People sometimes ask why I tend to be a hermit. It’s because I am naturally introverted, but it is also because outings that would be uneventful for most people seem to turn into huge dramas for the people who want to socialize with me. Case in point: A run-of-the-mill lunch ends up becoming a huge ‘shemp’ fight.
Once upon a time, my classmate Eun-Young wanted to talk to me about school stuff over lunch, and she wanted to take me to her “favourite place for Udon noodle soup,” so I loaded her and my laptop and stuff into my car, swung by the house to drop it off (and so she could say “hello” to my pet ferret), and then we headed downtown to Sakura.
The name was ringing a slight bell, and I realized that this was the chain that my old boss once owned and sold, and the guy who bought the old Sakura restaurants was who he eventually sold his last property to while I was working with him.
I detest going Downtown, especially during the week, because parking is always a misery (and expensive) and everything is overpriced, and even though we love and are grateful for our tourists, they drive stupidly. If you want a closer look at a historical building, pull over, for God’s sake. Do not weave all over the road at about 2 mph trying to operate a car and a videocam at the same time. The Baby Jebus hates people like you.
That was the first clue that this might be a Bad Idea: the branch of the restaurant Eun-Young wanted to visit is located in one of the most aggravating areas as far as parking and touron confusion go. The second clue was The Stinky Tree.
We parked, and paid the meter an exorbitant fee, and were assaulted with this weird stench. It was like pepper, and fish, and pee, and curry, and body odor, all mixed together. Was it cooking? Was it a backed-up sewer? Where was that smell coming from? Gah. As we walked away, a stiff breeze kicked up and the offensive tree unloaded a metric ton of pollen and leaves directly on top of my poor car, ensuring that I would smell The Stink for days on end. It lingered, this vile pong. It was a mystery smell, implying edible gourmet food and bodily malfunctions and death on the other. We debated the source of the stink for several blocks, which was as close as we could park to the restaurant, and super fun to walk when in heels and while the temperature was pushing 85oF.
All in all, though, we were excited to have a little Girl Time. The mystery smell was soon forgotten, and when we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated promptly and the food looked good, and only slightly overpriced, which, when compared to the rest of the (grossly overpriced tourist-mugging) Downtown area, is pretty good.
We order. We order Too Damn Much, actually. Our waiter is clearly brand new and delighted at the unusally large tip he anticipates he will get from us. Food keeps coming. I decide, on a whim, to order ebi, which is a type of nigiri sushi: a mostly raw butterflied shrimp atop sticky rice ball. This is important later.
Our waiter is being shadowed by the only other Caucasian on the restaurant staff, a fact which is also important later. They start bringing more and more food, and the training server makes increasingly presumptuous remarks about our order, its size, and our choices, but we shrug this off as an ill-advised attempt to be amusing with customers who are also clearly students.
Eun-Young is served a helping of soup in a tureen the size of a toilet bowl. She can barely lift her arms up high enough to reach over the rim with her spoon and chopsticks. It’s obscenely huge. I got a hubcap full of tempura shrimp and veggies. We also had fried tofu (a big fave of mine, and something I used to eat on a regular basis in Atlanta, and which I have sorely missed), sesame chicken, and gyoza. The first sign that all might not be well in paradise was finding a huge shard of aluminium foil in the chicken. I said nothing, and moved it to the side of my plate. Then the gyoza arrived charcoaled to a cinder on the bottom, and were not the type I’d requested, but I like the boiled and grilled kind as much as the fried kind, so I let that issue go, but I couldn’t eat coal. This was more than I could ignore, so I sent it back, and the kitchen staff, visible from our table, were not best pleased.
Finally we received the bill, and Eun-Young volunteered to pop more money in the meter because I was still eating and she was not. So I reviewed the bill, which was not split per request, and noticed that I’d been charged for ama ebi, not ebi. This was a $2 difference, which was not earth-shaking, and when shrimp sushi arrived at the table, I didn’t notice that it was the wrong shrimp sushi. I’m not a sushi expert. I put my share of the bill in, including a generous tip (because I still remember what it is like to be a waiter, and, even more, what it is like to be the new waiter), waved our waiter down and pointed out the error, and requested that the bill be adjusted to reflect the proper item. He agreeably trots off to ask his new boss to change the bill, and she is instantly furious and refuses, and cusses him out. Er… what?
The poor guy. He slinks back over, tail between his legs, and starts to apologize just as Eun-Young returns and catches wind of what happened. He confesses that he’s sure he hit the wrong button, that he remembers me ordering the ebi, not the ama ebi, and he’s very sorry, but the owner’s wife refuses to change the bill because we ate the more expensive, but incorrect, shrimp sushi. I shrug it off. It’s two dollars! I’m not made of money, but it is not worth my time to argue over a measly two dollars. I made a request, they said no, and as far as I am concerned, the matter is closed.
Johnny: Didn’t ask for a dime. Two dollars.
Lane Myer: My little brother got his arm stuck in the microwave. So my mom had to take him to the hospital. My grandma dropped acid this morning, and she freaked out. She hijacked a bus-load of penguins. So it’s sort of a family crisis. Bye! [slams the door shut]
For some reason, getting all bent out of shape over a mere two bucks just seems ridiculous to me, no matter how poor I am. I’m not sure where I got that idea from, but it is fairly consistent of me, personality-wise, not to spazz out over money issues when I’m the one who is owed, and the amount can’t even buy a hungry lolcat a cheezburgar.
Anyway, Eun-Young is upset. This is her favourite lunch spot, and she sort of pressured me to go with her and I didn’t want to spend the money after blowing my budget this month. She is a regular there, and thus she feels attached to it, like it belongs to her. So she apologizes, again and again, and I say, honestly, that is isn’t a big deal, I’ll just not come back to this particular restaurant if they are going to be shortsighted enough to make their (two dollar!) mistake into mine after I’ve spent approximately seven times what I normally spend for a lunch and tipped the waiter an embarrassingly huge percentage of the bill to boot. It’s not located conveniently for me, anyway, and I can’t afford to eat out often, so it is probably a good thing I didn’t fall in love with the place too.
I want my two dollars!
The waiter comes back to the table to collect the money, since he saw me put it in the check holder, but it is not at the table. Eun-Young has marched up to the owner’s wife and there is a lot of pointing at the check and pointing at me and pointing at menus and pointing at the waiters, and this weird Korean-Chinese-English hybrid mostly consisting of punctuation marks and symbols (or it would if life were a graphic novel), and the newbie waiter and I both exchange puzzled looks, and he apologizes profusely again, and I tell him I’m cool with not getting the bill adjusted, and we both sigh a bit and bond a bit, and meanwhile, the arguing is starting to distract everyone in the restaurant as well as people randomly passing by the front door of the restaurant, and I’m not easily embarrassed or anything, but, geez, I have work to do and want to go home. What the heck is going on?
Finally I get up and go over to see why it is taking so long to pay the goddamned bill. I mean, really.
Eun-Young is insisting that because it is the waiter’s error, the restaurant should fix the bill. The owner is insisting that because the stupid gweilo couldn’t tell right away that the wrong type of shrimp sushi was served at the table, and we ate it, we should pay for it. (This is, frankly, my position on the matter. If they had fixed the bill to reflect the mistake the waiter made, great; if not, that’s fine, too. It usually doesn’t hurt to ask. And it’s still a matter of two dollars. My time is more valuable than this.)
Eun-Young, however, is pissed off. She won’t let go of the issue. It is at this point that I am sitting with my head in my hands, wanting more than anything to just leave, already. I put the money in the bill holder twenty minutes ago. My take-away package of leftovers is already packed. I have my car keys in my hand. And a Bizarro World version of a Miller Lite beer commercial is going on, at top volume, in a tiny little restaurant, and it just won’t end.
Eun-Young: It was him mistake, he poosh wrong buttan, he say it he mistake. You should take moneys off.
Owner’s Wife: You eat shemp, you paying for shemp and (Taiwanese dialect of Chinese!!).
Eun-Young: He order wrong thing, it wrong, you stealing our dollars.
Me (thinking): Tastes great!!
Owner’s Wife: We serve shemp, you eat shemp, you paying for shemp!!
Eun-Young: But she say ebi, not ama ebi, and he put ama ebi, and (Korean!) and she not wanting ama ebi!
Owner’s Wife: I telling you, you paying! He bringing shemp, you eating shemp, you paying for shemp!
Me (thinking): Less filling!!
Eun-Young: I coming here all the time, and (Korean!)
Owner’s Wife: I not care!! (Taiwanese dialect of Chinese!!), you paying! Then you go!
Eun-Young: (Korean) and (Korean!!), it not right, (KOREAN!!), ama ebi, not ebi, (Korean? Korean!!) not fair.
Owner’s Wife: (TAIWANESE DIALECT OF CHINESE!!!), (very profane American English slang term), you eating the shemp, you paying for the shemp! Otherwise, you is stealing the shemp!
Me (thinking): Oh God, please make it stop so I can go home.
Eun-Young: I am not try to stealing the shrimps! Just want you to be fair and not make (Korean, Korean), not her fault!
Owner’s Wife: You ated the shemp, so you pay, is our policy! (Taiwanese dialect of Chinese!!) Is final!
Holy crap. This went on for about four months. My hair grew an inch. I began to wish for death (or deafness). All of this over a discrepancy of two dollars.
At this point, my waiter and I are in psychic pain, and the senior waiter decides to insert himself into the argument, but he has no fucking clue what the problem is. He latches on to the Owner’s Wife fussing about “stealing shemp” and decides that Eun-Young is refusing to pay for her meal. He then lectures her, loudly, that if she doesn’t pay her bill, he will call the police. She attempts to explain what the issue is, and as he is actually visibly gleeful that he’s involved in a conflict, he must be that kind of stroppy personality, and so he interrupts her and repeats that if she “doesn’t want to pay her bill”, he is going to call the cops.
Meanwhile, on a $32 bill, there is $48 and change sitting in the bill folder, which is open for all to see.
Eun-Young tries to recall enough English to explain this to the waiter, and he doesn’t even attempt to try to understand her, he just repeats that if she doesn’t want to pay the bill, he will call the cops, and he says this while no more than two feet away from the bill folder, which is open, full of money. Also? The argument is taking place next to the cash register. A desire not to pay the bill is not the issue.
Eun-Young gets frustrated and says that is fine, he should call the cops. The waiter talks on the phone, the owner’s wife talks on the phone, then Eun-Young talks on the phone, which is when I get up again to find out what is taking so damn long and find out that the police are on the phone and are coming to the restaurant.
What the fuck is this nonsense?
Our waiter gets wind of what is happening and has a meltdown and QUITS. He removes his apron, says this whole situation is utter bullshit, he can’t work for a place like this, this is retarded, this is fucked up, he is walking out the door right now. I take his tip out of the folder and insist he take it before he leaves. He finally agrees, and stops by the table to co-miserate with me one more time on his way out the back door, all while tapping a Djarum clove out of a cigarette pack. I idly remark that I smoke the same brand and would much prefer to be having a clove cigarette rather than waiting for the motherloving COPS to come over TWO DOLLARS, and it strikes us as suddenly incredibly hilarious.
He insists on giving me a cigarette, then vanishes. Maybe he had a warrant or something. He was gone so quickly, I would swear he left cartoon dust clouds in his wake.
I go up again to plead with Eun-Young to let it go, but she has her teeth clamped down into a perceived injustice and is worrying it back and forth and refusing to let go. I find myself apologizing to the owner’s wife, and pleading again with Eun-Young to get a sense of perspective about the issue (TWO DOLLARS!! GAH!!), and even sharing that I knew the previous owner of the restaurant chain, and was a former employee of the most recent acquisition of the owner, and knew the original owners (which is true, I babysat for them when their kids were very small), and I tell the bolshy head waiter that I made a request and was okay with it being denied, and it was never a demand on my part. He bitches that Eun-Young made it a demand, and the police were on their way, and then he visibly melted a little and acknowledged that I was not involved in the dispute except tangentially, not that this made me or anyone else any happier.
And, in due course, as I sat, back at our table, shaking my head and moaning quietly to myself under my breath over how loooooong it was taking to get some goddamned lunch I didn’t even goddamned want and really couldn’t afford to goddamn well pay for, a policeman did show up.
And the argument dragged on and on, so up I popped again. “May I nutshell the situation for you?” I asked. The cop agreed. I explained that the waiter misunderstood what I ordered, made a mistake, brought a more expensive menu item, and I asked for the difference back. When this request was denied, I accepted it. The money had been in the bill folder the entire time. (I then pointed at it, and the officer actually noted for his own satisfaction that the bill was well and truly OVERpaid, and all we needed was Eun-Young’s change.) I added that she was trying to do a nice thing, not that I wanted her to or asked her to, and I would very much like to have the argument on my behalf to just stop, already.
Finally Eun-Young capitulated, and then crankily refused to tip the waiter (who had quit, but would be back to pick up his tips and pay later, surely), so I asked the head waiter if our waiter was ever coming back, got a complicated answer that boiled down to “eventually,” and handed over another TWO DOLLARS for his tip, meaning he got tipped about 35% when all was said and done.
I had a serious headache at this point, and was thoroughly sick of my fellow humans, and was delighted to finally get to go home. As we were leaving, our cop and a lady cop were outside on the sidewalk, chatting, and I told them both I was so sorry they had to waste their time with such a petty issue, given that it was never even a remote possibility that the bill was not going to be paid. I added that I was aware that they had far more important things to do than mediate misunderstandings over two freaking dollars.
Eun-Young was completely unabashed about the whole thing, except she felt badly that I’d said I would probably not be going back to her favourite restaurant any time soon. She apologized to me repeatedly, and, to be frank, I was frustrated with her but not particularly angry at that point. In fact, I started to laugh. It was just too ridiculous that an hour of my time was wasted arguing over two dollars worth of ‘shemp’.
Also? We successfully determined that the Stinky Tree was responsible for the stench, a fact that explained why we managed to find a parking spot a mere three blocks away for the restaurant. Everyone else was too smart to park beneath the smelly tree. The top of my car still smells a bit like fishy, smoky cheese. Ugh.
I dropped her off at our classroom building, reassured her that we were cool, and still friends, and not to worry about the whole drama-rama, please (LET IT GO!), and finally I was free to go home.
And that was my exciting day! Screw the two dollars. This day sucked.
Of course, I can see the humour in it now.
By the way, ama ebi means “sweet shrimp”, and “sweet shrimp” sushi actually includes the disgusting heads, sitting there looking at you all accusingly, and there is no way I’d order that on purpose, as I like to pretend that shrimp aren’t actually roach-like sea bugs.