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Dining Out

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The man enters the Wiener's Circle, the hot-dog stand at Clark and Wrightwood, with more than just a hint of bravado. He opens both of the double doors in a wide, sweeping motion and plants himself firmly in the center of the doorway. After looking at the upper and lower perimeters of the doorway twice, he looks over either shoulder, as if to see if he was being followed. Finally, surveying the menu over the counter, he stands on his toes and squints several times, all the while holding one of the doors open with an elbow.

The crisp January wind prompts the man to close the door behind him. He walks to the counter in three, maybe four, deliberate, theatrical steps. The heavyset woman behind the counter smirks at him.

"What will you have?" she asks, reaching for a cup of ice water. She sounds just like Roseanne Barr. She takes a sip of the water, then looks down at the man's feet and laughs. "Hey! Aren't you cold?"

The man is wearing a battered pair of brown Gucci loafers and no socks. His jeans, splattered with small clumps of dirt and spots of red ink, are too small, stopping three or four inches above the ankle. An oversized, white button-down shirt (with the monogram RJR on the breast pocket)--frayed around the collar but freshly laundered--is covered by a blue-and-white letterman's jacket. That, too, is ill fitting and tearing in places. But what stands out more than anything is his hair: a full-grown Angela Davis Afro. Actually, it's more like an unruly bush--uncombed and badly in need of a trim.

"Cold?" he repeats, in a singsong Caribbean accent. He scratches an ear and shakes his head in confusion. He slips his right foot out of his loafer to scratch his ankle, then replaces it in the shoe.

He struts over to a chair about six feet away and sits down. "Cold," he says, his voice full of hostility. "I ain't cold. Why? You cold?" Suddenly, in a lunge, he jumps back over to the counter. "Just because you cold, that don't mean I'm cold. I mean--" He stops for a moment, struck by a thought. He opens his mouth to say something, leaves it open for ten or so seconds, then closes it. Then he starts to speak in a rapid tone. His words seem well chosen, and his tone is somewhat pretentious. "I mean, you a woman--you can have babies and things. That's probably why you're cold." Then he steps back, a look of smug satisfaction on his face.

"Oh, I'm cold because I can have babies?" the Roseanne woman asks. The man squints at her. "Take care of this guy, someone," she tells her staff, then disappears in the back.

A girl with stringy blond hair who's wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt comes up to the counter from the deep fryer. She looks over the man two or three times and smiles. "Can I help you, sir?" she says, a bit harshly.

Just then a couple enters the restaurant. Both late 20s, both blond; he wears an Armani suit, she's in a pseudo-Chanel. They hold hands as they look over the menu. The man turns around to face the couple, scratches his head, and turns back to face the counter. Then he turns around again toward the couple, directly facing the woman. He sniffs loudly around her face and hair like a dog might.

"Jesus," she whispers, stepping back a foot or two. She clutches the arm of her companion. He clears his throat, pushes his girlfriend a foot or two back, and stands up next to the man. "Look here, buddy," he says.

He looks at the woman's companion in astonishment. "What? You talking to me?"

The man in the Armani suit straightens his tie. "I'm talking to you, all right. Now stop that." He speaks in a tone you might use to tell a kid to stop finger painting with his Jell-O.

"What?" the black man asks. "What am I doing?"

"You're sniffing her, that's what you're doing!"

The man squints, pivots, and exhales deeply. "This, man, this is America. It's a free country. I can smell what I want, when I want. You hear of a anti-sniffing or -smelling law? Huh?"

"Well, still, I mean, it's offensive."

Before the black man can reply, the perky blond girl behind the counter asks him for his order again. He pauses for a moment, then states his order grandly. "The French fried potatoes."

The girl smiles, ringing up the order. "The French fried potatoes?" The man nods eagerly. "Cook 'em good," he implores her in a whisper. "And I want the Original Recipe."

The girl in the T-shirt tries not to laugh. Her face is red and her eyes are tearing. "The Original Recipe, sir?" she repeats, as several coworkers begin laughing.

"Yeah, the Original Recipe," he says, nodding, "not that other stuff."

"We have only one award-winning recipe for our French fried potatoes," the girl says with a sly smile. "Now, if it's the Original Recipe that you want, that's Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the closest one is over on--"

"Silence!" the man shouts, cocking his head and baring his teeth. He steps back and sniffs the space around him. His speech is rapid-fire. "I-want-French-fried-potatoes. And-I-want-the-Original-Recipe. I-want-it-now!"

Roseanne, who is on the phone, looks up. The yuppie couple shifts uncomfortably. The girl in the T-shirt opens her mouth to say something but closes it again after a second or two. Instead, she holds out her hand and tells him the price of his order, a dollar and change.

He reaches in his pocket, producing five or six crumpled bills. He counts them slowly. After a moment of deliberation, he looks at the girl and grins. "I ain't got enough," he claims.

She reaches over the counter and points to his money. "You've got plenty," she insists in a serious tone. "Now give me two dollars and you'll get change back."

He looks at her strangely. Deciding to trust her, he hands her a dollar bill, smoothing out the wrinkles. She shakes her hand impatiently. "I need one more," she says. "C'mon, you'll get 70-something cents back."

There is a long wait. The man in the battered loafers sneers at the girl behind the counter. "I'm going to McDonald's," he says, and storms out of the establishment.

The angry man stalks out to the curb. In the middle of Clark Street he pauses, digs in his jacket pocket, and takes out a pair of oversized reflector sunglasses. He puts them on and marches across the street.

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