The plan this afternoon was to bring some Chinese food over to Sophia’s mother, now back from the hospital, then head over to Danny’s house to pick up those birthday cards and gifts that I haven’t yet seen. There’s a whole range of reasons that Danny and I couldn’t connect during the last two weeks, but I told Danny that I had to pick it up today. I was beginning to be terrified that I would be the most hated man in the blogosphere for not saying thank you within the allotted period mandated by Emily Post.
While in Portland, we bought Danny two “Pacific Northwest” cooking books as a thank-you for all his help with my virtual birthday party. One little problem. As Sophia and I got ready to leave the house, neither of us could remember where we put the books.
“How can you lose Danny’s gifts?” asked Sophia.
“How do you know I lost it?”
“You unpacked the luggage!”
“I don’t remember seeing it. In fact, didn’t you tell me NOT to put it in the luggage so it wouldn’t get crushed?”
“So, where DID you put it?”
“Maybe you left it in the hotel.”
“I would never do that.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I am. I handed it to you when we got into the car. It was in that Powell’s Books bag.”
“Yes, and then I handed it back to you when we stopped in Carmel.”
After ten minutes of back and forth, we slid into name-calling and eventually stopped talking with each other completely. We grabbed a twelve-pack of Portland-brewed beer (that we bought as a gift for someone else), and took it as a substitute gift for Danny.
The car ride from Redondo Beach was an unfriendly one. The air was as cold as a twelve-pack of Portland-brewed beer fresh from the freezer. As we came closer to Sophia’s mother, we stopped at the reliable, but simple King Fu Mandarin for take-out. Because it was Easter and Passover, the restaurant was empty other than the husband and wife who run the place. The wife was behind the counter. The husband was the cook. Sophia ordered chicken wonton soup, eggrolls, and two dishes, one beef and one chicken. The wife wrote down the order, then headed behind a back curtain to give it to her husband/cook in the kitchen.
Sophia decided to speak to me for the first time in an hour.
“Do you think two entrees are enough for us?”
“Well, we ordered soup and egg rolls. And there’s rice. Your parents don’t eat much.”
“Well, maybe they’d like more of a selection.”
“So, get another dish.”
“What should I get?”
“Get what you want. I don’t care. Get what your mother likes.”
“I’m asking YOU.”
It was clear that the air between us was still ten degrees below zero.
“Get a noodle dish.” I said.
Sophia grumbled and walked into the back, calling out to the owner/wife.
“Excuse me. Do you think we ordered enough for four people?”
“It depends how hungry you are.” said the owner/wife.
“Are your portions big?” asked Sophia.
“So maybe we don’t need another dish?”
“No. I think you have enough.” said the owner/wife.
Sophia returned and sat next to me.
“So, are we talking now?” I asked. testing the waters.
“No.” she said.
“And what EXACTLY are we fighting about?”
“You’re irresponsible when you lose Danny’s gift like that. I look bad because I told him we got the books.”
“You know, there’s no actual proof that I misplaced the books. If this was in court, it would be dismissed. You could have lost it.”
“I didn’t. I haven’t seen them since we came home.”
I bit my lip, frustrated. We started repeating the same conversation that we had earlier, blaming each other, acting like guinea pigs going round and round on a wheel.
I started “reading” some Chinese-language newspaper that was under my chair. Sophia started reading the menu like it was a novel. Neither of us wanted to talk, afraid of what would happen if we opened our mouths.
It was then that we heard the voices from the kitchen. It was the husband and wife owners. They were arguing, speaking in Mandarin. Their voices got louder and angrier. It was uncomfortable sitting in an empty restaurant as the owners were fighting at the top of their lungs.
“Maybe we should go,” said Sophia.
“We can’t go,” I answered. “We already paid for the food.”
“So, what do you think they are arguing about?” I asked.
“I think he’s mad at her because the wife told me not to order another dish.”
“Look, they have no customers today. He’s probably saying to her, “What’s the matter with you? We could have made another $7.95. Why did you tell her she ordered enough? What kind of businesswoman are you?””
We listened to them argue some more in Mandarin.
“Maybe you’re right,” I told Sophia. “It sounds like she’s fighting back. It sounds like she’s saying, “We didn’t go into business to be greedy. Better we get them to come back as repeat customers than pull every penny out of them! Look what happened to your brother’s Chinese restaurant when he started counting pennies. No one went there anymore. We never went there!””
“Now he’s really getting pissed,” said Sophia. “Now he’s saying, “Why do you always bring up my family in a negative way? Do I bring up that your Uncle Chang is a drunk and cheats in Mah Jongg?!””
Sophia and I started to laugh, thinking about the ridiculous things that married couples fight about.
A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: I Love You, Sun-Maid Raisin Girl