There was the story of the lost dog. Tommy the chef would tell such stories during the twilight zone of mid-afternoon, the no-man’s-land between lunch and dinner shifts, after the cooks had eaten, when only the rarest thin man, the most ghostly of customers would dare step foot inside the restaurant, didn’t they have jobs?, when the food in the buffet pans had grown a hard and colorless skin and you had to wipe down the hardened drips on the serving spoon and plunge it back in, churning up the steamy bright underneath which had coagulated somewhat, to bury the top crust in the faint hope that somehow this process would revitalize the food, give it a new life or at least the appearance of doing so. He thought of this process as illustrative of the greater Earth cycles of mantle radiation and plate tectonics, and also as a microcosm of the restaurant business itself. People don’t want to see or ask to many questions about what they’re being fed because they know that, just beyond the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen, something dirty from the floor is being heaped in with the meat patties that are being stuffed into the potstickers they enjoy dipping so much in that sauce whose composition they don’t know. This not-knowing is an important part of any business. People do not understand what it is to be an industrial sauce-maker or a chef or a waiter or a dishwasher or a soft-ware engineer because they have never done those jobs, and even if they did, they would soon forget what it was like, what they were like, in favor of enjoying themselves. People want to be served because they too have to serve and want things to be equal and fair and consider it so by making the distinction between server and served, that a precious balance is being preserved which is beneficial for the country and makes the whole damn thing run like it does. They do not want the separate spaces of business and pleasure to intermingle in any way and that balance is the essence of good service.
Anyway, Tommy would laugh raucously tell bawdy stories of former waitresses and how much money he had made as a software engineer and how good of a job it was and how much of a sacrifice he had made to help his family out. Though he would carry on doing so in a mood of self-affirming glee, most of the time, he was the only one laughing. This fact did not seem to bother him. His brother could not stand to hear his voice, let along the stories it might tell and, as he spoke in English, mama was paying no attention. The intended audience was the staff. Clearly, he wanted to show us, apart from his temperamental and authoritarian manner during busier parts of the day, what a funny and interesting person he could be, which, in a way, he was. These stories were also like little lessons which were supposed to benefit the less experienced or more idealistic of his crew, to sort of put them in their place if they did not already know it.
The way he remembered it, the senior waitress, not senior in age but in the sense of height on the food chain, was chatting with Tommy about a puppy she had seen wandering around her apartment complex, listless and whimpering and hungry, which she subsequently decided to take in and feed. As she described the cute, furriness of the animal, bending her head to her raised shoulder and cooing, a dark cloud of disbelief passed over Tommy’s face. He could not…understand…why…listen. He asked the waitress why she gave a shit about that little puppy when there were people starving in his native Taiwan. She was stunned at first and did not reply. He could not understand why these Americans felt so sorry for the stray dogs, for the cats in tree, what was this? He explained that in Taiwan, there is no problem of stray dogs, no problem at all. “You see a little, cute, puppy dog in the street and you say, “Come here, little doggy doggy, come here.” And then you chop that dog and have big feast. Feed your family. Ha. Ha ha.” And he began to laugh and everyone looked at each other and did not know what to do. But the waitress was no fool and had a quick response. “Christ Tommy, you are like, the living stereotype! The Chinese restaurant serving dogs and pets!” And it was true, we were all living stereotypes and we all laughed, even Tommy, though he looked confused and a bit hurt by her remark. “Yeah, stereotype? Well, you are a waitress in a Chinese stereotype! Ha ha!”