Man in the mirror

Pub date August 26, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink

CHEAP EATS I love the fog. I love a street lamp. I love my log pile. I had just driven down from the shack so I needed to pee, plus lunch.

"Lamb burrito with chile lime sauce," I said, because I had to know.

"You like spicy?" he said.


"Then you should get the tropical lamb."

"Tropical lamb burrito," I said. "Do you have a bathroom?"

He motioned over his shoulder, through the kitchen, and I went there. But it was unclear. There was a guy sitting in a chair, an unmarked door behind him. I wondered if he was waiting.

"Bathroom?" he said.

When I nodded, he motioned over his shoulder, and as I walked past he said, and I quote, "Flush the toilet."

I closed the bathroom door behind me and took a deep breath, which I don’t normally like to do in unfamiliar bathrooms. But this particular breath seemed called for. I thought I might be maybe going to have a nervous breakdown.

Instead, I peed. I felt good about this decision.

There was no lock on the door. No toilet paper. No paper towels. I washed my hands, wiped them on my skirt, and carefully considered what to do next. Besides go sit down and eat my burrito, I mean. The thing is, I was pretty sure this guy outside the bathroom worked for me. He’d started out as a character in one of my old stories, sitting on a bucket at a gas station in Nevada, I believe, with a rotten spot in his forehead and maybe a worm in it. Uncle Somebody.

I’d made up the worm, of course, but I’m not making this other stuff up. Maybe he wanted a promotion. Tired of being a wormy character in an obscure old literary magazine, he waited for me in restaurants. Or maybe just this one. Who knows how long he’d been sitting there, saying to people, "Flush the toilet."

This rarely happens in movies, let alone restaurant reviews — that a fictional character (within the fiction of the movie, of course) charms, heel-clicks, or brute forces their way into "real life," or, for our purposes, Cheap Eats.

I tried to remember if I’d based my character on someone real, maybe someone I’d seen on the street in, oh, Albany, California, say. San Pablo Ave. I tried to remember what he’d said, in the story. It seemed important — the kind of detail that could make or break me. To give you an idea of my frame of mind, at the time.

I looked in the mirror and did not look good.

And now I was going to have to walk past him again. The way I saw it, not saying anything wasn’t an option. The question was what to say. I decided I would inform him they were out of toilet paper and paper towels. That way I would find out if he worked for the restaurant, and, if so, know that I was off the hook.

But when I went out there, finally, and walked past him and stopped and looked at him, sitting there with his legs spread and his elbows on his knees, leaning forward, I froze. He looked at me looking at him, and I said, in a flash of inspiration, "I flushed the toilet."

Sometimes you have to meet these people on their terms. It’s the last thing they expect, to be embraced by a parrot or a mirror. In fact it’s hard for even me to imagine, when I put it like that.

"What?" he said.

"I flushed the toilet," I said, and I turned and left him there, staring at the floor between his feet, either lost in thought, or defeated.

Either way, I enjoyed my weirdo burrito to the best of my ability, and its. Lamb in a spicy honey curry sauce, with black beans and rice in a tortilla. Chips on the side.

You don’t believe me, do you.


Mon.–Sat.: 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

909 San Pablo Ave, Albany

(510) 528-9011

No alcohol

Cash only

L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.