked to the dollar-an-item Chinese fast-food place, a block off Telegraph.

There was no line. The lunch rush was over. I knew what I wanted, and the food had been sitting under heat lamps since 10:00 this morning, so it should've been "fast-food" like the sign promises, right? Not today.

The only worker up front was talking in Chinese on the phone, so I waited, pretending to be patient, until he put the phone on his shoulder and said, "Yeah?"

"Rice, steamed vegetables—"

"Here or to go?" he interrupted.

What I'd wanted for lunch, what I'd intended to say, was "Rice, steamed vegetables, and more rice, to go, please." Two orders of rice. I say it that way because sometimes at the counter at that place, English is the workers' second language. When I've started with the word 'two', they've tried to give me two of everything. 

"To go," I said, and my next words would've been, "Rice, steamed vegetables, and more rice," but he wouldn't hear it. The phone was again at his ear, and he was mumbling Chinese to the mouthpiece while scooping food into the box, but he hadn't let me finish ordering. He'd interrupted, and while I watched, while he talked on the phone, he boxed up some rice and steamed vegetables, but not my second order of rice, because he hadn't even let me say it.

I was grumpy, but if he'd even said, "Anything else?" before bagging and ringing up what he thought was my order, I would've politely asked for a second order of rice, and maybe what happened next wouldn't have happened.

It did happen, though. He said, "Just a minute" in English to whoever was on the phone, put the receiver back on his shoulder, bagged the rice and vegetables and banged a few buttons on the cash register, and to me he said, "$2.17". When I didn't immediately pay or respond, he said "$2.17" again, and looked at me like I was the idiot.

I shook my head no, and said too loudly, "When you get off the phone, I'm ready to place an order, but please, don't let me interrupt your conversation," and as I spoke, his expression changed from simple disinterest to point blank anger. Maybe he was having a bad day, too, but I didn't care. 

We stared at each other in silence, so — third try — I told him what I wanted, and this time he didn't interrupt: "Rice, steamed vegetables, and more rice, to go, please."

He didn't answer, didn't move, just stared at me. Maybe I should mention that there was no language barrier today. His English and bad manners were as well-practiced as mine.

He was still staring at me, so, "More rice," I helpfully explained. "Two. Fucking. Orders of rice."

He took the phone off his shoulder, and put it on the counter, the better to Jackie Chan me, perhaps. He scooped up another cardboard box of rice, added it to the bag, and at last rang up the lunch I'd come in to buy. Now it was $3.27, and I paid and turned and walked away.

Was it over, though? No, it was not. "Thank you," he said loudly and sarcastically to my ass, and I hesitated, unsure what to do. An adult would've kept walking and and let the situation diffuse. I am not that adult.

To the left of the cash register, behind a wide opening in the wall, two middle-aged Chinese women were watching from the kitchen, so to them I said, "Rudest service I've had anywhere," and then added truthfully, "this week."

"They can't understand you," said the voice of the young man at the register. "They only speak Chinese."

Ain't it crazy how the craziest little things can make you crazy? Or me, anyway — I stopped, whirled around, looked him in his eyeballs and screamed, "I can make them understand me, you smartass shithead." In analyzing this moment hours later, I have no real idea what that meant, or how I could make anything understood to people who don't speak my language.

"Get out!" he yelled back at me, pointing at the door, but as he pointed his whole hand was quivering with nervousness. I walked toward him, and both old ladies came out of the pass-through, cluck-clucking in Chinese for me to go away. And I should've. Damn it.

The guy who'd "helped" me was Asian, so maybe he knows chop socky. I've seen enough martial arts flicks to know not to get too close. He was still behind the counter, ten feet from me, still pointing, and it was comical seeing his hand, his whole arm shaking. Later, thinking more clearly, I decided his shakes meant he was as angry at me as I was at him. Maybe he was even scared. I was too stupid to be scared, but I should've been. I'm a wimp. Your grandma could probably kick my ass.

"I'm just an angry customer," I said to him, very softly but with a smile intended to be Satanic. "If you keep trying, though, you could make me (long pause) very angry, and you wouldn't want that." Not sure if I made that up, or if it's a line from the early poetry of Clint Eastwood, but I wanted it to sound mean. 

He said, "Fuck off, get out, and don't come back," and I left without another word. The "don't come back" part hurt worst, because their food isn't all that good, but it's cheap. When I buy lunch on the Ave, that's usually where I go, and now I probably can't go there any more.

And I know, everything I did was idiotic. For a minute, I was angry enough to forget that I'm a wimp, which is dumb and dangerous. One of these days forgetting I'm a wimp will lead to me getting the shit kicked out of me.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The rice was lousy, crispy from being under heat lamps for so long, but I deserved shitty rice. And when I folded up the table and packed the cart at 5:00, you'd better believe I made triple-sure nothing was left behind.

The moment I'd been dreading all day was next. Jay's house is between Telegraph and my place, and that's where I park the cart overnight, so I knocked.

When she opened the door, I told her about losing the display and hundreds of dollars worth of fish. I was hoping she'd only make me pay the wholesale price for all that lost merchandise, which I'd estimated was about $150, but she only told me to forget about it, and be more careful in the future.

A happy ending to a shitty day. Glad I work for a friend, instead of just a boss.

From Pathetic Life #18
Sunday, Nov. 26, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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