Let me tell you about the Teriyaki Guy. He lords over a broad tableau, there in the Teriyaki place. He is king there, in a cowboy vest and cowboy hat. The cowboy hat might be made of straw; I never looked closely enough to say. When I first saw him, he was serving the customer in front of me. I saw him in his element, at his finest, serving a repeat customer. I came out of the cold and the snow and kicked my boots off and looked at the Teriyaki menu as I trudged in. The Teriyaki Guy was speaking to the woman at the counter in front of me.
He said, “Hm, ah. Welcome, yes, you came for food today for lunch. Mm, yes, we gonna get you some chicken, some rice. Oh, perfect. Teriyaki sauce on the Teriyaki rice. Oh, so good.”
I blinked and looked back at the door whence I had come. Wondering if maybe I should get out while I could.
But the woman in front of me seemed a normal sort. She seemed discerning. I would gauge her reaction and base my own on it.
“Hi.” She smiled. “I’ll have the teriyaki chicken. Brown rice. Mushrooms.”
The teriyaki Guy said, “Oh, yes, good choice, lady, I see you have a good day, how was your morning, we’re gonna get you some teriyaki chicken. Some white rice, oh, yes, some mushrooms. Mm, it’s gonna taste good, you’re gonna love it, I love it, I’ll make it right now, how do you like the mushrooms, I’ll cook the chicken, mm, yes, look at this.”
I know he said that; I had my pad out. I was writing it down, mouth slightly open.
The woman smiled brightly at him. “Thanks.”
It looked like a routine. She had come here before. She was smiling with more amusement than bemusement. She’d seen it before. It was safe.
He went to the grill, spurs jingling, and made her lunch. When she had been served, I stepped forward and spoke to the Teriyaki Guy. He leaned intently towards me and cocked a listening ear. I said, “I’ll have the yaki udon, with beef.”
He nodded unsmiling and he said, “Ah, yes, the yaki udon, ah, my friend, yes, we gonna get you the yaki udon.”
A bewildered, wide-eyed young woman was behind the cash register, fearful of the Teriyaki Guy and his ways. “Do you want a spring roll?” she asked of me.
“I do not want a spring roll.”
The Teriyaki Guy was already at his grill, squirting oil, sliding cooking implements on each other, flipping them behind his back, juggling them, rolling them down his forearm and knocking them in the air and catching them, bouncing them on his knee and on his foot like a soccer player and spinning them like batons. Then he winked without smiling and slapped some beef on there.
I went over to watch.
This is what he said in a low, mumbling voice as he cooked my udon and beef:
“Oh, hello, sir, hi, look at this. Watch carefully. See, now I’m gonna cut your beef and cook it up, see, look. Oh, beautiful. Look at that beef, juicy and fine, so good. Delicious. You want mushrooms? You want mushrooms. You want vegetables in there. There are so many vegetables. I’m gonna put em, look, here they are. Put em in with the beef and the veggies, cook em up. They don’t need much. Oh, bean sprouts nice and crunchy and tasty and you need that broccoli. So good. Look how many vegetables there are. Put ’em in. Oh, now the beef is getting brown and good, look at that, so tasty, sir, and smell that. How delicious. And you want the udon noodles, I love them, let’s put them in, I’m doin’ it, this is fantastic. Now it’s almost done, nearly done, sir. So fantastic, so delicious, smell that. And look at all the sauces. Here, I’m putting it in a bowl. Mm, so good. Put it in the bowl. Now it’s time for the sauces. So much choice, look, sir, I know what you want. We’re puttin’ the teriyaki sauce. You want the teriyaki sauce. Mm, yes, look at that, perfect, right on top. More teriyaki sauce. And now it’s almost done. You want sesame seeds. Sesame seeds, perfect, just what it needs. Oh yes, this is good. This is perfect. How does that look? Now it’s done. How do you like it? Is it good? Do you like it? Does it look tasty?”
I said, “Yeah.”
Then I went to a table and ate the stuff in a sort of daze, watching him serve the next customer, who also seemed to be a repeat customer. Not dazed and confused, but slightly grinning, appreciative of the show just like the woman before me had been. In on it. In on the joke, or the act, or whatever it was. The food was just regular food. But I knew I was probably going to come back.