By Dom Cioffi
“What are you, a vegetarian?” the old guy said with a snide slant to his delivery.
My ears perked up at this statement as I stood in line behind two men, each ordering their lunch special at a local Chinese restaurant.
The younger guy accompanying the old man looked concerned by the question, like he had unwittingly made a epic social faux pas.
“No, I’m not a vegetarian,” he replied sheepishly. “I just like steamed vegetables.”
“Hey, Larry,” the old guy turned and shouted to two men sitting at a nearby table. “Pip Squeak’s a vegetarian!”
He emphasized the ‘a’ in ‘vegetarian’ so it sounded schoolyard condescending.
The two guys at the table barely paid attention, as if they had spent the last 18 years listening to this old coot bark about whatever happened to catch his fancy.
When he laughed at his own remark, I caught sight of several teeth missing from the corner of the old guy’s mouth – a mouth surrounded by salt and pepper facial rubble and bits of grease leftover from what I gathered was the underside of some ancient industrial equipment.
“You ain’t never gonna get meat on them bones by eating Veg-gie De-light, Pip Squeak,” he continued.
The younger guy paid his money and forced a smile, but I could tell by his demeanor that he was irked by the social outing of his lunch choice.
“Geneal Tso Chicken for me, m’am,” the old guy stated proudly, while also mispronouncing ‘Tso’ as ‘chow’ instead of ‘so.’
“And throw some extra hot sauce on there if you don’t mind,” he bellowed.
He leaned over toward the center of the restaurant and put the back of his hand to his mouth to emphasize his next statement: “Cuz that
’s what a real man orders!”
As he fumbled with his wallet, I could hear the old guy giggling to himself while muttering the word ‘vegetarian’ over and over, completely oblivious that I was standing three feet away listening to his entire conversation.
Now here’s the rub of this story: I always order Veggie Delight when I go to a Chinese restaurant. I don’t do it because I’m a vegetarian (because I’m not). I do it because on too many occasions I have had a rough time with most of the other dishes at these establishments.
Subsequently, Veggie Delight has become my go-to choice if I’m in the mood for Far East cuisine.
So I froze when the sweet Asian girl behind the counter looked at me pointedly and said, “For you?”
I felt the pressure of the moment welling up inside of me. Do I order Veggie Delight with this half-witted codger standing next to me and risk heightening his already piqued opinions? Or do I change my normal order to something more mundane (and apparently manly).
I reached over and grabbed a menu to buy some time, but instantly felt the presence of the other hungry lunch patrons standing in line behind me.
“Leave, leave already!” I screamed inside my own head.
But the old guy just stood there, now done with the fumbling of his wallet and apparently content to stand at the counter to wait while his lunch was prepared.
It’s amazing to me how many different thoughts can rip through your brain in a matter of seconds when these pressurized moments arise. I swear that I played out 15 different scenarios in the time that it would normally take me to put cream in my coffee.
Finally, with what felt like the eyes of the restaurant on me, I cleared my throat and uttered, “General Tso Chicken, please,” mispronouncing ‘Tso’ as ‘chow’ even though I knew better.
“Oh, God!” I thought to myself. “Did I actually just succumb to peer pressure from a barely literate inbred senior citizen?”
The reality of what I had done was too much to bear so I suddenly shouted, “And throw in an order of Veggie Delight as well. For my wife, of course.”
And with that, the old man turned to Pip Squeak while pointing at me and stated confidently, “And there you go.”
In the end, I guess I figured it’s best not to rile an unhinged stranger. One wrong word and…
In this week’s feature, “The Purge: Anarchy,” we revisit a disturbing plot line that imagines a future where all laws are suspended for 24 hours in order for society to work out their pent up aggressions. In other words, it gives people who may have been mocked in a Chinese restaurant the opportunity for fatal revenge without consequence. Yikes!
This is the follow-up to the original “Purge” film from 2013. And while it institutes the same scenario, this edition surpasses the original in content, structure and tension.
I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but for the kind of film it is, “The Purge: Anarchy” wasn’t half bad. Just make sure you’re prepared for some serious social disorder and a lot of gratuitous blood.
A disturbing “C+” for “The Purge: Anarchy.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.