I nearly got into a fight this weekend

On Sunday night I found myself at Panda Express—a fast-food Chinese restaurant that I rarely frequent. It smelled great as I was driving past so I decided to stop in.

For those who have never been there, it’s the type of place where you grab a plastic tray and point at one or more of the precooked entrees (Kung Pao chicken, beef & broccoli, etc.) sitting behind cafeteria glass, and they’ll scoop it onto a plate for you. To help you decide, they also offer free samples. Just tell them what you want to try, and they’ll pluck a piece of meat with a toothpick and hand it to you over the counter.

There was a short line when I got inside, which was fine with me because I had no idea what I wanted to eat. This was one of those times where my height was a huge advantage because I was able to see over the people in line—particularly the short, white millennial directly in front of me who was wearing a wife-beater, saggy gym shorts, and a knit stocking cap even though it was 78 degrees outside.

The server behind the counter whose sole job was to hand out samples saw me craning my neck above the crowd and asked if I wanted to try anything. I pointed at a chicken dish when Eminem snapped, “Did you just cut in front of me?”

Keep in mind I was standing behind him at the time and a moment earlier he had declined a free sample by telling the same server he already knew what he bleeping wanted. Still, she apologized to him and asked if he had changed his mind and wanted a sample. But instead of answering her, he turned around and glared at me and said, “You better not cut in front of me.”

I’m not a violent guy—I’m truly not—but if we had been somewhere without witnesses and security cameras, I would have punched him in the throat. There was just something about his attitude and disrespect that rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, given our size differential, I’m guessing the only reason he spoke to me like that was because of the public setting. Witnesses gave him courage.

Given the situation, I managed to keep my cool. I didn’t shove him, and I didn’t yell. Instead, I simply said, “I wasn’t cutting. I was just getting a sample.”

He mumbled some curse words under his breath, but I ignored them. I was too focused on my sample to care. I tried a piece of General Tso’s chicken, then put my toothpick in a plastic cup on the counter where everyone in line had disposed of theirs. It even had a small label wrapped around it that said, “USED TOOTHPICKS”.

After that, I stepped back in line behind Eminem and waited for my turn. By then, he was already placing his order to go. The main server filled his carton with food as he walked away from me toward the cash register. I figured he was out of my life for good when karma decided to teach him a lesson.

Instead of walking out the exit, Eminem decided to walk back through the line to brush past me. I saw him coming from a mile away and was prepared to strike if he so much as bumped me. He was glaring at me the entire time, but as he got closer, I think reality set in. I was ten inches taller, outweighed him by more than fifty pounds, and was willing to stand my ground. Unless he had a weapon, he was not going to win.

At the last moment, he reconsidered his decision and broke eye contact. At that point, I think he realized he couldn’t just turn around and walk the other way. It would’ve looked like he had chickened out, so he looked for something—anything—to help him save face. At that point, he spotted the cup of toothpicks on the counter. From his angle, the label on the cup said, “TOOTHPICKS”. From my angle, I could see the word, “USED”.

In this case, one little word made all the difference.

Eminem cut right in front of me, which I willingly allowed, and plucked a toothpick from the container. Keep in mind he didn’t have a sample and had been too focused on me to notice the other customers who had eaten meat off the toothpicks, licked sauce from them, and had picked morsels of food and built-up plaque from their teeth with these tiny spears. I watched in delight/horror as he put the used toothpick into his mouth, and I tried not to laugh/vomit when he made an obnoxious slurping sound, as if he had been expecting a normal toothpick but had gotten a flavored one instead. He enjoyed the taste so much he reached into the cup and pulled out three more toothpicks and shoved them under the brim of his stocking cap for later use.

To me, it was a gift that kept on giving.

At that point, I had to look away or else I was going to crack up. I glanced over the counter and happened to lock eyes with the server in charge of free samples. She had witnessed the whole scene and had placed both hands over her mouth to hold in laughter as her eyes moistened with tears of joy. My guess is she dealt with assholes like him all the time, and this was one of the few times the universe had stepped in to make things right. The main server had seen it, too, but her gag reflex got the better of her. I honestly thought she was going to throw up on the pork chow mein or honey walnut shrimp. Thankfully, she turned from the counter and ran toward the back of the kitchen before she spewed on the buffet.

What had started out as a potential fight ended in a karmic knockout. About the only thing I regret is not pointing out his mistake. I would have loved to see his reaction to his own stupidity. Then again, if I had pointed out his idiocy, he would have stopped with a single toothpick. But by keeping my cool and staying quiet, Eminem took four. What a dumbass!

In the end, the food was mediocre at best, but it was a meal I will remember fondly.