Thursday, May 10, 2007

This is a true story about Queens

I can't believe I forgot to write about the weekend adventure to Queens. But now, since I'm hard at work (read: overstuffed from illicit sushi lunch and undermotivated because Robert the Publisher is 6,000 miles away!!), I guess I can spare 10 minutes to record for posterity.

It started off innocently enough. Melanie, Ava, and I (and a skew of other people including Angelle, my sister, and Melanie's boyfriend) had previously trekked out to Jackson Heights to Sammy's family's old favorite Filipino watering hole. Famed for its $4.50 entrees and crappy-ass service, it is a most excellent destination for people looking for a minor adventure and who don't mind if their meal just never bothers to come. And that the waiter never bothers to tell them.

So we burrow into the bowels of the earth (we rode the F train) and set out for The Uncharted Land (Queens). Sammy mentioned that some of his family might be coming.

Perhaps a description of Sammy is in order for those not already well-acquainted with his antics. He's a 6'2'' and very malnourished Filipino-American with a shaved head and a skateboard. He has three sisters. The oldest is not on speaking terms with anyone else in his family except Sammy right now. The second lives with her Puerto Rican baby daddy and their two Puertopino kids, ages 10 and 11, in a studio in Astoria--all four of them. Sammy's parents are divorced. His mother lives in Jackson Heights with his 23-year-old slightly autistic and bipolar younger sister. His father lives ONE BLOCK away (they haven't spoken in 17 years) with his gay lover. The lover sleeps in Sammy's old bed, in Sammy's old room. He thinks because he has a separate room people still think he and Sammy's dad are roommates.

The first time I met Sammy's dad, he walked me over to a blurry black and white blown-up family portrait stretching across his livingroom wall. His eight unsmiling siblings were arranged in pressed 1962 Filipino finery (ruffly shirts, etc). Mr. Sammy's Dad pointed to an austere and unmistakeably Asian woman seated in the center. "Dis is my mother," he said. "As you can see, she was Germahn, with piery red hair and piercing blue eyes." "Oh yes," I said. "I can see it clearly."

So that's the nutshell for you.

So we arrive at Ihawan, which means "barbeque" in Tagolog, apparently (although it could mean "you smell like a foot" and I wouldn't know, and Sammy wouldn't be able to tell us) and are greeted by Sammy's second sister, Anna, and the two Puertopino nephews, who are mildly annoyed about being dragged to an "event." Anna has apparently picked up Nina, the third sister. Nina is very sweet but very difficult to hold a conversation with because she has the attention span of a chipmunk. Who was a crack baby. I make a mental note to try to sit between Nina and everybody else.

"Hi Moonrat*," Nina says. "Nice to see you. What did you wear at your high school prom?"

We climb up to the restaurant (which is above a barber shop) and sit down. The boys sullenly pull out gameboys and don't make a peep for the rest of the afternoon. I manage to squeeze between Nina and Melanie, but not before Nina leans over to ask, "Are you from Thailand?"

Melanie blinks, confused. "Umm. No, I'm not."

"Ok." Nina turns to me. "Can I see your wedding ring?"

I laugh nervously. "Oh, I'm not married," I say.

"Oh," she says. "You should get a ring. They're nice. Or do you like tattoos? You know pizza is really good. Don't you want to get a tattoo of a pizza on your back?"

A wedding ring or a tattoo of a pizza. It's a tough call, really.

We cruise the menu out of habit but we each know what we've come for--in most cases, a drink made out of blended avocado, shaved ice, and sweetened condensed milk. Don't you knock it until you try it. But for 20 minutes the waitress, who is filing her nails in the corner, steadfastly ignores us. Finally I go over and drag her over to the table.

"What do you want?" she says. "You can't order. Your whole party's not here."

"Uh. Can we get drinks for now?" Ava says in a VERY polite voice.

"No. You can order when your party's all here."

"Why can't we just get drinks?" I pipe in, annoyed.

The waitress ignores me, but Anna just starts ordering for her boys. "We'll have a Coke, an iced tea, and a melon drink."

The waitress sighs laboriously and pulls out her order pad. "So ONE Coke, ONE melon."

"And one iced tea," says Anna.

"I'll have a melon drink, too," says Ava.

"You want a melon drink?!?" yells the waitress. "I just said ONE melon drink! Not TWO! Why you say ONE melon?!?"

Chastised, Ava falls silent. Melanie orders a sweet corn drink, I order avocado, and Sammy (the fool) apparently hasn't been paying attention, because he says, "I'll have a melon drink."


"Why hasn't she ever heard of tally marks?" I whisper to Melanie.

"Because she's THE WORST WAITRESS IN THE WORLD!" Melanie whispers back, and shrugs. Duh.

At this point, Sammy's dad and his boyfriend (Gary) show up. Something is amiss; Mr. Sammy looks flustered. He sists down and clasps his hands on the table. He is wearing two watches on his left wrist, a gold one and a black one, slightly overlapping each other.

There is some flurried shouting, and the waitress is cajoled into coming back to the table. We are take our berating humbly but eventually the drinks begin to arrive. Some of them will arrive at the very end of the meal. (Nina's entree will later be delivered unapologetically in a doggy bag after all the empty dishes have been cleared. It won't really affect anything, though, because she will have unabashedly helped herself to mine.)

After a moment of awkward silence, Gary excuses himself to the bathroom. "Uh," says Sammy's dad, flushing and flailing his hands. "I'm so out ob sorts today!"

I lean and whisper to Sammy, "What's wrong with your dad and Gary?"

"Total gayness," he says back. "Don't even ask." It will come out later that they had a big fight right before coming to the restaurant because Sammy's dad, always meticulous, had planned a special going-out outfit and laid the whole thing out on his bed with wallets in correct pockets and wristwatch matched, etc. When he came in from tending his flower garden Gary wouldn't let him change into the outfit he'd picked out because it included khaki shorts and Gary didn't want Sammy's dad showing off his legs to other men. I'm not making this up.

When Gary comes back to the table, Nina, ever the witty conversationalist, pipes up, "So Gary, how long have you and my dad been together now?"

Gary, who is, as Sammy puts it, so deep in the closet he's found all the fruitcakes, blushes a royal magenta and mumbles, "Uh...too long now," and tries to laugh.

"He's a great guy," Nina tells him. "A real romantic."

Sammy's dad leans over the table and says to Melanie (his first words to her), "So, my dear, what sort ob Oriental blood plos tru your bayns?"

"Excuse me?" says Melanie, perhaps caught off guard by phraseology.

Mr. Sammy's Dad is undaunted, and repeats himself verbatim. "What sort ob Oriental blood plow tru your bayns?"

" mom is Chinese," Melanie answers, grinning gamely.

"And what is your pather?"

"Scotch-Irish," Melanie says.

"Well, my mother was Germahn," he tells her.

"Oh, that's great," says Melanie. She's never been good at pretending she cares but Sammy's dad has never been good about listening to any of his interlocutors so there isn't any trouble.

Dammit. I really have to go edit a manuscript now. But that's ok. There's no real ending to this story, it just goes on and on.


angelle said...


omg, this is better only because i know sammy and his kooky family explains so much! hahahaha.. and i can see melanie saying all those things exactly that way....

Bluenana said...

HAHAHA! My tummy hurts from laughing because I live this ALL the time. In fact, stay tuned folks because this will be the hilarity of HB's white family and my ginormous Filipino family comingling at the reception.

Your "p"s and "b"s are spot on!

But, I'm sorry, but did I hear some Queens hate in there? That ain't cool, yo.

Seriously, though come back and finish it when you're done with the manuscript.

moonrat said...

you would NEVER hear Queens hate from me!! i would move to Queens if i hadn't just signed a two-year lease in Harlem.

Precie said...

Thank you so much for resurrecting this post! It's so nice to know that the idiosyncrasies of my Filipino family are probably more cultural than simply a much broader genetic dynamic is perhaps involved. Oy.