Chinese food always sounds like a good idea come Sunday nights. I’m a Jew, so I’m sure it’s stamped on my DNA. Though, I’ve been told that the Jews religiously devouring Chinese food on God’s day of rest is only a regional phenomenon. Well, even living here in Texas I sometimes find myself craving orange-flavored beef and a Shirley Temple–mostly I like the idea of fruit in unexpected places. Admittedly a fruit garnish in a drink is hardly unexpected, but when you’re a child and are offered a fancy drink with an umbrella and (Yessss!) two cherries–well, if only we were that easy to please as adults. The truth, though, is that we all really do think we’re that easy.
I like the idea of traditions but only the fun ones. I realize “fun” is subjective and it changes as we age. I believe the elderly take great comfort in their traditions because it’s a link to their pasts, a door really, inviting them to remember and recount and ask for another scotch. Traditions can add great meaning to your life, a depth and understanding that there’s something bigger than you and your now, but you don’t realize that until you’re older, and even then, you kinda roll your eyes at the idea of having to put on a suit. “Respect your elders” old people say. “Learn some respect, what it is to suffer, so you know how good you have it,” they continue. These are words I cannot imagine saying very often. I’d rather show than lecture, and I’d rather learning be fun, not tights and wool and dress coats with stiff shoes.
When you’re young, “fun traditions” are sometimes about presents or the activities surrounding gift-giving, surprises upon awakening, that special one-on-one time with Grandpa in the yard. For me it was an opportunity to talk all about me. My school. My friends. My favorite color. And oooh, Grandma, come play my favorite game (Hook Line and Stinker). Then I’d (c)harm the audience with my vocals. Such a ham. I still am. I wish I weren’t, but I totally am. So over the top. I know because when I see myself in videos I cringe. And I can tell when I can tell I’m being filmed. My voice is different. You’re not supposed to hate yourself on Sundays.
Chinese food livens everyone with its little tastes on little plates, with the thin brown sauces in their little shallow bowls, glimmering like loose stones. But I never really feel satisfied unless it’s Peking duck, and even that I mostly enjoy for the curly scallions and the sting of hoisin, the way the pancakes taste of nothing more than raw flour. When people eat these foods in the movies it means their lives are good. Especially good if they’re in pajamas eating from the cartons. Male roommate, no shirt. Female roommate, no bra and barely-there terrycloth running shorts. Platonic (eye roll). Their eating Chinese food from the fridge is foreplay, a little golden ticket for the patient audience. You always know things will be okay if Chinese food’s involved. No one gets cancer in a Chinese restaurant. There are no breakups, and the good “let’s make the chick look difficult” scenes always happen at some vegan place with lesbians giving the dude nasty looks. Chinese restaurants save the (holi)day. That, or they’re the go-to place for the cops in law and crime shows, to ask an Asian man, usually dressed in a puffer coat and wool cap, “have you seen this man?”
But when I see people in the movies eating with chopsticks, I think that maybe if I eat noodles from a box my life will be lived in pajamas with inside jokes, strung together with the times that’ll come to me in montage–the moments I’ll never forget, wound in the rich tastes of our traditions. That, or I’ll just feel thirsty and want a dish of ice cream.