It was 1:00 p.m., and Zoya, Jazzy Brass and I were getting hungry. While looking for an In-N-Out Burger or maybe a Del Taco, I checked my cell phone video to see if I’d gotten anything useful from just prior to our shootout. It was nothing but blurred gun barrels — completely useless.
We couldn’t find any of the more popular fast-food chain restaurants — usually you find them everywhere you look in SoCal. Finally Zoya pulled into one I hadn’t tried before, a Burger Bender. We ordered three cheeseburgers, fries and drinks. Jazzy loved chicken nuggets, but they weren’t on the menu. She’d have to make due. I promised her next time we’d find a Wendy’s, and she could have it her way. It was hard telling when she’d get back on her normal diet of dry dog food and an occasional spoon of pumpkin or slice of apple.
I gave Zoya a twenty-dollar bill and she paid the kid at the window. He didn’t look like a high school student, had to be at least twenty, hair spiked, with body piercings and tattoos. Jada, my young friend back at the marina, has a similar look. But I soon found out that she wears it with a hell of a lot more personality.
The young man, obviously a career fast-food customer-service engineer, dumped the change into Zoya’s hands.
Don’t they teach kids to count back change anymore?
I figured by the looks of him, he’d have a heck of a time counting back more than a nickel anyway.
He gave us the drinks.
They’d overflown their lids, and soda was dripping down the sides of the cups.
We asked for napkins.
He stuck a wad of them out the window.
A minute later, he handed us the bag of food.
We had to ask for straws.
He passed us half a dozen for two drinks.
We had to ask for ketchup.
He handed us mayonnaise instead.
I told him we wanted ketchup not mayonnaise.
He gave us a fistful, without reply.
We asked if there was salt in the bag.
He said, “No.”
We waited. Ten seconds later, I asked, “Well, can we have some?”
He didn’t say anything, but grabbed a handful of the tiny salt packets and stuck them out the window. At least a half dozen fell to the driveway beside the car door.
Zoya cupped her hands to receive the rest. He’d passed us enough salt to season every potato in Idaho, let alone two orders of French fries.
At that point, I considered pulling Zoya’s Mac 10 out from under the seat, pointing it at him and informing him that I was a trained assassin and had snuffed more people than he had stainless steel rings on his face and dick — there were at least twenty on his face alone.
Instead, I swallowed the venom surging in my throat, and we thanked him.
Then…and this is the kicker — what do you think the little shit said in return?
Come on, guess?
He said, “No problem.”
I don’t know that you’ve noticed, but my day began two popcorn farts less than great, and it was turning out three root canals and a kidney stone more than terrible.
I was stressed. I’d had a bad day. My head was about to explode from the pressure building inside. My good nature was stretched across my face like a two-bit condom over a pineapple — let’s say it developed a few holes.
To start with, first thing this morning, I get the finger from an old woman. That alone would ruin many a man’s day. But then I discover my goddaughter has been kidnapped by people who want me dead; a boat blows up that was supposed to have been mine; I find a good friend beaten into hamburger by guys trying to kill me; I get shot at; I nearly fall off a cliff; I have to kick a big bald guy’s ass; and then, to top it off, I only get half a BJ before finding out I’m being setup to be murdered.
Okay, that was just this morning. Next, the goombas who took a pot-shot at me come back and riddle my beautiful classic muscle car full of holes. I have to leave it in a heap of smashed up, smoldering metal because the cops are coming and, if I stick around, they’ll arrest me, and I’ll go back to prison.
So far today, I’d done nothing wrong — so far.
And then the kid at the fast-food window says, “No problem,” in response to our polite “thank you” without so much as a glance at us.
* * *
I stretch over Jazzy and Zoya to the little convertible’s driver side, get a foothold on the center console, and then reach into the drive-thru window. Jazzy and Zoya lean out of my way.
With my fists full of the server’s uniform shirt, I pull him to me and our noses touch.
“All right, booger-eater; listen to me this one time.” I start low and slow. “Your job is to wait on us; provide us with courteous service and a quality meal,” I say, my voice coming out louder, words faster. “We; your customers — the reason you even have a job — say ‘thank you.‘ And how do you answer? With a smile and a respectful ‘you’re welcome — thank you for your business. Please come again,’ right?”
My eyes are bugging, spittle comes out unintentionally with my elevated words.
“No-o. You say,” I whine with a sneer in exaggerated imitation, “‘No problem,’ as if you feel the need to tell me it wasn’t too damn far out of your way for you to do the job you’re being paid to do —”
I take a deep breath, “— instead of what you’d be doing if we hadn’t come to your little window: sitting on your dumb ass, atop a box of frozen beef and sawdust patties, listening to gangster rap while popping pimples with one hand and rubbing your balls like they’re Aladdin’s lamp and you’re wishing you had something more than a three-inch pecker with the other.
“No problem? You say no problem to your neighbor when you pull a turd out of his toilet that got stuck sideways and clogged it up. You say no problem when you stop and fix a stranger’s flat tire in the rain, even though you’re going to be late for work. You say no problem when the guy with no arms standing beside you at the urinal asks you to shake the dew off his lily and put it back in his pants for him — that’s when you say, no freaking problem!”
I’m glaring at him. He’s gaping back, as are Zoya, Jazzy, the burger joint employees and the few customers who can see me from the inside.
“No problem?” I ask quietly, but with a ragged edge. My next words come out from between my barred teeth. “Of course it was no damn problem, you little freak!”
The kid is in shock. He finally stutters, “Yu-you’re…wu-welcome — s-sir!”
“There. Was that so goddamn hard?”
I let him go, push off and slip back into my seat without looking at him. I answer, “No problem.”
Zoya, with her heavy Russian accent, says, “Have … nice … day!” and we pull away.
* * *
I took a deep breath and within five minutes I was feeling pretty good.