Re: Dinner at the Panda

Home Forums Critique Central Nonfiction Dinner at the Panda Re: Dinner at the Panda



This is what happens when you sit down with a legal pad and write nonstop for 30 minutes.

10 October 2006
Free flowing hostility
Dinner at the Panda

Why is it every “upscale” fast food joint finds it necessary to serenade our poor, exhausted selves with screechy female pop vocalists pumped through lousy ceiling speakers with all the fidelity of an AM transistor radio? [Because “upscale” and “fast food” are mutually contradictory?]  No bass, no clarity—just the tinny, thin and lifeless wail of Sheryl Crow or Jewel or the latest ex-Mouseketeer from the trailer park.

Diana Ross.  Gladys Knight.  Aretha Franklin.  Now those women knew how to carry a tune, and on AM radio to boot!  I still remember listening to “Chain of Fools” on WLS on a warm summer night, punctuated by static from a thunderstorm about 50 miles northeast.  And then there was Gracie Slick, who had one hell of a voice and a mouth to match.  Yeah, so what if the casual listener only remembered “Somebody to Love?”  What about Volunteers or Sunfighter?  How perversely entertaining if they entertained the drones in the cafeteria line with “Silver Spoon”- the Vietnam War/cannibal song? 

Where are the bodies for dinner?
I want my food!
You could leave to dine on your friends
Pour their bones into a cannibal soup
Muscles like steak; blood like wine
Save the bones to feed the troops
Your mama told you never
To eat your friends
with your fingers and hands
But I say you ought to eat what you will
Shove it in your mouth any way that you can…(1)

Not that I mind the food.  Fast food Chinese is a little bit of heaven in the middle of the mall food court. Fresh stuff, tasty and hot, and much better than those all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets that are all laid out the same way—like a Wal-Mart—down to the faux animated bamboo forest scenes on the wall, or that giant backlit photo of some imperial palace on the water in Hong Kong.

So I grab a seat at one of the bar tables.  I detest having to crouch in a regular chairs made for short Americans or average Mexicans, even though most of the customers here are as white as Karen Carpenter.  Maybe even whiter!

My perch puts me at eye level with the purple bulls-eye marking the women’s restroom door.  From here I can watch the sweet young things going to do their business, their sweat pants riding up their butt cracks because they wear thongs or go commando.  (commandette?)  A fetching sight, spoiled by the vacant look on the return trip.  They all look the same: a sweatshirt with the logo, baggy grey sweat pants and flip-flops, even though it’s been raining all day and the Weather Channel is predicting snow tonight.  Didn’t your mama teach you how to dress?  Or does she dress like you, trying to recapture her misspent youth?

Off to my left are the Yuppie family-mom and the 2.0 perfect children (one of each sex), both being groomed for their place in “the Perfect World” that will forever remain elusive.  The boy looks like the kid from Stuart Little, in a junior J Crew type nautical windbreaker and Gap clothes.  The girl, probably nine or ten, is wearing a grey fleece top.  “Fleece” mind you, from Old Navy.  No grungy sweats from Target.  She has her hair pulled back in a headband and gathered in a pony tail with a Scrunchy.  Dad isn’t around; he must be working his Yuppie scum butt off to keep the woman in trinkets and baubles and the kids in learning exercises and soccer games.  He realized too late how expensive coochie could be.  Hell, the one great hummer of the marriage cost him $20,000 in new kitchen cabinets.

I sit silently wolfing down my Mongolian Shrimp, Orange Chicken and fried rice. (“…fried rice, you Gleek plick!”)  Another sullen teenager in a sweatshirt and jeans comes in with her grandmother. (Hey, so I’m being the fashion police tonight.  Screw you if you don’t like it…). Old people always smile, grateful to be alive, enjoying what little time they have left on earth.  Teenagers sulk because life is something to be endured, not realizing they have their whole lives ahead of them with endless opportunities.  That is, until you reach 35, blink a couple of times and find yourself on the downside of fifty ogling strange girls and wondering what the hell happened to the last 20 years.

(1)Silver Spoon.  © 1971 Paul Kantner/Grace Slick.  From Sunfighter