Chapter 10 – The Culinary Vigilante
Giving heed to our growling stomachs, Tim and I stopped off at a crowded-ass street market somewhere in downtown Kuala Lumpur to get some lunch. After rambling through a sea of women in hijab who’d been buying and selling everything from fruits and vegetables to halal meats and fresh fish, we came across a restaurant which offered outdoor seating. Following a brief search for an unoccupied table beneath the large, striped canopy, we parked it and began perusing the menu.
What had started with sunny skies and an unbelievable heat quickly turned into a gloom and doom kinda day. As we awaited service, it began to rain. While clicking through my camera and reviewing the photos I’d taken at the KL Tower, I glanced from beneath the awning that’d been keeping us dry. Packed only minutes beforehand, the marketplace had cleared out – give or take a few umbrella-donning women in traditional Muslim garb who didn’t seem in that big of a hurry to seek shelter.
“Hello,” said the waiter who’d sidled the table. “Food?”
To overcome the language barrier and achieve a mutual understanding of my order, I pointed to pictures on the menu. I’d set myself up with a chicken sandwich, some sort of chicken soup and a communal fry for Tim and I to split as an appetizer. The waiter nodded in compliance and jotted it down. Osh put in his order the same way.
“Dahnku,” said the waiter.
“Thank you,” I replied.
Since the time I went with my dad to pick up dinner from an Asian restaurant called Nam Viet in the Edison Park neighborhood of Chicago when I was about ten-years-old, I’ve had a profound fascination with foreign pronunciations of English words. I recall hearing the woman behind the desk butcher the “L’s” in my family name and being unable to stop myself from busting a gut.
“Oh-dah foh Meesta Rarry,” she’d directed one of her underlings to retrieve our bag.
“Pff!” I tugged on my dad, Mr. Lally’s shirt. “Did you hear that? She said ‘Meesta Rarry’!”
“Yeah,” he shushed me, “I heard it. But keep it down, alright?”
“It was just like in A Christmas Story though. You know when the Chinese guys go ‘fa ra ra ra raaaa’ and chop the duck’s head off? You know that part?”
“Yeah Tim, I know it,” he said. “Just keep it down ‘til we get outside.”
If my curiosity had been born there, it deepened around age thirteen while a group of buddies and I had been throwing mud-balls at passing vehicles on Harlem Avenue from atop the backstop behind home plate at Pioneer Park in Niles, Illinois. From that vantage point, the majority of our tosses had been broken up by tree branches before they reached the street, but several had made it through and resulted in a thud. The thuds more often than not resulted in a screeching of the brakes. Surprisingly, none of the drivers had gotten out to chase us down as we laughed and laughed about how fun it was to scare the shit out of and fuck up innocent people’s property. One of the Hispanic landscapers who’d been doing work on the baseball diamond didn’t share our distorted point of view.
“Hey, hello!” he waved his arms at us from the ground. “What do you think you are doing?”
We looked down.
“This is a pube-lick park!” he shouted. “Did you come to play or to destroy!?”
“A pube-lick park?” one of my buddies said. “Oh my god, is this guy for real?”
As he stood there shaking his fists at us in anger, we quickly responded in the language of flying mud balls. We soon after climbed down the chain-link half-dome and moved on before the police showed up to the scene. Although this took place more than a decade ago, I often use that Latino landscaper’s sexual-sounding pronunciation of the word “public,” even when conversing with people who don’t get the joke and have no idea what I’m talking about.
As a borderline adult in Malaysia, I wasn’t nearly as unruly or disrespectful as I’d been during my adolescence in Chicago. Nevertheless, I found beauty in all the peculiar pronunciations I’d encountered and most definitely didn’t let a single one of them go unnoticed – particularly the way the waiter at the restaurant had said “Dahnku.”
Following the drop-off, we dahnked the waiter and immediately got to work destroying the order of fries. I was hungry as fuck. It was already midafternoon and aside from the complimentary snack I’d received earlier on the international bus ride that I’d soon after thrown up, I had yet to put food in my belly. Not long after the appe-teaser, the waiter returned with the much anticipated main course.
What had been laid in front of me definitely looked like a chicken sandwich. Sure, the sight of it didn’t get my taste-buds all jazzed up the way a Spicy Chicken from Wendy’s would, but the thing looked edible enough and I had a void I needed to fill. Tim had already dug into his meal and appeared as satisfied as a smoker taking his first puff in the morning. I decided to do the same.
I used both hands to lift the sandwich to my face, sunk my teeth into it and began chomping it up. The cold sliminess of the meat on my tongue didn’t feel quite right. I stopped chewing, grabbed a napkin and spit the gnashed-up hunk out of my system. Inspecting the pink area from where I’d just gorged, it was plain to see that the chicken patty they’d served me had been grossly undercooked. The bastards had also forgotten to bring out my soup which I guess I wasn’t too upset about considering they probably would’ve fucked it up worse than the sandwich.
I’ve had some disgusting meals in my day – this being right up there with the worst of ‘em – but I’ve never complained or asked for my money back because only assholes pull that type of shit. Besides, I wouldn’t even know how to approach that sort of confrontation when the staff and I don’t even speak the same language.
A great innovator and old buddy of mine named Cole had always been someone who’d take matters into his own hands. He’d never been afraid to improvise to get his point across and wouldn’t think twice about getting his hands dirty to accomplish a task – no matter how juvenile or crass that task may be. One time during a high school party at a Roger’s Park home where a doormat of a mother had time-after-time let kids have the run of the place, Cole wanted to keep partying – and Cole be damned if Cole didn’t get what Cole wanted.
Most of the gatherings at this house had taken place in the basement. Since the basement didn’t have any toilets, everyone quickly adapted and had designated the generic, furnace-housing closet to be the “piss room.” It smelled just as the name suggested. When the basement parties would get rowdy, holes were punched in the ceiling by drunken fifteen and sixteen-year-old macho men looking to show how tough they are in hope of getting their dicks sucked by sloppy sluts who think that that sort of behavior is really “hawt.”
One time at that house, I’d seen a kid hold a lighter to and set the basement couch on fire. As a building cloud of smoke hovered along the hole-ridden ceiling, the couch burnt down to the coils while everyone continued to party like “we don’t need no water, let that motherfucker burn.” Another time, when the party had spilled over from the basement and moved onto the main floor, some asshole took it upon himself to toss the living room television out the window onto the front lawn.
Neighbors often called the police who would intervene and break up these gatherings, threatening to report the mother to the Department of Child and Family Services. You’d think that the prospect of losing your children would put things in perspective for this mother, but they never did. She was one of those adults who found it more important to be perceived as cool by her daughter and all the people using them for a place to get trashed. So, she continued to permit these parties “as long as everybody keeps quiet.” Telling a bunch of wasted teenagers to keep it down while partying is the equivalent of telling a cock not to crow at the break of dawn. You can make deals with them all you want, it’s just not going to yield any results whatsoever.
On the night that Cole wanted to keep partying, a kid named TG had taken a shit on the floor of the piss room. Everyone had been yelling. The music was cranked all the way up. Joints were being passed around. Shots were being ripped. Cole got hungry, went upstairs, raided the freezer and helped himself to a half-gallon of ice cream. At some point TG found a broom, smashed the log of shit into its bristles and smeared it all over the walls of the basement. The place was a regular teenage wasteland. The party had gotten out of control and a call to the police was imminent. Fearing the loss of her children, the negligent mother came running down the stairs and started yelling about everything she saw.
“It’s too smoky in here! Turn that music down! And is that…is that shit smeared on the walls!?”
Everyone ignored her except for Cole who answered the woman with a “shut up” as he spiked a handful of the ice cream in her face from point blank. He then grabbed the shit-covered broom which he proceeded to wave around, chasing her all the way back up to the top of the stairs. In the end, I’m not sure whether that mother was allowed to keep her children or not, but one thing’s for sure, the music remained loud, the booze kept flowing and Cole continued to party.
At an “everybody-come-over-my-parents-are-out-of-town” kegger that’d taken place a year or so thereafter in the Norwood Park area, Cole again was determined to keep partying. It had been around two in the morning when the beer supply approached a dangerously low level that Cole volunteered to drive to get another keg. Thinking he’d had a car, my buddy Kevin decided to tag along for the ride. Once they got out to the street, however, he realized that that hadn’t been the case.
Cole walked up and down the block testing the handles of random driver-side doors until he found one that had been unlocked and climbed inside. Giving off the impression that he knew what he was doing, C-Dogg removed part of the console from below the steering wheel and began putting random wires together. Kevin decided that this was the perfect time to take a piss in the middle of the street next to where his guilt-by-association, partner-in-crime had been operating. One set of conjoined wires turned the hazards on and another pair set off a blaring alarm. Moments later, a big angry man came storming out of his house.
Kevin ran off and hid in a nearby backyard while Cole just sat there awaiting the guy’s vehement approach.
“The fuck you think you’re doing!?”
“Well sir,” Cole replied, “I was just gonna borrow this ride to go get some more beer and then bring it right back.”
“Like hell you are!” he said, grabbing Cole by the shirt and shoving him away. “Get the fuck outta here!”
According to Kevin who’d witnessed the scene, before rushing out, the man had neglected to put on shoes. So, as he stood in the street next to his car that’d almost just been stolen by some seventeen-year-old waste-O who’d begun to stagger away, the guy realized that he, in his crisp-looking pair of white socks, had been standing smack dab in the middle of Kevin’s piss puddle.
“And there’s fuckin’ toilets for this shit too, god damn it!”
The most relative instance of Cole’s unorthodox approach to life had been his reaction to an egregious culinary experience similar to the one I’d had in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Although he paid the bill, Cole decided he was tired of settling for less and went rogue after receiving a more-than-dissatisfactory meal from a Shooters all-you-can-eat buffet on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Exercising an “if you serve me shit, I’ll give it right back” mentality, the vigilante took his plate into the bathroom and on it laid a big steamy dump the size and color of Mike Tyson’s right bicep. After cleaning himself up, Cole then carried, set and left this plate on the table for the busboys to find.
Even though the restaurant in Malaysia deserved similar treatment, I couldn’t muster the testicular fortitude to pull the trigger. Accordingly, Tim and I paid the bill in full and without incident, left the restaurant hungrier than we’d arrived.