It was close to midnight, the latest I’ve been out in months. My friend Fred Chao had brought me to a comedy show in Chinatown, which led to some drinking in Chinatown, which led to us wandering around the streets of Chinatown with our heads full of stories and our bodies craving warmth. It was a weird feeling to get lost in those streets
– most of New York is a neat, orderly grid, but once you hit the Manhattan Bridge, Canal Street turns into a sudden mountain, half going up and half going straight down, and you’re never quite sure when a street is going to splinter into three different streets and when it’s going to dead-end in the middle of a block. (It’s twice as cool because Fred’s a comic artist and his story Johnny Hiro: Half-Asian, All Hero, which takes place on these very streets, has just been excerpted in the 2010 Best American Comics.)
In the middle of all this, Fred and I both realize that we are massively hungry. My stomach muscles, through a few years of this, have grown accustomed to being both kosher and out late. My stomach growls, I reply that we are out on the town and that there are no kosher restaurants around, and it quietly sulks to itself in a corner.
Fred is not so disciplined. “I know a great place right around here,” he says. And then he suddenly vanishes around a corner, disappears, and takes me along with him.
I don’t usually sit with people in restaurants. I feel too much like a second-class citizen. Everyone else is pigging out, eating great-smelling food (and food always looks better in non-kosher places) and you’re smiling to yourself and telling them, don’t worry, you’re really in the mood for ice water.
But it’s late, and I haven’t seen Fred in a while, and I don’t want to kill the conversation. So we take our seats.
“What should I have,” he asks me. “Meat or seafood?”
Is this a test? A test from God?
“I’m always weird about seafood,” I say. “Not just the kosher thing. It just feels like, is that stuff really dead? Was it ever alive?”
“Okay,” he says. And so he turns to the waitress and orders the pork soup.