Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Day at Work

In L.A., cars are king.  Obvious.  Okay.  So the normal outgrowth of that truism is that businesses are located off the highway.  So is mine:  “Pho Citi”, a Vietnamese noodle and soup place.  Trash is constantly swirling around in little tornadoes of cigarette wrappers, ancient plastic bags, and pigeon feathers.  Each passing car blows the detritus away and back, around and around, right in front of our door. 

Yesterday, a deliveryman left the door open to wheel in his handtruck of rice stick noodles and suddenly a fat, greasy road-pigeon was wreaking havoc inside the restaurant, launching itself into the low-hanging Ikea ceiling lamps and shitting on the tables.

Customers were screaming with surprise, fear, and disgust.  Every time the bewildered pigeon tried to escape it would fly head-first into the plate-glass windows that face the highway.  A sickening smack could be heard each time, feathers drifting down lazily behind it.

Some customers were yelling.  Some were trying to scare it in the direction of the open door.  Some used their hands to protect their bowls of steaming Vietnamese soup.  Nearly everyone had left their seats and stood in postures of readiness.

The pigeon was now seriously out of it.  Walking in circles, then hovering in the air, hitting the window, flapping its wings, molting all over.  A customer from a table in the corner began trying to chase it out from behind while someone from another table tried to chase it out from the front, resulting in the bird shooting straight up in the air and hitting a ceiling lamp.  Our ceiling lamps resemble the kind you might imagine would be in a police interrogation room and they were almost all swinging back and forth on their long cords in a sinister way. 

This had been going on for five minutes of pure adrenaline.  An ad-hoc peanut gallery began to form and shout orders at the intrepid pigeon-catchers.  The cook, Daniel, an 80-pound Chinese man from Vietnam, watched from behind his kitchen window with a bemused smile on his face.

It’s hard to describe how complicated my emotions were as this was going on.  On the one hand, this was the most exciting thing to happen in three months.  There was a truly pathetic comedy of errors unfolding and I was just as mesmerized by the goings on as everyone else.  On the other hand, I was the only staff on site besides Daniel. It was obvious he was not going to join the fray. He works seven days a week and has not had a day off in months.  Since I was the face of the restaurant for the time being, a part of me felt duty-bound to save the dignity of the Pho Citi brand and resolve the matter swiftly and without further embarrassment. 

But then I began to think of all the mistreatment I and the other staff had suffered under the mismanagement of the owner, Sandra. I would get a certain measure of revenge on her when reading about this encounter on customer review websites like Yelp and   This job had nearly crushed my soul, why should I do more than the minimum to save face for someone who clearly had no regard for me?  I wrestled with this silently for a time as the commotion continued.

At first I tried to contain the situation by grabbing an empty cardboard box from the stockroom and throwing it on top of the creature.  This was a disaster, and anyway the box was too small.  It had previously contained to-go soy sauce packets.  Scaring it out was clearly not working, covering it with a box was unsuccessful…I reasoned then that it would only leave if it wanted to.  I looked around for something like bird food that I could use to coax it out with.

The best I could do was a bright green slice of lime.

Hoping against hope with my back to the door, I crouched to the ground and made clicking noises in the back of my mouth with my tongue the way you would get a horse to eat a carrot or an apple: kick-kick-kick-kick. Kick-kick-kick-kick.  Kick-kick-kick-kick.

A purple eye turned towards me.  Then the whole head.  Suddenly, a hopping bird was advancing on me.  Maybe to see what horse I was talking to. I backed further and further away until I could feel the breeze from the road.  And then the pigeon was gone.  It spread its wings and flapped into the daylight, around the corner and out of sight.  I turned back into the restaurant, lime in hand.

People had already begun to sit down.  I looked around to see if any of the customers had been a reporter and if we would make the news.  No one was taking any damning notes and no one looked horrified anymore.  No one asked for my name or the name of the owner.  The deliveryman continued to bring in boxes of noodles.  One table had just finished eating when the pigeon had come in and now were ready to pay. Daniel rang his cook’s bell: another bowl of soup was ready to go out.

Things almost instantly returned to normal and my attention was returned to the work of running the place on my own. 

I never saw that pigeon again.