No Speak Engrish

The B32 is stuck on Franklin. It shouldn’t be at this hour but it is so I get off a stop early and walk across the street where the Hawaiian is finishing up her shift just before happy hour. 

"Okay if I sit at the bar?"

"Of course."

The second stool from the cash register is a seat that did not exist three years ago. Before they remodeled the place, the bar ran parallel to the front windows and then made a quick jag to the right, just enough to fit two seats facing the clock on the wall.

The bus. The bus is why I’m in here. Not poached eggs and hash. It’s the bus.

I used to hate runny eggs. But a couple years ago I pretended not to mind and now I order them sometimes.

The windows facing Franklin Street — if I stare long enough at one of them, I can see a girl drinking a mimosa during brunch. If I listen long enough, I can hear the musician talking about a French-Canadian a couple hours before his next Pete’s Candy Store gig.

Was not expecting the broccoli. Blame the bus.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend of a friend who could not remember where we had first met. (It was Tribeca, four years ago.) But since she couldn’t remember, I decided to pick a different place and a different time. 

"Oh, right," she confirmed. "I knew it was something like that."

I order toast. To sop up these runny eggs, the ones I used to not like.

If the bus had not been stuck on Franklin, I would not be in here with excess parboiled broccoli and the fragments left in this room.

As my plate is bused away, I look at the fingers of my left hand and try to remember how it goes.

Greasy Greens — it’s in G. That sort of makes sense.

G train’s shutting down. Prepare yourself.

— A man from Harlem

Dust, dander. It’s just a shot away.

Dust, dander. It’s just a shot away.

The TSA guy does a double take when I show my boarding pass. “We don’t get many JetBlue customers over here,” he says. 

"Was I supposed to go in at the other end of the terminal?"

"Nah, it’s all connected. Line’s shorter here anyway. You’re good."

By the time I get through security, my flight status has changed from ON TIME to POSSIBLE DLY. 

Something that I can’t seem to get out of my head is the rug in my father’s living room; I noticed during my visit that he had gone and cut off all the tassels. “It’s a pain to clean,” he told me, although I had never asked why they were missing. There was another rug in the den (6’ by 8’ with tassels intact) that I rolled up and moved into the garage for him. I guess it makes sense; the vacuum cleaner is a lot heavier than the Swiffer, and every time you have to bend down (say, to pull tassels out of the vacuum) is another strain on your back that you could do without.

Inside the plane, the pilot announces we are third in line to take off and that we’ll be standing by for another seventeen minutes. As for the 75-minute delay up to this point? “If you’ve ever flown into New York,” he says, “you know there are always delays going into New York.” 

I’m not sure how many more trips like this one there will be; the idea that I might be able to count them makes me uneasy. During the car ride to the train station, there was (again) talk about moving to a retirement community closer to the city, so that he can ditch the car for good. “Or maybe in Taiwan — it’s a lot cheaper there,” he said. It’s unclear how he will decide, or if he wants me to decide for him.

In the row ahead of me in seat 16E is a German kid — probably a college student — who keeps repeating, “Shit, oh my gott!” at the score of the game…

Five hours later my eyes are strained from reading in the bad light. We touch down and I’m not liking the LIRR schedule; the next train to Woodside is at 10:15, then 10:25 and then 10:49. I reach the Jamaica platform at 11:10 and get to Sunnyside in twenty. I book it down the stairs and over to Forty-Seventh and Greenpoint Ave. I used to know the bus schedule from this corner by heart, but it’s been a while. Was it 11:34 or 11:38? (The answer turns out to be neither, since it’s running late.)  

By the turn onto Van Dam Street I’m the only person left on the bus — the Ghost World stretch, from here to my front door.

B24 drivers are known to take their breaks early by simply parking at the Manhattan Avenue stop and ignoring the last few stops on the route. But tonight I happen to be sitting here, and I’m tired and I’m not volunteering to walk the extra block.

"Franklin Street," I remind the driver.

"Okay," she says. "You got it."

Clinging to the crutch again.

Clinging to the crutch again.

Usually when I make it down to the pier I feel like I have plenty of time. But all the lectures and nagging from over the years won’t seem to let go today. Count up what you’ve wasted — what could you have done with it instead? Make a list.
It’s a long list. Thinking about it makes me wonder if I should rank it and obsess over how to execute on it.
Somewhere near the bottom of the list is item no. 87: “Stand on pier and kill time until ready to address anything else on the list.”
Let’s start there. 
Concentrate.

Usually when I make it down to the pier I feel like I have plenty of time. But all the lectures and nagging from over the years won’t seem to let go today. Count up what you’ve wasted — what could you have done with it instead? Make a list.

It’s a long list. Thinking about it makes me wonder if I should rank it and obsess over how to execute on it.

Somewhere near the bottom of the list is item no. 87: “Stand on pier and kill time until ready to address anything else on the list.”

Let’s start there. 

Concentrate.

At the El Super on Mission, my dad asks me to explain how one should go about ordering at the deli counter.

"It’s the same as when non-Chinese people go to a Chinese restaurant and have no idea how to pronounce anything," I say.

"Yes, but at a Chinese restaurant, everything always have a number,” he points out. He glances up at the signs above the counter. “Here, they don’t number anything. How can they expect me to order?”

"You just gotta point at what you want, then."

"Why don’t you do it," he tells me. "Order what you want. I’ll get a table."

The cashier doesn’t speak English, so she channels her queries in show-and-tell gestures: The big container…or the smaller container? Sauce — yes? More sauce? This piece…or that piece?

I bring the food over to the table.

"What did you get?" my dad asks.

Enchiladas verde…rice and beans…fried fish…this is a watermelon agua fresca. Here, try it.”

He takes a sip and looks over the food. “I don’t think I would know how to order all this on my own,” he admits.

"Well…I guess we could find a place that has a menu with numbers."

"Yes, that would be better."

The locksmith chuckles when I tell him how I came to discover that the inside of a Mul-T-Lock is not, in fact, paint resistant

"So they covered the old graffiti with new graffiti," he says, "and locked you outta your house. That’s a good story."

He goes on: “Reminds me of this documentary I saw on Netflix, where there’s this guy who hates graffiti going around the neighborhood, trying to cover it all up with aluminum paint.”

"Do you think you can fix the lock?" I ask.

"Well…who’s paying for it? Do you know yet?"

"The New York City Economic Development Corporation."


Max Good, Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression (2011)

In an unexpected interrogation move, the Chelsea Narrator throws out the explain-your-goal-in-life-for-the-next-twelve-months question.

I look across the table and let Professor Okie answer first. “I would say…survival,” he admits.

I, on the other hand, am stuck on how to answer. It would be simple enough to say, “I don’t really know — and that’s part of the problem.” Or: “It remains to be seen; ask me again in October.”

The answer, I decide, is at the bottom of a cocktail glass, somewhere deep in the King’s Valley.

"You know," points out the Chelsea Narrator, "if you were writing about this conversation, and if I’m the Chelsea Narrator and he’s the Professor, then you would have to name yourself the Deflector.”

The door changed from green to black while I was out…
Could it be a follow-up from the landlord’s last visit? An anonymous 3-1-1 call? The upstairs neighbor taking on a new summer project? 
All possible.
I tear off a piece of the tar paper to uncover the peephole. The facade looks as bad as it’s ever been. I insert my key and black paint oozes out from the lock. 
Welcome home, Chinaman.

The door changed from green to black while I was out…

Could it be a follow-up from the landlord’s last visitAn anonymous 3-1-1 callThe upstairs neighbor taking on a new summer project? 

All possible.

I tear off a piece of the tar paper to uncover the peephole. The facade looks as bad as it’s ever been. I insert my key and black paint oozes out from the lock. 

Welcome home, Chinaman.

At the post-game table for seven (six men, one woman), Dr. J questions the sexuality of a teammate who had bailed on drinks tonight.

"She seems really happy whenever I slap her ass," insists Dr. J (currently on her third attempt at grad school). "Do you think she’s bi?"

"Aren’t they all?" asks Gramps. "To some extent, I mean. Aren’t you all?”

"No!" retorts Dr. J. "That’s just what you want to think we are.”

Gramps shrugs. He may or may not be the oldest one at the table (impossible to tell, these Chinamen). Or, at least he would fill the role most believably, considering his sedentary style of play.

Across from Gramps sits spry Flushing Uncle, who likes to dote on young Dr. J, spotting her a drink or dinner whenever she’s broke. (“You’re still a student! How can I make you pay when you don’t make money yet? Pay me later.”)

Next to Gramps (across from me) sits Long Island Uncle, who is similar to me in age, monotone, volume, temperament. And then, to my left, at the end of the table: two token white men.

Every now and then Flushing Uncle will blurt out something in Cantonese — an in-joke that only Gramps and Dr. J will understand.

"What did he just say?" one of the token white men whispers to me. 

"Oh, something about…canned pineapple near Chungking Mansions. It doesn’t translate well to English, unfortunately.”

"Oh…okay." The white men leave us to play a game of darts.

I look down at the soggy vegetarian sandwich I’ve ordered and begin to pick off the amoebic splotch of congealed mozzarella when Dr. J interrupts. 

"You’re not gonna eat that?" she gasps.

"No. You want it?"

"Oh my god yesssss!"

I pry it off and put it onto an appetizer plate. I give her the pickle, too.

"What??? You don’t want the pickle?"

"Not really. You can have it."

"Oh my god, I’m gonna have to follow you around now so I can eat."

Flushing Uncle glances at me and nods: “Better watch out now ha-ha-ha-ha.”

"Oh shut up," says Dr. J, taking a bite of the pickle. Then she goes at the blanket of cheese with a fork and knife.

As I listen to the banter and read through all the gestures, I’m not sure what keeps her in that chair, at this table, around this group. I know that makes me sound suspicious, but I’m not, really. Maybe it’s not that hard to figure out. Maybe it’s as simple as it looks…

The white men return to finish off their pitcher. “Anyone else want a Bud?”

There are no takers. 

"Who won?" I ask one of them.

"Not me."

"Hey, I wanna play,” Dr. J interrupts. “Can I play too?”

"Suuuuuuuure," is the reply, and white men suddenly look…alive. "Me and her against you! C’mon, let’s go!"

Dr. J jumps out of her chair and skips over with them to the dartboard by the front window. I am reminded of a story the driver once told me

Meanwhile, the four Chinamen at the table are left with nothing but beer glasses half empty. Flushing Uncle sighs and looks up at the TV screen on the wall.

"Damn," he says after a few minutes. "This game is slow."

At the counter of Lian Fa General Discount, I hand the cashier the following items: two vinyl shower curtain liners, a bar of Dove soap, a Colgate toothbrush. 

She rings them up — “Eight eight eight!” she tells me, nodding with approval.

"Eight eight eight," I repeat.

"Eight eight eight!" she repeats back.

I count out my exact change and place the money on the counter. “Eight eight eight,” I say.

She recounts it to confirm and nods: “Eight eight eight!”