November 24, 2003
We live across the street from a very, very good roasted chicken place. It's middle-eastern, with an audience that appears to consist primarily of the Manhattan cab drivers who aren't of south Asian descent. (Yes, all three of them.) And, as far as I can tell, they only allow men as customers.
Yes, it's hard to find fault with any place that can offer an entire roasted chicken with pita bread and a fairly tasty dipping sauce for about seven bucks, but I do have to admit some discomfort at the fact that they have a strict, if unwritten, policy of ignoring any woman who comes in the door. At first, I thought it was a fluke of service, an imagined pattern, but having been in the joint a couple times now, I'm realizing it's just a charming idiosyncrasy of the place. Except for the fact that it's not fucking charming at all.
Having a guys-only atmosphere does strange things to a cheap middle eastern chicken takeout place. I think the falafel and grease and testosterone make for a dangerous combination. The first time I was in there, a cab driver walked in and got started in a shouting match with the second cook. Every one of these places has a second cook, and his job is to use his incredible fire retardant hands to wrestle food over a flame grill while never speaking to anyone, ever. The fact that 100% of the second cooks in these places are mute means that arguments with them are extremely infrequent, but this did not stop the intrepid troublemaker who'd entered Masculine Roasted Chicken Land. Worse, this argument erupted while I was waiting for my roast chicken.
I don't actually know what had prompted the flare-up at the grill, (get it?!) but I was able to quell the tantrum by sharing some of my profound wisdom with the angry interloper. ("Dude, shut up. You're never going to get served here now, and you're just making the rest of us have to wait longer.") I suspect he had some complaint with the pricing, which is hard to believe considering that they must barely be making pennies per order. But he did eventually leave, though not without waxing surprisingly philosophical at the cook.
Their shouting match had largely consisted of "fuck you!" being spit back and forth between them, and the soon-to-be-exiled angry amateur theologian had asserted that the cook's use of "the f-word" had suddently meant that the restaurant could no longer bill itself as halal. There's something perversely amusing about ending an argument at a fast food joint by appealing to someone's interpretation of spirituality. I assume everyone else in the place agreed, as a peaceful tranquility returned as soon as the angry cabby left. It was a pleasant scene as a mass of swarthy men sat sullenly under the fluorescent lights, sated by side dishes and lulled into the calmness that comes only from a belly full of chicken.
The next time I went to the chicken shop, though, the dark, inexplicable side of the manly poultry purveyors reared its head. A woman who was clearly not familiar with the rules of the house had stumbled into the place, unsuspecting of the contempt that would greet her arrival. She puzzled over the inscrutable board which displayed the spcials and tentatively placed her order. Though she was eventually served, the glacial pace of service, the complete lack of interaction between her and any of the men in the restaurant, and the velocity at which her meal was hurled at her when ready made certain that she'd not be returning any time soon.
Of course, it made me wonder myself why I'd come back to the place. The truth is, I'm a sucker for cheap, fast, tasty chicken. And I look like a cab driver anyway, most of the time.
Reheating some leftovers this evening, I was wondering why the chicken place seemed so familiar, despite its discomfiting social mores. It is a deeply misogynistic environment, filled with people paying a pittance and begrudging that they weren't getting more for free, prone to arguing with and shouting at each other in a cacophony of languages while never bothering to even listen to the points they were arguing against. And somehow its allures were enough to keep drawing me back in. I'm realizing they probably should have named the restaurant after the place it most resembles: The Blogosphere.
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