(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on June 16, 2010.)
The guy storms in mid-sentence.
“So what is it you all do here?”
He’s humongous, somewhere around 300 pounds. He’s wearing a shredded jean jacket, XXL jean shorts and a faded FDNY hat. His middle is a full-on dickdo (see: Urban Dictionary) — a jelly log wrapped in denim. Rounding out his look is a gigantic cross made out of polished twigs that look like the talismans scattered throughout the Blair Witch Project.
He speaks bombastically, with a poorly hidden Long Island accent.
“We just got back from Dan’s shoe store. Can you believe that place? Really makes you think about what they’re saying about the American mall.”
“What are they saying about the American mall?” asks my co-worker Rayhan. I shoot him a look.
Big Denim leans in and lowers his voice. “The American mall is dying.”
“Wow,” says Rayhan.
“Jesus,” I say.
We nod, but internally we’re both thinking about the F My Life postings we’ll be writing after work. Big D continues.
“America’s going to hell, I tell you. Can’t even get a pair of shoes anymore. So we’re at Dan’s, you know, trying to get a pair of shoes? And you know what these idiots go and do? They bring us out – get this – ONE shoe! Just one! They say, ‘Here you are.’ And I’m lookin’ down at this one shoe and thinking, ‘Well where’s the other one?’ So I say to the guy ‘Sir,’ I say, ‘Sir, where is the other shoe?’ And he says, you know what he says to me? He says, ‘Well that’s our policy.’ Policy? People’s feet are different sizes sometimes, you know? Now my daughter has feet the same size, but still. And this guy’s actually trying to DEFEND the policy. Saying things like, ‘The reason we only give out one shoe is the same reason banks have bullet proof glass,’ and I say, ‘Well sir, that’s an idiot analogy that makes absolutely no sense. One thing has nothing to do with the other.’
“You know, I just look at some things, and I just can’t help but ask myself, ‘How does that make any sense?’”
That’s when I look down at his chest and see it. Right above the cross, as prominent as Rudolph’s nose—it’s a Star of David with a cross inside of it.
“I mean really. Some things just puzzle me.”
* * *
By the time I got off work that night, I was sick and drained (literally).
So I got in my car and sped straight towards the best medicine I know, at Asa Ramen in Gardena. (You could start a war naming the best bowl of ramen in SoCal, so please feel free to disagree with my choice on the comment board at Rafu.com)
Asa is awesome. It’s open until two in the morning and serves a Kotteri broth so divine that one could feel compelled to pray before eating it. It’s fitting, considering the place is church-quiet, even at full capacity. The only sounds are slurping and boiling pork bones. Very zen.
Yet as soon as I walked in, I knew that I had sinned. I had entered with a cold.
Soup may be a cold’s best remedy, but ordering soup of this order without the ability to taste it is a grave transgression.
By the time my ramen was placed before me, my nose was so clogged that I feared I would never taste again. Worse than that, the chef was looking at me, ready to take note of my first bite. F my life.
The salesman in me wanted to just make the guy happy by taking a bite and nodding. But the foodie in me wanted to…fix my post-nasal drip. Naturally, I decided on the latter. I flagged down the waitress.
“Could I get some wasabi please?” I asked.
She raised an eyebrow, then whispered something to the chef. He came back over to my side of the bar, looking displeased.
“Whayee yuu wan wasabi for?”
I made this Kleenex, and now I was going to have to sleep in it.
I pointed to my nose, hoping it was the universal sign for cold. Then I made gushing movements with my hands, demonstrating a snot waterfall, which only further confused the chef. Panicked, I reached back into the depths of my college Japanese courses, trying to find the right word.
“Samui,” I said.
He looked at the waitress, then looked back at me. Then they both started laughing, so loudly and cathartically, that I knew I was going to be the butt of their post-work cigarette break. After wiping the tears from his face, the chef disappeared into the back and emerged with a small dish filled with an angry yellow paste. It was Chinese mustard, the answer to my prayers.
I put the whole gob in my mouth and it immediately went to work. It was disgusting. But it cleared me right up. I was able to enjoy the entire bowl, every umami morsel. I paid and got up to leave.
“Sayonara, Samui-San” said the chef.
“Sayonara, Kotteri-Sama,” I said.
I got in my car. Today, I sold toys to a Jew for Jesus and got my sinuses drained by a ramen chef.
I love L.A.
Alex Isao Herbach is a freelance writer and sales director for a Southern California toy store. All encounters are true, but the names have been changed or altered.