Herbie Mann Comin' Home

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Cost Of Some Things

Unfolded, the menu labels the food in sequential pages, alphabetically, one set of courses per page.  The actual dishes read in Chinese characters, and the accompanying English makes sense, but sounds more exotic than what we normally find.

What's 'pottage'?

She tells me.  Her ensuing oral presentation, very hard to understand, includes reciting the daily special which is either one or two or three separate options.  We're not sure which.

How much?  B asks.

The waitress begins an explanation of what comes along with the beef or oysters or tofu -- or all three.

How much does it cost?  B clarifies her question.

We think she thinks we are asking to be told more about the beef dish.

I point at numbers on the menu.  Price?

Oh.  Eight dollar.

When they come, the two items we've ordered overfill our table-for-two.  Six small boats and one large of differing dishes: pork, rice, edamame, tofu, leeks, mushrooms, brick-red dried chilis.  We've been told that this is 'Taiwanese street food' -- no street I've ever been on.  This has the look of elegant service and the taste of sophisticated cuisine.  But not at all its expense.

To maximize their square footage, the place is set up for café seating, so we lunch with two young men on one side and two middle-aged women on the other.  I can't help overhearing the women's conversation the segments I catch of which center around family history, something I first think will be a genealogical recital but turns into something else.

When we leave and I take a step or two to follow B out, I pivot back and muster the greatest politeness I can find.

Excuse me -- were you just talking about the internment camps?


I am looking at her, but not really 'seeing' her, not comfortable -- I conclude later -- focusing on her face.  She's as willing to talk about this with me, though, as she was eager, it must have been, to arrange the meeting about it with her friend.

My father at one point was interned just south of here.  She shifts paperwork a bit.  This is a map of the inside of it.

She points down at the document she's had out this whole time -- I think again her reason for lunching.  Barracks, in rectangles.  Plotted-out in numbers.  Fences.  Gates.  Guard towers.

I shake my head, not quite sure what I am going to say.  Are your parents still . . . in the area?


With the impression I've glanced from her face, and from her voice and figure, she's an attractive woman, perhaps 60 years old.  And I'm standing before her, interrupting her engagement.  The words we are exchanging are nearly idle, flat.  My purpose is unclear to her and inchoate within me.  The conversation inherits whatever stablility it should have by taking place in the bustling ambiance of a public lunchroom where things are quite safe.

I have no business doing this.

Then I say what I must have felt I had to say.  My concentration on her face now brings her features into sharp focus. 

Let them know that I care.



  1. dear Truly, i've been overbooked but now i am on half holydays...How are you, this dinner seemed to be boring, isn' t it? i hope you will share more pleasant conversations next time! Kiss from Paris!

  2. Isabelle,

    My past 6 weeks or so have been swamped with work and burdened by colds!! No stamina or inspiration for writing.

    To hear from you now, and from Paris, brightens my life immensely.

    More things coming, to be sure!