JR and I keep running into each other at the coffee shop across the street. Our breaks are synchronous. The first time that I ran into him, he was taking his shoes and socks off on one of the smoking benches outside.
“That’s disgusting.” I said.
”These dogs got to be free.”
The Asian girl who always wears a red dress that is always open in the back, revealing her red bra strap, who probably is not really Asian because she might have been born in America and who went to one of the nicest high schools in New York and college for creative writing or literature is sitting next to him smoking a cigarette.
He asks me where I’m going for lunch.
“Probably the same place that I always go.” I said.
“Well, I used to go to this Halal cart down the street, but recently I’ve been going to a new one across from the park by the Starbucks. The guy’s getting pretty famous.”
He tells me that I should try a place called Agata Christie’s.
“They have a prix fixe lunch for 7.50. It’s a little confusing at first, but you get one meat, one vegetable, and one pasta. Mashed potatoes even count as a vegetable. My recommendation, get the chicken, the macaroni and cheese, and the mashed potatoes.”
I take him up on his recommendation and head to Agata Christie’s which is a few blocks South, maybe, and one block East, maybe. I’m terrible with directions. I see the sign and go in. It doesn’t look at all like what I was expecting. It’s definitely confusing. It’s a pay by the pound grocery store. There are counters for meat, bakery, seafood, premade meals, and I guess vegetables, but I don’t see any signs for prix fixe.
The place is shaped like a U. I walk through its entirety and go out the other side. Taking a breath of fresh air. I’m sweating. I don’t want to go back inside. I figure I could get a gyro again, but now that I’m here, at Agata Christie’s, the halal cart is pretty far away.
Then I notice another entrance. I go inside and find Jillian. She’s sitting at a table inside.
I approach her and she tells me that now that I have found this place, I am an official Page employee.
“Who told you about it?” she asks.
“Not to brag, but I’m the one who told him.” she says, reminding me to get a Snapple. “It comes with the meal.”
A diva of a black man steps in front of me just as I’m about to get in line. He picks his sides and as he’s being served he complains that he isn’t getting as much as the person who was in front of him, causing the server to scoop him a bit more pasta.
“Baby boy, why you doin me like this?” he says.
And the guy keeps going, making little mountains of meal in the styrofoam container.
Finally after what seems like endless scooping, the diva takes his meal to the register.
The server starts scooping mine.
I order chicken.
“Which one?” the server asks.
I didn’t know there were going to be choices. JR didn’t prep me for this.
There are three: Moroccan, pesto basil, and, like, this other one that I don’t even remember.
So I choose the Moroccan.
The guy who cut in front of me is leaning into the register. His voice is so loud. He’s saying, “You’re friend there didn’t do me right. Scoop me up some more fish, sweetheart.”
So she peels back his meal, but the coworker who originally served him and who was serving me until the register woman came and grabbed the spoon back from him tells the register worker that they could get in serious trouble for this.
“Ah, come on, you don’t gotta be all stingy, just let her keep scoopin.” says the diva.
So they do, and his container gets stuffed, and he pays and leaves.
I get macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes, just like JR told me to.
I want to sit here, inside, but Jillian is here, and God it just feels so intrusive, so I wave to her and exit.
I end up eating my meal in front of JR, who is still sitting on the bench with his bare feet out. The Asian American who smokes with a red bra strap showing has left.
A sign on the benches says that they are for Grind customers only, but I am a regular Grind customer, so much so that they know my order and where I work without me having to say anything. So I take a seat.
I hate talking with food being shoveled into my face. It puts a real strain on friendships. But at least we can talk about books. JR tells me that he’s been reading The Martian, but that he didn’t like it because it was too straightforward and plot stricken. I tell him that I’m no longer reading House of Leaves because I hated it.
“I’m reading My Struggle now.” I say, between macaroni mouthfulls.
“You should take a super bite.” he says.
“It’s where you get a big bite of everything all at once.”
“Alright.” I say, peeling some more chicken off its bone which I wish wasn’t there as it has caused me more than once to reach into my mouth to pull it out.
“This is good.” I say, with the super bite in my mouth.
We talk about television some. The shows we’re watching and what movies we’ve seen recently. It turns out that we both just saw The Conversation, my current favorite movie, and the French Connection, which we both watched in conjunction with The Conversation as they both star Gene Hackman.
“I never knew that he was such a great guy.” I say.
“Yeah, he hasn’t always been old.” says JR.
“There’s a lot of food here.” I say.
“Hopefully it’s enough to get you through the day.”
“My wife says I’m a growing boy.”
“You sure are something.” he says, rising from his bench and putting his dogs back into their shoes. “See you next break.”