The other day, I was sitting down to read my daily article digest email, and I came across this article called, “The Worst Waiter in History.” The title grabbed me, and I got my coffee ready and sat down for a fun read about a charmingly rude waiter named Edsel Ford Fong.
San Francisco in the late 1960s was a place for lovers, poets, and peace-makers. Positivity and goodwill were as omnipresent as the fog, and people were greeted with open arms and rosy cheeks. Unless, of course, you were on the second story of Sam Wo Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown.
Past steaming woks and chopping blocks and up a narrow, creaky staircase, Edsel Ford Fong — the world’s most insulting waiter — greeted patrons with a “sit down and shut up!”
I love a good character story, and so far, so good. What a contrast to the age of Peace and Love, a waiter who insults his patrons, before being an insulting waiter was actually a marketable skill at a schticky restaurant!
Routinely, he cussed out his customers, sexually accosted female companions, and unapologetically spilled soup across laps.
Wait, back the fuck up. Do you see that part about being sexually accosted is stuck in the middle, between the swearing and the soup-spilling? Sexual assault is not something that a charmingly-mean scamp does. And yet, from the tone of the rest of the article, you would think that being assaulted by this asshole was a compliment!
The article does mostly focus on how rude he was to customers, like how he would fuck with people and make them wash dishes in order to be served, or how he would take away people’s chairs if he felt they were less important than other customers, or even how he would refuse to let customers order the fried shrimp because it was a “rip-off.” In fact, one customer mentions how he frequented the restaurant for years and never got to try the fried shrimp!
The author goes on to say that the restaurant was popular for the food, and eventually for the legendary rudeness of Edsel, who is compared to the “Soup Nazi.” If you’ll recall from Seinfeld, even though the Soup Nazi was known for being strict and rude, his soup was so good that you would pretend you didn’t know your own girlfriend just to get a bowl. I’m pretty sure the chef didn’t serve up a side of rape culture with his food though, so there is that. Edsel’s food was apparently also pretty good, so good that this article glosses over Edsel’s many documented sexual assaults against women, as if they were just some bitter garnish served with the food or one of those weird carrot flowers that you’re not sure whether to eat or not. That’s the only way I can describe what the author writes next:
Edsel was also known for his crass “flirtation:” an entire wall at Sam Wo was dedicated to Polaroid photos of the waiter in various degrees of groping unsuspecting young females. “A charming first date destination if you never want to see your date again,” wrote one reviewer in the late 70s. “My ex-wife ended up on the wall. The groping part was the only time I ever saw Edsel smile. She was not amused.” (The pictures we’ve included in this article confirm Edsel’s perennial smile in the presence of ladies — we don’t condone his behavior.)
(Emphasis mine.) Oh yes, there are many smiling pictures of Edsel in the presence of “females.” And the author has that sentence at the end about not condoning his behavior, and yet he writes about Edsel in such a way as to hand-wave sexual assault. Like, this dude was so obviously a creepy pervert that it had to be mentioned in the article, but oh look over here a picture where he’s not groping a woman! See, everyone’s having a great time at Edsel’s Happy Fun Rape Shack! Where “crass flirtation” equals “photos of unsuspecting females being sexually assaulted!” Why aren’t these bitches amused, can’t they recognize a fucking compliment when it grabs their ass?
Here’s another customer recalling a story:
“He was serving a tourist family, looked down the young teen daughter’s dress, and said, ‘Hmm, nice little apples!’ They stormed out, returned with a beat cop, who gave Eddie a stern talking to and assured the parents that whatever he was saying in Chinese meant, ‘I’m sorry,’ though he didn’t seem particularly contrite. Edsel was certainly not what you’d call politically correct.”
Good ol’ Edsel. So, he sexually objectifies a teenage girl, gets “talked to” by a cop, and doesn’t give two fucks about it. Yep, sounds like someone I would describe simply as not “politically correct!”
Yet another diner recalls a time Edsel kissed his mother, but brushes it off as an inherent part of the man’s character. “If you knew Edsel, he kissed everybody and even got in a few back during his nightly repertoire!”
I guess that’s why this author doesn’t give a damn about Edsel’s groping picture collection, because hey, he probably groped everyone (well, every woman), and maybe he even got groped back!
In fact, Edsel was so fucking awesome, he was immortalized in city murals, and at one point he was quoted on a regular basis in a column in the San Francisco Chronicle by Herb Caen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Good job dudes! As if Mad Men didn’t do a good enough job of killing any nostalgia I had for living in the 1960’s.
On the one hand, you could argue that Edsel was a product of his time and that sexual harassment and assault were not taken as seriously back then as they are now. (I don’t buy that argument, but whatever.) But on the other hand, this article was written on May 26, 2014. That is two-thousand and fucking fourteen, well into what would appear to be the twenty-first fucking century. It is possible to write about a waiter who was known for his rudeness without just glossing over his regular and tolerated sexual abuse of women. And one sentence about how “we don’t condone his behavior” does not grant you a Get Out of Jail pass.
This is how the article ends:
But when she returned in the early 80s, she recalled an Edsel quite removed from his usual bitterness: “I was leaving and for some reason I felt I had to turn around: there he was, at the back of the kitchen, smiling at me. Then, he bowed. I never knew if his anger was genuine or an act, but it was always an experience.”
Yep, this sounds exactly like the ending of an article where some asshole’s behavior isn’t being condoned. Yeah, uh-huh, sure. (Insert Jennifer Lawrence gif here.)
Sometimes, I compare being a feminist to The Matrix, because once you understand the theory, you see injustice everywhere. That’s why I mentioned the invisibility of rape culture in the title, because clearly the author can’t see how clearly he is describing rape culture even though it’s smacking me in the face. And hell, I don’t even think it’s that invisible to people who don’t self-identify as feminists. I wasn’t too surprised to see that a man wrote this article, though. To be fair, the author could have just ignored the stories of sexual abuse, but instead chose to report on them in an honest portrayal of Edsel. However, by equating sexual harassment to “flirtation,” the message the article gives off is that sexual assault is normal and expected. That’s why, to me, this article was not so much about a rude waiter as it was about how some people don’t recognize rape culture for what it is.
Featured image: Edsel enjoying the company of women