Let’s forget about the fact that I ducked and ran when you placed your order. It’s not like I flung a large spoonful of rice at you. I almost did, you know. What you didn’t know, while you ordered your Saskatchewan Chicken, so oblivious to the tracers that were coming off your every hand gesture, was I had no idea I would be hired that morning. Had I known, I might not have dosed at 2 a.m. the night before.
When I got the call, I wasn’t even completely sure that I was being hired. Maybe I’d won something. All I knew for sure was that you’ve got to embrace life, take chances, and go with the flow. So I did.
I’m sure the manager thought my saucer-sized pupils reflected the sheer joy and excitement of being hired to scrape out day old Chinese leftovers into fresh-looking pans, and dump excessively large portions into Styrofoam containers for you to shovel into your face at the food court. I mean, who wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect? I know I was.
I imagined you being hungry, feeling guilty for mispronouncing the food, growing old, dying.
Until you came along.
Nevermind the fact that you were my first customer. Really, that’s irrelevant. I can’t know for sure that what happened wouldn’t have happened if someone else had been before you. All I know is, it was you.
The moment you mispronounced “Szechuan chicken” and made it sound like something they serve at a small town diner on the Canadian prairie, all of reality froze as if someone had hit the pause button on existence so they could go piss and refill their popcorn. And the words that came out of your mouth literally, physically materialized and started coming toward me like you were the stoned caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland and I was poor Alice trying to figure out what exactly was going on — from far enough away that your words couldn’t reach me: S-A-S-K-A-T-C-H-E-W-A-N.
I ran out the employee exit without even taking off my apron, and slammed the door to keep the letters from following me outside. I sat in my car until I couldn’t figure out why I was sitting there, or whether what had just happened had really happened at all. All told, I sat there for three and half minutes. I could feel myself aging. I looked around at the sea of cars, and realized that we’re totally fucking up the planet with cars and malls and parking lots, so I decided to ditch mine right then and there and just walk on home.
While I walked home, I thought about what had just happened and I started laughing until my sides hurt. Then, I suddenly realized something that turned my laughter into abject fear: I was creating bad karma — not just for myself but for the entire human race. I was stealing. The apron I was wearing didn’t belong to me, and I realized how wrong that was to do.
I immediately turned around, walked all the way back to the mall, and carefully hung the apron on the door handle. I felt a jolt of bad vibes leftover from slamming the same door earlier. I jerked my hand back and wondered how the fuck I was going to get home.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that my car was right there, and I decided to call a friend to tell them I found it. While I stood there holding my 90’s flip phone, trying hard to understand why it had so many buttons, you drove by. I felt a sudden rush of compassion and genuinely hoped you’d gotten your lunch. I imagined you being hungry, feeling guilty for mispronouncing the food, growing old, dying. I shed more than a few tears for the suffering you had probably experienced in your life. Then, I felt a surge of joy for all the happy times you’d probably shared with people you’d loved over the years.
But you never knew any of that. Because you didn’t bother to ask. You probably don’t even remember the day I’m talking about. But I still think about it sometimes.
It’s been years now, and I still wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn’t ducked behind the counter and taken off running that day. I’ll probably never see you again. If I do, I’m sure I won’t recognize you.
But if you ever think about it at all, I bet you think you’re better than me. Odds are, you’ve never once hallucinated while serving someone Chinese mall food. In fact, deep down, I suspect you’ve never even smoked pot. Hell, you’ve probably never even applied for a job serving Chinese food at the mall. But I’ll tell you what, buddy: you’re not better than me. Because even though I put my experimental drug use behind me many moons ago, I have a feeling you still, to this day, say “Saskatchewan chicken.”