Le Fou de Riz, C'est Moi
Every little neighborhood eatery has one - the guy about whom the staff can say, "It's the same thing all the time. He comes in here everyday at exactly ten after twelve and orders a Mr. Pibb and a small bowl of capers. I don't understand it, but damn if he ain't our most loyal customer." It's all part of the local flavor. The delicious local flavor of capers and knock-off Dr. Pepper.
Most of the time we never really know what drives these creatures of habit. Perhaps the man of my example requires the sodium of capers and the sugar of Mr. Pibb to maintain his health, youthful good looks, and keen mind. Or, far more likely than that kook hypothesis, perhaps this food and beverage combination reacts uniquely with his saliva to create a pop rocks effect, capers secretly crackling on his tongue much to his delight. While I certainly can't lay claim to such private pleasures as savoring exploding mouth capers while a bemused waitstaff looks on none the wiser, but I am starting to be recognized as something of an odd bird at one particular establishment.
Not that the 53rd St. incarnation of Noodles Etc. has any place putting on airs. It's Pan-Asian at its panniest. They do a serviceable pad see ew, but that's about it. Over the years Noodles Etc. has asserted its Asianness in odd ways. They have an open kitchen, visible from both the cashier area and the street, so that everyone can see that the food is clearly not prepared by anyone of remotely Asian descent. Even more curiously, there used to be this hostess who worked there, a Caucasian of the palest stock, who would speak in stereotypical Asian English while at work, but who had quite standard, American-born pronunciation when not on the clock. Seriously. "Por' flied lice," "He say he want tree pad thai ri' now," "You want chopstick?" the whole nine yards. It was ridiculous.
So, do you think they should be making fun of me when I come in two or three times each week ordering only a small white rice for $.82? I thought so. Nevertheless, they do. They see me coming and smile knowingly. Like I'm one of those crackpot grad students who lives on $3000 a year and has resigned himself to cheerfully consuming plain white rice because this, my 17th year in the Div School, is gonna be the one when I finally get that approval from my committee and am dubbed Rice-eating-nutjob, Ph.D.
The truth is that I eat a lot of those microwave curries, the ones that Patel Bros. sells for $1.79. The rice is accompaniment and not main course. I'm sometimes tempted to tell them this, so that they finally understand, but I'm not sure going there would be fun anymore. I want them to go out drinking on the weekends and tell their friends about "this dude who comes in there and orders nuthin' but rice." I want to be burned clearly enough into their psyches to appear as a non sequitur background character in their dreams, "I was just about to feed my big sister the poisoned cake which I baked for her after all those horrible, tormented years of beating me up and stealing my boyfriends. But then this guy, you know, the Riceman from the restaurant, taps on the window and whispers to me, 'It's a fine October for a swim, dontcha know?' And then it all comes flooding back to me. I remember that time when I was ten and there was this super hot Indian summer, and my sister convinced me to ditch school and go down to the Lake. We swam and ate Italian ices and they tasted better than ever just because we knew everyone else was stuck in school doing grammar and eating cold salisbury steak. And so I didn't feed her the poisoned cake after all." Isn't that sweet? And still they think I'm a bit off. The nerve.