When I first started this blog, this is the sort of thing I thought I’d be discussing about more. Every day occurrences, public snapshots of my despair transformed into words for all to see. Like so many fictional chumps I’ve enjoyed watching on sitcoms, I had a bad experience at a diner, and now I’m gonna write about it.
It was a typical Thursday for me, a couple of friends and I were looking for a place to eat between classes when suddenly the most oafish among us said “why don’t we go to X” (I either forgot the name of the place we went to, or I’m repressing it due to the trauma). So we foolishly listened to this friend, or more accurately former friend in my case (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but this is how you find out we’re no longer on speaking terms), and go to this place for lunch. When we sat down we were greeted by a waiter sporting anime hair asking us what we would like to drink. That should have been my first clue. There was no way I was gonna walk away from someone that styles their hair after Gohan’s from Dragon Ball Z on good terms.
So I ask for a glass of milk, Eggs Benedict, and home fries. That single combination will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life, but I didn’t know it then, all I knew was that the waiter thought it was weird that I’d ordered a glass of milk. He was probably around my age, maybe paying his way through university too, but I recognized that look of “okaaaaay” anywhere. We were already off to a rough start, and it was only gonna get worse from here.
When he came back with my food, I knew immediately something was wrong. My Eggs Benedict was just a yellow sludge over a burnt piece of bread, and my home fries were just a big square piece of fried potato. The former issue I admit was just me not knowing what Eggs Benedict was. I expected Benedict Cumberbatch, but what I got was Benedict Arnold (because my expectations were betrayed). The home fries though, the home fries I knew were wrong. So next time the waiter came over I asked him about the fries. Besides that massive potato, there was a singular fry on my plate, almost as if to insult me. He said that big potato square was the home fries and I just didn’t know about it here. Please note reader, that at this point, I was willing to accept that. If he had said nothing more, I would have been fine eating that fat potato instead of fries, because it honestly tasted pretty good. But no, he had to extend it, he had to aggravate the situation by going deeper. The following exchange serves as the crux of this tale.
Anime-Hair-Guy: I could return the home fries and just give you regular fries you know…
Me: But I already ate some of it, and I don’t think it should go to waste –
AHG: That’s fine, I could just bring you some fries anyways…
Me: But… would they be free though….?
AHG (clearly taken aback): ….. Ya…. sure.
The nuances of this acidic exchange must be lost on you, but let me assure you, this was tense as hell. He clearly wanted me to pay for the new fries, but grit his teeth and let me have my way anyways. He could have said no and that I’d have to pay for them, but no, instead he accepts this grand injustice and points to me as the grand conspirator. Now I’m the bad guy for wanting free fries on top of the “fries” I already ordered. It also didn’t help that the tone I said “would they be free though” was incredibly childish and high pitched. I said it like I knew I was asking for too much, like I was taking advantage of him and relishing it like a sick and depraved foodie. It was also in that moment that I realized something else, something that would make our encounter one with the highest imaginable stakes.
One of the basic rules of society is that when someone does something bad, that person is the asshole, but when a black person does something bad, suddenly all black people are assholes. I was no longer fighting for my own dignity here, I was now fighting for the fate of racial relations in that diner for all of history. The pressure was on, so when the waiter came back with my new plate of fries, I made sure to loudly be in the middle of a conversation where I’d declare “I’m totally just gonna tip him more for this”. ‘That’ll show him’, I thought, maybe by defying the stereotype that we don’t tip, I will no longer be contributing to the notion that we’re also cheap. But it was all for naught. Either he didn’t hear me, or he completely saw through my clever ploy and handed me my fries and said with barely disguised contempt “Is that enough for you then?”, as if he was expecting me to ask for more, like being difficult was just who I was.
I knew then, that I had failed. This guy hates me, and I probably contributed to his accumulative notion that black guys suck. And the absolute worse part about all this was that the fries tasted like dookie. They were the kind of fries I wouldn’t feed to a dog, so I ended up barely touching them. I totally devoured that square potato though, so when he came back to collect our plates, I came face to face with the most weirdly contorted scowl in the world. All that tension, all that awkwardness, and it was all for nothing. It was like he tried to hide his rage at first, but then said screw it half-way through, and gave me this pained look instead. He was staring daggers, but it also looked like he was taking a dump too. Doesn’t matter though. Nothing did at that point, the experience already ruined my entire day. So I paid him, tipped him well, and got out of there, vowing to never return to that diner again. For their sake, and mine.
I wish I could say I learned a valuable lesson. I wish I could tell you that I learned that not everyone is gonna like me like TJ did in that one episode of Recess, but I didn’t. The only thing I got from this incident was pain.