My girlfriend lives in Westchester, just fifteen minutes over the Bronx border. But when it comes to what we real New Yorkers take for granted, it might as well be Montana.
Staying over to do some freelance writing on a Monday, I begin getting hungry around noon. There isn’t much in the house, so I decide to walk down the road to the nearest diner or deli to get a quick bite. And walk. And walk…
After 20 minutes, three gas stations and a golf course, I realize I’m in trouble. As I slog through ice, mud and sub-freezing temperature, I start to get delirious. What to do? Trudge on? Turn back?
But wait. Up in the distance, past the fourth gas station. Can it be? Yes–it’s a mini-mall! With a Chinese restaurant! Hallelujah!
I step into Hong Kong Garden (really a seedy take out place with three tables) and get in line. The chunky guy in front of me very carefully studies the menu, then slowly says “I want to order…”
The Chinese young lady behind the counter has no patience for this bozo. “Yes, yes, you want to order. What? What?”
“Spare ribs…pork fried rice…General Tso’s chicken…”
“That’s it? OK. Next!”
I skip the menu, knowing exactly what I want. “Beef chow fun.”
“No? What about pan fried noodles?”
“Then just give me a wonton egg drop soup.”
I wait for my soup. And wait. Finally the chunky’s guy’s number is called. He rushes to the counter, as she verifies his order in two bags before him.
“Two spare rib. Two fried rice. Two General Tso’s chicken.”
He stares at her, confused.
“Why did you give me two of these?”
“That’s what you order.”
“No I didn’t.”
Yes! You said, “I want two order.”
“So, two order.”
Was this an Abbott and Costello routine? I size up the situation. This woman is an immigrant. Asian languages don’t use plurals. No need to say “two girls”–you’ve already said “two.” Two girl. Two order. Deal with it, my friend.
But the guy is incensed. I try to explain the mixup to him, then to her. Forget it. The guy screams that she should learn the language. An older man comes out–I think her father–and screams back at the guy. Why did he have to say “I want to order?” Just order, you nitwit! Meanwhile, where’s my damn wonton soup?
I finally get my order. Maybe I’ll hail a cab back to her house. Ha ha. After the long march, I heat up my soup. Yep, lousy, bland and thick with MSG.
And who’s fault is that? The answer is clear. Mine, for ordering Chinese food out of New York City!
The next day I’m home, writing until late at night. I get hungry again, and walk half a block to the Korean deli. Sushi? Lean corned beef? A great grilled chicken sandwich? The choices are endless.
When Dorothy Gale proclaimed “There’s no place like home,” I know she was talking about Kansas.
But let’s see her get a Banh Mi sandwich at two in the morning.