claus-trophobia on x-mas…

claus-trophobia on x-mas…

japanese lucky coin cat
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

as is the x-mas tradition I grew up with, the family gets together, and we order from the only place that is open, the local chinese place, it is not even a particularly good one, we always say we are going to do something else, but never do, we settle on the familiar, of course options are limited, there are only so many things you can do on x-mas, I have sampled the few other goods, there is always the movies, for some reason, they are always open, I suppose it takes minimal staff to press play and shower some popcorn with golden delicious butter, been there done that, and nothing in the cinema is pulling me toward the theater so… there is always Atlantic City, throw away some dough at the mere chance of making piles more, AC (as we jersey folk slang it out) is a desolate town on x-mas, just fellow jews and chinese mostly, this makes sense of course, all up and down casino row you can go, any slot machine you care to, any table for any action, like having the town to yourself, nah, done that before, so here we are, ordering the inevitable chinese take out (delivery was going to take an hour, and seriously, the place is 5 minutes away), so we huddle to determine the order…

eat printed paper
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

like a fool, I don’t go with a staple, something I know will be mediocre but expected, I choose something off the grid, on the back fold, thinking that in all my experiences with this particular restaurant I was going to encounter some x-mas miracle with my order, “singapore chicken” – on the menu as: ‘diced chicken with fresh garlic and mushrooms’, sounds good to me, no dishwater wanton or undersized egg-roll this year, I am actually looking forward to the dish, I depart out…

they said 25 minutes, which in the chinese take out world screams “we’re really busy”, which makes sense, being the only game in town, I arrive, the parking lot is mysteriously… not empty, but not busy either, a smattering of cars just under a dozen, “bonus!” I think, I park, away from the other cars, it’s something I do, I approach on foot, better news, there is not a person in the vestibule, again, a sign they are not as busy as times in the past packed in like sardines, the outer door breaks some sort of security vacuum and makes the other door slam a bit announcing my arrival of sorts, I glance toward the take out table, but no, there are no gleaming packages waiting for me there, no matter, I approach the counter and give my name, sure, my stuff is not ready yet, although I am past the prescribed 25 by a few, I sink back into a corner next to the soda fridge, of course there are cans of soda, I don’t think I have ever seen a chinese place with fountain drinks, the place is near capacity, but no one else is waiting, I’m comfortable, for the time being, I do a little people watching, half expecting a familiar face, the only one is the girl, well, woman now who runs the place, she was in my high school class, she’s aged well, in walks another patron, table for two, accommodated but they are running out of space to sit the in house patrons, another fellow take out-er comes in, the take out table is still bare, so +1 is no waiting there, then a family of four to seat, and two more ordering take out, suddenly I feel penned in, up against the wall, almost quite literally, sure, it has been only 10 minutes but now seconds bleed minutes in my darting mind, there are now people waiting in the vestibule, blocking my escape route, how anxiety ratchets up the mind, the clock hits 45 minutes since my initial order, part of me wants to bail, but others are counting on my return, so I have no choice to bear out this quest, I try to distract myself, look around at all the silly baubles and trinkets you would expect, that cat waving a hand, the tacky toothpick dispenser, a ceramic junk ship replica, I find a little amusement in the Merry Xmas balloons all about, clearly these are not revelers in house tonight, and then another take out client walks in, he does not look too happy, I think he notices the table of take out is quite absent of orders, every time the kitchen doors swing open I am ready to pounce, certainly a great set up for disappointment, I try to play it cool of course, but I am anything but, I feel blocked in, everyone is in bulky jackets,  and then one final creaky swing, a form emerges bag in each hand, could this possibly be… for me? finally? and my name rings out like cool splash quench on a scorching day, the masses part (all five of them) and I depart, meal in hand, ready to return for the x-mas feast, it all gets unpacked, the condiments bag gets dumped out, the dry noodle packages get distributed to those with soup, the green tea bags? eh… no one ever uses them, I unlock my plastic lid, eager to see this newfangled thing, then I see it, imagine strips of chicken the size of half a band aid fried (and resembling same), with some quartered button mushrooms thrown in that almost assume the same color, yes, this does not look so appetizing, but maybe I am wrong, so I try some, and maybe I was right, how can fried be… bland ? and somewhat moist, not even crunchy, I decide to just pile on the red pepper flakes to get through, even then the taste is sparse, not even a bamboo shoot or water chestnut to add some texture to the bunch, everyone (who ordered normal things) seems intrigued with my dish, so, heck, I let them pitch in… this is x-mas after-all…

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