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Chapter 1: It rained in the park. (It really did)

The man in the black coat stood in the park while the wind whipped about him. He was watching a girl heíd often seen in the park feeding the birds. The birds were sparrows, and Iím sure they quite enjoyed the breadcrumbs being fed to them. The man did not know the girlís name nor the birdís names. He hadnít bothered to ask any of them. Of course he could ask the sparrows what their names were, but it wouldnít matter, for they wouldnít respond back anyway. At least their response wouldnít be something we could understand, and it certainly wouldnít involve telling a man in a black coat what their names were.

The girl on the other hand was a different story, for it is almost certain that she was capable of speech. Capable that is, unless she was involved in some horrible accident wherein her throat was punctured and she had trouble breathing or talking. But of course if that had happened, she would be in the hospital breathing through an intravenous tube, instead of standing in a park feeding the birds with some strange man watching her. Anyway, the man in the black coatís name was James, and if he had ever bothered to ask the girl who was feeding the sparrows what her name was, she probably would have said, "Jeanette." She probably would have because that was her name, if she was in a kidding mood she would have given James some other name like "Mary" or "Elizabeth." Or she may have told him something flippant to be rid of him like, "I only talk to rich men from Europe." Or if she was feeling entirely devilish she could have said something to make him think she was crazy like, "Excuse me, have you seen my bagels today? I canít seem to find them anywhere." In any case, none of this had any opportunity whatsoever to happen, because James thought the girl feeding the birds was rather cute and was too nervous to introduce himself.

A few moments passed, and it started to rain. This saved James at least for another day of having to introduce himself to this girl, and then the bother of asking her out. Then after that he supposed she would want to get married, and then there would be the terrible expense of a huge wedding with both of our familyís flown in from across America just to be there and see us get married. "No," he thought to himself, "maybe another day, it is an awful good thing that this rain happened to come down like it did."

As soon as the rain started to pour down in sufficient amounts to bother anyone, the birds began to vacate the park, which of course meant so did Jeanette. She had to go home to her house where her mother lived on 37th avenue, and on the way there she intended to pick up "a few groceries." It was Friday, so naturally the grocery shopping involved nothing more than cereal, milk and popcorn at the local Piggly Wiggly. This was because Jeanette didnít have many friends and she usually stayed in with her mother on Friday nights to watch old "Night Court" and "Whoís the Boss" re-runs. She never mentioned this to her mother of course, but after several years of sitting in with her mother on Friday nights she had become dreadfully bored. This was probably partially due to the fact that her father had left the family three years ago, to go off and, "See the world." "I wonder" she thought, "I wonder how much of the world he has seen. That fat jerk! Oh, I didnít mean that," she thought, but then she thought better of it and thought to herself, "it was only a passing thought, I canít help what I think really. Itís not my fault at all." By this time she had gotten out of the rain and into her car, a 92 Ford Probe - it was the last thing her father had given her before he left. "To remember me by", he had said. "Great!" Jeanette thought, "now Iíll remember my father as being shiny, fast, red, and parked in my driveway." The last thing she thought to herself before speeding off to the Piggly Wiggly was how much she wished she could meet someone who could pull her away from her mother on Friday nights. She could talk to the birds, but they probably wouldnít talk back, and if they did how would you know what they were saying anyway?

James stood in the park getting rained on for a while, looking around as if he had missed something; and indeed he had, because for some unknown reason he happened to be watching something other than the girl at the time that she was leaving. He stood in a daze (and in a puddle) for a moment wondering where she could have gone to. He decided that he was better off being dry and not knowing, than being wet and not knowing; so he opted instead to drive away. He opened his car door, and pushed aside a vacuum cleaner. He was a vacuum cleaner salesman and apparently the vacuum cleaner he was carrying with him had nudged its way to the front seat. He hated when they did that. "Oh those vacuum cleaners can be tricky devils," he thought. "Always waiting to fall on you in the middle of the night when you turn a corner with the lights off." This was likely due to the fact that the vacuum cleaners that he was thinking of were the old standup cleaning systems that have a button on the bottom that you step on to move the head of the cleaner into different positions. After many years worth of button stepping, the button will sometimes activate itself if it detects any sudden movement in the middle of the night in its immediate vicinity. This is a defense mechanism of ancient cleaning systems, which can sometimes render small victims (like poodles) unconscious. Take note of this small amount of wisdom, and tread carefully.

As James was driving home, it suddenly hit him that Ted Koppel was starting to look old, and this reminded him that he needed to buy some Pringles. He was all out of Pringles at his small house on 35th street, and he would probably get hungry sometime that night while watching David Letterman interview Bill Cosby. He knew Cosby would mention Jell-O sometime on the show, and he was particularly fond of both Bill Cosby and Jell-O, so he decided that he needed some Jell-O, and maybe even a pudding pop for good measure. It was for these reasons that he decided to stop at the Piggly Wiggly.

 

Chapter 2: What happened at the Piggly Wiggly, and a Blue Light Special

The Piggly Wiggly on the corner of Elm and 34th street was looking especially well, as far as supermarkets go (which isnít very far) during the warm and rainy June day that it happened to be. A vandal had knocked the lightbulbs out of the "L"s on the sign; so during the night the sign read "Piggy Wiggy", which was terrible at night, but looked perfectly healthy during the day. It looked especially good for 5:00 in the afternoon, which it was, and with a parking lot full of tourists and parents, which it had.

James noticed the crowded parking lot instantly, this was probably a result of the fact that he was going to the parking lot already, and that he had perfectly good vision. The large neon green bus that was unloading Chinese tourists, and sitting in the handicapped spot couldnít have escaped his vision either. The bus had the words "Chinese Express" written on its side in big blue letters; "sounds like an egg roll delivery store to me," he said out loud since no one was nearby, at least no one that it would offend was nearby. "Wait a second", he muttered, "That is an egg roll delivery store, whatís going on?" With nothing else to comment on, and no further reason to gawk at the big green bus, James pulled into one of the parking spots at the back of the parking lot. He drove into one of the back parking spots because the spots in the front were full. The spots in the front were full because it was 5:00 on Friday, and 5:00 on Friday was a bad time to be shopping at the Piggly Wiggly, especially with a grocery store full of Chinese tourists.

Five oíclock on Fridays was the time when parents went shopping for microwave meals for their children so they could subsequently give them to the babysitters who would be watching their children that night. Parents who wanted to get away from their children on Friday nights had found that if they didnít get some kind of food for the children, then the babysitter wouldnít feed the kids, because "itís not in my job description." The babysitters of course were correct, the unwritten rule of babysitting is that your only job is to merely watch the children, and make sure they donít poke their eyes out with sharp objects, or beat up their sisters. Nowhere in the unwritten babysitting contract is it required to actually feed the children, since it is assumed that they can do that for themselves in-between watching television and not doing their homework. The only problem with this arrangement would be that the childrenís food supply for the night would involve ice cream, chocolate, marshmallows, and of course more ice cream.

Jeanette was already inside the Piggly Wiggly when the large neon green bus pulled up, and wouldnít have noticed it arriving at all if it wasnít for the 30 or so Chinese tourists who flew in the front door. They didnít really "fly" in the front door of course, however many of them did have American Airlines frequent flyer miles stamped to their bags, which they carried in one hand, and a shopping cart in the other. "I really hope they donít want any Apple Jacks @ cereal!" Jeanette said while tightly clenching on to the milk, and eyeing some bagels on aisle 3. "Oh my gosh no!" she screamed, "They are going to aisle 7, Iíve got to get there right away!"

Without a second to spare, Jeanette grabbed a random bag of bagels off the shelf in Aisle 3, and raced over to aisle 7 to get some cereal, pushing aside frantic mothers right and left. It was a noble effort for a woman pushing a shopping cart, but it was far too late since there were already 7 or 8 tourists standing in front of the cereal aisle. They were doing a variety of activities, like taking pictures of Captain Crunch, or scanning how much nutritional value Raisin Bran had; but most importantly to Jeanette, there were about 3 of them standing in front of the Apple Jacks section. Trying to act rationally, and thinking fast, Jeanette screamed at them, "Please donít take all the Apple Jacks, itís the only cereal my mother eats, and you donít want to be around her when sheís hungry and cranky!" The shocked tourists, many of them having absolutely no idea what Jeanette had just said, slowly backed away with their hands over their heads while muttering words under their breath which were presumably Chinese in nature.

Acknowledging the disaster that had nearly befallen her in the cereal area, Jeanette moved swiftly to the snack area, back in Aisle 4. Aisle 4 was swarming with impatient mothers, haggling with the tourists over the last bags of Doritos, Pretzels, Pringles, and popcorn. Unable to believe what was happening, Jeanette just stood there in stunned silence thinking about how much her mother would whine about not getting any popcorn that night, not even noticing the man in the black coat come up behind her in the aisle.

James, coming into the Piggly Wiggly in search of Pringles and Jell-O, had wandered into aisle 4 completely unaware of the peril that lay before him. He had a craving that for Pringles that wouldnít be stopped by anything short of a bullet to the head, or by the public admission of the Pringles company that they may have allowed maggots into their ingredients. "And if that happened", he thought, "I would surely by revoltingly sick just by thinking about it." With that thought in mind, he turned into aisle 4 thinking that there certainly was a lot of noise in the store that day, and almost ran into the girl he saw in the park. He was incredibly surprised to see her, almost as if some mythic figure like Zeus had been snatched out of legend and placed right in front him in the snack aisle of the Piggly Wiggly. He had never imagined seeing her anywhere but the park, "True beauty he thought, could only be contained by surroundings just as beautiful. One could imagine a beautiful park, a beautiful painting, even a beautiful wallabee, but a beautiful supermarket? Sure theyíre bright and pleasing to the eye, but I donít think theyíve even been recommended for induction by the Smithsonian. Theyíre not even.." BAAMM!! While not exactly his next train of thought, this was the noise made by a frantic shopping mother bumping into James, and derailing whatever he was thinking of next. "Iím so sorry", the woman said running away, "Iíve just got to get little Joey some chewey chew choos for desert or else he might throw a tantrum."

The terrible calamity caused by the mother in search of chewey chew choos caused Jeanette to turn around and see what the woman had run into. She was quite surprised to see what looked like that strange man from the park recovering on the floor, and offered him a hand. James looked up groggily to see the girl from the park offer her hand to him to help him off the floor. He wasnít so quick to take her hand, because her previous look of horror directed at the shoppers, had combined with her look of surprise at seeing him, and formed an entirely strange look altogether which made James a little nervous. "Oh was I staring?" Jeanette said, " Iím sorry, I just donít often see people falling for me at the supermarket." "Thatís all right", James said, "I donít often get attacked by parents in search of snack foods."

ATTENTION PIGGLY WIGGLY SHOPPERS: There is a blue light special in the frozen foods department: all ice cream bars are now half off the marked price for the next 30 minutes. This seemingly normal supermarket announcement diverted the frenzy of the tourists and the parents; for the tourists had been on a bus all day, and thought ice cream bars sounded like an incredibly good thing. The parents heard the announcement and thought, "Eh skip healthy for the night, our kids are eating economical." In any case aisle 4 was soon clear of any inhabitants except for James, Jeanette, and the occasional cockroach that in the back of your mind you always worry is nearby. This massive land movement of people, similar to throwing a cricket in a chicken pen, left the store with an empty space on the shelves where the ice cream bars used to be and Jeanette and James just a little bit stunned. The cockroach however, knew an opportunity when he saw one, and immediately went for a piece of popcorn that was left on the ground.

In the process of talking, Jeanette withdrew her hand and was now firmly holding on to her rickety shopping cart while James was still on the floor. He soon got up because walking is much easier to do from a standing position, and he figured that he might have to do some walking in the very near future. "Hello Iím James", he said. "And Iím Jeanette", she said. "Havenít I seen you somewhere before?" "No I donít think so, maybe in a crowd or something, but certainly you wouldnít remember me from that." This was the moment James had waited for an awfully long time, and all he could think of to say was, "I canít believe that cockroach took that popcorn on the floor over there, this supermarket must be very dirty." It just so happened that Jeanette thought so too, and was especially mad about the popcorn. "Youíre right", Jeanette said, "The floor must be filthy, and thereís almost no popcorn left, my mom will be upset." What James said next had come to him in the form of a joke at the office; a joke that was funny the first few times he heard it, and then afterwards was greeted with polite laughter. "I canít stand dirt", he said, "Thatís why I clean up in profits as a vacuum cleaner salesman." Jeanette laughed, and then just as James had hoped for, inquired about his job. "Iíd love to give you a free demonstration", he said. "Great, Iíd love one, and my mother would like that too", Jeanette replied. Our vacuum cleaner is very old, and sheís attached to it. Cut the cord and let it go I tell her." James happened to think she was very clever. They exchanged numbers for her vacuum cleaner presentation, then she grabbed the last bag of popcorn of the shelf, and was gone.

After she had left, James just stood there staring at the scrap of paper in his hands for a few seconds, and looking up and down at the aisle that Jeanette had just been in. He was admiring the aisle that he had just talked to her in. This was the aisle that she had just agreed to see him for a demo in, the aisle that... Wham! "Oh Iím sorry I didnít see you, I was in such a rush, and Frederick simply must have some Bugles before we go out for the night", the woman said to James, who lay sprawled out on the floor.

 

Chapter 3: How James got off the floor or how the Tourists got there

James rolled over to a sitting position, picked himself up, dusted off, grabbed one of the few remaining cans of Pringles off the shelves, and walked cautiously to the checkout counter. What James saw when he arrived at the front of the store, was the most incredible display of line cloggage he had seen since Disney World or an autograph session with Mr. T. Every single line was filled up with tourists and parents holding shopping carts full of everything from frozen pizza and Chef Boyardee Rigatonií to Etch a Sketch and Virtual Pet Tamagochis. However, one solitary cashier stood to the far right of the store with nothing to do but watch, since it was the "10 items or less line."

James, after making a small noise in his throat of amazement, ran over to the empty counter and placed his solitary can of Pringles down on the counter. "What is this all about?" James asked the counter girl with some incredulity in his voice. "Well", the clerk began after ringing the can of Pringles through the scanner, "Apparently the tour bus for all these tourists broke down some 10 miles down the road. They were traveling across America and were very hungry when it stopped. The only one on the bus who could speak much English was the bus driver, who happened to also be the tour guide. He was afraid of losing money with unsatisfied customers, and didnít think they would pay much for a "Walk across America tour" so he called the owner of the "Chinese Express" to see if he had a bus he could use. Ming was the owners name, and not only did he have a bus they could use, he wanted to cash in on this unfortunate mishap and be their new tour guide across the city till the regular bus gets fixed which could be anytime. So, Ming took over as tour guide, and was paid a lot of money, all the while selling his passengers egg rolls, fried rice, bull gogi, and anything else his store happened to sell. Everyone on the bus was very hungry and bored from their long stop on the side of the road, so Ming took a detour from the normal city view, and took the bus over to here for a look at "local business."

"How in the world do you know all that?" James asked open mouthed (since he was eating Pringles at the time). "Ming is standing right over there at the fortune telling machine", the girl said. "Oh I see", said James glancing at Ming quickly.

And by the way, my name is Clarissa.

Thank you very much Clarissa.

"Youíre welcome", she said and handed him his change. James opened his wallet that was previously in his right pants pocket, and put the new coins in the change pocket of his wallet. At this time, a thought struck James about not upsetting grocery laden tourists while in a supermarket, but he just lodged this thought in the back of his mind near the place where his mother had told him that, "If he made faces like that they would stick," and obviously that hadnít happened.

That thought was the second to last thought James would have for several hours as he was subsequently knocked over the head with a frying pan. His last thought before waking up on a "Chinese Express" bus was "ouch."

Chapter 4: Ming the Tour Guide

Ming had opened the Chinese Express several years ago upon emigration from China. He was the son of a squid farmer, and was raised in methods of squid farming. He enjoyed engaging in many of the activities of most squid farmers, and these include diving for squid, harpooning squid, feeding squid, and wearing their tentacles for hats. The only squid farmer activity he did not enjoy or participate in was the one where they sell the squid ink to large factories who use it in the making of stinky "joke gum".

After his father died, Ming decided that the squid business had just about dried up, so he decided to go to America. After posing as a cook to get on board a cruise line set for America, Ming managed to pick up a few American phrases from the other Chinese cooks, these included: "You lika the squid sauce eh?" "Would you like soup or salad? This last phrase was always said in a very quick manner, which coincidentally made any people eating on board the boat think that the waiters were referring to a really big salad, so they always chose soup, and then were dissapointed about the size of the bowl).

Upon arriving in America he landed a job as a cook at a standard Chinese restaurant dicing up fish parts and alternately had his own 1-800 number, "Strange Tales of the Sea! Free for the first 10 minutes.......5.95 for each additional minute." He lived upstairs at the restaurant (the manager let him live up there since he amused him with his tales of the sea, and he was a pretty good fish dicer) dreaming of the fortune he was sure to make here in America. Soon he amassed a small amount of money from his job, and so in addition to being quite proficient at video arcade games; Ming figured he was well off in the world. So he opened the Chinese Express with a friend of his from the restaurant named Ching-Su, where they specialized in squid rolls (although they never called them that, so everyone just assumed that they were different tasting egg rolls). The Chinese Express soon became quite a popular store in town, and all the local celebrities came by to eat there. Ming was very successful, and had wanted almost nothing else from life except to be a tour guide, so when the tour bus broke down near his store it almost as if it came gift-wrapped from Ed McMahon.

Ming was also very cautious of strangers, especially when he didnít know what they were saying. This was very unfortunate for James, who in the last chapter happened to be not only talking about Ming, but also glancing at him from the relative safety of the checkout counter. This probably explains why Ming, who at this point still didnít know a lot of English, thought that James was threatening him, and why James woke up with a headache on the back of a Chinese Express bus. Ming had clapped his hands together, and the tourists, to prevent any possible witnesses, threw blindfolds over the eyes of their respective cashiers; then Ming grabbed a frying pan and hit it over the head of his would be (he thought) assassin. Then he clapped his hands again (this time yelling something), and a few tourists grabbed James, and along with Ming, and the other Chinese ran for the exit to get back on the bus. "Break over!" yelled Bruce Chan, the former tour-guide turned passenger/supervisor.

Chapter 5: On the Road with Jeanette

Jeanette had never seen anything quite as unusual as all the commotion she had just left behind at the Piggly Wiggly. She wondered what her mother would think about it. Her mother would find out of course, because she always probed her for information. "So Jeanette, how was your day?" her mother would ask. If Jeanette didnít respond in the next five seconds with an appropriate and detailed answer her mother would put her hands over her eyes, bemoan her fate, and say something like, "Jeanette, Jeanette. I am an old woman. Please, canít you humor me a little bit before my eventual slow numbing death?" This whole scenario was playing out in Jeanetteís head during really slow traffic which probably explains why she didnít see the yellow Volkswagen beetle that almost hit her during its illegal left turn. She would have honked at the car, but she didnít see it. She went back to thinking about her mother while at a stoplight, then about how if she was going to make a model car she would use bagel halves for the wheels. The light turned green, and the little red 92 Ford Probe stayed still behind the white line in front of the now green stoplight. "I donít have to go at the green light," Jeanette thought. "Thereís no one around, and I donít feel like moving just yet." And with that, Jeanette turned her attention to the piece of gum that had been stuck on her floor for a few days. "Fingernails with polish on it werenít made for jobs like this," she said to herself. "But then again, what kind of jobs are fingernails with polish made for?" "I honestly canít think of a thing at all besides tapping on desks, and what point does that serve?" "Those fingers could easily be doing something else useful, like increasing skill at yo-yoís for instance." It was during that last thought when a bus with the words "Chinese Express" suddenly whizzed by, causing Jeanette to bolt up to a sitting position, clutching the steering wheel as one would a trap that otherwise would be springing on you. "That bus almost hit me", she thought to herself (she would have said it to anyone in particular, but no one was around). "Itís not like I was just sitting here. Oh yeah I was, well... I guess itís time to get home. I wonder if that nice vacuum cleaner guy will call?" And with that Jeanette drove her car the rest of the way home, thereby greatly reducing the risk of an accident.

 

 

Chapter 6: Back Home with Jeanette or : After Howdy Doody Time

Jeanette, hurry up and come inside!", her mother said in a hurried tone. "Why, did they finally bring back Alf?", Jeanette asked. "No, Howdy Doody Time is almost over!", her mother almost wailed.

"Mother, you know I donít like Howdy Doody, even in re-runs."

"I know, I just thought that by reminding you of it, you would come to like it", her mother said quietly.

"Oh mother." "Yes?" "I love you." "And?" "But I still donít like Howdy Doody." "Well fine then, move out of the way and let me watch it", her mother said. Jeanette scarcely had time to blink both eyelashes separately before her mother (who was named Michelle) was seated back on the couch again. Without removing her eyes from the television her mother said to her, "So, what did you bring me?"

"Iíve got milk and popcorn mother."

"Well then what are you waiting for Jeanette? Put the milk in the refrigerator and hand me that popcorn." At times like this, there was nothing Jeanette could do except to take her shoes off, put the milk in the refrigerator, open the bag of popcorn, give it to her mother, grab a crossword puzzle, and pretend to enjoy watching the rest of Howdy Doody. "Did you take your shoes off Jeanette?"

"Of course mother, I always take them off when I come in." "Well honey, I didnít know Iím sorry. Accidents can happen to anyone, just look at what happened to that Clarence Thomas fellow."

"That wasnít an accident, he was harassing that girl!"

"Well whatever dear, the point is that Iím glad youíve got your shoes off, and arenít dirtying up mommies nice clean floor."

Jeanette sighed for a moment in silence, walked next to her mother, put her hand in the popcorn bag, and sat down on the couch. She didnít much care about the man on television saying about he and Howdy Doody would be back again next. She did however think about her curious encounter with that interesting vacuum salesman person. "Curiouser and curiouser", she said to herself. Her thought caught up to her a second later. "I hate when I sound like Alice", she thought, "Of course that would make the Mad Hatter. Hmmm..."

"Jeanette", her mother intoned, interrupting the momentary stillness, "Youíre not thinking of ways to kill mommy are you? I did watch that Throw Momma from the whatever movie.

"Of course not mother."

"Good", Jeanetteís mother said, "Youíre the last thing I want to worry about." "Mother", Jeanette said.

"Yes dear?" her mother replied.

"I love you" Jeanette answered back.

"I know", her mother said softly. "Now hand me that channel changer. Whoís the Boss is about to come on. That Tony Danza, heís something donít you think?"

 

 

Chapter 7: Back on the Bus

The Chinese Express tourist mobile was driving smoothly along the road, and past various locales of "interest" for anyone visiting the area, like Stanís Towing, and Danís Wax and Lube, when a neighborhood cat covered in black paint darted across the road. The bus swerved, jolting Steve awake; a slight moaning sound emanated from somewhere in his body, and came out of his mouth.

"To left you see All U Can Eat Pork Bar B-Que," were the first words a barely awake Steve heard while on the back seat of the bus. An old Chinese man sitting next to him with headphones on, and intently listening to the tourguide, handed him a Twix bar. Thinking this might be a dream, Steve decided not to look down to see if he had any underpants, and took the Twix bar. "Hmm," Steve thought after a few crunchy bites, "Iíve never had a Twix bar taste that good in a dream sequence before." The old man noticed how much Steve liked the Twix, and looked at him with a smile, nodding his head. A few seconds later, he was listening to the tourguide again. A few minutes, and a few steakhouses later, he was snoring away.

"This seems to be an awfully long, and boring dream," Steve said out loud after the bus came to a stop. He wondered if the old man had any more Twix left. The bus lights started flashing, the doors opened, and a few tourists started to run towards the bathroom of the Burger King they had stopped at. Since Steve by this time was very tired and leaning heavily on the shoulders of the old man, he was jolted awake suddenly when the old man got up to use the bathroom. I was starting to think that was the most boring dream Iíve ever had, Steve thought. Then, he noticed that the bus was completely empty and decided not to look underneath the seats to see what kind of trash they contained. As a rule of course, all the magic of the universe is contained underneath seats of buses. That is, if you consider empty bubblegum wrappers, pen caps, old notebooks from 1973, Quik-E Lube coupons, brown bags (most of which contain many of the above items), and empty soda cans which rattle around on the floor every time the bus comes to a stop, the source of all the magic of the universe. Steve was at that very second feeling very magical, and tossed his empty Twix wrapper underneath the seat.

As the sun was shining high above Burger King, a sort of excitement filled the air. Birds were happily singing and pooping, while prison inmates dressed in yellow suits were picking up trash on the side of the road, and dreaming up ways to kill their captors and leave their horribly mutilated bodies in dumpsters. Meanwhile, somewhere far below the sky, in fact inside Burger King, cash registers were ringing every few seconds as a busload of tourists had just stepped out of a bus which for the past several hours had been driving past steakhouses without stopping and allowing the tourists to take pictures, but now had permitted them full access to Burger King and so the tourists were buying combo meals at a rate almost as fast (all of the tourists combined that is) as the speed of sound, which is of course not as fast as the speed of light. In other words, they were all very hungry, and they were buying food, which made Robert, the owner of Burger King, very happy.

 

Chapter 8: Robert likes heavy salt on his fries, and other Burger King short stories

Robert had started off like any other kid would Ė he began life at a young age. He enjoyed climbing up monkey bars, but he hated falling off the monkey bars. He liked playing with marbles, but he hated losing his marbles. This pattern of living affected his whole life (well at least his whole life up till this point, because no one knows when theyíre going to die, and as anyone knows, the time from when you are born until you die encompasses your whole life) (was anything spelled wrong in that last blurb? That editor is fired!!!). He first worked at Burger King as a boy who just mopped up the floor, then he progressed to fries, lettuce, and other key parts of the Burger King "team".

The word "team" is used very loosely when applied to Burger King employees because most of them hate working at Burger King so much, that if there was ever a 7-11 sponsored softball league and there was a Burger King team in that league, then none of the employees would show up to play, except one. Of course I am talking about Robert; he loved working at Burger King (but of course he would have gone on to lose that softball game if he was playing by himself Ė being the pitcher and the entire outfield takes a lot out of you.), and would do anything to help out the corporation. He only had one small habit which was out of Burger King style ordinary, and that was the fact that he liked an immense amount of salt on his fries. This never hurt anyone until the time he sneezed while he was working, and took out half of the new orders, and 2 of the new guys. However, management loved his attitude, and quickly brushed this minor incident under the table. In fact, in time, and allowing for the fact that Robert really loved Burger King, and the belief that corporate America really can help your dreams become reality, while keeping in mind that the "sneezing" incident was swept underneath the table, Robert eventually becameÖ.the owner of Burger King!!! And, he still liked heavy salt on his fries; and then one day a busload of Chinese tourists had arrived at his store, ran into the bathrooms, and then finally (several several minutes later of course) they were all standing in line ready to order food. Robert did not know very much about China, even though he knew a lot about Burger King, but he really wanted to make a good impression on his guests. So, Robert recommended to them all that when they ordered fries, the salt content should be very heavy. He was only trying to be nice to his guests; it wasnít his fault that he didnít understand a great deal about China. In fact, the only reason that all of a sudden there was a noise inside Burger King that sounded like someoneís grandmother had been killed, was probably because something had been lost in the translation.

 

 

Chapter 9: How James saved the world at Burger King (abridged version)

James was still trying to take a nice nap in the bus in the Burger King parking lot when he heard the commotion. The noise woke him up, and after almost falling down the bus stairs (he was very tired, and bus stairs can be very sticky or slippery or both), he located himself inside the Burger King where the sound of Chinese voices making a horrible din had gotten even louder. After taking a quick look around, and gathering what he had learned from his past few waking hours, James figured out that something had gone very wrong with the orders of the Chinese tourists. Since it was obvious that the owner didnít know any Chinese, the obvious conclusion was that the ordering had been done through Ming who translated back and forth from tourists to fast food owner. Ming must have screwed something up horribly when the owner had suggested a heavy salt content, making it sound to the panicked and hunger stricken tourists as if the owner wanted to kill them through excessive salt torture. Certainly their fears should have come as no shock to anyone who knows of the Chinese methods of salt torture, wherein the victims die by being forced to swallow way too much salt. All this extra salt on the dozens of fry orders combined with the air in Burger King to form a smell, which can best be described as "salt warmed over with fat, mixed with ketchup spilled on the floor." Robert, the Burger King owner in question, was quite shocked by his guests reactions, and having seen way too many karate movies was beginning to fear for his life.

As a matter of fact, the whole situation was beginning to look downright nasty, and had the negotiations been handled by most U.N. representatives, the tourists would have remained huddled inside the burger king for about 2 days while a U.N. representative yelled at them in English to "release the hostages and no one will get hurt." As it happened, James seemed to have quite a level head on his shoulders for someone who had actually just been kidnapped himself, and after inquiring of other guests if anyoneís grandmother had just been killed, he pinpointed the situation to a misinterpretation by Ming. In a short amount of time best described as "a few minutes" he managed to resolve the entire situation by talking things out between the prospective riot enducer, Ming, and the prospective victim of store rioting, Robert. Everyone was happy. The other guests went back to eating their Whoppers, the store employees began preparing food again, Robert stopped having thoughts of how he was too young to have a heart attack and die (which is ironic because the odds of a lifelong fast food employee having a heart attack and dying young are much higher than anyone else because of their heavy fat intake), Ming stopped getting in the way and ordered some food for himself, the tourists began sitting down and avoiding the tables with greasy napkins and salt stained trays on them, and James began thinking that he should probably be getting home and making some sales appointments. Elsewhere in the world, Bill Cosby was holding his stomach and thinking that they should start making some diet Jell-O pudding pops or else he wouldnít do their commercials for them anymore. Yes indeed, everything was back to perfect working order, and then an hour later a familiar cry was heard "Break over!", yelled Bruce Chan, who was the former tourguide turned passenger/supervisor.

 

Chapter 10: And other titles without the words "Burger King" in them

Whoís the Boss had been over for hours, Charles was still in charge, Homer got his job back on the Simpsons, and the credits of Night Court began to flicker out on the television set followed by that crisp crackling sound that reminds you that your television was bought in the 1970ís, as Jeanette hit the power button on her remote control which she had grabbed out of the firm hands of her snoring mother. "Well there goes another Friday night", Jeanette said quietly to herself with extreme sarcasm mixed with relief, "time to go to sleep", she thought as she noticed that the rest of her body had gone to sleep hours ago. While walking up the stairs she wondered what the point of being extremely sarcastic while being the only awake person in the room was. As she was thinking this, she almost tripped over her cat who had been curled up on the stairs secretly in what appeared to be a very comfortable position. As she picked up Noodles, she wondered if it wasnít all part of some sinister cat plan to take over the world wherein they would all trip up their masters at once on the stroke of midnight someday. "You wouldnít do that to me would you Noodles?", whispered Jeanette as she stroked her cat, who lay as limp as a 2-day old dishrag in her arms, despite the fact that his purring maintained a constant whirring noise.

Anne books (you know, of Avonlea) adorned themselves all over Jeanetteís bookshelf in her room, right next to her Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, which was exactly where Noodles curled up and went to sleep at after being dropped on her bed. Jeanetteís lampshade cast dark shadows over her room, just like Dan Quayle used to do for presidential races. She turned the light off and went straight to bed, with visions of George Jefferson, and Bull Shannon dancing in her head. She didnít go straight to sleep of course, as she wasnít one of those people who could fall right asleep when they went to bed. It usually took her about 5 tosses, and 2 turns to eventually fall asleep. And then after that of course she was sound asleep and burglars (if any were around) could easily sneak into her room and steal any valuables (if there were any to be found). Later than that still, she would get up, dress, shower, change clothes, eat breakfast, as well as a myriad of other boring minutiae that you wonít read about in this book, as the next chapter skips the morning hours entirely and moves right on to the good part of the day which can be defined as "anything after lunch."

 

 

Chapter 11: Things to do after Lunch

Jeanette had just finished eating a tunafish sandwich for lunch and was still barely awake when she decided to just sit there for a few seconds to see if she would feel any more awake after a good doze. During a good doze, your mind achieves that perfect state of consciousness (according to yoga) in which your mind is clear of all thoughts. Absolutely nothing at all goes through your head, and the only bodily movements you may exhibit are a few blinking of the eyelashes to avoid falling asleep again altogether. Did this make Jeanette any more refreshed and ready to "take on the day"? Certainly not, and in her case the only reason she didnít slump over in her chair, possibly injuring a nearby potted plant, was that Noodles had jumped up on her lap to eat the remains of her sandwich. "My that was a good sandwich", Jeanette thought, and as such was happy to give the crust and any assorted leftovers of her sandwich to her favorite cat. Lunch was over, and it was too soon for another doze, so Jeanette decided to indulge in her favorite hobby, which was thinking of starting a hobby. "Macrame sounds so interesting", she thought, "I even like the way the word sounds. And I donít really feel like collecting Star Wars memorabilia just now, and stamp collecting is so boringÖ Oh what to doÖwhat to do."

As Jeanette sat there lost in thought, her mother, who had been upstairs reading the newest copy of Alfred Hitchcockís Mystery monthly magazine came downstairs to munch on some Graham Crackers and, seeing that the television lay unoccupied, turned it on and began flipping channels. Jeanette took this as a sign that some initiative was being made in the planning of early Saturday afternoon activities, and curled over on the couch next to her to argue over what was on, and why they should not change it to a half hour fictional courtroom drama. Noodles meanwhile, had just finished the sandwich and was in the process of deciding (as cats generally are) whether to go look for more food, or to just sit there thinking about more food for a few hours. "It sure would be nice to have some more food", Noodles was thinking, "maybe Iíll just sit here and wait for some more food to arrive. I could go for those sparrows outside, but then Iíd have to get up, and wait for the door to open. Itís just not worth it."

Eventually, Noodles got bored of thinking about food, and went for the next best thing Ė settling for curling up on Jeanetteís lap, falling asleep, and getting a good rub. For Jeanette, petting the cat as he jumped up on the couch, while she watched television was almost a routine movement. It required virtually no thought at all, and in fact if it wasnít Noodles, but another cat from down the street that jumped on Jeanetteís lap, it would have gotten the same stroking and rubbing that Noodles received. For Jeanetteís mother, it required less than zero thought since she was very engrossed in the Saved By the Bell re-run (you know, the one where Zack gets mad at Slater for going after Jesse) on television.

"That Zack is something. Jeanette, you oughta find yourself a nice man like that."

"Mom if I had a boyfriend who came in through the window you probably would have accidentally shot him by now."

"Okay, well what about Rufus?"

"Mom, Rufus was so boring. All he ever did was talk about his stock options to the point where I wasnít even one of his options."

"And Bobby?"

"He had weird hair, and he smelled funny sometimes, and he thought that the idea of being a garbage man wasnít such a bad idea."

"Okay, Jeanette, I give up. You know I only want whatís best for you."

"I know Mom."

"Now could you be a sweetie and get Mommy some more popcorn dear? This bag is almost empty." This effectively ended the conversation at that time (not Jeanetteís mother waving the empty popcorn bag at her, but Jeanetteís rebuttal of men that her mother wanted her to date), even though it was the same conversation that they always had every so often. You see, when mothers sit at home a lot, the same ideas for their children always pop up in their heads. Any rebuttal that can be made of a motherís idea merely delays the inevitable, wherein you eventually must hear her idea again. No matter how hard you lobby against a motherís idea (without actually being mean to her of course Ė I mean come on, itís your mother. Sheís old look at her! Donít be mean to her) sheíll just take the idea, put it away for the moment, and continue having lustful thoughts about Tom Selleck while watching Magnum P.I. In other words, a motherís head is kind of like a big magic 8-ball with good natured notions plugged into it, and if you shake it up enough, youíll eventually hear the same thing again.*

*Authorís note Ė while the magic 8-ball analogy may seem humorous, it is obvious that it is not entirely correct since a magic 8-ball has a very limited supply of answers and never gets new ones, while a mother has a huge supply of answers, and every so often develops a new one. Of course if you simply went to the trouble of buying the magic 8-ball software upgrade every week this would be a moot point at best. But anyway, back to the rapidly developing storyline already in progress.

After bringing her mother back a bag of slightly burnt popcorn (Jeanette "accidentally" put it in the microwave a little too long), Jeanette was a tad annoyed at her mother for bringing up the "men she should be dating" angle again. So, of course since she was currently on an anti-men, anti-mom vent, she wasnít thinking in the slightest about calling up James (a man) to schedule a vacuuming appointment. She did however think about going outside to see if her next door neighbor Clarissa was home.

 

 

Chapter 12: Clarissa and the magic of chocolate

Right before Jeanette rang her doorbell, Clarissa was watching Jenny Jones while thoughtfully munching a Hershey bar and sipping a Coke with the words "Please Try Again" printed behind the label. "Of course Iíll try again," Clarissa thought while remembering the next Coke already awaiting her in the refrigerator. Who does that Coke company think I am? A quitter? Just then a crunching sound echoed forth from somewhere inside her mouth as her teeth struck a particularly hard section of the Hershey bar (...okay so it was Hersheyís with almond). "I love that part", she said outloud. The doorbell rang, and Clarissa sighed, not wanting to answer it, instead burying her head on the pillow sitting next to her on the old blue couch. Clarissa desparately wanted to doze off in the pillow for about 10 minutes, thus not finding out who was getting with who on Jenny Jones, but the doorbell ringer persisted in pressing her skinny pink fingers into the circular button positioned in the middle left of the door that makes annoying dinging sounds. The dinging sounds persisted, and Clarissa wished they would go away, but they did not. In fact, the dinging sounds were now followed by the sound of the doorbell ringer turning her hand into a fist and striking it briskly against the door, and the sound of the doorbell ringers voice saying, "Come on Clarissa, open up, I know youíre home." Responding to the sound of oneís one name is a trait that almost all humans and animals with names possess, except for those humans and animals that have gone completely crazy, have had their ears gnawed off, have been brainwashed, or like most cats, choose to ignore it. Clarissa in this case positively belonged in the latter category, however her ability to ignore the ringing of the doorbell was not as powerful as her ability to ignore her own name so she finally got up to answer the door.

"Hello Jeanette", Clarissa said after she opened the front door of her house. "Would you like to come in?"

"Oh yeah", Jeanette exhaled as she trudged past Clarissa and collapsed between the pillows of the blue couch and looked around for something to munch on.

"Okay sit down, whatever", Clarissa said. "Is everything okay?"

"My momís starting to bug me after too many hours of watching television with her."

"Oh that again? Itís the same old story every week. Maybe you need a vacation."

"Naa just separate televisions."

In an effort to lighten her mood, Clarissa offered Jeanette some Hersheyís kisses. The Hersheyís kisses lasted in Clarissaís hand about as long as guinea pigs sit in one place when youíre attempting to pet them. "Oh wow these are good", Jeanette said. And in fact they were good, and much more wholesome than guinea pigs, whom Iíve heard can give you nasty intestinal diseases. Not that Iíve ever tried them, but you know what I mean.

With the mood reasonably lightened, Jeanette and Clarissa sat down to flip channels in relative peace. I say relative peace because there was this annoying neighborhood dog who always barked when he chased squirrels up trees, and right now it was squirrel season. Other than that, nothing at all bothered the two females who sat on the blue couch with a stomach full of chocolate while flipping channels and discussing the merits of cooking with chocolate. In otherwords, their minds were still preoccupied with chocolate. This should come as no surprise to anyone who read the chapter title. After all, there is something strangely magical about chocolate.

Chocolate of course is an item that could readily appear under the seat of a bus at any time. No doubt about it, the second you sit on the seat of a bus, a little dust covered pieced of half eaten tootsie roll will invariably somewhere in the vicinity of underneath your seat. Chocolate very seldom appears underneath the seats of blue couches, because there would never be any way for people sitting on those couches to miss a piece of half eaten chocolate and let it roll underneath the seat. In any case, Jeanette and Clarissa were soon full of chocolate and didnít even think about looking under the seat to if any more was there.

After a while, the two of them were comfortably seated in pillows on the blue couch. The chocolate had made them a little tired, but they still felt they should manage some sort of conversation. "Um, so how are you doing?", asked an overfed and slightly sick Jeanette.

"I met this guy the other day at work", Clarissa said, referring to her exciting job as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly. "He seemed nice, but he looked like the kind of guy that always gets himself into trouble."

"Yeah, I know what you mean", Jeanette said. "Theyíre all like that. Nothing but trouble." Women as a rule donít generally mention things for no apparent reason. Whereas men for instance can randomly mention that they have almost definately placed in a round of the Publisherís Clearinghouse Sweepstakes with a (zero) chance of winning millions of dollars, or that some jerk nearly sideswiped them, be perfectly comfortable with a reply of "really?" and have no further reason to comment on it. However, casual comments from a woman are meant to incite deep drawn out conversation to analyze deeply every situation surrounding the casual comment made as possible. If no remark is made as to incite further conversation, then the remark will be stored, to randomly spring on another unsuspecting person. Furthermore when a man is casually mentioned, the mentioner of the question means that she has very definate intentions about this man, such as to find out what kind of job he has, what kind of car he drives, and how soon they can get married. Jeanetteís ability to pick up on this remark at that time was dowsed dramatically in proportion to the large quantity of chocolate which she had eaten. So instead of talking about the man Clarissa met at the grocery store, they talked about what was on television, what the weather was like, why it was so muggy lately, why sports were so dumb, that they secretly thought Gary Coleman was cute in the 80ís, and about how they secretly read the gossip magazines at the checkout counter. Then after all that was finished, they just sat there for a few seconds, unsure of what to do next.

"Would you like some chocolate", Clarissa asked. "Oh yeah", Jeanette said grabbing a Hersheyís Kiss and chewing contentedly.

"I donít want to go home yet because my mom is having her dreadful Saturday night card club friends over", Jeanette mentioned casually as she finished swallowing the rest of the chocolate and licking more of it off her fingertips.

"Well then", Clarissa said. "Letís invite some people over to go out tonight." And so they did. They both called their friends that is. Clarissa called some friends, and so did Jeanette, and while she was on the phone, she decided to call that vacuum cleaner salesman guy she just met. She fished around in her purse for the crumpled piece of paper, which the guy had pressed into her hands after getting off the floor. This deformed looking paper scrap contained a number which supposedly was the home telephone number of this fellow, so she dialed the numbers that were written on it. After fifteen rings of the telephone she began to suspect that something might be out of the ordinary, either that or no one was home. Now Jeanette was possessed of a great patience that would normally outlast a statue in a staring contest, however waiting indefinitely for the phone to be picked up on a number she had never called before was something that she was not too keen on. So she hung up the phone.

Chapter 13: Squid Sauce has Nutritional Value

Quite soon after a fast food restaurant wide disaster had been narrowly avoided by the quick thinking of our recently awake hero, James (the hero in question) fell asleep again after he got back on the bus. It didnít take much to get him to fall asleep again; just a free Whopper and a banana shake (the thinking manís alternative to chocolate strawberry or vanilla) and he was quickly snoozing nearby an old man who apparently had a near limitless supply of Twix bars in his jacket. The old man was eating another one while James slept and spilling Twix pieces everywhere, which significantly increased the magical powers contained underneath the seats. The bus containing several Chinese tourists, a tourguide turned passenger/supervisor named Bruce Chan, a Chinese food restaurant owner named Ming, and a sleeping kidnapping victim named James passed many more destinations, but everyone was too tired to notice them, except Ming, who was driving the bus. Ming, who had never in his life driven a bus all day, was getting incredibly tired and was starting to hallucinate that fire hydrants were dragons, the passengers were all out to get him (except that they were asleep and so couldnít), and that the yellow lines in the road were trying to eat his bus. One could say in fact that he wasnít driving well and would never be able to pass a government mandated drivers test in his current condition. Of course government driving tests are normally not given in buses, and of course this particular bus driver would have a terribly hard time on the written portion of the test since he was never able to fully read English. English was much harder for him to read when he was trying to read the especially the little letters where the words are bunched together at the bottom of the chart, and it looks like they might spell the word "eggplant", but in fact spell a much simpler word - "ninisdidich".

Eventually the rest of the day passed as days often do, and Ming stopped the bus back at his restaurant, after Bruce Chan booked all the tourists into a nearby hotel with a promise of "more fun tomorrow". Somewhere during that time, a sleeping James awoke, wished he was still dreaming, scratched himself on the back of his neck, and fell asleep again dreaming about large women, and what would happen if mutated eggplants grew to huge sizes and tried to take over the earth. He was awoken again hours later by Ming, who was quick to point out the pieces of Twix stuck to his hair. Ming was interested to know if James would like to eat with him, and his roommate Ching Su, and possibly try some of his wonderful squid sauce as an apology for kidnapping him and all. Thinking about how the rest of his day had gone so far, James couldnít think of any good reason to refuse. As James got up from the bus seat for only the second time in several hours, an audible noise came from the seat, a sure sign that the seat had served its purpose. Naturally James was quite familiar with the many purposes of the black seats on big buses. The first purpose is to keep as many people as possible halfway comatose on long trips to ensure that the bus driver doesnít go crazy and stop at a burger king and eat by himself for a half hour while everyone else is asleep. The second reason has a much more aesthetic purpose, which is to be uncomfortable to the point of nauseating pain, but only enough pain that would allow you to have any reasonable right to complain about it. The third reason is not a reason at all, but more of a recourse of the second reason, which is to say that it means leaving you with permanently bad posture due to the way you naturally slump back in bus seats for hours at a time on long rides, forcing you to be at the mercy of the public bus system for many years to come since it hurts to walk. "I probably shouldnít make this kind of bus sitting a habit", James thought. "Or being kidnapped for that matter." Ming wasnít that great at English, so itís very safe to say he wasnít a mind reader either, which is why he was very perplexed as to the reason why James was staring at the indentation in the seat for so long. "Good squid sauce", Ming said, making a gesture with his hands which James interpreted as "come this way please". James was quite glad that he was the one interpreting hand gestures pointing at him instead of the other way around. "I should clock him one just for good measure", James thought. "Letís see if he can interpret that wrong." However, unlike James, this thought never got off the ground, and soon Ming and James had stepped out of the bus, and into the parking lot of the Chinese Express.

The Chinese Express was a two story red brick building with painted glass adorning the front, and large gaudy Chinese letters all over the painted glass. Ming pointed to the glass and said "Chinese Express". James was fairly sure this was obvious, because the words "Chinese Express" also appeared in English on the main sign in the parking lot, which was held up by two 15 foot tall papier mache dragons, but he decided not to mention it. They made their way slowly past the broken chopsticks, half eaten take-out containers, and what appeared to be soy sauce that was strewn all over the ground, the obvious evidence that the manager had been gone for the entire day. Eventually after Ming unlocked the front door, and they walked through the restaurant to get to the stairs leading to the second floor, they walked up the stairs, and arrived at the second floor of the restaurant, which was where Ming lived.

The immediate impression one might get upon entering the second floor of the Chinese Express would be of absurd fear. However, this would probably be derived from the fact that there was no light inside the house at all, making the large samurai statues with swords appear to be armed guards waiting to attack. James did not get this particular impression upon entering the room, because he tripped over a vase, thus missing any view at all of the potentially menacing and shadowy figures. Ming, standing in the middle of the dark, walked over to the other side of his room and turned the light on. He secretly wished that there was a light switch close to the door, but that was where the light switch was when he bought the place, and he was too cheap to get a new one installed.

When the lights came on, James was still on the floor, and he noticed that the main room was rather sparsely furnished, with only a few chairs, some vases (like the one he tripped over), a painting of what he guessed was the Yangtze river, as that was the only Chinese river he could recall offhand, and of course those huge samurai statues decorating the otherwise ordinary room. They walked through that room, and came upon the next room, which James assumed, by the small table with food on it in the center of the room, to be the dining room.

Ming showed James a table already prepared with food on it, and motioned for him to sit down. So, James sat down, making himself comfortable, or at least as comfortable as you can be when you are preparing to sit on a floor, and eat at a table which is at a very low elevation (at least as far as the floor is concerned, the table is of course located on the second floor of the restaurant).

"Squid sauce", Ming said proudly pointing to some red stuff in a bowl located next to pieces of chicken which James guessed he was supposed to dip into the squid sauce with. With his right hand, James picked up a drumstick, and eyeing it very cautiously, slowly lowered it into the bowl of the proudly acclaimed squid sauce. James held the drumstick out in front of his plate for a moment or two, red liquid slowly dripping downward and spilling on his rice, and looked at Ming who was obviously urging him to eat it, and took a big bite of the red coated drumstick. Then James promptly threw up all over the table, and ran to look for a bathroom, his stomach no longer in an exploratory mood.

Chapter 14: More Ways to get up off the Floor

"Squid sauce really is nutritional", said a voice somewhere above James head, which in most instances would have been surprising to someone who was a guest at a house heíd never been to before, and was completely unaware of any other people around.. "Itís too bad you didnít like it", the voice continued. James by this time, had his head almost parallel with the toilet on the second floor of the Chinese Express, could almost feel pieces of chicken moving around in his intestinal track, and was feeling far too badly to be surprised by anything. It is the humble advice of this author that having your head very near a toilet is not one of the best places in the world to be surprised. This is because generally when people are surprised they make some sort of involuntary motion with their body to indicate their feelings. It doesnít matter what kind of emotion you attach surprise to: fear, hate, joy, surprised reactions are all the same Ė your head might jerk, your mouth might drop open, etc. And, if you are truly focused on an activity, such as trying not to coat the floor you are kneeling on with gastronic juices and intestinal waste, then a sudden change, or surprise in your environment, could cause a movement that could hurt someone, such as banging your head on the toilet seat, which could lead to brain damage or severe psychic trauma. Fortunately, in Jamesí case this did not happen, and when he was surprised by the voice telling him of the benefits of squid sauce he merely raised his head, with his mouth dripping spit, and shifted the rest of his body to see who was talking to him. No brain damage occurred that we know of yet.

"Let me introduce myself", the voice said. "Iím Ching-Su, Mingís friend, and co-owner of the Chinese Express. Sorry for disturbing you like this, but I figured if you were going to have dinner with Ming, that you might need a translator." James moved his face away from the bowl long enough to look at Ching-Su, and to have a conversation with him, most of which was interrupted by James feeling very queasy, and hoping nothing else came up. James thanked him for helping him out, and then wanted to know if there was anything else at dinner that didnít involve squid sauce. He was informed that much of the dinner did not in fact have squid sauce in it, but that squid sauce was intended to be used to dip most of the food items on the table in. James said he could handle that, and then had to be helped up off the floor. The taste of the squid sauce still pervaded most of his body, and he could feel it on his tongue as he swallowed some air.

"Come on, itís not that bad really. Youíll be okay", said Ching-Su, while munching on a banana with a suspicious red substance on it. "And no banana jokes!" James was not in the mood to think of any jokes at all, banana related or not, all he wanted was maybe a glass of juice and some antacid to wash the flavor away with. He inquired of Ching-Su if any juice or antacid might be forthcoming, and when he was told that they were not, as those items were not available in the house and it was late at night, he was, to put it in one word, rather down, or to put it in a few words, he was out of sorts.

Soon enough, James was again seated at the table, although this time his face had a shade of red that matched that of the squid sauce. The table had been cleaned since last James left it, for obvious reasons, and a tablecloth and a smoking Buddha spitting out incense smoke now lay on top of the table. However, the food was placed on top of the tablecloth, while the smoking Buddha just sort of sat there away from the food. The incense was making James feel even more sick, but he decided not to mention it. Apparently cleaning up after his guestís dinner hadnít dimmed Mingís appetite, because he was eating rather heartily when Ching-Su and James came back into the room. He was making rather loud slurping sounds too, and looked at James rather strangely upon his now slightly lighter guestís return to the dining room.

"Ming wishes to express his utmost apologies for kidnapping you in the first place, and now for making you terribly sick with his world famous squid sauce", Ching-Su said with a bow. "He feels that he owes you a huge debt of which he is unsure of how to repay."

"He can start by learning English", James said with a hint of sarcasm present in his voice. "And some juice and antacid for my stomach wouldnít hurt either. By the way, is this squid sauce really world famous? Iíve never heard of it before."

"We figured we would sell more that way", Ching-Su said. "And in fact it is quite well known in some circles. What circles", James asked. "Circles mainly involving international squid sauce contests, which I must admit are a bit on the smallish side.", Ching-Su said. "I would however like to point out that the Chinese Express has placed in three squid sauce competitions of the last five years. If you donít like our squid sauce, then you just donít like squid sauce." Ming was heavily involved with eating dinner while this conversation was going on, and merely nodded at Ching-Su every time his friend translated Jamesí words into Chinese. Of course, from working at the restaurant for so long the words squid sauce were English words he knew very well, and since heíd never heard anything but positive comments about the squid sauce, he assumed Ching-Su was just pumping up the storeís reputation to James.

"That", James said referring of course to the fact that he never wanted to be within sniffing distance of squid sauce again, "is quite obvious. Iím absolutely positive that I do not in any shape or form like squid sauce in the least. And another thing, why is it that seemingly all employees of Chinese restaurants are Chinese?"

"I do not know why that is for certain," Ching-Su said with his hands up in the air. "However, my parents were Japanese, and I was born in America."

"Then how in the world did you manage to meet our good friend here?", James said, pointing at Ming, who responded with a nod of his head while stuffing a fried banana into his mouth.

"Thatís a very good question," Ching-Su said. "Would you like to hear the answer?" Since he wasnít up to eating any more food, James couldnít think of any reason to refuse, and was at least halfway interested in hearing the story. So, Ching-Su opened his mouth to talk, and the story began.

Chapter 15: Growing up in the 70ís Without an Afro

"My parents emigrated to America in the 60ís", Ching-Su said. "They said they had a hard time, and I believe it. The only job my father could find was night shift at a laundromat." Noticing the drooping mouth and yawn of James, Ching-Su paused for a moment. "Oh thatís right, you wanted to hear how I met Ming, not my whole life story. Yes, I suppose that would be a long story, Iíd probably be keeping you longer than you wanted to stay here. By tomorrow I expect Iíd be telling you how my father built me a bike when I was eight to ride around on." Yes", Ching-Su said, as even he yawned, "that would be a rather long story wouldnít it?"

"On with the story!", Ming said suddenly while looking up from his empty plate. "Okay, Okay", Ching-Su said while blinking his eyes. "Iíll try to make it as succinct as possible. Well, growing up in the 70ís, I watched a lot of television, and I really liked Good Times. J.J was rather explosive...." "You mean dynomite?", James interrupted.

"Yes", Ching-Su said with a laugh. "I just wanted you to hear you say it. Anyway, I really wanted an Afro, but my parents explained to me that I couldnít grow one. I supposed that Iíd have to have the same kind of hair that the only Asian influences on television I had at the time had. Iím referring of course to Mr. Sulu, and Bruce Lee. They were both cool, but they just had the same old kind of short dark hair that my father had. I donít know, maybe watching so much television gave me a real broad view of things. And then I grew up and got a degree in business management. I was trying to think of a joke to go along with Mr. Sulu or Bruce Lee, but I just couldnít think of one. Iím sorry.

"Iím sure this story has some sort of a point", James said. "So um...why donít you get to it?" Ching-Su, in reaction to James remark, acted as if he should have been insulted, but realized instead that he was embarrassed for telling such a rambling story that didnít seem to be going anywhere, and the overall effect it created on his face was of an indescribably and strangely contorted nature. James promptly burst out laughing. Ming laughed so hard, that he almost spit rice out of his nose, and he only understood half the sentence.

The laughter, which Ching-Su was smart enough to realize was not at him, but with him, caused Ching-Su to move on rapidly with his story. So rapidly in fact, that soon he was wrapping up the whole thing with the inherent moral of the story, which was to say that he realized that he wasnít black, couldnít grow an Afro, and that they were hiring at the Chinese Express right after he finished taking a class in business administration. In other words: be what you are, and go get a job. Ming apparently didnít have the best vision, and so when Ching-Su applied for a position at the restaurant, Ming couldnít tell that Ching-Su was Japanese and not Chinese. So, he immediately proceeded to ask him the same question he asked of all chinamen that wanted to work at his store. This question was asked of Ching-Su in order to work at the store - "So, you wanna work at Chinese Express huh?" Ching-Su had taken extensive Chinese classes in high school since Japanese wasnít offered, and he could pick up how to speak the Japanese language from living with his parents anyway, and so was able to answer Mingís question in perfect Chinese. Therefore, Mingís mix up was quite explainable under these circumstances, that and the fact that Ching-Su told Ming how much he liked his fish dicing, explain how Ching-Su came to work at the Chinese Express.

On a side (but related) note, psychologists call the effect of sudden discomfort in having people laugh at you and not with you, and wanting to hurry up and finish your long story "sudden acute embarrassment". These by the way, are the same psychologists that diagnosed that Charles Manson may have had some "childhood problems". If childhood problems are defined as growing up and going on a huge killing spree, then yes, it turns out that these psychologists may have been right all along.

The enormously long drawn out story had finally reached an end, and Ming punctuated it with a rather loud belch, slapped James on the back, and got up to go use the bathroom.

"Wait a second", James said with the sudden realization of someone who had been dragged halfway across town against his will. "Iíd really like to get back to my car sometime. They might tow it soon if I donít get back there." This was not true of course. The townís sheriff department was very lax on getting cars towed, and figured that their owners had simply "forgotten about them" and would be back to get them soon. And if the car left in question had been in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot for a very long period of time? Well, then maybe the owner was simply working late, and had fallen asleep. All of this was information that James, having grown up in the town and knowing the ins and outs of it, was quite familiar with, and was therefore hoping that Ming, not having had the hindsight of knowing the habits of the town sheriff, was not, and that Ming would then feel some compunction to get him back to his car. Then, a woman yelled out some words in Chinese, Ming ran into the other room, and the point of James last sentence, and his thoughts behind it, were totally overridden by a tired Chinese woman who wanted her husband to come to bed. Mingís head appeared again briefly to bow an apology to James again, and whisper a quick "Sayonara", before he was dragged back into the room fully, and the door was slammed.

"Iíll take you back to your car if you want to go", Ching-Su said, realizing that the night had come to an end. James rolled his eyes a bit at that remark, and while exhaling because he was tired, nodded yes.

Chapter 16: Scrabble as an Art Form

"Buttons", Bryan, the deli worker at the Piggly-Wiggly said while putting down the corresponding scrabble letters on the center of the board. "Thatís a fifty point bonus for using all my letters, not to mention the double word score for completing the first word on the table. In other words, thatís a lot of points. Are you girls sure you want to finish this game?"

* The end of Chapter 16 has been placed at the very beginning. We do apologize*

Just as Clarissa and Jeanette finished the slow process of picking up the telephone and letting their fingers do the walking over to their friends telephone number, the telephone rang. Some credit card company wanted to sell Clarissa some life insurance. It took her about a minute to get off the phone without buying anything and not even accepting her free gift of three free months of life insurance at only a one dollar a month (after third month, payments go up to a reasonable ten dollars a month for the rest of your life). She hung up the phone in disgust, then made some remark about how if she was going to die then maybe sheíd buy some life insurance.

A short while after the memory of the life insurance salesman had begun to fizzle away, the doorbell rang, and after Clarissa answered it, in walked Bryan the deli guy at the Piggly Wiggly, Roger, a grocer at Piggly-Wiggly, and Loren, a waitress at IHOP. Bryan had been a bench player on his high school basketball team for 4 years, and was now in the army reserve, all of which meant that it was merely sheer coincidence that he was working at the Piggly-Wigglyís deli section. Roger, had recently been laid off of the box making factory, and he carried over a few habits to his temporary job as a grocer, where he complained about how things were stacked. In doing all the things that grocery store employees do, they both became friends with Clarissa, which explains how they got invited over to her house. Roger liked Loren, so she always hung around with him, and Loren was a good friend of Jeanetteís, so Loren was coming over this party no matter what happened.

After the guys made themselves comfortable (comfortable in this case involved a spread eagle from the top of the couch, and a quick pillow fight), and raided Lorenís refrigerator for food and available beverages, Clarissa began discussing what the nightís plans might be, which she figured mainly involved going out to movie, and then maybe Dennyís for dinner. Dennyís she figured, because she had heard Loren say "Oh god not IHOP" numerous times when the same subject had come up before. Unfortunately, the party at large had a terrible time deciding what movie they wanted to go see, mostly because Bryan had already seen all of the action movies, Clarissa had seen all of the love movies that were out, and Loren just really wanted some cheese toast. So eventually, after about 15 minutes of discussing "what are we gonna do?", Loren took her remote control and turned on the television which instantly brought up a Saturday Night Live re-run on Comedy Central, because that was the channel that she had been watching the last time the television was on.. Everyone stopped arguing and began watching, except Loren who headed for the kitchen to plug in the toaster, annoying Roger who had managed to sit next to her on the couch. The nightís supply of Doritoís was by the way seriously starting to dwindle.

"Um by the way Loren", Clarissa said, as Loren put her first piece of bread in the toaster. "You should probably know that weíve been having some.." ZZZZTTTT was the sound that the toaster made as it tried to electrocute the bread, and stopped Clarissaís sentence two words short; also causing Loren to jump backwards a foot or so, jabbing herself in the back with a bread knife. "Electrical problems", Clarissa finished, as she got up to see if Loren was okay. Lorenís eyes were bugged out, and she had some butter on the back of her shirt but otherwise she was fine. "Iím fine", Loren said. "Iím just really hungry thatís all."

"That toaster should have been stored in a safe place", Roger said. "That would be like the worst newspaper headline of all time if she died from getting electrocuted by a toaster."

"Fine", Jeanette said. "So what are we doing besides watching television and sticking things in toasters?"

"We canít agree on a movie", Bryan said. "So why donít we just play Scrabble?" For whatever reason, everyone said "sure" (other than Bryan who wouldnít be responding to his own question). What everyone who said "sure" didnít know, was that Bryan had formerly been a regional Scrabble champ, liked to gamble, and was a compulsive winner who for the sake of winning would even wrestle his sister. Also, he was really into Scrabble. A few minutes later, the Scrabble board had been set out on Clarissaís coffee table, all the players sat down on the couch and grabbed their seven letters out of the bag containing Scrabble letters, which was missing one "s". To determine who went first, they all took one letter out of the bag. Bryan grabbed a "b", meaning he went first. His comment about this was a slightly smug, "Well, looks I go first unless someone picks an "a", and he was thinking, "yeah right, like thatís going to happen, this b just means that the game is over sooner with me winning, just the way it should be." The next best letter picker was Jeanette who took a "k", and threw it back into the bag, knowing that she obviously wasnít going first. Wasting very little time, Bryan promptly put the word "buttons" down on the Scrabble board, which greatly annoyed everyone else playing. Roger was only playing, to be close to Loren, so he didnít care, although he did think it was a little wierd. Jeanette liked playing Scrabble, and realized that any reasonable hope that she had of winning had just been crushed like an old Winebago falling off the Grand Canyon. Loren was thinking "what a jerk! Who invited him? Oh yeah..it was me." Bryan just sat there shrugging, while thinking "I am so good." Loren got up off the couch shaking her head while staring open mouthed at Bryan, and announcing "I really need some more food."

"Thatís it, game over. Bryan wins. Weíre going to IHOP", Clarissa said quickly trying to defuse the situation, which got an immediate frown from Loren. "Iím just kidding", Clarissa said. "I meant Dennyís."

Chapter 17: Home Again, Home Again - well to the Car Anyways

"Fortune cookie?", Ching-Su offered to James who was seated next to him in the black 1994 Lexus. James, who had one hand covering his eyes, while the other one barely concealed a yawn, was very tired and mumbled a barely discernible "yes". Ching-Su, who naturally as a good driver, had both eyes watching the road, didnít really notice any of James bodily contortions, and pretended not to notice how disinterested he was in the fortune cookie. James was so tired, that when he was handed the fortune cookie from Ching-Su, who had reached for one from a bag underneath the seat without taking his eyes off the road, he crunched the whole thing in his mouth, and nearly choked on the printed fortune contained within the cookie. After the excess gagging woke him up, James blinked his eyes a few times to make sure he was still alive, and looked at the crumpled and wet fortune sitting on his lap.

"Whatís it say?", Ching-Su asked. James picked up the piece of paper gingerly with two fingers on his left hand, and read "hang on to your friends - you never know when youíll need them."

"Sounds like good advice", Ching-Su said. James agreed, then quickly concentrated on falling asleep again, as Ching-Su continued to drive towards the Piggly-Wiggily. Soon enough, which meant several minutes, but soon enough for James, who had fallen asleep and so naturally the time was very quick, Ching-Su pulled into the parking lot of the Piggly-Wiggily and stopped next to the only car he saw.

"Is this your car?", Ching-Su said, giving a James a little nudge. "Huh? What? Whatís going on?", James said, before he realized where he was. Then, noticing his car, he said, "Oh, yeah thatís my car." James got out of the Lexus, and slammed the door, while Ching-Su just sat in the Lexus, watching him while thinking about the fishing programs he was going to watch on Sunday after sleeping in. Bubbaís Big Bass Review was a favorite program of Ching-Suís, and he watched it religiously, which was ironic since it came on late morning Sunday when most people either were or pretended to be in church. It featured Johnny Bubba (nickname: Big), and a weekly guest out on charted and uncharted water pulling in the big bass with nothing more than a boat, a body of water, a fishing pole, and all the newest fishing gadgets available only through mail-order catalogs. Bubba occasionally shared some fishing tips with his viewers, but usually he just talked about the weather while snapping into some Slim Jimís. Whenever he did catch a fish, he usually provided some witty commentary like "hey, look at that big fella! Where do you suppose he was all this time we wuz sittin in this boat?" Ching-Su was so deep in thought about the show, that he was starting to daydream about pulling in a widemouthed bass himself.

James had opened the door of his car, and was just about to attempt to turn the key, which by this time had been sitting in the ignition for a good second and a half, when he noticed a piece of paper resting on his dashboard, which he was sure was not there before. So he picked it up and read it. On the piece of paper, the words "borrowed - one engine. will return on Monday" were printed in green ink. James read the words printed on the piece of paper, but he had absolutely no idea at all at how to react to it. He was pretty sure that all those practical joke television shows wouldnít pull things on people in the middle of the night. So, he just sat behind the wheel for a second while he let his brain flip-flop itself out. Then, he got out of the car, closed the door, and locked it. In his brain-numb state, he made a little joke to himself about how ironic it was that he locked his car, since "Iíd like to see someone try to steal it without an engine."

He opened the door of Ching-Suís Lexus and sat back down inside it. "Can you take me to my house?", James said. "Do you like fishing?", Ching-Su said at almost the same time. "Huh?!", they both exclaimed to each other. James showed Ching-Su the piece of paper that had been resting on his dashboard. "Have you ever seen those practical joke shows on television?", Ching-Su asked. "I donít think about those sorts of things in the middle of the night", James said. "Can you take me to my house?", he repeated. The gear lever of the Lexus was put into drive, as the car began to move toward James house at 107 35th street.

Chapter 18: Things that go Bump in the middle of the Night

Ching-Su was driving. He was driving his new friend James back to his house. He didnít know where this house was yet, only that he was driving in the general direction of it. He was hungry and wished that there was a 7-11 around somewhere, so he could get a big bite hot dog and eat it. If he had a hot dog, he would put ketchup and mustard on it, and try not to spill it on his lap when driving. That would be rather tasty. Ohhhh. A small piece of my soul for a hot dog. "Are you hungry", Ching-Su asked James.

"Come to think of it, since I threw up and didnít eat much.... Yes", James said. "I wish we had a 7-11 in this town." Then the two of them felt a slight jolt as the car ran over a cat. "I think we hit a cat", James said. "Iím quite sure that one was already dead", Ching- Su replied. "I think youíre right", James said.

After that, neither one of them thought much about the dead cat again. Ching-Su was still hungry, but had a queezy feeling in his stomach that he tried not to think about, and James, even when talking about the cat, was still dwelling on his engine that had been mysteriously loaned out. "I wonder what itís like to have the job cleaning up the streets, and you run into dead squished animals?", Ching-Su pondered. "I just canít imagine shoveling up cats lying on the streets just like theyíre any old bannana peel or Doritoís wrapper. Got another cat here Merl. Good, throw it in the back next to the hamsters." James looked upon the face of the man who had once wanted to wear an aphro, and said, "I think this must be the strangest thing Iíve ever heard talked about." Ching-Su blamed his remark on late night hunger, then asked his friend if he would like to go to Dennyís. Wondering if he would ever see his own house again, let alone drive there, James uttered a rather resigned "yes", rubbed his eyes, and began muttering under his breath. When Ching-Su asked him what it was about, he pretended to be concerned about the cat in the road.

On the way to Dennyís James tried to fall asleep, but he was having a hard time getting comfortable, and he couldnít lean the seat all the way down because Ching-Su had too much assorted junk in the back seat. Also by this time, Ching-Su, who was already hungry, noticed that very little conversation was going on between on between him and his guest in the car, so he decided to fill up the space with music from the radio by turning the knob that had the words "power on" printed on it to the right. James, halfway awake, and hoping that the real world was a dream sequence, wondered why he was being taken to funkytown. "I wanna take you to funkytown", Ching-Su sang in unison with the music. James turned his head to look at his late night traveling companion, and really hoped he was dreaming. The next thing he remembered, were hearing the words "weíre here", the engine sputtering (which made him think of his missing engine), a car door slamming shut, and then falling out of the car, as Ching-Su opened the driver side door and James came tumbling out. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was the smiling face of Ching-Su just below the large Dennyís sign. "Nothing like eggs after dark", he mumbled, while getting to his feet, and hitting his head on the sideview mirror along the way. This produced the second thing he saw, which was stars, several of them in fact "Ouch", he said. Ching-Su would have noticed this mishap, except that was already waiting in line to get inside Dennyís, which since it was late at night, had a line that went just outside the front door.

It is important to note that the stars James saw were brightly colored, and nothing more than tricks of the brain produced by hitting oneís head, while real stars, which look similar from our vantage point, are actually huge gaseous exploding things, or at least thatís what the scientists would have us believe.

Chapter 19: How to have fun at Dennyís

"Isnít that a dead cat?", Bryan said, pointing out the dead cat that was lying in the middle of the road. Everyone else who had piled into Jeanetteís 1992 Ford Probe, which was everyone involved with chaper 16, turned and looked. What they all saw was a mashed and obviously dead cat. Jeanette was the driver of her car, and after nearly convulsing, wished that she hadnít looked out the window any longer than was needed to make a legal left turn. The rest of the passengers made equally gross faces out the window, although it must be pointed out that Roger was simply seeing how his teeth looked in the reflection of the passenger window. Roger was annoyed at Bryan, simply because he felt that Bryan had soured the romantic mood that he was sure Loren was in. It was after all, no small feet that he had managed to sit next to her in the back seat and not next to Clarissa. As a matter of fact, up till that point, Roger had been thinking about making his "move", even though he was not quite sure what that move would be exactly. During the duration of their current 5 minute car trip, he had been content to let Loren talk with Clarissa about Beverly Hills 90210, while he occasionally would agree or ask a question, thinking that he had been really smooth with Loren up till this point by "letting her do her own thing." In actual fact of course, Loren was simply executing the side manuever, wherein the person sitting in the middle of the back of a car which has three people in it casually leans to one side for a conversation with that one person, effectively cutting off the other person completely and leaving them in solitary isolation with their thoughts. It really doesnít matter what the thoughts of that one person who has been cut off in the back seat are, since no one is talking to them, and anything important they have to say will probably be forgotten anyway. Strangely enough, the person executing the side manuever usually isnít even thinking about the proper execution of this tricky twisting of the body, they would just rather talk to one person exclusively, leaving the third person to themselves, as described above.

On the way to Dennyís Jeanette had the radio turned on at a low enough volume to where she could still listen to it if she wanted to, but more specifically, at that volume she could listen to what Clarissa and Loren were talking about. The driver of a car canít really talk to the people in the backseat of the car for more than a minute or so without seeming awkward and desparate, and she had very little desire to talk to Bryan as his big "Scrabble gambit" had left a rather distasteful first impression in her mouth, which is to say she found him rude and repugnant. Unfortunately, she got bored rather quickly by listening to the Beverly Hills 90210 conversation in the backseat "Nothing like civilian life", Bryan commented to Jeanette, further dampening any spark of interest she might have had in anything at that point.

"Excuse me?", Jeanette said with a slightly upraised upbrow. "Iím in the Army Reserve", Bryan said. "You know civilian life - outside of the military, where you just drive around and do whatever you want."

"Thatís one way to look at it", Jeanette responded, while looking straight ahead and hoping heíd just shut up. Bryan of course didnít pipe down, and not noting her complete lack of interest, forged ahead for the next five minutes rambling on about the army, serving deli meats, and what the weather was like. It was enough to make Jeanette clutch the steering wheel very tightly with nothing more than a series of "yes" and "I see" responses to Bryanís monotonous monologue, all the way until they pulled up into the Dennyís parking lot.

There was a visible line inside Dennyís, so Jeanette had to park her car in front of an empty yogurt store that had a broken light, and a sign advertising free nuts with the purchase of a bannana split. As she opened her door, and everyone piled out of the car, she assumed that the group had moved onto a different phase of conversation, what with the restaurant and all; unfortunately Bryan didnít seem to take the stop as a break in the action, so he kept talking even as he closed the car door, and stepped onto the sidewalk. Clarissa and Loren meanwhile had finished talking about 90210 long ago, and were now silent and listening to Bryan gab on to Jeanette. They were both thinking the same thing, and they looked at each other with the secret female look of acknowledgement (usually indicated by slightly raised eyebrows), which meant that they couldnít believe Bryan was hitting on Jeanette for so long. Roger didnít quite catch on, as he was just trying to look like he wasnít giving Loren ample second glances when no one was looking. Somehow Bryan stopped talking, and Roger managed to interject the thought provoking words "wow, some Saturday night huh?" Nothing more was said by the group (at least anything of any vague importance) until they moved forward slightly, and were now actually waiting in line inside the Dennyís lobby next to a bunch of fifteen year olds who were talking nonstop about top forty music, boys, and how much they thought school sucked. In fact, after they moved forward slightly, nothing was said by any of the original group that rode in Jeanetteís car because they were all too annoyed by the nonstop talking of the teenage Dennyís visitors.

Clarissa noticed several odd shaped pieces of gum with spit on them in the ashtray in front of the front door of the restaurant, and wondered where they came from. Then, Loren picked that time to reapply her lipstick, which was unfortunate for her, because some huge biker types muscled their way in through the door, and bumped into her, almost making her swallow the whole stick. It didnít help matters any that one of them said "sorry babe" as he walked through the front door. Loren responded with a very loud "uhh" noise that she hoped they heard, which she punctuated with a little twitch of her nose, even though she knew that they were about to go sit down with their loud friends who could already be seen from outside, and easily identified as "the group who was drinking coke through their nose, whilst poundng the table". All of Lorenís friends stopped whatever they were doing, which admittedly wasnít very important anyway, as their only objective was to sit down at a Dennyís table, and think about ordering french toast with syrup at a time when McDonalds employees had long since thought about cooking some hotcakes (breakfast at McDonalds isnít served after 10:30 AM), to look at her, and make faces at the bikers.

"I am so not having a good time", Loren said, while her friends began having evil thoughts about killing bikers. The truth is that that most of those thoughts originated about the same time in the 80ís when they saw what Pee-Wee Herman had to do at the biker gang restaurant in the movie Pee-Weeís Big Adventure.

"Weíll see if we canít do somethin about that honey", said Gladys, the obviously 40ísomething pencil toting waitress with a perky smile, and a mustard stain on her shirt. "Weíll get you and your friends fixed right up here in a minute. " Jeanette thought that sounded just wonderful, especially since the table Gladys was leading them to was at the opposite end of the restaurant from the leather jacket clad ruffians. Bryan was wondering about that mustard stain on the shirt of their server for the night, and Roger couldnít help staring at the two dollars, which had been left on the table when they got there. The two dollars was parked right next to a napkin with purple stains on it. Both items on the table were promptly snatched up by the extremely cheerful waitress, who as she placed the two dollars into her pocket with her left hand, and grabbed the stained napkin with her right hand, remarked that she was sure that "such a nice group of people as you five will probably leave me more than that." As she walked away, Clarissa whispered that the comment was "fairly optimistic."

Gladys deftly threw away the napkin in a trash receptacle hidden behind the front desk and returned with a pad of paper in one hand and a pen in the other. It should be remarked that waitresses have to be cheery, and bring you refills on drinks, and even wipe up the soft drinks that you spill on them, because a grouchy waitress can be one of the worst annoyances one can encounter in a place where money is spent. It doesnít matter that the waitress may have had a terrible day, and hates her boss, and thinks she got shortchanged on tips, and has two kids and lives in a trailor park, and has an ex-husband who is behind on his child support payments, because otherwise the customers might just skip town on you when you go in the back room to get a refill. In addition thereís a good chance theyíll make a mess of the table in less than 30 seconds on their way out too.

"Wow did I have a terrible day", Gladys remarked as she asked for their drink orders. Roger couldnít care less, and immediately looked away covering his face with his right hand. Gladys did her best to ignore Rogerís frowning outlook, and Loren did her best to keep from slapping him. "They really work hard for tips", she said a second after Gladys left. "I know", Roger said. "I just canít keep from thinking that in 15 minutes she might be touching my food." A few minutes later, Gladys returned to the table with their drinks, and a few more depressing comments about her day. Then she put their drinks down on the table, heard a loud crash of plates in the backroom and went quickly to see what it was.

"Hey", Roger said, as he tried to figure out a way to drink his coke without touching the glass, mere minutes after the crashing of plates in the back room and the inevitable jokes of firing from the manager (many of which turn out to be true by the way). "She forget the straws." That exact second, a blonde waitress named Michelle placated him by throwing five straws down on the table as she walked by. "Donít worry about it", she said. "Gladys has been having a rough day." Jeanette and three other people at the table were starting to get that idea. Bryan did not get that idea, since he was busy making a concoction out of coke and strawberry syrup, which everyone else at the table agreed was "pretty sick". Another idea that Jeanette was getting at this time was how stupid the whole thing really was, and she got up to leave with the passing comment that she was "going to the bathroom." Loren got up slowly off the seat too, after of course Roger excused himself out of her way, since he had to move for her to get out of the booth.

Booth seats are, Iím quite sure, one of the great inventions of modern American history. To begin with they are essentially add-ons to walls or railings, thus saving the architecture team who would be designing the restaurant a great deal of hassle in chair placement. The tables of course in a normal restaurant must be placed in a fairly aesthetic manner wherein every table is spaced out just so from every other table to prevent customers from complaining "that table has more leg room than my table!". You know how it goes, the whole crew goes off to eat a huge lunch, and when they come back all they can think about is burpingThe term used for the purpose of booth seats now is "cost efficient" this means that it saves money for the restaurant if