Saturday, September 01, 2007

Suey Seems to be the Hardest Word

What is it about late-night restaurant soirees that bring out the basest instincts of humanity’s dreg-scraping animus? More often than not we’d quietly flat-line through the day, disturbing not hide nor hair in custom and tradition, saying sorry to random strangers we may impede on their own productive pathways. However, pollute our system with nocturnal alcohol, head off for a curry, and we suddenly turn into an overbearing invasion of obnoxious commentary, foul table manners and xenophobic disrespect for those employed to cook; not to mention those inclined to eat. How many of us have ever, in a state of sobriety, and tucking into our midnight concoctions, shook our heads as some inebriated braggart entered the dining room and started bellowing: “Oi, Ghandi; I’ll have a big fuckoff alsation khorma, pronto!”?

The perplexing way that this behaviour is somewhat considered reputable as a ‘badge’ of masculine beer bragging and rite of passage tells us a lot about the society we live in. We curl
back in revulsion when a piss-reeking tramp waves a can of costcutter cider in our faces. We look the other way and tut when someone staggers on the bus and whines a tirade of religious tongues while pointing menacingly at their own reflection. Yet somehow we let it slide when an intoxicated man with his belly flopping out of an open shirt hurls late-night insults at oriental food servants.

I must ashamedly admit to being party to cuisine terrorism in such a place once. In fact I should say that the night in question was of such low etiquette anarchy that I should really be hogtied and carted off to have my head immersed in the used disposal chute of a busy tandoori kitchen.

The venue in question was The Pearl Chop Suey House, an old established Chinese eatery in the main part of town. Despite tastes becoming more sophisticated as we embraced multiculturalism at the dying embers of the 20th c
entury, the ‘Pearl’ remained steadfast against the invading tide of Cantonese fare; offering staple choices, including chips with eyes glowing in thyroid stares and a prawn curry that looked like the product of a home abortion kit. The ambience was of traditional mandarin folk harmony that hung in the fetid air lit by flickering yellow light bulbs, before running down the peeling flock dragon wallpaper and gasping its last breath prone on stained crimson rubber tablecloths. I swear that one of those cloths bore my name, engraved by a fork at least 3 years previously.

Every town and social group has incidents that, while memorable, become embellished to the point of legend in subsequent retale. Example: a simple scuffle outside a kebab house becomes the stuff of cinematic Kurosawa ba
ttles across urban planes involving sophisticated weaponry, arson of properties and a police tactical response unit supported by attack helicopters. This particular night at The Pearl was no exception. I’ll lead you to believe.

I was part of a group of seven (which included a dwarf, a Tourettes sufferer and a heavily tattooed skinhead) that descended upon The Pearl in order to replenish the monosodium glutamate diluted by a night of dense alcoholic osmosis. I suppose, given the skinhead reference, we could pay tribute to Yul Brynner, and call ourselves
The Municipal Seven.

Anyway, picture the scene: a septet of boorish drunken freaks entered a packed restaurant to find only one table for four available. Those swift of foot (and less pissed) grabbed the opportunity in tottering haphazardness akin to musical chairs on a north sea fishing vessel. Those left behind would have to embrace the fusty purgatory of the upstairs ‘overflow’ room. I found myself in the
former group. Nosferatu and Tattoo (to use crude descriptive noms de guerre for the skinhead and dwarf respectively) were sentenced to the latter. So far so good, I hear you mumble at this juncture. Wrong.

The problem is that The Pearl employed some of the most belligerent and rude waiters west of the Silk Road, including the owner, the diminutive Mr Hong, who sauntered around in a frayed tuxedo topped by such an ill-fitting cheap acrylic toupee that it probably required velcro chinstraps to prevent the inevitable mi
gration from his miserable little cranium. In the lexicon of local witticism, it came as no surprise that he was universally known as ‘Wiggy’. He always kept the same furrowed brow expression and sucking lemon mouth puckered like a little cat’s arse. He, and those in his employ, barked out rapid firing squad discourse. “You order food!”. “No drink beer ‘til order food” …and so on. This didn’t help matters in a night that was about to turn sour.

No sooner had we sat down than a squeal filled the fetid air.
“You steal knife fork!”. One of the waiters had insisted that he’d laid the table and we’d half-inched the Wiggy family silver. What bollocks. Soon we were surrounded by minuscule men in black waistcoats, pecking at us in cartoon Jackie Chan voices to “give back knife fork! Give back knife fork!”. Problem is, Mr Tourettes was at our table. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck” came the admeasured retort like an idling truck with a fractured exhaust. With that we were ‘invited’ to turn out our pockets to prove our innocence of such a heinous felony. Big mistake.


“Cock to that!” came the rejoin as Mr Tourettes clambered up onto the table and commenced disrobing as the rest of us provided a suitable soundtrack via that old 70’s stripper tune (Da da daaa, dada da daaa …if that’s any help at all). Uninhibited by such a cacophonous theme, off came the shirt and trousers, and the socks were given the twirly finger tassle treatment before being catapulted across the room, presumably in some unfortunate’s sweet’n’sour. Other diners started joining in with a resultant crescendo of noise, and just as the ill-fitting y-fronts were about to be peeled south, Wiggy screamed “You stop! Get dressed! No clothe! No knife fork! No food!”

Unwittingly in attempting to prove our innocence in the dark underworld of cutlery crime we’d broken urban rule No.1: never misbehave before the meal arrives. Otherwise: a) it’ll not get delivered, or b) will have the chef’s salivatory emissions mixed in with sauce. Anyway, Wiggy, bruised by the impromptu lap dance, and the realisation that his waiter was indeed an idiot, started to push and prod. “You get out! You trouble! No food! No food!” He was clearly distracted, as the next event was unfolding.


Punters began starting to complain that something was dripping onto their heads and plates from the ceiling above. Wiggy despatched a minion to investigate upstairs, fearing a burst water main. Suddenly a high-pitched "Noooooo!!!” echoed down the flight as everyone stopped eating in curiosity. Was the waiter engulfed in a first-floor tsunami? Had the giant tank of ornamental carp burst its glass banks? No, the situation was much worse, as an ashen waiter threw himself down the stairs, fell at the last two steps, and staggering on his knees, grabbed at Wiggy’s cummerbund, gasping: “Bald man …bald man …bald man pass water….”

Consider for one minute the incongruent potential for savage dismemberment here. I’m not talking about the average kicking, but the planned use of rendering skills by ninjitsu chefs with jagged kitchen implements. The key was to act fast to save our follically challenged bladder exhibitionist on the first floor. Wiggy was in the throes of yelping an adjure to his kitchen assassins (and if you’ve tasted the food, you’ll respect this as a valid description), and we were poised to produce a deft strategy of containment, when a completely random punter appeared from the bamboo shadows and snatched off Wiggy’s hairpiece before racing out the door and down Station Road, waving his prize like someone who’d just thumped in the extra time cup final winner. There was momentary silence followed by a huge uproar of mirth, which swept across The Pearl like a cloud of mustard gas. Ovation and table-banging ensued as women fell off their chairs in mascara-coated delirium. Men, doubled-up in tears, attempted to stop their floating ribs from convulsing Alien-like through abdominal cavities of glee.

Wiggy’s expression was akin to that of a Sunday school teacher who’d just discovered porno mags amidst the tambourines. In what seemed like only seconds, yet probably decades for the Wigmeister, he fumbled through the coat racks and grabbed his trusty old pork pie hat, donning it quickly as if it was full of priceless liquid & polystyrene bits. We all have this inexplicable trait of doing something –anything- to cover up an embarrassing situation, despite everyone and his bloody dog seeing it. Example: how many of us have had our feet up on the desk at work only for the boss to walk in, resulting in us sharply swinging them down? How many times have we pretended we haven’t fallen or badly twisted our ankle, despite a whole city of people witnessing it & wincing through their teeth? This assumes that everyone but ourselves drift into an amnesiac catalepsy whenever events befall, allowing us to escape, dignity intact. This of course was Wiggy’s rationale: basically we hadn’t noticed that the fucker was balder than a terrapin’s scrotum because we were too preoccupied with piss dripping on our heads. Thankfully the toupee thief had delayed the inevitable carnage.
Well, not quite. There was still an incontinent skinhead to deal with. Three waiters, armed with cloths, and Mrs Wiggy, armed with a broom ascended the stairs with trepidation at the watery funeral that awaited. The earlier frivolity had subsided to a grave hush, which was akin to a Leone western climax as chimes, jangling guitars and close-ups of nervous twitchy faces heralded the inevitable denouement. Metaphorical buzzards circled overhead and tumbleweeds billowed across plates of uneaten food. Suddenly it erupted. A crash, followed by “fuck you!!” as Nosferatu came tumbling into the stairwell, his jeans matted with urine and Mrs Wiggy lunging behind, wielding a spinning brush like a majorette with ADHD. Who can underestimate the incredible bravery of a pocket-sized lady against a six foot toothless hairless oik who’d just relieved himself over her customers? A few more whacks with the broom and he was out through the door and into the gutter outside, half-laughing, half-agonising. She turned to us, our faces ashen. “Now yooo get fucky out of restaurant!!”. We slowly rose in unison, our gazes shifting side to side to each other and back to the armed banshee about to do us some damage. Time to leave. Quietly. While we still had teeth.

Just then, another aberrant noise erupted from the top of the stairs.
“bllooooaaar!! I’m gonna be sick!!!…..” Our dwarf friend had obviously become too tired & emotional, and the heady cocktail of beers & rich sauces had finally pushed his equilibrium above the plimsole line of temperance. We looked up to see Neil (the hitherto unmentioned member of our troupe) carrying Tattoo under his arm, staggering down the stairs while the latter vomited over the side of the banister. Try to imagine someone walking off with a ventriloquist’s dummy that’s suddenly losing its innards and you’ll be half way there to the weird scene now being played in your mind. Needless to say, the place was no longer in uproarious mood. There was an almost psychedelic solemnity. As if one had just witnessed the passing of a UFO with Elvis on a bungee.

At this stage it was clear that the proprietors had lost the will to live. Wiggy was waving and gesticulating like a points duty official who had just dropped a tab of acid; the waiters were propping each other up in obfuscation and mental exhaustion, and Mrs Wiggy was using the broom to scoop up the lumps of dwarf chunder that had rebounded off walls and light fittings. There was a sense of bewilderment of the sort that you’d see in the faces of captive monkeys who masturbate.

But why spoil the good night without a climax? Exultantly, Mr Tourettes shouted: “
Runner!!”, and with that we took off towards the door. Urban rule no.2: when someone shouts “Runner!” you have no option but to surf the wave of rapid exit strategy or otherwise you’ll be saddled with paying for a set meal for eight. It’s wrong, but I’ll be fucked if I’m going to cough up because of my moral compass.

So out we surged, hopefully content in the knowledge that Wiggy & co. were too strung out to even care by now. Unfortunately Mr Tourettes decided that a more decorative exit would be appropriate, and grabbed the tablecoths of three tables as he run past, dragging everyone’s meals in a huge slipstream of noodles & hoi sin. As we got to the door, we couldn’t slip the bloody latch. This is a typical example of how panic can render the easiest objects impossible (try operating your seat belt or opening a childproof paracetamol bottle when you’re in a rush). As we shanked at the hitherto unsophisticated yale locking mechanism I peered back into the restaurant to see several kitchen staff tearing out at pace, holding bamboos that were as thick as my arm.
“gerra fuckin move on!!!” We managed to open it and burst out into the street, running like the wind (or maybe gambolling unsteadily like a slight breeze) pursued by screaming chinamen waving the deadly implements of our demise. Combat tactics always suggest throwing hunters off your trail by splitting up. Deciding this was the best policy I broke away from the peloton and headed down a back lane. Unfortunately the punishers decided to take my scent. 100 yds into urban darkness and I could not run any more. Adrenaline is a fast-burning chemical that lays waste to energy over a short period, combusting and leaving an empty shell. Basically, I was shagged out. They were upon me.

Rather than put up a fight and get a large hollow stick across my beautiful face I determined that the best policy would be to drop & roll, and curl up into a foetal position. As I hit the damp tarmac corrupted by domestic waste & old men's snot, I was surrounded by four oriental enforcers, who decided to beat seven colours of shit out of me as if they were putting out a small forest fire. Wave upon wave of wretchedness arrived. Then nothing. They had disappeared into the night. The only ambience was a feint ringing in my ears providing an evocative soundtrack to the searing pain across my arms, legs and torso.

Eventually I was reunited with my group, who staggered in astonishment at the welts from a painful retribution. Some laughed, and I laughed with them. Then someone said:
“Tom, why the fuck did we run? We’d already paid for our meals!!”