The Electric Fan, Part 2, pp. 8-14
I warn everybody that swear words and some ethnic/racial terms are used for the necessary construction of the story line.
“Get off the street, you kids!” shouted the driver through the window. “You wanna get run over for Christ’s sake?”
“Go on, go on!” Charlie shouted back at the driver. “Get goin’ before you get nabbed by the cops for speedin’, ya’ jerk,” he cried as the frustrated driver shook his head and pulled away, shouting, “You stupid little bastards!”
Standing safely on the sidewalk outside the shop window, Joey pressed his hands against the glass and gazed up in awe. “Look at those ducks, will ya’!” he cried. “How come they leave the heads on?”
“I’m not sure,” David replied. “Maybe it’s for good luck or something like that,” he said, focusing his eyes on the ducks, which hung by their feet, and strips of roast pork and sweet liver-and-pork sausages that hung alongside the ducks.
“Can you smell it?” cried Joey. “Holy crap, I’ve gotta eat somethin’!!”
“This ain’t no restaurant,” said Charlie.
“That’s right, you bird brain,” replied David. “But this is the kind of place we go to get something good to eat fast. C’mon!”
Charlie and Joey trailed Lee into the grocery store. Blinking several times, it took a few moments for the boys’ eyes to adjust as they stepped from the sunlight outside into the store’s dark interior. As they peered around, relying on their sense of smell to direct them, the youngsters were startled by loud thumping noises coming from the back of the store.
“What the hell’s that?” whispered Joey, squinting to locate the source.
“I bet it’s the butcher chopping meat,” David replied, signaling for Charlie and Joey to follow him into unknown territory and in the direction of the sound. “Back here, I think,” he said, taking the lead.
As the boys wandered deeper into the grocery store the aroma of exotic spices started their stomachs growling again, this time so loudly that they could be heard. The interior of the place was lined with thin wooden crates filled with bok choy, turnips, napa cabbage, fresh ginger root, and a variety of other fresh produce. Cases of bottled coca cola, orangeade, and moxie were stacked one upon the other, and cardboard boxes held an assortment of paper packages with unintelligible characters printed all over them.
Half way toward the back of the store a Chinese American man, in his thirties, wearing a stained cotton apron, was tying pieces of string to the ends of strips of roast pork for hanging in the front window.
Aware of the boys’ presence, the clerk, who was also the butcher, ignored them as they approached the counter on which rested a large slice of tree trunk--eight inches or so thick and about two feet wide, with bark still on it. A large rectangular Chinese cleaver lay across the chopping block.
Not until David stepped quietly in front of the butcher and the large chopping block did the man acknowledge the boys.
“Helloooo, you!” chirped the man, a greeting accompanied by a pleasant smile and a tone suggesting an affinity for children.
“Hi,” replied David, almost surprised that the man was so friendly.
“You like something?” asked the man, finishing up with a piece of meat and turning to look at the boys.
“Yes, sir, some of that,” replied David, pointing to the roast pork in the window.
“Duck, ya?” asked the man.
“No, no, no, no,” replied David. “The roast pork, I mean.”
The man broadened his smile. “Ah, roasty pork!” he said in an accent that clearly let the boys know that American English was not his mother tongue. “How muchee you like?” he asked.
“Well,…er…how much is it?” David returned.
“Dollar twenty-fi cent a pung.”
“Dollar twenty-five?” David mused to himself, nervously eyeing Charlie and Joey.
“Ya, Ya. How muchee you like?” the man again inquired. “Ya, velly good!” he added without waiting for David to answer. “Velly good! Tasting good! You like it!”
Fishing around in the right pocket of his ill-fitting, faded brown corduroy pants for a few seconds, David pulled out some change and a badly crumpled one-dollar bill.
Charlie put his hands in each of his own pants pockets as though ritualistically searching for money he knew was not there.
Joey cast down his eyes and sighed deeply to himself.
“Roasty pork veeelly good!” assured the man, slowly placing his hands on his hips. “How muchee you like?” he asked with a humility bred of patience and understanding dedicated to satisfying the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of his clientele.
“About…ah…about,” said Lee, preoccupied with counting his money quickly and accurately. “Um...one pound,” he said, making a final check of his finances.
“One pung? Good!!” said the man, still smiling at the boys.
The butcher went to the window and examined the strips of glistening roast pork for a few moments. He then reached up and unhooked a few strings and returned to the counter with the pork strips dangly lazily from his left hand. At the counter, he grabbed the cleaver with his right hand and dropped the meat onto the chopping block. At eye level with the top of the block, the boys got a closer look at and smell of the glistening five-spice and honey marinade coating the pork.
“Ummmmm. That really smells good!” said Joey, pulling his shirt over his partly exposed abdomen.
Grinning in silence, the butcher quickly cut away the sting, laid the meat straight across the block, and began slicing and chopping the strips into smaller pieces. The “bang”, “bang”, “thump”, “thump” of the cleaver even at such close range, with the savory brown meat oozing its juices and the heavy honey-based marinade splattering at the boys’ faces, no longer sounded ominous to the youngsters whose mouths began watering so much that they wiped away the saliva with the backs of their hands several times.
“I can’t wait,” exclaimed Joey, pulling up his worn pants and pulling down his striped polo shirt again to fit over his stomach.
Just when David thought all of the meat had been cut up, he was amazed to see the man throw yet another string of pork onto the block and slice and chop it as expertly as he did the others.
“Gee, that’s a lot!” David shouted over the sound of the busy cleaver to the young butcher who looked up just long enough to smile at the boy.
When he had finished cutting up the pork, the butcher in an efficient business-like manner tore a piece of waxed butcher paper from a large roll, sitting on the countertop, and, making a few passes, slid the bite-sized pieces of roast pork onto the flat side of his cleaver, dumping the entire lot onto the center of the butcher paper. Then with a single fluid motion, he neatly wrapped the meat in the paper and tied the entire thing together with string.
“One pung,” the man said matter-of-factly, sliding the package of roast pork directly toward David. “One dollar twenty-fi cent.”
David put his closed right fist on the counter, opened it, and released a warm and slightly sweaty one dollar bill, two dines, and a nickel. He looked at the butcher and smiled.
“Velly good! You good boy!” exclaimed the young clerk, smiling and wiping his hands against his apron. “You good boys,” he said looking from one boy to the other. “How old you are?”
“I just turned twelve,” replied Joey.
“Good!” said the man approvingly, shifting his eyes to Charlie. “How old you are?”
“Me?” asked Charlie, rubbing his nose.
The butcher nodded and smiled.
“I just turned forty. How old’re you?”
“You three good boy,” the butcher remarked, ignoring Charlie’s response, and quickly collecting David’s payment by sweeping it with one hand across the counter top into his other hand.
David held the package of roast pork close to his chest. “This is a lot,” he said to the butcher. “It’s so heavy. You sure it’s a pound, mister?” he asked.
“One pung,” insisted the butcher.
“You sure?” David asked again.
Nodding, the butcher slowly reached for the package and gently retrieved it from the boy’s hands. He then stealthily dropped the package onto a metal scale. The three boys’ sharp eyes saw the scale register a little over two pounds. “Good!” cried the butcher. “One pung! Velly good!” he said, carefully sliding the package back to David.
“Thanks, mister,” replied David, picking up the package, slightly knitting his brows, and blinking his eyes several times very quickly.
“Okay, okay!” replied the man. “Velly good! You come back!”
“Oh, we will, mister!” said David. “Thanks!”
The boys immediately headed out of the shop onto the street where they tore at the package to get to the roast pork.
David held the open waxed paper in his hands. Joey and Charlie grabbed at the pork, filled their mouths, and chewed ravenously. In his greed, Joey dropped a piece of pork on the ground and nearly stepped on it.
“Ooops,” he cried as he squatted down and picked up the meat. “What the heck, everybody’s got to eat a pound of dirt before they die anyway,” he said aloud, closing his eyes as he kissed the piece of pork up to the sky, as if to God, religiously purging it of any germs. Then he popped the chunk into his mouth and swallowed it after only a couple of symbolic chews.
Licking the thick marinade off his fingers and oblivious to where he was walking, Charlie tripped over a bump in the concrete and fell forward onto his hands. He instantly regained his composure and continued licking his fingers as though they had not touched the dirty sidewalk.
David laughed at the others and threw one piece of meat after the other into his mouth as he and his friends, seemingly unconcerned with their surroundings, slowly wandered down Hudson street, turned onto Tai Tung street, and then onto Tyler street.
When all of the roast pork was gone, Joey snatched the butcher paper from David’s hands and licked off the remaining grease and marinade.
“Watch this,” Joey said, rolling the paper into a ball and throwing it at the rusted rim of an open garbage can slumped against a brick wall. “Bingo!” he cried as the paper disappeared into the can.
“Big deal, fatso,” said Charlie, still licking his fingers.
“Fuckin’ A!” shouted Joey. “Let’s see you do it!”
“Hey Charlie, you greedy asshole, you know you ate more than anybody else?” said David half-heartedly, his eyes narrowed slightly and focused off in the distance on an unusual sign.
“Yup,” replied Charlie, pulling out an unopened eight ounce bottle of Coca Cola from his pants’ back pocket. “That’s because I’m number one, d’ya know what I mean?”
“Hey, where the hell did ya’ get that?” exclaimed Joey, tugging at David’s left elbow in alarm.
“Huh,” replied David, taking his eyes off the sign and looking at Joey’s face then at the bottle in Charlie’s hand. “Where did that come from?” asked David.
“From the Chinaman’s place, stupid. Where d’ya think,” said Charlie, trying to remove the bottle cap on the wide buckle of his garrison belt. “I snatched it on the way out.”
David’s eyes darkened. “You son-of-a-bitch! You stole that from that nice guy?”
“Sure, why not?” answered Charlie, pulling off the cap and letting the hissing effervescence escape until it slowly died away. He took a long drink from the coke, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then wiped the mouth of the bottle against his left forearm. “Want some?” he said, trying to hand the coke to Joey and David.
“You’re a prick, Charlie!” shouted Joey, smirking at the coke in Charlie’s hand and dismissing it with a toss of his head.
“Whaddaya’ mean?” Charlie shouted back at Joey.
“You know what he means, asshole!” declared David. “You’re a prick!”
Charlie tried to smile. “C’mon. That’s bullshit! It’s no big deal,” he said, holding out the coke once more to his two friends.
David shook his head from side to side without saying anything. Joey smirked at Charlie and waved off the invitation.
“He’s just a stupid chinaman!” said Charlie. “Besides, he won’t miss it. It’s only one lousy coke, for Christ’s sake!” he added, raising his right hand palm-up in the air, in feigned despair. “Chinamen have plenty dough. Most of ‘em are rich, you know. Look how they’re always workin’. That chink wouldn’t have given us that extra meat if he wasn’t, you know?”
“Forget it,” mumbled David as he and Joey moved alongside each other, leaving Charlie with his half-empty coke lagging behind.
For several minutes the three youngsters ignored one another and walked slowly with their heads down and their hands either stuffed into their front pockets or their thumbs hooked onto their back pockets, switching back and forth in bored silence.
Tyler Street became increasingly quiet and less crowded, with mostly local residents conducting routine activities, and only an occasional tourist standing about looking disappointed, disoriented, or simply lost. As the boys meandered, the street grew dismal-looking, with many of the structures neglected, some very nearly dilapidated, and small heaps of trash, neatly swept, piled against the corners of buildings or between the curb and the street.
Unlike the busier part of Chinatown where so many of the signs were written in gold-leafed characters on a red background, some with translations in white, the sign to which David was drawn earlier was in English only and had black letters on a brown background. “Wing’s Hand Laundry” was so worn and faded that it was barely legible.
Raising his head as he and the others were about to pass by the sign, David stopped to look at it, noting that it seemed to lead nowhere and was hung on a brick wall just above street level, a height the boy thought was curious.
Joey stopped, too, asking, “What are ya’ lookin’ at, Davey?”
“Where do you think that goes?” said David, pointing to the sign.
“I dunno,” said Joey, looking at the old laundry sign and the scarred brick wall from which it was hanging.
“It don’t lead noooowhere, genius!” replied Charlie, giving the empty coke bottle another kick along the sidewalk.
“Shut up, you dirty thief!” snapped David. “Besides, who asked you?” he added, finding it difficult to sound angry.
“Who asked you? Who asked you, four-eyes?” teased Charlie. “The sign fell down. That’s all,” he said, kicking the bottle again. “Big deal! Let’s go somewhere else and do somethin’!”
Ignoring the others, David slowly walked closer to the sign, gesturing to his friends with his left hand. Charlie and Joey shrugged their shoulders at each other and followed David. As the boys got closer to the sign, they noticed two
Within good lieth bad, within bad lieth good. --- Laotzu
Last edited by nevergrowup; 02-18-2006 at 04:15 PM..