Even though we were past the announced closing time of 11pm, dinner was still going strong. My father, the distinguished host and waiter, dressed in his red uniform, would never fire diners, no matter how long it took them to finish that last bite.
Gathering was actually serious business. A small criminal wave hit Chinese restaurants in our area. The owners were held at gunpoint and all their daily cash was stolen. Leaders from the more established Tong chapters across the country were flocking to town to make sure my grandfather and his friends were under control. The long faces of our guests indicated that they had their doubts.
As midnight approached, while the old Chinese men were drawing and plotting, four white young men in tight shirts and even skinny jeans were tapping on our large glass window. They were amazed to see our lights still turned on, and their faces smiled.
Even at the age of twelve, Gaydar was fully functional; It was moving around like a broken car alarm. Before I could even make the case to turn the men away so we could end the night without any awkward clashes, my father opened the door and issued his characteristic heartfelt salutation: “Welcome to Chung!”
The newcomers sat down and checked our menu, but kept leaning and staring at the foods spinning on a lazy Susan at my grandfather’s table. My dad explained that those dishes weren’t on the menu – and since the restaurant was technically closed, the chefs could only do something quick and easy. Men accepted the restrictions with grace. Our chefs prepare some of our most popular dishes: delicious bowls of shrimp fried rice and chicken chop suey. As usual, the staff did a little extra work for us kids, along with paintings by my grandfather and his guests.
But when my father, the great host, went to serve the Quartet, he surprised them. “It turns out we had a few extras,” he said, putting free samples of dishes off the menu.
Staring from the back desk, near the coat and high chairs, I felt very nervous. Even as a Chinese child born in America, I He didn’t like some of those pungent dishes. How will these white men respond?
With careful forks and spoons in hand, they looked around their party, wondering who would take the first step. The tank-and-biceps man who seemed to be the leader nodded before taking a quick smell and taste test.
One small bite led to another. Soon they were covering everything like Jabba the Hutt.
When my parents went to clean their dishes, they joked, “Where can we get these recipes from?”
wink my father. “I guess you just have to go back again.”
While the young men were walking outside laughing, they were swinging by the table of the old Chinese men. Gay men were gossiping about how much they liked these new and unfamiliar dishes, pointing out their favorite appetizers on the table. The old smiled.