Just let that word combination sink into your brain for a second. Everybody can probably picture the bulk candy section at their grocery store, those enormous barrels of gummy worms and jelly beans that would probably require a decade of scooping to ever become empty. Seriously, North Korea is starving, and meanwhile A & P has two tons of gummy worms just sitting around. I say we air drop them on the Koreans; how in the world would Kim Jong Eun be able to repress democracy when three thousand pounds of Mike and Ikes are falling from the sky? Yes, the embattled North Korean proletariat is sure to embark on a bloody uprising, as soon as they get their first taste of freedom, in the glorious nectar of a pink Starburst.
But I digress. Bulk candy, got it? Now imagine that instead of candy, it’s fish. Lots and lots of fish. Raw fish. Squids. Eels. Octopi. Half the cast of Finding Nemo. All of them in barrels, sitting out in the warm air of a place called Wu Mart, the florescent lights illuminating them, bathing their moist bodies in a yellow glow reminiscent of the color of a box of Gordon’s Fish Sticks. The seafood just lies there in Wu Mart, unguarded, the same way produce is generally displayed. People walk by and take some, dropping them into bags, then continuing on with their shopping, the fish thrown down at the bottom of their carts, looking alive, as though they could start flopping around any moment, whapping up against a box of Corn Flakes or a tube of Pringles.
This scene was where my path crossed with a gentleman I can only refer to as The Disgusting Fish Eating Guy. It was on a Friday afternoon, and I had just been denied money by Bank of China yet again, which put me in a foul mood. That, compounded with my growing depression, caused me to wander around Wu Mart in a kind of daze, not really wanting any food but understanding that I would die if I refused it. This was a no win food situation, a Catch V-8, and so I bitterly placed a few bags of chicken nuggets into my grocery basket. And that’s when I saw. Walking through the meat section, he was there, breaking all social etiquette, clear as day.
He was an older man, maybe in his fifties. A heavy black jacket thrown over his shoulders, like he belonged in a Russian novel, he shoveled raw fish into his mouth the same way I eat French fries. His dirty fingers ripped apart a squid and then brought the flesh up to his teeth. A Wu Mart employee saw him too, and she ran over, striking his hand with a white piece of plastic. She yelled at him in Chinese but he didn’t stop. Undaunted, he kept at it, feverishly munching down squid with the determination of my ex-girlfriend at the Old Country Buffet.
“That sick fucker,” I thought. I saw no humor in what was happening. In fact, I felt enraged. Didn’t he know that this was the bulk fish section, and that he was getting his disgusting finger and mouth germs all over the same seafood that someone else would probably buy? How thoughtless of him! I mean, it’s gross enough that the meat just sits out in the open like that, to have some wayward soul molesting it…the idea was unbearable. “I’m going to punch him,” I said to myself. “Right in his fish-juice covered face. Somebody has to put an end to this.”
The poor worker woman continued trying to bat his fingers away, failing miserably. I nearly shouted at the top of my lungs – “Get your filthy hands off that fish, you bastard!” It’s difficult to say why The Disgusting Fish Eating Guy sparked such emotion in me. Maybe it was the way he disregarded the woman, totally ignored her, that made me shake with anger. I’m not sure. All I know is that I took two steps towards him, prepared to knock his ass out, and then stopped. Looked around. There was a small crowd, and my eyes went from face to face.
Laughter. Chuckling. Nobody cared. They were all amused. This was good for a chuckle, a fun break from life’s normal monotony. One younger Chinese man made eye contact with me. He must’ve noticed that my mouth hung open, my face red, no joy filling my countenance, and he smiled and pointed towards the Guy, as though my expression could only be explained by me not having yet seen the hilarity right in front of me.
All of this caused me to pause. What was happening? Why did this influence amusement in others, but rage inside me?
There’s a thin line between funny and offensive, and the Guy walked it finely. Eventually he stopped, turned away and hurried off. The woman looked relieved. The crowd dispersed. The show was over. I thought for a second. Maybe this was a moment I should remember. I thought about how I’d laughed at Christians when they’d get upset and offended, mocked old people for their steadfast emphasis on formality, or how I’d roll my eyes at people in general for making such a big deal out of things that I saw as little, feeling disrespected my slightly off-color jokes or by the wrong tone of voice. I’d always wanted the world to lighten up, but if they felt the same way that I had, watching that man shoving the squid into his mouth…well, maybe I just never understood them like I should have.
I walked over to the liquor section and bought some Baijiu. No, I told myself, I needed to relax. I’d become touchy, and that was no good. Booze in hand, I proceeded to the check out. The Disgusting Fish Eating Man was gone. The deal was no longer big, and probably never had been in the first place.