Sunday, October 31, 2010


I sure was hungry and anxious to see what the guy across from me would be fishing out of the murky caldron in the center of the table. There were five us sitting around the two little Formica tables pushed together, I was given my own little wire basket on a stick to ladle whatever I wanted out of the liquid I was warned wasn’t for consumption, I felt safe going for the familiar chunks of thick white potato that had picked up the flavor of the grey water. They were delicious.

It was followed by something that looked like an uncircumcised cocktail wiener, a little red bulbous tube peeping out of a pale sheet of fleshiness. “Frank,” the guy who was quickly piling goodies on my plate, spoke no English, and could only say “beef,” redundantly identifying the only item on the plate that was recognizable to me. “Emily,” the 21 year old girl who ran the place spoke a fair amount of English, said, “I don’t know what you people call this,” to whatever morsel I pointed to. Her husband looked on, lovingly at her, kindly amused by me as I pointed at each new dripping gift; they all were impressed with my willingness to eat each and every unsolved mystery on my plate.

Truth is, it was all quite tasty; the company pleasant; “Emily,” her husband, “Frank” and the delivery guy from Ecuador, who spoke little to no English but had an affinity for fine Men’s cologne which he reapplied like he was going on a date each time he ran out to make a delivery. Everyone was up and down from the table – multitasking between the bountiful feast and keeping the Friday night business hopping. Originally this dinner was planned for their entire extended family, but some little one got sick which meant the 18 that were expected had to stay home to tend to him, there must have been enough food for thirty people; fish chunks and unidentified crawlers and beef parts and pork bits all in cellophane yellow Styrofoam trays, there were bags and bags of other unidentifiables they would tear open and one by one they would plop them in the gas fueled divided metal pot before us. Emily was the only one that spoke English and boy, she loved to talk. She met her husband when she was out with some girlfriends in Coney Island. He was out with his boy friends. He had one of his boy friends tell one of her girlfriends that he thought she was nice, and the rest was history. She took him home to meet her parents, the owners of the place, they liked him because he was fresh from China, and a fine cook, they thumbs upped him for their daughter and immediately put him to work in the restaurant. A few months later the young couple gave birth to a daughter and Emily’s mom and dad found their opening to stay home from the grueling restaurant, deciding to raise the child themselves, sending the young couple to run the business full time. Emily had wanted a career in beauty, which was surprising as she wore no makeup, was a bit overweight and a tad slovenly, her sister had been allowed to go to college in Boston, which Emily pronounced “Booostone” – to pursue a degree in accounting but Emily had been given full responsibility to run the the business her parents had started – which prevented her from graduating high school by two classes. She would now have to get her GED to make something of herself but her friends told her they were all too stupid to take the test, it was “very, very hard,” she told me. I had heard the GED was difficult – an overwhelming task with a limited vocabulary, I imagined. I wanted to tell her she wasn’t stupid but she was on a breathless tear to tell me her life story, so I just nodded with each new development and let Emily’s story unfold.

She explained how she had come from China when she was 14 and how she, of course, spoke no English. “I thank a black boy for my English,” she said. She said it a couple of times, her eyes wide and grateful. “I thank a black boy for my English,” she smiled, her moon-like face glowing over the bubbling pot – the fluorescent light making it look magical as she told the story. “He said, Fuck YOU to me,” she nodded. “What do you mean,” I said, the four words I was able to slip in during our conversation. “He come up to me in school and say, ‘Fuck YOU’ to me. I say, “Thank you!” and all the kids around laugh.” She had no idea what “fuck you” meant, but she felt the pain of all the other children laughing at her that day in the lunchroom at school. She went home and asked her parents, “What do fuck YOU mean.” They explained it to her and she was “Oh very so mad.” And from that day she made it her business to learn the language. The next time the boy came up to her and said, “Fuck YOU,” she said, “you TOO,” in response, and from that day she was accepted by all the other school children as one of their own. “See!, I thank this black boy for my English!!” It was a great story, opening with the curious teaser and all, I sat next to her like a child getting a bedtime story, still sucking the tender meat out of the mystery creatures that were put in front of me.

We both sat talking, well, her talking and me listening til the boy from Ecuador started mopping and her husband was finishing up his meticulous clean up of his in-laws' take out place. I stood up and thanked them all but they were focused on their end of day tasks, Emily said, “I’m glad you eat with us, I love the big family dinner. You come please again.” I walked the half block home in the first cold night, that was nice, I thought, feeling toasty and a bit too full having eaten everything piled in front of me by “Frank”, Emily, Her Husband, The Ecuadorian Delivery Guy; my new little Chinese family.


  1. Maybe next time you'll get to tell a story. In which case, you will no doubt be eating free Chinese food for life.

  2. Ahhahahahaaa.... that's great.