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by Fredric L. Rice
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006 at 3:42 PM
They out number us all.
The Improbable Lunch of an American Asshole
By Fredric L. Rice
About four years ago my brother and I had been “spring hopping” across the Mojave Desert in the Winter, hiking with backpacks across the Desert while aiming for various muddy seeps, taking rock and seed samples along the way.
After spending a week in the desert we located my brother’s old pickup truck and slowly worked our way out of the flooded desert. We hit Highway 127, hung a right onto the highway heading toward Baker, and set the pickup’s speed to about 50 miles an hour.
On the tape player buried somewhere in the wrecked dash board, Elton John was explaining all about LSD and how everyone around you smiles when you’re stoned to the gills. Elton gave way to the Starland Vocal Band, singing about sex in the morning, sex in the afternoon, and sex at night, sky rockets in flight.
I dug into the dash board, shorted the black and green wires together that got the rusted motor to spin, ejecting the tape cassette. Releasing the wires I selected another tape cassette from the bin in the center between the seats and shoved it into the maw of the tape player. Shorting the black wire to the yellow wire caused the old motor to groan back into motion, clamping down on the new cassette which began to play “Ride my See Saw” by the Moody Blues, followed by “Ghost Riders” by The Outsiders -- much better!
“I was listening to that,” my brother complained.
“You mean this?” I asked, holding the offending tape cassette between thumb and finger.
“That’s the one,” he admitted.
I tossed the tape cassette out the window and into the slipstream where it joined the rest of the crap lining the highway.
Taped to the sun visor on the passenger side was a faded and brittle photograph of Tina Yothers, for some god damned reason, a photograph that had been there for years and had, according to my brother, come with the pickup truck when he bought it new from the dealer (the drug dealer, I suspect, not a car dealer.) On the driver-side visor was taped an array of new-looking photographs of some singer named “Reba” something or other.
It had been a week since we’d had a hot meal and the prospects of eating at the Denney’s there in Baker didn’t fill us with the revulsion that it normally does. That little restaurant didn’t actually have cockroaches on the menu, but that really didn’t matter because it wasn’t the cockroaches that made you sick, it was the influenza-infested snot and E coli that found its way into just about every meal that made you sick.
But that what doesn’t kill you outright or maims you for life makes you stronger, so they say, so we braved it, coming to a stop at the sign just outside the “Mad Greek” restaurant (whose annoying and ugly billboard signs along Highway 15 always seemed to burst inexplicably, spontaneously, and coincidentally into flame, burning to the ground on occasion over the years) and turning right onto the “business loop,” as it’s called.
Inside the restaurant the lighting was low despite the fact that the slat window shades were wide open. The sunlight was weak. Rain clouds continued to work their way slowly from Northwest to Southeast, dumping their water and stabbing the ground with their lightening, searching out sinners (almost got my brother twice one year -- therein lies a tale.)
We took a booth along one window where we could keep an eye on the pickup and where we could keep the other eye on the front doors into the place. Less than a minute later a woman came and asked, “What can I get you?” She looked us both over more carefully, frowning. “Looks like you two could use a bath?” she asked, laughing.
My brother looked around the place for any young women that the waitress could get for him while I rattled off what I wanted from the menu. “I’ll have two of your number seventeens,” I said, “the vegetarian hamburger combination with fries. And if you would, would you ask the cook to burn them puppies beyond recognition for me, please?”
“Both of them cooked well done?”
“And for you?” she asked, trying to get my brother’s attention.
My brother turned around and pointed at his menu. “I’ll take two of your combination plate fives,” he answered, “the green chili relienno.” He moved his finger down a bit, “And one of your number sevens, the four cheese enchilada combination.”
“Would you like your orders now or should I wait for the rest of your party to arrive?”
My brother and I looked at each other. Huh? Others? There were no others in our party. “Um, now, please. The rest of our party will be here in a minute or two.”
While we waited for our orders we sat there and looked over the clientele, remarking at the horrible, filthy dregs of society that always seem to wind up at Denney’s. I mean sweet baby Jesus, WE had walked in here so it can get pretty bad.
I got my plates first, checking the vegetable slab thrown between their tender warm buns carefully. Not a hint of moisture and suitable for shoe leather: perfect! Just how I like these things -- with lots of mustard and unhealthy amounts of salt, of course -- got to neutralize the healthy aspects of eating meatless some how.
“Waitress! Waitress!” came a yell from a guy two tables over, a businessman we’d watch enter the place about five minutes ago. Now he was holding a menu in the air and yelling. “Can anybody place a fucking order around here?” he yelled. All eyes turned to him. The waitress dropped off plates at another table and then rushed over to the guy.
Mr. Business Man was being worn by a dark blue suit that seemed to be working its way up around his arm pits and his red neck, doing its best to strangle him and put a stop to the embarrassing spew coming from his yap, it looked to me, something I silently cheered on.
“I’m sorry sir,” the waitress began, “busy after...”
The asshole cut her off and demanded “Shut up and take my order” then rattled off what he wanted: Fried hamburger “done right,” no cheese, by all the gods, or there would be Hell to pay, he said. No combination plate, no Sunday special, no fucking French fries or parsley, just one god damned fried hamburger done the way hamburgers are supposed to be done, that and nothing else. “And hurry up about it! I’ve got things to do!”
All talk had stopped in the restaurant though there was an endless sea of angry faces, some teeth grinding together from some of the tables, and me pushing my plates toward the center of the table and starting to slowly stand up.
“Going to kick some son of a bitch?” my brother asked me loudly, glaring at the guy. Mr. Business Asshole sat there obviously well aware of everyone staring at him and of me standing there at our table, just one of a couple of customers on the edge, I could tell, of unleashing friendly violence on to this clown.
Mr. Business Asshole sat and stared forward, unblinking, frown on his face, waiting for his fried hamburger and not caring what the world thought about him.
“Thinking about it,” I said loudly, causing the asshole to quickly glance over our way and then back to stare straight ahead.
“The guy’s a Republican,” my brother explained. “A mental case. Don’t kill him just yet,” he suggested. I sat down, dropped the butter knife from my clenched fist, then dragged my plates back toward me and we resumed our meals. Talk resumed in some parts of the restaurant and all we could hear was about the man two tables over.
It didn’t take long for the waitress to hurry over with a plate with one single fried hamburger on it, delivering it to the guy’s table without a word and stepping away quickly after setting ketchup and mustard on the table.
It also didn’t take long for the asshole to start bellowing. “Waitress! God damned it, waitress!” Again all talk stopped and all eyes turned toward this guy.
“Sir?” the waitress asked -- the same waitress who served our own table, I should add.
“This isn’t right! I want a hamburger done right, damn it! The pickle is in the wrong place!”
There were gasps this time from everyone who had stopped eating to watch. Pickle in the wrong place? The waitress must have had people like this many, many times before because of all the people in the place, she was the least angry, the least annoyed. “What’s wrong with the pickle, sir?”
“Your cook put it against the meat! The pickle goes between the tomato and lettuce! That way the pickle doesn’t get hot and stays cold!” Mr. Businessman pushed the plate away and demanded another -- and god damn anyone who brought him the same hamburger.
The waitress picked up the hamburger and plate and disappeared. About five minutes later another hamburger was produced and this time Mr. Business Man sat and ate it -- mumbling angry to himself the whole while.
I’d like to claim that the guy got kicked to death out in the parking lot but he didn’t -- he paid his bill and left, ignoring everyone staring at him.
Just another American asshole Republican, one that sorely needs to be forcefully reminded of how to behave in a polite society.
My brother settled the bill and left a large tip, trading smiles with the waitress who rolled her eyes. Stepping out into the parking lot, we looked around the desert, nearly invisible in the dark cloud-covered afternoon. “As if we needed another lesson in why not to return to civilization,” I said.
“If only there was a button to push,” my brother agreed.
Hopping back into the battered old pickup truck we swung around and hung a right onto the main road that splits Baker in half, then swung right to cross the bridge over the highway heading South East, speeding off into the rain. (My brother ritually jiggled the windshield wiper control switch to see if it would work this time -- nope, the wipers lay there unconvinced, too tired to move.)
“Kelso camp grounds for a week?” my brother asked.
I pawed through the tape bin and selected a good one. Shoving it into the shredded tape player, twisting the magic wires that caused the tape to start rolling, I answered, “Fuck yes. Fuck civilization.”
From the speakers “Waltzing Matilda” started thrumming. “You’ll never take me alive,” said he.
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