Live Through This

Barbecued Baloney

An open letter to a random stranger.

Illustration by Ana.

Illustration by Ana.

Dear Middle-Aged Stranger at the Hawaiian BBQ,

When I saw you at the Hawaiian barbecue restaurant, it wasn’t immediately obvious that you were evil. You weren’t twirling a handlebar mustache while stroking a goatee, nor were you kicking a kitten or rubbing your hands together while going MWAHAHA. By all appearances, you were an utterly typical suburban man in his late 40s or early 50s.

I was standing at the front counter, about to place my order. You were at a table with your family, enjoying your food. It was late, almost closing time, and you had apparently made a separate order for some food to take home, because right before I ordered my Spam musubi, the teenage cashier called you to the counter to pick up your to-go food. He put your containers in a plastic bag, then placed the bag on a dine-in tray, and, smiling, pushed the tray over to you.

Now, the cashier obviously didn’t need to put a to-go order on a tray, but I imagine he’d been placing food on trays all day, and at that point in the evening, he was probably tired and operating on autopilot. Most people probably would have just grabbed their bag of food off the tray (give or take a polite “thank you”) and gone gentle into that good night. You, instead, decided to be a condescending weirdo and harsh the peaceful vibe of the only restaurant in town with quality surf art on the walls by snatching up the plastic bag and saying, “I don’t need the tray, you idiot.”

You idiot. You idiot?

I don’t get it, man. Are you like some kind of aspiring fast food despot? Was this outrageous overreaction to a mistake that wasn’t even really a mistake the first stage in your reign of terror? Step one: Belittle a well-meaning minimum-wage employee at small-town Hawaiian BBQ joint. Step two: Deliver “customer’s always right” speech at a Taco Bell. Step three: Proclaim yourself THE Burger King.

When you aren’t trying to secure a place on a BuzzFeed listicle entitled “50 Greatest Hawaiian BBQ Villains,” I imagine that the rest of your free time is spent giving every adorable cat video you see a thumbs-down, gleefully spoiling episodes of Game of Thrones, and playing Quidditch for Slytherin.

Dude, you’re horrible. Not just because of this incident, but because I suspect it wasn’t isolated, and that you routinely insult people in this manner. What’s worse, you probably believe you were in the right. And while it may not have been a big deal to you, it was a big deal to me.

Maybe you think I’m overreacting, and that’s fine, but hearing you call this kid—he was just a kid!—an idiot was disturbing. You’re a jerk, that’s clear, and I’ve certainly encountered jerks before. But what really upset me about your behavior was its classist undertones. I’ve worked in the service industry, and I know all about the entitlement that overtakes many a customer when facing someone they sense is even half a notch “below” them on the class ladder. There is a surprisingly large subset of the human race who believe it’s perfectly acceptable to verbally abuse cashiers, waiters, salespeople, bartenders, hairstylists, receptionists, car mechanics, housekeepers, etc. Does it possibly complicate things even more that the cashier at the Hawaiian BBQ was young and Asian, and you are neither? Yes, but I don’t want to assign to you any incendiary belief systems that you may or may not subscribe to, so let’s just go with what’s safe to assume: Anyone who knee-jerkily calls another person an idiot because of a non-mistake that has not inconvenienced anyone in any way is lugging around some miserable mental baggage.

But you know what’s actually worst of all? The fact that, despite all of these feelings, I didn’t say anything to you at the time. I was the only other customer in the joint besides you and your family, and I was outraged at your treatment of that poor guy, and yet I just stood there behind you in line, seething in silence. And then I went ahead and ordered my Spam musubi. As he took my order, the cashier flashed me an uneasy smile that I read as an expression of embarrassment.

Let me tell you a little story. When I was in the second grade, I was punched in the eye by a boy twice my size because I had defended a friend he had been teasing. I’m not sure if I’d do the same today: Age and the knowledge of how much smoother my life will run if I avoid confronting loudmouths, bullies, and Hawaiian-barbecue goons like yourself have dulled the courage that came to me so naturally when I was younger. I could have confronted you—though, knowing how you tend to lash out at people for little to no reason at a moment’s notice, that might have been dangerous. But I did have another option: I could have simply said to the cashier when it was my turn to order, “I’m sorry that that guy was such a jerk.” Not availing myself of this opportunity to show a little simple solidarity with a fellow human is what I’m most ashamed of.

Don’t let this go to your head or anything, but in a very, very small way I admire you. I admire your ability to speak up when something bothers you. All I’ve done is write a letter to a person who will never actually read it.



  • mangointhesky June 16th, 2014 7:30 PM

    I LOVED this! The Hawaiian BBQ guy you’re describing seems likely to annoy/insult/(whatever level harshness of the word you want to use) just about everybody…
    I also love the beginning, about the goatee and mustache (even if he didn’t have one, it was funny)

  • beansprout June 16th, 2014 7:33 PM

    i can totally relate to this wow. i spend so much time thinking about all the witty retorts i didn’t make and the kind words i never offered… hindsight is 20/20 and all that jazz

  • whatevermegan June 16th, 2014 8:22 PM

    I’m pretty sure I’ve met this guy’s brother before, but I called him out and he walked out with his tail between his legs.

  • Catrine June 16th, 2014 9:02 PM

    That is unbelievable ugh. I really thought that what you wrote in this line “…I’ve experienced firsthand the entitlement that overtakes many a customer when facing someone they sense is even half a notch “below” them on the class ladder. ” is so accurate. Many people I have encountered say things exactly to that extent.

    One of my best friends has very dark eyes and dark hair, and works at a dock that sells seafood. A customer jokingly asked her “since you’re Mexican why don’t you go work at Taco Bell?”.

    It’s infuriating on so many levels. A. His remark was unbelievably racist, enforcing a stereotype that Mexicans work exclusively at Taco Bell & not at seafood restaurants. B. He’s insulting a teenage girl with a minimum wage summer job, (“below” on the class ladder) C. She is not Mexican; he is making an assumption based on appearance.

    My friend’s manager made that customer leave immediately, so I guess there is some hope in that.

  • honorarygilmoregal June 16th, 2014 9:35 PM

    Great open letter! That guy had no right to be rude to the cashier.

  • Tangerine June 16th, 2014 9:52 PM

    Nothing like a minimum-wage service industry job to teach you that being “grown up” is only a state of mind, and everyone on earth sometimes acts like a rude child.

  • Adrienne June 17th, 2014 12:40 AM

    What a jerk! :( Something similar happened to my co-worker when we worked at a golf course.

    Some rental carts were parked blocking the path to the parking lot and some lady saw me and was like ‘these are in my way, move them!’ My co-worker apologize for the person who did it and start moving them. As she came back for the 3rd cart, the woman said to her friend “It’s just some people can’t get any better jobs, this is all they’ll do with their lives. It’s not the girls fault she doesn’t understand this is all she will contribute to society.”

    It’s really funny because this was in the fall just before my co-worker left to attend one of the top universities in the country in a really competitive major.

  • Emily June 17th, 2014 12:46 AM

    Wow I experienced this level of rudeness today!
    I was at the grocery store and I noticed the car that I was behind pulling into the parking lot had a tail light that had burnt out. Obviously, if it were me, I’d want to know that my light was out because it’s not like you can see the back of your car while you’re using your tail light (and you can get a ticket for it being out), so after the woman driving the car got out and politely told her that her tail light was out. Instead of saying thanks or even ignoring me, she snapped, “Don’t you think I know that!? Not everyone has a rich daddy to buy their car for them” and went on and on about how I was a spoiled teenager and then she spat on my car. I was completely appalled but I didn’t say anything. Maybe she was just having a bad day but I couldn’t believe someone would say things like that to someone they’d never seen/met before who was just trying to do them a favor.
    Humanity really disappoints me sometimes.

  • llamalina June 17th, 2014 4:04 AM

    Oh my god this is AMAZING. I used to work at a grocery store and it’s seriously incredible how ruthlessly mean people can be to innocent friendly courtesy clerks making minimum wage, and for no good reason either. It just makes me go WTFFFF?!?! I’ll never understand it.

  • alaqua June 17th, 2014 6:00 AM

    I constantly have to put up with these entitled jerks at my workplace. On the back end of a 9 hour late shift it can be difficult to put up with customers whiny complaints, and double that with the way customers talk down to me as though I were a peasant makes things really difficult.

  • Kirthi June 17th, 2014 8:10 AM

    Playing quidditch for Slytherin. Only my dream job.

    On a seriouser note you are totally right. Assholes who think they rule the world must be stopped. My mother speaks out against such people with amazing spirit but I usually squirm with embarrassment. I have also come to regret it like you.
    Im gonna remember this the next time something like this happens. And I’ll speak up. :)

  • cornfed June 17th, 2014 11:11 AM

    Echoing everyone else’s comment that guy is a SUPREME A-HOLE.
    In my past I was such a pacifist and if slighted or if seeing someone else slighted, I kept my mouth shut. With age I’ve felt like I have lost any and all patience for people like this guy. So, I’ve been speaking up alot more…
    This is a good and bad thing, you never know how people are going to react if you call them on their B.S., but if you see a way to approach them in a kind-hearted, well meaning way DO IT.
    I’m working on a balance between being so quick to anger and keeping the peace. Thanks for this!

    PS If all else fails we could always try the Hannibal method and eat the rude…

  • Jane Choe June 17th, 2014 2:24 PM

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS. I’m a waitress at a diner and I have to deal with so much shit every single day from crazy customers

  • MeBeKi June 17th, 2014 5:45 PM

    I loved this letter! I will never understand why people feel the need to be cruel to people in service positions:/

  • annalucy1997 June 17th, 2014 8:04 PM

    Having worked at a popular fast good chain for nearly a year I can relate to this so much! I have been so close to quitting my job on numerous occasions due to the way my co-workers and I are treated by ignorant, disrespectful customers. One incident involved a man shouting abuse at my manager, whilst another time I had food thrown at me because an order was incorrect. I cannot believe that people think it’s acceptable to treat others like this purely because they are behind a counter. Working in retail has allowed me to develop a high level of respect and tolerance for others, if is amazing how a smile and a joke can make somebodies shift a little bit brighter!

  • RatioRae June 18th, 2014 2:38 AM

    I’ll definitely try to speak up more now. This is a daily occurrence, sadly. :(