Sichuanese cuisine satisfies me without quite satiating me. Every day, I consume metric tons of fresh, nutrient-clogged vegetables. And they make me feel pretty damn nourished, those veggies. The antioxidants perhaps even counteract all the smoking and drinking I do when I'm not eating. But Sichuanese cuisine does not fill me. By the time 3 AM rolls around, when I'm tossing and turning and trembling in the subzero temperatures of my own bedroom, by then a colossal abyss has opened up in my stomach and my lone desire - more than warmth, more than sleep - is to fill that gastrointestinal abyss: to devour mass quantities of processed meat, and that right soon. So, on those nights, I will stumble out of my apartment in my pajamas, catch a cab to McDonald's, and there, I will devour two double cheeseburgers and a spicy chicken sandwich. Sometimes I order a Coke.
This is what happened last Sunday night. Around 3 AM, I caught a cab to the McDonald's downtown. I waited in the queue a bit. Several drunk college kids cut in front of me. I let them. This is typical. So was the drunk man over by the McDonald's Playplace, ranting at the fluorescent lights, brandishing a fist in front of his wife's face. Typical. If he didn't hit her, it would've been typical. If he actually hit her, it would've been typical. As a volunteer, I am not allowed to intervene. I can only watch. And I have been watching for just about two years now. Everything is typical to me. Being cut in line is typical. Domestic abuse is typical. I can do nothing to change things. I can only pretend that I don't exist. That way, I don't get upset when I am cut in line. That way, I don't get upset when a man beats his wife in public. Otherwise, I could get in trouble. Why, I could lose my visa.
When I finally got to the front of the line, I ordered two double cheeseburgers and a spicy chicken sandwich. I went upstairs to take a pee. And when I came back down, the drunk man was waiting for me. I juked around him and reached for my brown plastic tray and the delicious waxpapered bundles thereupon. And the drunk man grabbed me by the throat with both hands and started choking me towards the door. I threw him loose with an agility unknown to me. And I shoved him away. The first words out of my mouth happened to be English: "What the fuck is your problem, you drunk fuck?"
The drunk man charged, and immediately the McDonald's staff poured out of the kitchen. But they restrained me, not the drunk man. Four McDonald's employees descended upon me and dragged me outside, out to the street.
"But what about him?" I asked in Chinese. "He's drunk. I'm not. He wants to fight. I don't. Get him. I just want my burgers."
The McDonald's employees tried to keep me out, but I wriggled my way loose and stormed back into the restaurant.
"I'm hungry," I said.
As I approached the counter, the drunk grabbed me by the neck again and threw me back outside.
"Get out of here, foreigner!" he shouted. "Get out of here, white devil!"
His wife whispered apologies in my ear, but did not try to stop him. She just walked alongside as her husband choked me and screamed at me. Luckily, he was drunk. He was easy enough to shake off. The McDonald's employees, by then, were just trembling in the background.
"What's the problem?" I asked.
"You can speak Chinese," he gasped.
"A little," I said. "What's the problem?"
"What's the problem?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "What's the problem? Why did this just happen? Why are you so angry? You don't even know me. And you just tried to strangle me. I'm hungry. You threw me out onto the street."
He shuffled his feet around a bit, then looked up at me like a child, like I was his father.
"Well," he said, "my cell phone isn't working."
He took out his phone and slid the casing loose. He pointed at the battery. My phone isn't working, he said. And this was a big deal, apparently.
"Well," I said, "if you talk to the McDonald's employees in the kitchen, maybe they can help you. Probably, the battery's just run out. It's probably not that big a deal."
The drunk man was hanging on my every word. I could see that he was about to cry.
"Just ask them if they have a phone charger," I said. "They probably do."
He didn't apologize for anything, but he did as I said. I collected my burgers. I sat down in the darkest corner of the restaurant. The police showed up a few minutes later, and they helped fix up the drunk man's phone. I ate my burgers. And I left. Outside, it was cold and damp and raining just enough to freezerburn my bones. And that was when I decided to leave Nanchong for a while.