A Slice-of-Insane-Life

Posted: by Speider Schneider in
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Stories and articles, both published and unpublished.


How Grandpa Won The War And Other Driving Tales

Phoenix had the most incredible infrastructure I had ever seen. The roads were pristine and well thought out road signs made it easy for the blindest driver to find their way around the city. Yet Grandpa remained an infamous road hazard. I dreaded riding with him as one would dread the dropping of the boat ramp at Omaha Beach on D-day. His weapon of choice was the biggest Cadillac he could find. He joked that he needed a new model every two years because "the ashtrays would be full."

With a giant cigar clenched in his lips, he would order me into the car and climbed behind the steering wheel. A turn of the key once the engine was running and the alternator's screech would snap him back into a moment of reality.

"SON OF A B!" he would swear, as he put the garage-sized car into gear.

I would take a quick glance at his house and wonder if I would ever see it again. Off we'd move while he hummed some unrecognizable tune between puffs of his cigar. He was mobile and that was his greatest joy.

Once Grandpa was on the road, his own set of rules took over. The broken white lines that divided lanes became his guide to stay on the road. Moving with a bit of a back and forth swerve, he would have the line planted directly under his El Dorado. His stature of five feet nothing was bolstered only by the width of his beaded seat cover. My six foot height shrank as I slumped in the seat next to him, awaiting the inevitability of someone in a passing car throwing bad looks, a middle finger or hot lead towards Grandpa, through me, of course.

It never took long for the line of other vehicles to pile up behind the Caddy. Honking and shouting never phased him. "Go around me! Go around me!" Grandpa always shouted with his windows rolled up, believing they could see him waving inside his car.

"MOVE IT, GRAMPS!"

"GET THAT BOAT OFF THE ROAD!"

Those were two of the more popular and printable shouts of encouragement Grandpa would receive from those driving behind the S.S. Immovable object, as I had deemed his car. I had learned, at a very young age, that Grandpa didn't like any suggestions about driving tips. Phrases like "this is a one way street," "the turn you wanted was back there about 36 miles" and "gee, that sign said missile testing range" was met with a cold stare that chilled one better than the air conditioner he refused to use in the 115 degree Arizona heat.

"Um, Grandpa," I gulped, stepping into theforbidden territory. "perhaps you should get over to the right and let these people pass?"

The stare came my way. I shivered and Grandpa's lips parted. "Did I ever tell you about how I stopped the German advance on Bastogne?"

"You mean when you went on vacation to Europe last year?" I mumbled to myself.

"It was 1944," he started. Most of his stories started in 1944, back when a whole house cost a nickel, or something like that and the world was a "better place" even thought millions were dying horrid deaths. "I was lead driver with the army's Red Ball Express."

"Wasn't that an African-American division, Grandpa?"

"And Jews!" He shot back with his index finger pointing in the air. "They didn't like any of us, always giving us nuclear bombs to deliver and driving beautiful hookers to those Christian officers at the front." I was dumbfounded, but intrigued. The stories tended to change, depending on the weather and if we were headed to lunch or dinner.

"I was guarding the rear with my truck and we had fallen behind the rest of the company."

"Really," I said. "I'm so surprised. They lost you by going over 40 miles per hour?"

"I could see the entire German army coming up in my rear view mirror."

"They were doing the speed limit, I suppose?"

"It was thousands of trucks, heading for the front, loaded with secret weapons, ammo and hundreds of allied prisoners."

"Was Hitler driving?" I asked, clasping my hands, feigning anticipation of the answer.

"NO!" He shot back, delighted I was taking interest in his story. "But I always suspected that Himmler was in the passenger seat of the lead truck!"

"I kept driving as fast as I could, but they caught up to me and started yelling things in German!"

"Was it 'SCHNELL!' or something like that?" I asked.

"I don't know. I was busy trying to wave them to go around me," he said waving his hand around wildly. "It turns out that I held that column up so long, that they didn't arrive at the front until four days after Germany surrendered to the allies!"

"I don't doubt it," I said. "By the way, Grandpa, we're going to miss the early bird special at the restaurant if you don't schnell it a bit here."

"Yep," he beamed, "Eisenhower himself decorated me for winning the war."

I looked over at my smiling Grandfather. The man I always knew as a bit odd, argumentative and stubborn was quite pleased with himself. Although the entire German army and every driver in Phoenix had been yelling at him while he careened down the road, it didn't matter; He was deaf as a post anyway.

I think I have always been amazed that my grandfather and his peers did what few men could. They rushed machine guns, parachuted in the dark behind enemy lines, sailed wide oceans with lurking enemy submarines and flew through showers of flack, yet they are all afraid to drive over 40 miles an hour on the highway. I may not have proved myself on the battle fields of Europe or islands in the South Pacific, but I could merge into highway traffic without filling a pair of Depends.

I looked over at him as we pulled into the parking lot of his favorite restaurant for the 3:30 early bird dinner special. "I'm very proud of you, Grandpa."

He turned and smiled at me. "After dinner, " he said, "why don't you drive us home."

"Thanks, Grandpa," I said, smiling back at him, "but I'd feel safer if the hero of World War Two is driving me."

"World War Two?" he shouted. "Did I ever tell you how I stopped the German advance on Bastogne?"

"Can't say you have, Grandpa." I held the restaurant door for him and put my hand on his shoulder. "Tell me about it."

From The Arizona Republic

©Speider Schneider



38 Miles To Insanity

There is nothing like an early start to a long trip in the car. Travelling east into the rising sun inspires, invigorates and gives you a splitting headache that would kill the entire Turkish army. Balance this with two small children starting choruses of "are we there yet" as you round the corner at the end of your street and you ARE almost there...in a mental institution. In a 1400 mile, two-week quest for sand, surf, sea and sanity, I would find only three of those things after my multi-day drive across Americas heartland to the Eastern Shore of these United States.

I had gleaned my mini van of every piece of junk, every cookie crumb, every scrap of paper. Streamlined and stripped down for the least amount of wind resistance and the maximum amount of space and comfort, we set out armed with coloring books, snacks, kids music CDs, extra underwear and diapers at the ready. My youngest son, Noah, only two at the time, set the mood by asking, in his sweet little voice, "where we going?"

I explained we were going to the beach in Massachusetts to visit Va-va and Guv-guv (Grandma and Grandpa to the lay person with normal parents who settle on being called Grandma and Grandpa). I suppose I didn't make myself clear enough, because he had to repeat the same question 107 times over the first fifty miles. I decided it was time for our first rest stop. My Four year old, Jacob, insisted he didn't have to pee, despite the two quarts of water he had consumed that morning and we set off again...only to have Jacob announce he actually did have to pee, just as we entered the highway. We pulled over on the shoulder and Jacob "marked his territory" and by his smile I surmised that the kid planned to follow the same marking ceremony in every state we crossed.

I had planned the trip so we could visit the oddities of America (my family is high on that list). Driving on the secondary roads, I wanted the children to cherish the time they saw the "biggest wad of chewing gum," or the Museum of two-headed Snakes," all captured on video so one day, with tears in their eyes, they would remember happier times when their father was not hopelessly insane. Our first attraction appeared on a small, buckshot riddled sign to the side of the road. "Visit the historic Lincoln log cabin - 38 miles."

A small, out of the way detour would hardly make a dent into our travel time and so I followed the signs toward a part of our nation's great history. After 22 miles, the signs still read "38 miles to the historic Lincoln log cabin." I began to grow suspicious that someone was either not being totally truthful in marking the distance or...we had entered the Twilight Zone...doomed to forever drive 38 miles to the historic Lincon log cabin. I decided to mark the distance with my cars odometer. Five miles. Ten miles. Twelve miles. The signs still fortold of a thirty-eight mile hop to this nirvana of Americana. Then my mind started to wander to thoughts of the absurd. What if they meant a small structure built out of the toy called "Lincoln Logs?" What if it was made from Legos in the parking lot of some under-leased strip mall? What if it was the home of some nice old couple named Lincoln and the history was the fact that they had owned over two hundred cats since 1969? The road grew smaller and dustier. I thought of turning around, but it was only thirty-eight miles further. How could we miss something of such importance to our nation's struggle for the greatness we now enjoy? Where the hell was I? The signs had disappeared at least, oh, I don't know...thirty-eight miles ago? And then, it was there; a sign from God? I don't remember as my hysterical, well, more like maniacal laughter had tears welling in my eyes. Off in the distance...a small log cabin appeared with a sign out front. "Historic Lincoln log cabin - 38 miles."

We rolled into the parking lot and stretched like waking cats as we emerged from the mini van. Our first stop was the tourist information center where I planned to murder every employee there. My eyes were red with rage; the kids were stumbling in exhaustion.

"Hi!" came a warm greeting from a tall, skinny gentleman in a Lincoln suit, stovepipe hat and the perfect accessory of Elton John-type glasses. "Welcome to the historic Lincoln log cabin!"

"Thirty eight miles?" I screamed. He looked perplexed. No, come to think of it, he looked terrified. I don't remember exactly what took place next, but I believe there was something about the cabin belonging to Abe Lincoln's parents, who had moved there long after Honest Abe had been President, and something about him not actually ever being there. I have a slight recollection of video taping the cabin while verbally abusing the costumed guides and some hazy memory of seeing a fiery, log cabin fueled holocaust in my rear view mirror as I drove the thirty-eight miles back to the main road.

I made it all the way through Illinois without stopping or glancing at a sign, for fear I might see the word "Lincoln" or "log" or "cabin" or the number "three" or "eight." Entering Indiana, we stopped, urinated like fire hoses (Jacob, of course, choosing to use the bushes, so I had him urinate towards the direction of Illinois, hoping the stream of yellow would run downhill for thirty-eight miles and swamp a certain historic site), and resumed our drive. Indiana didn't seem to offer the roadside attractions as did Illinois, and the thought of visiting my Grandmother's home town crossed my mind. Unfortunately, she tends to ramble and for most of my life I have just nodded politely at her mumblings and never really paid attention to the stories of her childhood, so there was no real way of telling where in Indiana she had lived. No big loss. I needed to make up time spent in finding the, er, well...let's not relive that anymore!

Crossing into Ohio, the thought of finding a motel steadily took over my sense of purpose. For some odd reason, most motels will be visible only once you have passed the exit that would lead to them. I decided to just get off at the next exit and face whatever the goddess or patron saint of travel would provide. Simply entitled "MOT L," the structure in the shape of a giant wigwam would have to do. I paid the gentleman at the desk $50 for a room with two queen sized beds and we pulled around the side to find our lodging for the night. Decorated in earthy, modern, retro filth, it was a sight for sore bodies. I bathed the kids, put them in their pajamas and ordered a pizza from a local establishment.

When the pizza arrived, I noticed the word "Hut" of the box had been crossed out and replaced by the word "Mutt," written in under "Pizza" and a sticker of some cartoon "beach-dude" dog was stuck over the logo of the better known corporate franchise. A perfect ending to a perfect day! The kids sat and watched the Cartoon Network while munching on their dinner and I sat in an uneven arm chair that rocked at the shifting of my weight, or tremors actually, with a zombie-like stare, not really focusing on anything, and mumbling, "past the point of no return, past the point of no return..." over and over again.

When I awoke the next morning, the kids had gotten out of their bed and were cuddled to me like leaches. The temperature had dropped from the upper 70's into the thirties and it seems daddy was the nearest and only heat source in our wigwam section. After peeling them off me, I took a quick, very hot shower, still shivering...more from the previous days drive and not the cold. Upon exiting the bathroom, I saw the kids using my toothbrush as a racing car over the track of carpet stains in our room. Using my finger with some toothpaste, I made a mental note to find somewhere to buy a new toothbrush and we piled back into the car and headed east, but first stopping for breakfast at the yellow arches of McDougals, just past the Kurger Bing and Taco Belle. This Bizarro World of a burg had, it seemed, split from the franchise feudal-overlords, and suddenly the Pizza Mutt made sense to me as I exited town after buying some snacks at the local 6-10.

I noticed several things on our way through Ohio. First, the entire highway system is under construction. From border to border, it was crossovers, uneven pavement and double-down-to-single lanes. Second, it's the deer-road-kill capital of the entire United States. How many times can you explain to two young children that "Bambi is just resting by the side of the road" when Bambi's head is twisted completely around? Last but not least, I think Ohio makes most of its operating budget from traffic fines. Every twelve feet, there was a state trooper with a hand held radar gun. Not being one to exceed the speed limit, I was only mildly paranoid of being pulled over and reliving a scene from a B movie where I would be turned into sausage and sold at some road side stand to hungry tourists. With my luck, I would be shipped to the snack bar at the Lincoln log cabin, just a short thirty-eight miles away.

My kids are really great, don't get me wrong. They just don't have the patience to sit through a regular restaurant meal, so we opted for McDonald's Playplace locations. Happy meal toys started to fill the backseat, while stray french fries were beginning to scent the air of the van as would one of those hanging tree-shaped air fresheners.

Jacob and Noah seemed very happy to play with their toys and draw on their new Crayola lap boards...or the vans door vinyl, the upholstery and the triptych (causing me to detour down what I thought was a major highway because it was bold red, and ended up 38 miles from that stinking log cabin again!).

When travelling on a trip of this sort, it's important that you, the driver, find attractions that astound and amaze you, above anyone else in the car. It's your only reward for the constant leg cramps and rump rash you will undoubtedly suffer. I was lucky enough to end up within a few miles of Lake Erie. I had never seen any of the Great Lakes, so I approached with childlike enthusiasm. Oh, who am I kidding? My kids were screaming to find the closest McDonalds playground. Their enthusiasm is reserved solely for Happy Meal toys. If you've never seen any of the Great Lakes, I highly recommend it...if you live within twenty minutes of one. There was a cold wind, a sharp rain and frankly, there's some strange stank coming from the water. Not really worth a detour unless you want to watch your kids chucking a dozen new Happy Meal toys into the water. Speaking of watery attractions, I shuddered slightly at the thought of our next stop, Niagra Falls and pictured a Ronald McDonald action figure plummeting over the falls and crashing through the decks and hull of a tour boat down below, while a certain two and four year old would be smiling with glee.

"I don't want to go to Fiagra Nalls," complained Jacob.

Noah chimed in. "Where we going?"

It took 107 explanations until we arrived at the falls. Jacob dragged his feet, mumbling a constant chorus of, "I hate Fiagra Nalls!"

We crossed the park and came upon the falls. Seeing a picture of the falls just won't give you breathtaking feeling of seeing it in person. Wait...that was my nervous condition which began somewhere in Illinois. We watched the falls for at least three minutes when the children and I looked at each other and with a silent understanding between father and sons, turned and walked back to the van. None of us spoke on the walk back. I'd like to think we were awe-struck, but the simple truth is we had been on the road too long and we all understood it was time to get to our destination as fast as we could.

New York is a VERY big state and it didn't take long to realize there would be another wigwam motel in our future. Yes, like the previous nights search, motels only appear once you have passed the exit. Again, I just decided I would pull off at the next exit and find somewhere to sleep...ANYWHERE. My instincts were right, for once on this trip and we were in a haven of every brand name motel. It might be the belief that all motels under a brand name would be cookie-cutter impressions of each other, no matter what city you are in. Let me tell you, this is not true. I was able to book a room at the only Marriott which was not built to the usual fine and sturdy standards that make it a pleasant and restful place to stay for a night. I had to find the one Marriott modeled after that damn, haunting Lincoln Log Cabin!

The next day found us arriving at my sister's house. The van doors opened and we, dozens of Happy Meal toys, french fry stumps and shredded brochures from the Lincoln Log Cabin spilled out. We had made a fourteen hundred-mile trip in three days. Although I had come to the conclusion that the trip was a mistake after my first three hundred miles, there was a sense of being a conquering hero. I knew how Columbus felt when he finally spotted land. I beamed like Neal Armstrong when he walked on the moon. I cursed like Abe Lincoln when he learned his parents had moved out to the middle of nowhere and they demanded he come for a visit.

We spent a week unwinding with trips to the beach and meals with my family. Seafood plucked fresh from the sea and bought right at the dock. A fitting reward for the travels and travail we had suffered. My van took on the aroma of sand and sunscreen as the scent of french fries faded away. Our skin was warm and brown. The sounds of gulls and banging halyards soothed us to sleep at night and the echoing, far away blast of fog horns woke us in the morning. We stopped at the beach one last time before heading back west. The kids ran and screamed with youthful verve as I sat and looked out to sea. Thoughts of how short our time there had been was crossed only by my dread of what awaited on the road back. I thought of just walking into the ocean and ending the problem of driving back, but the joy of the memories my children and I would share for years to come made me smile. I remember thinking, as we loaded into the van and looked back at the ocean, it wouldn't be too bad of a drive. After all, it was only thirty-eight miles back home!

From Helium (rated 3rd most popular out of 203 in Travel section)

©Speider Schneider


Perry Hotter And The Reclusive Raventoe
The draft for book eight in the magical series...
Chapter three

No one noticed him. He sat in the back row of classes. He sat, as he did now, at an empty table in the dining hall, his back to all others, picking at his toad gruel with raven infused sausages, contemplating how much he hated pumpkin juice and craved a cold mudgle, chocolate Yoo-Hoo.

What perhaps helped him stay out of the sight and minds of others was merely being part of the Raventoe house. No Raventoe had ever made anything out of themselves. They were the C-D+ students at Hogguts. Head Wizard's Room attendant was about as high a position any Raventoe could dream of. They were the "short boat" kids of the school. His uncle at least had his own wizard rock band but with songs limited to such hits as "Troll, troll, troll, ya gotta rock and roll, roll, roll," "Sometimes I know why the hypogriff cries," "He's a wanker little elf who plays with himself" and the always snappy, "He who can not be named, all the hot witches want your love to be tamed," he could never hope to break the magical barrier and play in the mudgle world. Between his job of loading luggage at the wizarding airport and playing for tips at the Leaky Cauldron every second Saturday, the huge and successful gig at the Malfoy barmitzvah and the Tri-Wizard Ball, he managed to squeak by and still pay for Dish TV so he wouldn't go insane with the boring shows on Wizard Cable.

"Dragonfire McKillya!" rang out across the hall. His head snapped around to see who was calling him. As he had feared, the familiar bellow was Dumbledork. He collected his books and crumbled what was left of his snozzelberry bat liver chocolate bar, kicking it under the table for a kitchen goblin to deal with. Slowly, with his head hung and eyes on the ground. He made his way to the front of the room.

He passed the first years getting sorted. "HUFFLEPOOF!" announced the sorting cap and low giggles were heard from the students because if you were placed in Hufflepoof, you were most likely a bed-wetter, a "sissy-wand flicker," or a "weighty girl."

The trauma of the memory of his own sorting gave him a low feeling in the pit of his stomach. The sorting cap had been grunting for four minutes, as if it had been thinking. The hot mass that then appeared assured Dragonfire a place in history as the only student the sorting cap ever shat upon. A "Steamer that should not be named."

He overheard some Griffinsnores whispering about him but he couldn't make out what was said. He figured it was the old stand-by twisting of his name; "Fartfire Willkillya" was a favorite this year. "Well," he thought to himself as he walked, "it's better than last years "Draggin' balls Grossanussmell-yuckhateyou."

He glanced sideways to see the object of all his hatred, jealousy and some odd feelings he didn't know what they meant but private talks in Dumbledork's office was helping him clear that all up. There he was -- Perry Hotter. As usual, Hotter was laughing and surrounded by friends. He was popular, Dragonfire was not. Perry was a star Quizno player and Dragonfire could barely stay seated on the loo. Perry had many female admirers who cooed when he passed and allowed him to use the petrifico totalis spell on his tallywacker when it was time to play, "hide the wand" or "curse hole."

"YOUR PARENTS WERE MURDERED, MATE!" screamed Dragonfire in the general direction of Perry, who was apparently startled but not upset as he had learned that no one ever really dies in the wizarding world. He had seen his parents several times and was actually dreading further visits as they tended to baby him and he thought it got in the way of his snogging time. It sounded more sympathetic than a daft insult.

As he passed the Slytherworm tables, he turned his face slightly away so not to garner any attention. The Slytherworm students were masters at sarcasm and passive/aggressive statements. You felt demoralized and wanted to hit them. But for each fist fight, Raventoe would lose 50 points.

The Slytherworms knew this and used it to their advantage. Had Dragonfire the brain power of the simplest moron, he would have punched a Slytherworm or two as Raventoe was at a permanent point deficit since the week after being founded by Rowanda "Crazy Mumbling Cat Lady" Raventoe and it was at an all time high of minus 14,650 points. What could another negative fifty or one hundred matter?

What he feared the most out of the Slytherworms was that every student in that house was a chronic masturbator. Even Moaning Marion, who died while still a virgin and many years later had the urges of a ghost woman was frightened away by the post-breakfast rush to the Slytherworm bathrooms for a quick "wand polishing" before potions class.

He rushed past even faster, looking up only to see Professor Rape blowing a kiss his way. He shuddered at the memory of catching Rape in a compromising position with an owl, six Barney Butts beans, three copies of The Daily Sorcerer, two chocolate frogs dressed in submissive leathers and an open bowl of seven pounds of pumpkin butter.

Finally, he made it up to Dumbledork, who also lightly blew a kiss to Dragonfire. Of course, he admitted long ago that he craved the attention from the staff. Yet another public slip that doomed Dragonfire to constant teases and magical curses.

"I have some bad, bad news for you my girl," said Dumbledork.

"Boy, sir," replied Dragonfire.

"Whatever!" Dumbledork yelled and mumbled under his breath, "Hufflepoofs!" as he shook his head.

"Raventoe, sir,"replied Dragonfire softly.

"I have a...special assignment for you," Dumbledork said with a widening grin and a tightening grip on Dragonfire's shoulder which he jerked violently for Dragonfire's impudence a moment before.

"Removo barfus!" was the last thing Dragonfire remembered hearing from Dumbledork after he got terribly sick on the headmaster's robes and slippers and passed out.

Unpublished

©Speider Schneider



Even Crazy Aunts Have Rights

“I have my rights!” is a statement shouted by children to their parents, people being arrested on reality police shows and my crazy aunt who confuses legal rights with directions when she attempts to turn right from the left lane on Camelback Road. But the Bill of Rights is clearly legal rights guaranteed to all citizens, including my loony aunt. Twenty-seven amendments in all, the first ten, drafted by our founding fathers and ratified in 1791, were ideals to form a perfect democratic utopia at a time of reigning theocracies, monarchies and dictatorships that did not enjoy such freedoms.

The First Amendment, for instance, protects freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Although my rights were often quashed by my now ex-wife and numerous HR departments, we are reminded each day on the news and within the pages on magazines and newspapers that we are delivered these rights – whether we want to hear about the Jon and Kate divorce saga or not. The only valid right of censorship comes from our own choice to not listen. It was Lenny Bruce, the social-commentating hipster comedian that said it best with a thought-provoking statement, “they accuse me of being obscene. There are entertainers who get thirty thousand dollars a week in Las Vegas while a New York City schoolteacher makes four thousand dollars a year. Tell me – what’s obscene?”

Remember that statement next time HR calls you in about something you said in a meeting. If that doesn’t work, remind them of the Fifth Amendment – the right to due process. If that doesn’t work, just get a lawyer as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

One of the most hotly contested amendments is the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. It seems when I write an article and I respond to harsher critics about my First Amendment rights, they always counter with their Second Amendment rights. That’s when I change my phone number and move. It was no problem in the 1700s when muskets took fifteen minutes to load. One could be home safe in bed by the time the darn thing was being aimed. Today, one automatic weapon can end debates with 30 opinionated writers per second.

The other amendments - the true test of democracy is not only its laws but the freedom to amend them - have given freedom to so many and those laws stand as a wall to oppression – a wall many have stood upon to fight and die to uphold. It is that sacrifice and dedication that allows Republic readers to write the following opinions.

(This introduction was followed by opinions of area politicians and other public figures).

From The Arizona Republic

©Speider Schneider

What Lenny Wong Did To Me, My Family And Future Generations

"There are two things Jews know," started a line from an old movie. "Suffering and good Chinese food."

Growing up in New York, I certainly experienced the latter. As a child, we spent many nights sitting by the hearth, warmed by a roaring fire while sitting cross-legged on cushions and enjoying Chinese food from the one place in town that would deliver, during the dark and frightening days of the Cuban Missile Crisis and incredibly pointy bras. Perhaps it was the warm, family friendly feelings and emotions that provide such comfort while sampling the cuisine of the mysterious orient or just the MSG rush it provided me as a small child that gives me the love I feel when eating something named after a general or province in Asia.

As a young teenager, my cousin was dating a Chinese man who introduced my family to many wonders that would shape the way we lived until this day, and certainly beyond. He taught me Kung Fu, years before David Carradine would introduce us to the peace loving monk who would walk into a western saloon and order water, never once expecting some unwashed cowpie to pull a six-shooter on him and shout, "go drink water from the horse trough, Chinam'n!" before having his spine crushed by the "two-fingered poke of death."

He taught us how cool Chinese people really were and that clean laundry was not an "ancient Chinese secret." But most of all, he introduced us to a little dim sum place on Doyer Street in Chinatown that I would revisit until my very last day in New York.

We walked into the dimly lit "tea parlor" type place, whose patrons were exclusively Chinese. I'm sure, if it were not for his presence in our company, we would have received enough cold stares to convince us to leave before service could be refused. Waiters would wheel carts of assorted food by each table and patrons would point to a dish of exotic dumplings, meat-filled buns and unidentifiable meat pieces and the dishes would be placed on their tables. Eventually, the empty dishes would be counted and the tally would be added up to the final bill.

While enjoying our feast with a play-by-play from our host as to what we were ingesting, I noticed a family at the next table. A Chinese family consisting of a mother, father, grandmother and a four year-old boy were chatting and eating. The grandmother fussed over the little boy, stroking his bangs from his forehead, fixing his sweater and pinching his cheeks while talking to him in whatever Chinese dialect it was she spoke. Suddenly the little boys blurted out, "speak English, grandma! I don't know what you're saying!"

Almost choking on my dumpling, he again yelled out how he didn't want to eat the wonton soup. "I don't like this!"

"Shhh!" prodded his mother. "Eat it. It's just like Kreplach!" In New York, I realized, everyone was a member of the lost tribes of Israel.

I visited that place from time to time over the years. My days as an art student brought me there two or three times a week. Lunch for two was never over ten dollars and I was considered a "fun date" for bringing assorted young ladies there with me. As the years went on, the number of caucasian customers increased and the owners would nod at me with recognition when I arrived (yet another date impressing factor).

While dating my soon-to-be-ex-wife, we enjoyed many lunches at the Nam Wah Tea Parlor and soon fell into cohabitation and then marriage. While we would visit the Nam Wah when downtown, we also had a favorite place that would deliver our dinner three to four times a week. We had our favorites. Her's was Crispy Tofu with Bean Sauce while I always went for the Crispy Walnut Shrimp. Brown rice was available and always insisted upon by my wife as it was healthier (and when one eats this food four times a week, it pays to have that half of a half percent healthy factor included).

We were on a first name basis with Sue, who took the orders and the delivery staff always fought over who would deliver to us as we tipped a healthy thirty percent to assure we were the first call on the delivery route, assuring the city soot wouldn't have time to add extra flavor to our food. One day we made the mistake of trying something different and we ordered from someone else who answered the phone. Five minutes later, the phone rang; it was Sue. "I just wanted to check because it was your name and address, but not your order."

"We just thought we'd try something new," I laughed. "I guess we do order a lot from you."

"You eat more Chinese food than Chinese people eat!"

I thanked her for her concern and hung up the phone, shaking slightly from the cold, chilling realization I had just been handed. Our catered dinners continued well into the arrival of our two sons. When my eldest was only two, he would say, "open door, get dinners!"

It took a while for us to realize that when he was hungry, he equated eating dinner with the arrival of the deliveryman. We opened the door and there was his dinner. Our ordering Chinese food was out of control. It seemed that after a long, hard day of neglectful mothering, my wife was too tired to cook her usual burned boiled water and we would continue what had become a thousand dollar a month habit.

It wasn't all bad, however. The "Learn Chinese" on the back of the fortunes in the cost-us-a-fortune cookies had me speaking fluent Cantonese. Eventually, the people who owned the restaurant sold the place, as we had single handedly put their kids through medical school and the new management just didn't cater to our tastes. Shortly thereafter, we moved from Brooklyn to Missouri.

A divorce ended my support payments to a new local restaurant and living many miles from my ex, I was not privy to the delivery zone. By chance I stumbled upon a small Chinese hole-in-the-great-wall restaurant just a scant 60 miles from my ex and kids. After each visitation with my kids, I would stop on the way home to enjoy some dumplings and pork fried rice from the Chinese family that had also moved from New York and had yet to "dumb down" their cooking for Midwestern taste, or lack thereof.

One night at their establishment, while filling my Diet Pepsi at the fountain machine, it started sputtering and died. The matriarch of the family stepped from behind the counter and started examining the inner workings and airlines of the entire fountain. She was shouting to other family members who came out to join her, pulling tubes and lines from the machine, arguing with each other in a fast fling of Chinese. I stood there dumbfounded, holding a half-glass of Diet Pepsi when she turned to me, spoke something to her twelve family members and smiled slowly and broadly. The years of "Learn Chinese" fortunes had taught me well enough to know she had come to the final conclusion that"white devil break Pepsi machine."

I smiled, placed my glass on the table and backed away slowly. I don't believe I have ever started my car and put it in gear faster than I did that night. Several miles away, I fretted that I had killed any chance of enjoying Chinese food for quite some time. Killed it deader than a Pepsi machine!

So, my search continues for the one day I will be able to satisfy that hunger which haunts me. The sweet sting of MSG is too long missing from my life. One day. Yes, one day I know; I'll open door, get dinners.

From Helium (rated 2nd most popular out of 8 in the Chinese food section)

©Speider Schneider


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