I have a pretty unique commute to work — at least for a big city like Boston. While most people around here are crawling to work in tin cans of some kind — cars, trains, subways, the occasional bathysphere — I’ve got a quick twenty-minute walk from my door to the office.
But like proctology exams and drunken sexual encounters — just because it’s fast doesn’t mean it’s easy.
My jaunt to work includes many obstacles and dangers. There’s the overwhelming urge to race back home and hide under the covers, naturally. And the Massholes weaving recklessly in their SUVs and Beemers and personal deep sea exploration vehicles. But many days, the biggest hurdle I face on the way to work is a teeny tiny little lady, maybe five feet tall. I’ve never spoken to her — but she chats nearly non-stop, aggressively, to me and everyone else around. While she wields a battery of small sharp objects. Also, small animal parts.
I should probably explain.
“Like a shrill angry little siren, she devotes her life to luring unsuspecting travelers into her clutches, in this case to order from her steaming pans of fried rices and Szechuan delights.”
On the way to my building is another building on the same block. And on the ground floor of that building is a small food court, with a handful of lunchy-style restaurants. And in one of those food stalls — an Asian concern; something about ‘Pandas’ or ‘Dragons’ or ‘Crushing the Spirit of Tibet’, I’ve never really looked at the sign — stands the lady previously mentioned. Like a shrill angry little siren, she devotes her life to luring unsuspecting travelers into her clutches, in this case to order from her steaming pans of fried rices and Szechuan delights. Hence the animal parts and pointy sticks — chicken bits on toothpicks — that she wields like edible General Tsao-issued shurikkens at anyone walking by.
And I mean anyone, anywhere in the vicinity of the foodcourt. The woman’s English may be limited, but her enthusiasm is decidedly not. On a slow morning, she’ll scream across the room to people walking in the door:
‘Hey! You dere! Try chicken! You want try chicken? Here, chicken! Is good!!‘
Occasionally a flock of businessmen will gaggle by, on their way to some frou-frou upscale joint. Undeterred, she’ll wave poultry in their faces and make her pitch:
‘Good lunch time! Try chicken; good prices! No wait for fancy napkins and sparkle water. You try now!‘
In the lunch rush, she’s like a horny dervish of salesmanship, propositioning anything that moves. Sometimes, she gets caught in a loop, like a needle on a scratchy record:
‘Come try chicken! You — have chicken! Take it now! Free sampa! Sampa! Sampa! Sampa! Sampa! Sampa!‘
I don’t know what kind of business she does. I don’t see how many people take her samples, and how many actually order from her place. And I have no idea whether the food’s any good or not.
(Though in my experience, anything sold that hard tends to be a touch substandard in the quality department.
The attractive hookers aren’t the ones with the BOGO ad flyers and parking validation, is all I’m saying.)
What I do know is this: I have to walk past her place every day, in the middle of the morning when there’s no one else around. That’s when she’s most desperate, and if the place is completely deserted I’m treated to a steady stream of Szechuan sales pitch from one end of the hallway to the other. It’s like my own personal moo goo gai gauntlet. Or the ‘running of the bullshit’, with Peking duck substituted for Pamplona beef.
I wonder whether she recognizes me — do all customers look the same to her? — but her tone gets progressively darker the further I walk without taking the bait. Her place is in the center of the court, and she starts the hard sell sweet. Or some reasonable MSG-laden facsimile thereof:
‘Hey, come try sample! Good chicken — you smart guy! Good bargain! Buy now, save for lunch! Smart eater here!‘
I try, as best I can, to signal a polite but firm NO by shaking my head and smiling apologetically, while also making sure to avoid eye contact. For one thing, I don’t want to encourage her, and I’m pretty sure a met glance would dial the chatter up exponentially. Also, it’s pretty clear that one day she’s going to start just winging toothpicked chicken chunks at people indiscriminately, and I’d prefer not to catch one right in the peeper.
So I shake my head regretfully and walk on. This does nothing but piss her off, right around the time I’m passing her stall:
‘Wha, you won’t take sampa? You too good for chicken sampa? Or you scared of chicken? Where you going, tough guy?‘
I just keep walking — or some days, running — toward the far wall and the safety of the exit. By the time I reach it, she’s usually switched over to her native tongue, and is probably loudly questioning the fidelity of my heritage in Mandarin or Cantonese or Kung Pao or wherever she’s originally from. But finally, I make my escape and can put the ordeal behind me.
Until the evening, when I come strolling back through the joint on my way home. And she’s still there, hoarse from screaming but loud as ever, peddling the leftovers that she didn’t manage to move during the dinner rush. Or the lunch rush. Or since last weekend, for all I know. There could be little mummified morsels on the ends of those toothpicks. Or they could be sublime. I’m not getting close enough to find out.
I’m just waiting for the day when I come through the deserted food court and she’s finally had enough, and leaps over the counter at me as I walk by. As the business ends of a thousand wooden ninja toothpicks enter my soul, I’ll bleed out there on the rubberized floor with one last whispered curse coursing through my ears:
‘You take sampa now, eh, mista? Is good, too! You buy beef with broccoli before you die. Lucky bargain for you!‘
I just have one request. Make sure they bury me in sweet and sour sauce. I think we’d both want it that way.Permalink | 1 Comment