UNITED STATES—Even with the rain, the streets are seething, something is on edge in people and a little precipitation isn’t making a dent. On a recent rainy night, I took my dog, DeVille, who is kind of an insurance policy against madness and outbreaks of insanity commonplace in Hollywood out, but tonight his magic powers were a little off.
I walked into Winchell’s, DeVille first. Soon as the glass door closed the wet night behind me, someone lobbed from the back, “Can I use you cellphone? I need to call the police.”
From the onset, I was inclined to give him use of my phone. But then, instead of coming up to me and taking the phone, he stood by the back entrance and gave me an explanation. That explanation of the motives for making the phone call severely damaged my eagerness to hand over my cellphone.
He accused the man at the counter of discriminating against him and not serving him a sandwich. So I turned to the counterman, panadero, and asked:
“Can I have a sandwich?”
“We don’t serve sandwiches now. We don’t have the meat.”
The counterman was short-tempered now, already having dealt with the guy who wanted the cellphone, and now me taking a long time to choose. The guy went on: he had a couple well-groomed dogs on leashes who behaved themselves. He wore roundish brown tortoise shell glasses. His manner of speech was calm, but highly repetitive.
“This place is open 24-hours a day and they should be able to serve me, but they won’t.”
“What would you like?” said the counterman. “We don’t have any meat now.”
“I from Canada,” said the guy with the round glasses, “We don’t treat people like this in Canada.”
Of course my not being served, as a pale reddish skinned man, should have been enough to annul the Canadian’s thesis about being discriminated against. To my mind it was clear evidence of food bureaucracy, rather than discrimination. The guy did not appreciate my lucid achievement, though. Instead, he read my hesitation when it came to handing him my cellphone; he said if I didn’t give him the cellphone, there would be some bad karma. I took this to be a threat, and the odds of handing him my phone were becoming ever slimmer.
All I wanted was a muffin, and now this. You never know the day or the hour when you’re faced by a deep issue, by a Canadian no less.
I went ouside with DeVille and asked heaven to help. It did. I suddenly knew that I still wanted a muffin and that the best way I could prevent the police from having to deal with this kind of nonsense. I went back inside to order my Central-American “queso.”
Meanwhile, the counter man had made a concession to the guy who wanted the sandwich. He was opening the sandwich toaster, and got out an avocado. Not having meat had previously been the main obstacle to the sale of the sandwich.
“You’re getting your sandwich,” I said to the guy. “Enjoy it.”
I knew that he wouldn’t. I went outside with my muffin –very sweet, too sweet– and resumed my life between a quandary and a rock. Finally, I tried to do the right thing at last and called 911 myself:
“I’m calling from Winchell’s on Vine Street. There’s a man here who’s been discriminated against because he’s Canadian.”
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Stories from Darkest Hollywood” (available on Amazon).