Excerpt of "Served"

Nonfiction Short Story

          I am, in every sense of the word, a stickler. Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm? That’s me all the way. Michael Douglas’ character from Falling Down? A bit extreme, but I relate to that guy. What do we sticklers have in common? What is a stickler, you ask? Plain and simple. There’s a particular way we believe almost anything should be done, once we’ve observed the process. In this sense, we’re perfectionists. And we’re also assholes.

          Like many Americans, I fancy a trip every now and then to my local Mexican Grill restaurants. Chipotle, Qdoba, Moe's, you name it. If I can stuff myself with steaming hot food, for eight bucks, I’m there front and center. And I know exactly what I’m going to order. There’s room for some variety—sure—but more often than not, I will begin my bowl with a hearty scoop of cilantro white rice, followed by a plump spread of juicy pinto beans.

          The combination of rice and beans serves as the foundation of bowl, and meal as a whole. Like any other structure, a faulty base will irreversibly taint the overall quality of the product. No amount of salsa, vegetables, cheese or lettuce will counter the disappointment from a lackluster serving of those two crucial elements. Nevertheless, there exist a few employees who seem to lack that essential understanding of the express line system at my local Qdoba. This is the account of my fruitful interaction with an unusually assertive staff member. Now, I do in fact remember the name of this ballsy jackass, but we’ll just refer to him as, “Phil.”

          “Could I have a little more rice?”

Yes, that’s what I asked. And that’s exactly how I worded it. The nuances of this ritual will completely make or break any argument one may have. However, I soon learned that Phil was clearly not trained in this particular exchange. Wearing his dark green apron and slightly sideways company hat, Phil leaned into the counter, squinting as he sought clarification.

          “You want double rice?” he asked.

Unsure if I had heard those words correctly, I stared into those harassing eyes.

          “Just a little more” I repeated.

          The grill sizzled from behind. Phil remained motionless, still not completely sure how to process the request. Was it that difficult? As he prepared to speak, I caught a glimpse of his subtle, half-smile, clearly not amused by the extra demand. I phrased it as a question, but I suppose it was more of a demand at heart. With an increasingly demeaning tone, Phil offered a retort.

          “Okay, but it’s gonna be extra” Phil said, as he dug the spoon deep into the vat of rice.

The fish with which he scooped was alarming. It didn’t take long for me to realize he had misunderstood. Quickly, I attempted to intervene.

          “I’m not asking for another serving. Just a little more.”

          In mid-scoop, he glanced upward into my eyes through the protective glass, the shield which confined us to each end of our respective fortresses.

          “I hear ya. I’m just lettin’ you know it’s gonna be extra.”

          Now, I’ve since learned over the years that there’s virtually no communication whatsoever between the ‘rice-and-beans’ worker, and the cashier all the way at the other side of the line. In reality, one could blatantly ask for two servings, under the pretense that they would have to pay for an additional scoop, then simply check out without mentioning anything of the sort. More often than not, these details are impossible to decipher through simply observing the bowl, by the time everything else has been stacked on top of that initial foundation. The cashier either doesn’t inquire, and therefore charges you for a single serving, or—if the size was questionable—you could merely tell them that the employee gave you a single, large scoop, if you were the dishonest type. I am not dishonest. But I am a stickler. Therefore, I felt it was necessary to deconstruct the situation even further. Knowing that my next rebuttal would surely attract more attention than before, I incidentally chuckled as I began to clarify my thoughts.

          “No, I—I’m not asking for anything that would warrant an extra charge.”

          Fellow patrons put their conversations on hold, choosing instead to listen to the scrawny young man in front of the food, causing a scene. I begin to motion with my hands as I continue my thoughts. Phil stares blankly, his arm still halfway in the pan.

© W. Trent Welstead, 2018