eat in

Later, after living here almost a year, I learned that the cranky old man who had welcomed me into the neighborhood was right: those messy Chinese were taking over Alameda.

When I first met him he looked like he had just beaten up two Chinese men in the Safeway parking lot, for something simple like pulling out of their parking spaces too slowly. Yes. He had probably gotten out of his car to beat up TWO Chinese men in TWO separate parking spots, in the middle of the day no less, because when else do the elderly shop, and I bet no one said a thing other than, “Oh, that poor old Mr. Hadley…he’s practically dead. Let him have his last hoorah.”

Mr. Hadley was watering his front flower beds when he first noticed me. I was getting out of my car and all he had to do was clench his fist tighter around the garden hose neck, straining the skin around his cut and bruised knuckles, and I knew I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t notice him back.

“Ya can’t keep hitting your dog like that, ya know? It’ll remember. I did that to mine for years and it remembered. Ya can’t keep hitting it.”

“Oh, I’m not hitting her. That’s how I say “Good dog.” I’m just giving her a pat on the rear, you know? Like this…” and I hoped to God that this wasn’t Gypsy’s one and only time to decide she didn’t like to have her butt pat multiple times. Her ears perked up and her tongue bobbed around. She looked happy to me.

“Well, no matter what you think it thinks, it’s probably thinking something different. It’s a dog, ya know?”

“That she is. The smartest dog this side of the Mississippi. I just moved here. Pleasure to meet you. Looks like you take care of your garden pretty well. I’ll have to get some tips sometime. This yard needs help.”

“You just get tips from me and not from your other neighbor over there. Her yard is nothing but hammers and nails. Damn Chinese. Their hands are so busy collecting free crap on the street they don’t have a free hand to pull a weed. I’ve been here long enough to watch this city get taken over. Guess how many Chinese food places we have here in Alameda?”

“Uhhh…”

“SEV. VEN. TEEN. Can you believe that? SEVENTEEN! In ‘lil ‘ol Alameda! I can’t drive to the gas station without seeing some funny characters in neon.”

My new neighbor was racist. Oh, good.

The Chinese neighbor was small — maybe five feet — with poor standing posture shrinking her another three inches or so. Her rib cage practically kissed her pelvis and her neck turtled out from her shoulders. Couldn’t see her eyes. She had thick salt and pepper hair that sat shapelessly on her head, and she was outside in her front yard a lot, always moving but never doing anything. I often wondered if she was chained to a tree and I just couldn’t see the chain. I never once saw her walk into or out of her house. She was always outside.

It had been put in my brain a long time ago that Chinese people can cast “dragon spells” for anything from increasing your odds at gambling to getting rid of a person who’s making your life a living hell. For that reason, I try to not provoke anyone Chinese and typically stay away from communications that go beyond common courtesies. I also make it a point to always be courteous, especially with neighbors, and my new Chinese neighbor was no exception. Chained or not, I did not want her to attack me with any kind of spell, so I always looked her way with a smile in the event that she would, too, glance my way. She often did look at me, but with a straight face. She never gestured or said a word. She would just look.

Her cluttered and overgrown yard became the topic of conversation a few days a week between Mr. Hadley and I. The only thing we had in common, besides living in Alameda, was that in order to get home — in order to get anywhere — we both had to pass a yard that made us ill at ease. We live on a dead end street; there’s no other way around it — she has the corner house.

“That’s why I stopped walking my dog before it died — I couldn’t take passing by her damn junk yard of a house any longer. It had arthritis anyway so it was probably better. Your dog looks pretty young and agile. Too bad you have to drag it through that eye sore. Not forever, though. Down there they’ll be building a park soon enough. You’ll have options.”

I didn’t mind having to walk Gypsy past the junk yard house. The homes in Alameda are beautiful and unique and even the most worn Craftsman holds as much interest, if not more, than the arrogant architecture and color schemes of some of the Gold Coast Victorians.

But yup, the Chinese. The further I explored my neighborhood the more clear it became that all the front yards of all the Chinese owned homes were disasters. Sun bleached furniture, cracked vinyl baby bath tubs, bricks, microwaves, buckets of plastic bags…these houses were my prison sentence — something I had to experience every single day as penance for wanting to live a 90 second motorcycle ride from work. The Chinese were turning their Alameda homes into industrial estates. Reputations don’t come out of thin blue air, right? They’re earned.

I was turning racist.

“And don’t think you’ll ever have a chance to turn one around because they won’t talk to you. They only talk to their own. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lost thirteen year old virgin wandering aimlessly looking for a womb — they won’t talk to you, so don’t think you can ever forge some kind of relationship with them. I tried deep into my old age and gave up.”

Mr. Hadley was right. Nine months in and I still hadn’t seen my neighbor’s eyes. I looked at her all the time waiting for an opportunity to say “hello.” It was never welcomed. A few times the fighter came out in me and I said, “GOOD MORNING!” loudly, projecting my voice as much as I could before it turned into yelling. She still didn’t say anything back. Even Gypsy couldn’t grab her attention.

One night, dark haired, polished, and smooth skinned Aviana called. We had gone a little too long without showing each other what next level acrobatic bedroom skills we had acquired and arranged a show and tell at my place. She had three solid tricks to share. All I had was four hours of stamina, but that was all she needed. In the wee hours of the morning, when it was all said and done, the only thing I could muster was, “SHIT. The window was open that whole time.” My bedroom window is only a single driveway width away from my Chinese neighbor’s.

“What?!?!?! Hahahaha! I was SO LOUD! I was screaming like a damn banshee. Isn’t this like a family friendly city or something? Your teeny little mess of a neighbor right there probably didn’t get a minute of sleep. Why haven’t the cops shown up yet? Hahahahaha!”

I had fucked Aviana all night like she had just found Gengis Khan’s treasure and I was trying inherit it all by dying inside of her. I’m pretty sure we left pools of blood on the sheets after we put out the friction fire. It was like that clown orgy. Intense.

The smoke eventually cleared and the sheets were washed.

“What in the world happened last night?” asked my housemate. “I was seriously praying to God that you weren’t murdering someone in there. I know you’re notorious and all, but THAT?!?!?!? That was past notoriety. We straight up turned into an abattoir last night.”

“You surprise me with the words you use sometimes.”

“I went to secondary school.”

“Ha. Ha. Sorry you had to listen to that. We lost all sense of ourselves.”

“Obviously.”

“Don’t you have a bus to catch or something?”

Actually, I was the one who had to get going. I was already running twenty minutes late due to the affairs from the night before, ran down the front porch steps and tripped, hurling my car keys somewhere on the lawn. The Chinese woman was outside, almooooost on the property line, and cleared her throat.

“Gooder molhning.”

Her short and typically stiff body grew a few inches and she extended her right hand.

Was she wearing a skirt? Maybe it was an apron.

Her hair looked softer and if the weeds in her yard weren’t so long, I might’ve been able to confirm that those were high heels on her feet.

This was my promised retribution. My mother had always told me I would pay:

I had to talk to the Chinese woman…and shake her hand…when I was already late for work.

“Hi. Hi. Good morning. You know, I’d love to talk…wow….I’ve been waiting so long, but…”

She wouldn’t let go of my hand. Was she casting a dragon spell? She held it tightly and kept on shaking it. She stared at me the way a boy stares at his first Playboy centerfold….I remembered that look. I use it regularly today.

Ooooohhhhhh……

Her jaw moved slightly, back and forth, up and down. Under her breath she made noises that sounded like hisses, then kisses.

Goddddddddd……

Was it working? Did she cast it? How come I wasn’t moving? My language left me. I couldn’t even stutter. I just stared and let her continue to shake my hand. With that simple and endless shake my body slowly swayed in circles and I felt light headed and happy.

I heard Mr. Hadley behind me, yelling. He sounded a million miles away but I knew there was only a yard and a half’s distance between us.

“You cunt! You old chink cunt! Let him go! LET HIM GO!”

Her face became very pretty and she smiled. She looked like a woman — a girl even. Suddenly she had features and eyes. I could see her eyes! My chest became heavy and my heart beat fast. I felt fifteen again but I knew I wasn’t. I knew she had cast a dragon spell. She was doing whatever it was that suited her needs. She was lighting up, she was singing — her face was aglow in pleasure. She was no longer a plain, hunched back slob.

I don’t know what happened but I ended up on the ground, with Gypsy licking my face in between Mr. Hadley’s hard slaps.  “I panicked, kid. I panicked. You were white as a ghost but I made those cheeks scarlet for you. Better take a few minutes and wash up.”

No real damage was done.

Gypsy began to whimper and I pat her behind a few times.

“Hey. Your work called. They wanted to know if you were going to come in today or not. I let them know you left hours ago. You didn’t change jobs without telling me, did you? Don’t you only work a few minutes away?”

Gypsy began to cry again.

“And take a shower, will ya? You smell like sweet and sour pussy.”

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