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Self Rediscovery

Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
The loquat at my Dad's house was "overgrown". In reality, it was just doing whatever a tree is suppose to do. Grow. It's 30 feet tall. Loaded with fruit. Some of the fruit is the size of limes.

I have a pole saw from Harbor Freight. Not what a professional would use. I did some "Chinese Math". Cut all the branches that look like they are growing into the top of the tree. It's a six foot pole. Somehow, I was still left with branches going up to 15 feet. Chinese Math says I cut the tree in half. The fruit clusters had 6 - 10 fruit per cluster. I must have taken out almost 200 fruit. 200 pieces of useless fruit. All too high to pick. If I can't reach it by taking 2 or 3 steps up from a folding ladder; no fruit is worth falling off a higher ladder.

My Dad's house. I've got a lot of tools here. He's got a lot of tools here. A lot of tools collected over the course of his lifetime, and mine. I've got a wood chipper. Cuts branches and leaves down to tiny slivers. I bought it because renting one for the day would have cost about half the retail price. If you rent it twice, you might as well buy it. I've already lost track of how many times I've used it. So it has already paid for itself. The fruit came out about the size of a slice of jalapeno. Between the leaves and the fruit being processed, the air smelled like I was boiling a pot of loquat tea.

I'm standing in the middle of the yard, with a light breeze. The scent of loquat was suddenly replaced by Issey Miyake. I knew the scent well. Once upon a time, my jackets were scented with it. She marked her territory that way. Just a little spritz. So that when some other girl got close enough, her scent was on me. The same way a dog pees on a fire hydrant.

She said hello. Her voice was still the same as I remembered it. What was she doing here?

"I still live across the road. I saw you pull up on your bike. I thought I'd come say hello." She hands me a can of beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon. My dad's beer.

"Oh, yeah. Your Dad let me in. He told me to bring you a beer."

She still looks good. She should. She is about a dozen years younger than me. I still haven't said anything. I just sort stare at her. Long enough to hold her gaze. Then slightly tilt my lead, the way a dog looks when it's confused. She reached out, stroked my cheek, and her hand sort of trailed down to my chest, where it sort of lingered.

"Come over, later. When you're done with this." I was trying to figure out if her hand on my chest was a bad-touch. She slid her hand a little lower, and sort of hooked a finger into the belt loop of my Levis. She leans in. Kisses me on the cheek. For a second, it looked like she was blushing. All within a split second, she turned and left.

I finish the beer, then go over to pee on the base of an avocado tree. I've heard that urine is a good fertilizer.
 
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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
Friday night. I stayed home to watch Miami Vice before going to the bar. As usual, there was no parking. I pull the Ford Tempo into a back alley, and park with the passenger side up on the sidewalk next to a building. For maybe the 100th time since I got the car, I muttered to myself that this car was a piece of 5h!t. As I got out of the car, I heard a voice, "hey man, you're blocking my doorway".

I was surprised. It was dark. The doorway wasn't lit. The back door to a building. I didn't even see her. The entryway was about 9 square feet, just enough space for someone to step in out of the rain, while they got their keys out. She was squatting. Having a cigarette.

After I pulled the car up a few more feet, I went over to apologize. I didn't think that anyone would use the back door in the middle of the night. From out of the dark, her hand reached out. "Can you help me up?"

As she got to her feet, that's when I noticed the distended belly - she was pregnant. "Are you going to lecture me about smoking?"

Well, no. None of my business. The baby's father might care.

"This baby doesn't have a father, okay?" And that's when I noticed that in her other hand, there was a beer.

Now that she was standing, and we were close enough, I could smell the odor of alcohol. And she looked like she had been drinking more than just one beer. Her hair was tousled. Her eyes were red and watery. Her eye makeup was smudged. Her face was flushed. Her lipstick was smeared.

Not knowing what to do or say - I asked if I could buy her a drink.

"Looking like this? I can't go anywhere."

It took me a second. I looked down, and noticed that she was only wearing a long shirt. Sort of like a sports jersey, with a number printed on the front.

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I told her, "you look great, I'll be with the prettiest girl at the bar".

She hit me. Hard. With gritted teeth and a grimaced face. Then uttered the eff-ewe phrase.

I call down to the bar. "Hey, it's 5150. Can you grab a couple of 6 packs of Tsing Tao, and bring it down the alley? I'm about halfway down. You'll see the piece of 5h!t Ford." Within a minute, just as she was lighting her next cigarette, the bartender had come down the alleyway, and set a dozen beers on the trunk of the car.

She claimed one of the 6 packs, and says, "you might as well come in".

The doorway was actually the back door of a restaurant. We walked through a cramped hallway, past the bathrooms, and up a rickety flight of stairs. She led me to a room marked "private". There was a swing-arm lamp with a 40 watt bulb,, clipped onto a battered mahjong table, a folding chair, and one of those beds with a 2 inch thick mattress pad that folded and rolled away on wheels. The room was maybe 6' X 8', with no windows. About the size of a prison cell. She made me take my boots off before going in.

I was barely old enough have a drivers license. In that dimly lit room, with my blurry vision, I guessed that she must have been 30+. All in all, about twice my age. She must have some good stories to tell. She's living in the store room of a restaurant.

At that age, I was inexperienced in life. I sit down and open a beer. She sat down next to me, and took a gulp out of my beer can. We passed that can back and forth. No TV in that little room. Not even a clock radio. Not even a clock on the wall. We shared 2, 6 packs of beer that way. Enjoy the silence.

I didn't have the capacity for deep thought. I was just a teenager drinking beer.

She finally spoke. She was slurring her words. "I don't even know your name. Can you call the bar again? Get some more to drink?"

I lost a little bit of my innocence that night. The world was no longer as shiny and new. It was like the first time a pigeon poops on your head. I didn't know what to think or feel at that moment. Even now, I still don't know if it was the right thing to do. But, what could I do? What was I suppose to do?
 

Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
I get a call on my beeper. The last four numbers began with a 9. As in XXX-XXX-9XXX. Back in those days, public pay phones started the last 4 digits with a 9. I recognized the number. The pay phone at the bar. Which meant I didn't call back. I called The Old Man. He owned the bar.

He told me that some woman had been stopping in, and asking about me. "Kid, she looks my age. Old enough to be your mother. She's here now."

What was the problem? Is she trying to say she knows me? To put drinks on my tab?

"No. She's paying. She's got money. Just thought you would want to know."

I walk over to the bar. The Ford Tempo was back at the dealership again. At least it was under warranty. As I enter, she was the only person there. It's lunch time, on a Wednesday. She's doing shots. I haven't seen her in over a year. She's still wearing that same outfit. The sports jersey. I guess that's some sort of trend. I had seen girls wearing clothes like that in school. Just haven't seen it on anyone's mom. This was decades before people said things like "milf" or "cougar".

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I just looked at her. She held my gaze. I didn't know what to say. What did she want? And I sounded just like an idiot when I asked her, "what do you want?"

She told me about how she finally got a record deal. A record single. This was back when record companies still pressed records. Some "label" I've never heard of from Modesto. Even at that age, I knew that major record labels weren't running sublabels with A&R out of The Central Valley. Well, it really wasn't "her" single. She recorded a song, and it was on the B-side of another artist's single. She was suppose to perform a bunch of local clubs in a few weeks. This guy who was trying to launch his own record label, out of his garage, was able to convince some nightclubs to let him bring a few acts and get 20 minutes of stage time.

I finally blurted out, "what about your baby?"

"Baby? What baby?"

"Your baby. You were pregnant that time we met." We only met that one time. I haven't seen her since. Which made me wonder why she has been coming around, looking for me.

"I wasn't pregnant. You thought that I was pregnant? Why?"

Even at that age, I knew not to say that it was because of her belly. Instead, I say, "You look great. I love what you're wearing. It looks good on you."

Her face lit up in a smile. She does this little spin. Then turns away from me, looks over her shoulder, and wiggled her hips.



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I didn't see her again after that. I said that I would go to her little showcase, song and dance thing. But I never went. That was decades ago. Before the term "ghosting".

The bartender called. She's at the bar tonight. She shows up alone, starts asking the bartender and whomever else if they knew me. She's been there drinking for hours.

"I don't know if I'm coming later. It's Tuesday night. That show that I want to watch is on." The bartender starts laughing. "Cable TV is digital now. You can watch that show later. Anytime you want. It's not like you had to stay home on Fridays, to watch Miami Vice, in The 80's."
 
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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
It started with her Dad. Mei Mei's Dad was legendary for his food. Decades ago, a neighborhood guy wanted to be Sheriff. An elected office. He asked Mei Mei's Dad to cater the Chinatown campaign office. Hot food for volunteers, who often worked late into the evening. Easy enough. Trays of hot food. Every few hours, go see what was all gone, and send in some more.

A few people from various "community associations" came to see him. They offered to pay for the food going to the sheriff's campaign. Then they offered more money, for him to send food to several other political offices. As he brought food several times a day, some of these incumbent candidates and office seekers got to know him. It got to a point where Mei Mei's Dad was just riding around, going from office to office, just to check on the food. Then he would call the restaurant with orders, and have more sent to where it was needed. Everyone in these government offices got to know him, and he was on a first name basis with all the government officials. It was like they all wanted to be his friend, because he was bringing free food. They started asking for all sorts of food, very expensive items like salmon, prime rib, goose, veal........ since it was all being paid for by donations from constituents.

It started out with "when you see so and so, tell him thanks for the food". Then when these "family associations" and "benevolent societies" leaders came around to pay for the food, they would also say "next time you see so and so, tell him or her it is our pleasure".......... and Mei Mei's Dad became the conduit for their communications. Passing messages back and forth, for people who may not have wanted to meet together in public. Most often, passing along envelopes. Maybe with written letters. Maybe with money. A prison kite system before there was encrypted email.

More catering orders came. Political campaigns. City Hall offices. State Board of "whatever they governed" had board meetings. The Federal Courthouse had a conference room where clerks for different judges got fed. A side board room at the Hall of Justice was always filled with food, for everyone on the floor to have free hot food whenever they wanted - law clerks, lawyers, bailiffs, stenographers, court clerks........ And nobody ever questioned who was paying the bills. The weird thing was that all of these food orders were paid in cash, by other people. Nobody ever flinched. It all seemed so normal. As if the people who received the food, knew to expect it for free.

Mei Mei continues that duty to this day. If the FBI was raiding the local branch of whatever "social club" or "fraternal organization", they may ask Mei Mei to pass along a message to so and so at a Senator's office. The "unofficial" work has expanded to other "unofficial" duties. As actually publicly stated by someone in a very high position of government; campaign rallies are like churches, there's a big collection basket, and a lot of people give cash donations - there is no way to account for all of those small bills, let alone try to figure out who gave what amount in accordance to campaign contribution limits. Someone under indictment may come to Mei Mei, and ask her to help drop off an envelope into the tithings the next time she goes to church, because they are too preoccupied to make it to the next service. The same could also happen at a rally to re-elect "so and so", held by a political action committee not directed by the actual candidate.

"The Church" is official. A 501(c)(3). A faith based "MC" The coming together of distinct subcultures. A place of worship for people who live in the world of Motorcycle Clubs. A friend of mine is a "PASTOR" of one of the chapters. When someone is in custody, they are entitled to privileged communications with their doctor, lawyer, and clergy. The linchpin to his exalted and unique place in that world, is Mei Mei. Mei Mei, the messenger. He is their conduit to her.

Suppose that someone is making a living in various levels of the '"street economy". When he is behind bars, he receives religious counseling from "The Pastor". He attends the worship service of "The Church". He becomes a member in good standing and is known to the clergy. He makes frequent and generous tithes. They invite him to participate in the social activities. He is so overwhelmed with gratitude that he offers to help pay for the cost of food - where they tell him that he could directly pay Mei Mei in cash. He wants to turn his life around, operate a legitimate business, and be able to buy real property with declared income. Marijuana dispensaries require all sorts of licensing. Due to his history of arrests and convictions, he is having a hard time getting approved for conditional use permits at various levels of government.

Because of his very generous donations, he receives private and confidential counseling with "The Pastor". They play the old game of "whisper down the line". "The Pastor" consults with Mei Mei, and she gossips the unique circumstance to some paperwork supervisor at the permit office - as The Church's legal counsel passes along campaign contributions - by way of unmarked small bills in the collection basket of campaign rallies, held by "friends of so and so for re-election fund". A commissioner on the board that oversees health codes is having a bat mitzvah, Mei Mei's catering vans deliver a gourmet feast, and nobody knows who paid for it. The different permit bureaus' civil service employees are rubber stamping whatever permit application is on their desk that day. Suddenly, a convicted drug dealer, now has a license to sell drugs, which he previously went to jail for selling on the street.

Where do I fit in? At the MC activities, Mei Mei is with me. Or rather, I'm with her. She doesn't have a tattoo that says she is my property. I should get a tattoo that makes me her bitch. This is where the lines blur between respect and fear. Outlaw bikers don't get out of line or otherwise disrespect her. But not because they fear the guy she is with. Because she's not really "with" me. We're not any kind of conventional couple. They just know that in their world, she would never climb on the back of one of their bikes. She rides on my bike. I guess I have her to thank; that none of these outlaws would stab me, because I am with her.

Mei Mei and The Pastor had a few things to discuss. For their privacy, The Pastor decided to hold the meeting at my house. Which makes no sense. Except that him and his girlfriend have known me since we were kids, running from the cops. And I knew that whenever he came around, he wanted untaxed cigarettes. I can get them duty free, in The Free Trade Zone. I've also got a source from the Indian Reservation. Indians sell their own tobacco. The Pastor hands them out to guards when he goes to jails and prisons. It's like currency there. The guards who don't smoke, use the cigarettes to pay off inmates for different things. And you don't want to know what guards pay off inmates to do.


Chef Mei Mei does not make gourmet food at home. That's for paying customers. Home meals are much more simple. Tonight was pastry crusts, wrapped around hot links. Evergood Sausage links. A local bavarian sausage purveyor who has been in business for close to 100 years. This will never make her menu. Too much labor. Hand rolling the pastry dough, brushing on butter, folding, rolling it out again, and repeating about a dozen times. I don't know the actual math. But that's like over 100 layers of dough and butter. It takes a few minutes. I watched her spend 5 minutes on each, rolling the dough and wrapping the link. Once you figure that it would take about 30 minutes to make the dough, an hour to make a tray of 1 dozen by hand, then bake for 45 minutes and let rest for 15 minutes out of the oven - she would have to charge $25 each to make them worth selling.




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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
The Shot Doc. It's always good to have a doctor handy. You never know when you might need a doctor's note, or a prescription for something. She probably lives in fear of the day when I need her to patch me up from a gunshot wound.

I found her at a community vaccination clinic. Idealistic. She wants to make the world a better place for everybody. Level the playing field. Balance the inequities of society, by providing vaccinations to communities who don't want to be vaccinated. I like her. A sharp contrast to my jaded views.

I have gaps. She has gaps. We fill in each other's gaps. Her background is The Church. She prays for my soul. I point out that her Tesla battery pack leaves a larger carbon footprint than my F-150's tailpipe emissions. She tries to lead me right, where I tend to make illegal left hand turns. Even though her church pastor is a childhood friend of mine, and even tells her that she's wasting her time trying to "fix" me. I continue to copulate with those of lower social status. To me, we're all humans, and there shouldn't be a judgment passed upon another's bedroom activities.

While she was still in bed, I decided to make breakfast. Not because I wanted to do something nice for her. I made breakfast for myself. I was hungry. Butter, buttermilk, eggs, sugar, salt, flour, baking soda, baking powder. No recipe. Just by eye. Make a thick batter. I've got pancakes.


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"What are you going to do with the extra batter?"

I don't know, lady. You want me to donate it to some poor children in a bad neighborhood?

"You are such a smart-aleck."

I'm going to make Chinese food with it. I'm Chinese. It's food. I make it. It's Chinese food.

In Chinatown, the bakeries sell a sponge cake. It's steamed. Not baked. She's had it. Since she met me, she's spent more time in Chinatown. And she's been exploring and sampling all of the "delicacies". It opened her eyes to more than just food. It has her thinking about how an ethnic group which is largely ignored, becomes self-sufficient. Building their own ethnic economy. Organizing their own education system to teach children who were not allowed to leave the neighborhood or otherwise attend school. Even building their own hospital and healthcare network, when Chinese were not allowed to go to the hospital. Opening banks, when nobody else would lend them money.

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It's a little different. But not by much. Same principal. Flour. A leavening agent. A chemical reaction. It puffs up, rises, and becomes fluffy full of air bubble pockets. Heat. Moisture. The sugar caramelizes, and it's sweet and moist. In China, they used steamers. You preheat your oven for 20 minutes, and bake for 40 minutes. I boil water for 20 minutes, and steam for 40 minutes. I don't have a fancy cake pan, or steamer basket. I just put the batter in a casserole dish. It still became cake.



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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
Hannah. Princess Hannah. Named after the creator of my favorite cartoon. Tom & Jerry. Violence set to classical music. In her culture, they still have a King. She actually is a real live princess. Part of a 2,000 member extended royal family. All with a traceable lineage. If 650 people died, her dad would be king. In the order of succession, she is maybe a 16th cousin of The Crown Prince. Her great great grandfather was once King, with 11 wives, and 70 children born to wives, consorts, concubines, and assorted girlfriends. Those bloodlines gave her an exotic Eurasian mixed race appearance.

Hannah's Dad once carried diplomatic credentials and was part of that country's consulate. His car had "consul" plates. When we were kids, there was some sort of coup, where a half brother or cousin Prince seized power. A quarter of the Royal Family favored by the deposed Prince was declared disloyal to the new Prince. There were mass arrests. Some allegedly committed suicide - or they were killed. Either way, they were found hung by their necks. Her Dad got political asylum, and they never went back. Somehow, he ended up on US Government payroll, with a job where nobody really knew what he did. We were kids, we didn't know better, and didn't know enough to care.

The Consulate no longer sent a car and driver to pick her up from private school. She had to go to public school. With the rest of us. And learn how to hang out on the streets after school,. They couldn't live in the mansion attached to the Consulate anymore. They had to move into an apartment on my side of town. That's how she ended up in my school.

We drifted apart. In the course of this last score in time, we've only seen each other in passing. The last encounter; she must have seen the news headlines. I was in court to enter a plea of "not guilty". I saw her in the gallery, face down, shaking her head in disapproval. I knew that she was not there to support me. She didn't even talk to me. She made her exit when the judge was still talking, before I could even get up from the defense table. By the time I got outside of the courtroom, she was gone.



It's Saturday. There was no cultural celebration. All the streets were closed. Like a street fair. Food booths. Entertainment stages. Performers. The City called it a "community event". Completely political. The Mayor, District Attorney, Police Chief, and assorted politicians were on hand to make themselves look good in front of the cameras. Elections were a month away. It was a full blown political campaign rally. Everywhere you looked, there were signs and people in t-shirts that said "yes on this" or "no on that". Chinatown has become the place for politicians to look good. It's also where they get a lot of their cash contributions.

I walk into the apartment. I hear voices and laughter. I see a fedora and camel hair coat on the coat rack. Strange. I know who that is. The Cat In The Hat. A power broker who has influenced policy from elected office, and behind the scenes, from before I was even born. What is he doing in my apartment? Who else was here?

And there they were. Talking and laughing in the living room. A handful of prominent politicians on The Left Coast of The Country. Drinking my beer. And I see my boss. The Commissioner. He looks over at me in the entry hall, and waves me over. No introductions. Everyone knew each other. Only they were not my friends, and don't include me on their social calendar. One of the uninvited guests, a Senator, offers me one of my own beers. "Your old girlfriend, Princess Hannah let us in. She said that this would be the perfect place to get away from the press. Nobody would know that we were hiding here to take a break."

Hannah. She still has keys. I had heard that she got her juris doctorate, and was working across the country at The Capitol. I don't know what she actually does there. Which was why I was surprised that she flew back from DC to The Left Coast, to see me in court.

"She said that she'll be back in a few minutes. She went to pick up a few things from Chef Mei Mei's. She said that Chef Mei Mei will know what you like. Since we all came over without an invitation."

I should have known. I just never thought about it. All of these people are connected to each other. Even if they stand on opposite sides of public policy, and supposedly oppose one another on political issues. It's all about the money. There's money in Chinatown. Big money cash donors. And they are here to collect. Here they are, in my little apartment in Chinatown, laughing and getting along just fine. On cable news, they are ready to kill each other. This must be what they call a candid moment. This is the type of situation, where they can say anything, without worrying about who hears them saying it.

As I pour myself a Famous Grouse, Hannah comes in. I follow her into the kitchen, and she acts like 20 years haven't passed. The familiar embrace. The pat on the butt. The kiss. Did I miss something? Have I been drunk for 2 decades, and she still likes me? "Chef Mei Mei gave me a sheet of noodles, a few pounds of prawns, some roast beef,. And bean sprouts. It's not Chinese food without bean sprouts. She said to call her if I needed help. I think I can still manage to make a meal in your kitchen."

Princess Hannah is not Chinese. If she makes it, it won't be Chinese food.


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In some homes, the chow fun or noodle soup was made with leftover roast beef. My Dad, and Chef Mei Mei's Dad, used tri tip. It's a California "thing". Tri Tip is popular in California. As if the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, doesn't eat that strange cut of meat. Chef Mei Mei still uses trip tip in her restaurant. I still buy tri tip.

Just like when we were kids. Chef Mei Mei's dad would give us snacks after school. Fresh noodle. Rice flour noodles. Made in sheets by steaming on trays. Then they roll it like sushi with stuff on the inside for dim sum, cut it into strips for beef chow fun or beef noodle soup.

Princess Hannah heated up the wok until it was smoking. Tossed the noodle with the bean sprouts. Topped it with the beef and shrimp. She also found asparagus in my refrigerator. Okay. It seemed to work. The politicians ate it. She must have an important position behind the scenes at The Capitol. Everyone was friendly with her and acted as if they knew her well. Now I understand why she has kept her distance from me. She couldn't afford a background investigation to turn up with my mug shot as her associate. As I look at this small gathering, I can't help but think that the next time I see them, I'll be called to testify at a Congressional Hearing.




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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
Pale Amy. She works the night shift at The Medical Examiner. Lucky girl. Never sees the light of day. She gets to handle dead people in the basement of The Hall of Justice. Every homicide, suicide, overdose, and vehicular collision fatality in the middle of the night, on any given weekend, is her's. Lucky me. My body is the only living body she examines.

Cultural differences notwithstanding, we have nothing in common. Well, okay. We're both socially awkward, and misread social cues. Her people are from the MidWest. A mix of poor people from European nations, who fled to America to escape persecution. No Blue Blood in her ancestry. I like to romanticize that she has Gypsy blood. The truth is, she does have some Gypsy. A handful of generations in The U.S.A. and her culture has been lost. Lost to frozen food, canned food, and granola. Her parents started out life as Hippies experimenting with mushrooms. She was an offspring of the Cheech & Chong generation. Raised on Hungry Man dinners, Chunky soup, and casseroles made with canned green beans and Lipton onion soup mix.

I like to think that a babe like her, is only with a guy like me, because of the car I drive. Her hair smells like embalming fluid. I have a white van with tinted windows. She tolerates me when I serve her with "exotic food". Sometimes, she might even say, "I've seen that in the stomach of an autopsy, but haven't tried it." Her idea of Italian is Domino's pizza, Chef Boyardee cans, and Mac-N-Cheese in a box.

My people? They came out on the losing end of every conflict, in the last couple of centuries in China. War criminals. Opium Wars. Failed overthrows of the Qing Dynasty. The Last Emperor of The Qing Dynasty. . 2 Sino-Japanese Wars. The Communist Takeover. The Korean War. The Vietnam War. Somehow, my relatives were on the losing side of all of those wars. Each and every time, they picked the wrong side. Although, if they had won, they would have been heroes and patriots. George Washington would have been a war criminal if he lost. Which explains my family's immigration pattern to America.

I'm explaining to Pale Amy that Asian food, as we have in The U.S.A., is not what royalty dines on. This is not the food of the wealthy. What we have in The U.S.A., are Asian Americans descended from peasant stock. This is the food of the poor. Fried rice is what the servants got - leftovers and scraps from the rich man's table, tossed together in a big wok. I'm explaining this as I am making rice porridge. Rice porridge is served in most Asian countries, but mainly in communities of poverty. Extremely poor people would take 1 serving of rice, keep cooking it while adding more water, to stretch it out to feed 4. They would add to it, whatever scraps that they could find in The Emperor's garbage. Or just eat it plain, with nothing.

With a straight face, she says, "so that's why you have that super expensive preserved duck egg, lobster, dungeness crab, shrimp, roast beef, avocado, and persimmon?" Well, yeah, that's why I cut everything into small pieces. To make it like scraps that I scavenged from the compost bin behind the grocery store. Just pretend that we are beggars, eating garbage, okey? "Okay. But you're garnishing with caviar and fish roe. Our peasant breakfast is about $100."




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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
Music has a way of triggering memory. Sometimes, when you hear a certain melody, your mind travels back in time. You actually experience the flashback scene in Casablanca. The scene where Rick remembers all of the good times he shared with Ilsa.

Eva. Little Eva. I still think of her whenever I'm in an elevator or dentist office, and The Captain and Tennille play over the Muzak system. Spare Rib's niece. We went out once. She was still in school at the time. A blind date. She was cute. The kind of cute that triggered a biological reaction. I can still remember how she hugged my arm, and pressed the swell of her bosom against me. The way her fingers interlaced with mine when she held my hand. The way she sat next to me, with her leg pressed against mine, and her hand in my lap, at top of the inside of my thigh.

When they come for you, they don't send a stranger. They send someone close. That's how they get you. You don't expect to get it from behind, from the guy who is watching your back.

I was still trying to find my way in life. Doing odd jobs. Picking up side cash. Mostly hanging out at the bar, and running up my tab. Turkey Day was coming up. My Dad never made it a big deal around our house when I was growing up. I'm 5th generation Chinatown. Our own unique subculture. Going back to the days of The Gold Rush. Barbary Coast Chinatown. Grifters. Thieves. Gamblers. Hookers. Hatchet Men. My own ancestors were war criminals. Or freedom fighters flying the flag of democracy. Political subversives opposing an oppressive regime. Depending on how you looked at it. Their side lost. So they came here. Otherwise, The Qing Emperor would have had them beheaded. I have an inane ability to survive bar fights.

I stop by the bar and grab a stool by the door, where I can look out the window and see who was on The Street. The old man comes over with a bottle of Tsing Tao. Muskrat Love was playing on the jukebox. I take a sip of the beer, as my head was still panning left to right to left. Keeping an eye on the street for no particular reason, other than to take notice of something out of the ordinary. A survival instinct. So that I don't get killed while having a drink. I tell The Old Man, "I thought I told you never to play"

Before I was able to finish my sentence, I smelled the familiar scent of her body spray, a split second before her fingers interlaced with mine. An awkward silence. She had the sweetest smile. My face looked like Scooby Doo. The Old Man tapped his knuckles on the bar and said, "say 'thank you', this girl paid off your bar tab". I'm looking at her. She's holding my gaze. My head is slightly tilted. My mouth is hanging open.

I'm socially awkward. I misread social cues. She kissed me. I furrowed my eyebrows.

The next morning, she is still in my apartment. Showing me how to debone a turkey. As the bird is coming out of the oven, as if on cue, she said, "Uncle Spareribs says he needs to see you."

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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
"Leave your bike here. We can take my car."

She lead me by the hand into a dimly lit alleyway which ran behind the bar. Parked with 2 wheels on the sidewalk, nestled between commercial dumpsters. A Lincoln Navigator. A 4 wheel drive, station wagon, with a big motor making lots of power. Equipped with a brush-guard, push bumper, and off-road, 100 watt spotlights. This was the limousine version of what a Yemini prince would drive to an Egyptian disco. Or one of those cars from the federal motor pool that are used for following The President's limo.

In a flirty, teasing way, she dangles the car key. "Can you drive?"

Her car, had a laptop computer with a Ricochet modem, and a Nextel base station. I'm at a lost for words. Who was this girl? What am I getting myself into?


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She tells me to start driving. She is busy punching keys on the computer and pressing buttons on the iDEN unit. Finally, she tells me drive to The Central Police Station, on Vallejo Street, where Chinatown blurs into North Beach. She has me go into the garage, and drive all the way up to the roof. This is one of the most scenic locations in The City. One of the highest buildings in Chinatown, with an unobstructed view of Coit Tower and the entire Fisherman's Wharf. There are probably a dozen or more films which were shot at this location.

Only 1 car was up there at this time of the night. An Oldsmobile Delta 88. With one of the biggest engines to ever go into a passenger car. 455 cubic inches. 7.5 liters. A Frigidaire climate control system. The only thing missing on this land yacht was the Amana Radar Range and a Quasar television. This was Spare Rib's car. Little Eva's uncle.

She told me to pull up alongside. We lowered our windows. I could smell the cigar he was smoking. We make eye contact. Spare Ribs nods his head at Little Eva. I thought we were going to talk. Spare ribs puts the car in gear and drives off. I said to Eva, "I thought your uncle wanted to see me." She is again, tapping keys and pushing buttons on the electronics. She doesn't even look up as she says, "he just saw you."

Then she tells me that the unmarked, toggle switch to the left of the steering column activates the KC spotlights. Turn them on and off, and flash them 3 times. "Alright, start driving. Fill up the tank at the gas station across from Ping Yuen on Powell. Then we'll go down Broadway. Take the Embarcadero Freeway. Then we go South. I'll let you know where, once we're moving."

I say to her, "Wait a second. Hold on. You made a turkey. What about the turkey? It's Turkey Day. People are going to be coming over."

She is still typing on the computer. Without looking up, she says, "Your friends will let themselves in. They all have keys. They will eat your food, drink your beer, and have a good time. The best part is that you'll have a roomful of people, who can all testify that you weren't there."

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This was actually the first time. The "first time" of many first times. The first time Eva spent the night. The first time Eva cooked for me. She made this boneless turkey. I didn't even get to taste it. This was also the first time that I left town and took the trip to The Desert on Turkey Day; while there was a holiday party at my apartment.

It was also the last time that either of us saw her uncle. Spare Ribs was found in the trunk of his car. He loved that car. According to Pale Amy, the cause of death was autoerotic asphyxiation. He did it to himself, in the trunk of his car. A horrible accident.
 

Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
I get it. But I don't. What keeps me around, is that I don't always get it. And I don't ask.

For decades, the same story has been told, thousands of times over. Maybe hundreds, of thousands. Maybe a million. The government does not acknowledge the basic standing evidence. For decades - scores - as in 4 scores and 7 years ago. Uncle Sam's Soldiers have been all over the world - dropping seed.

Just young kids. They do what kids do. Drink. Smoke dope. Have sex. Leave kids behind that nobody stepped up to take care of. Those soldiers left behind babies, who are now grandparents.

Then, you have the soldiers who "fall in love". A beautiful sentiment. Soldier fighting for freedom, liberty, and protecting the "American Way". Stationed in a far off, exotic land. Finds the love of his life, at the age of 19 or 20, dancing on a pole. She promises to love him long time. He marries her. Brings her back to The States. Whereupon he dutifully sends his money every payday, to support her family. As soon as she secures her U.S. citizenship, she leaves him.

Don't they teach these soldiers anything? I don't ask.

I was in The Deep South on a junket. For the extended stay, in the days before Air B and B, we got rooms from a nationwide chain of "mini suites". Basically, very small studio apartments with a mini kitchenette. I started shopping at a little local market - where I could get just about anything canned and frozen, as long as I wanted to be canned and frozen beans, corn, peas, and carrots. The owner laughed every time I asked for an artichoke, an avocado, white asparagus, blood oranges.......

Very cliche. I met her in the produce aisle. Blonde. Green eyes. Big butt. She said something to me in a foreign language. As I don't speak Hangul, I gave her a blank stare. "Oh, you're not Korean." No. Because I'm not. I'm a Californian. It was like a scripted screenplay. We walked, talked, and she invited me over to her place for dinner, once she found out that I was staying in a skid row hovel with a microwave.

And this is where it gets strange. Her ex was Korean. She met him when she was stationed overseas. And I guessed correctly that he divorced her once he became a citizen. She confessed, "I didn't see it coming." Really? You met him in a bar? And you really thought that it was true love?

She still had jars of kimchi in her house. Why? She made it herself. She learned to make kimchi, along with speaking Hangul, while she was stationed overseas. Not the first time in my life having kimchi noodles for dinner. Just never with bacon. It worked. Bacon is pork belly. This was the first time in my life that I've ever had kimchi, homemade by a Southern Debutante.

Everywhere The Military stations soldiers, an entire economy revolves around the soldiers. Fast food. Go Go Bars. Massage parlors. Gambling. Drugs. Sex. Everything a soldier wants on leave. Apparently, female soldiers get hustled by barboys, the same way male soldiers are hustled by bargirls.

In the days before e-mail was common, I gave her my address and phone number. I never thought that she would even call "long distance". Much less take a bus across the country to hang out. And then one day, there she was. Loitering along the curbline as I came walking up to the door. Again, I didn't ask. Over the years, she sporadically turns up at my apartment. No explanation. I have no idea what she is doing in town. I ask no questions about her assignment, or which base she's stationed out of. I don't want to know if she's working for Space Force, or Area 51. We just pick up where we left off. Good times.

I had a piece of flap meat. A cut of beef, not known to most people, as it's not commonly sold in grocery store chains. This is something that you have to get from a butcher shop. The kind of place where they actually get whole cows, and the guy behind the counter cuts pieces off the cow to order. The cow is hanging on a hook. And he literally slices off whatever the customer is asking for. "Flap Meat", for lack of a more marketable name, is one of the most tender pieces on the cow. I just took it off the cast iron griddle as she walked in the door.

I don't even know if it's a pleasant surprise, or not. Decades later, she lets herself into my apartment, with a bag of groceries. Only I don't know where she came from, what she's actually doing in town, or how long she's staying. I don't ask. "That steak looks good. We can put it on top of the noodle. I'll get some mustard from the yard."




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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
"You know that it's against my religion, and you made pork?"

Steph The Social Worker

She shouldn't be here. I actually told her that. Don't come. Now that she has won her election, she needs to stay away from me. For more reasons than one.

"The Aunty told me that most of the money we used for my campaign was thanks to you and Chef Mei Mei."

That's one of the reasons why she shouldn't be here. Elected officials like her, need to be as far as possible from people like me, Plausible deniability.

She hasn't changed much. The years have been kind to her. It may be genetics. I don't know. Amazing, how with the right clothes, hair, and makeup, some girls could be 40, and still look 20.

"How come you never call, or come over to see me? Do you miss me?"

When we first met, I was still a teenager. This was before she started climbing up the ranks at City Hall. She had just gotten her Masters Degree, and she was a social worker at one of the community nonprofits. She was there, to save kids like me, from becoming me. I was just another kid in the neighborhood, hanging out on the street, loitering at the cafes, the pinball parlor, and the pool hall. It was actually her job to hang out, talk to us wayward youth, and try to change our lives.

It was a Friday. The bar usually opens at noon. But this was 8 in the morning. I had the keys, so I opened the bar; so that everyone could meet up there. The Old Man knows that we don't steal. At least, not from him. Anything we drank, we paid for. Before long, the back alley was full of illegally parked cars and motorcycles. There were about 15 or 20 guys. Just as many girls. Everyone was socializing, drinking, and there was about a dozen pastry boxes full of dim sum, pork buns, donuts, and such. I was behind the bar making sure that The Old Man's cash register was rung up for all the drinks.

She shouldered her way through the crowd, and came right behind the bar. "What's going on here? What are you guys up to? There are almost 50 kids in a bar, at 8 in the morning."

Lady, we're riding up to Sacto, for The State Fair. Everyone meets up here. Gets a little breakfast. We work out who is riding with who. Everyone gets a Thomas Guide map book. Then we drive up together so that nobody gets lost.

"What? I don't believe you. You and your hoodlum friends, are taking neighborhood kids on a field trip? The State Fair is 100 miles away. And you're letting all these kids drink beer."

Lady, in case you didn't notice, I'm the same age as all these kids. And we do this every year. Nobody gives poor kids in Chinatown a chartered bus. We just drive whatever we have. Whoever doesn't have a car, gets to ride with someone who has a car. We all chip in. Some guys who can afford it, pick up the tab for some of the other kids who can't. If you don't believe me, why don't you come along. You can hop on the back of my bike.

Unbelievable. I was only about 15. She was closer to 30. For the next 100 miles, her arms were wrapped tight around my waist. There might have been a "bad touch" involved. About a dozen cars. All following closely in a single file line. 4 motorcycles leading the way. 2 motorcycles bringing up the rear. I rode in the back, so that I could stop to help if anyone had car trouble. Maybe it was just my imagination. It felt like she was hugging my back and rubbing the swell of her bosom against me.

I like to think that she had a good time that day. Watching poor kids from Chinatown eat cotton candy & BBQ, bet on horse racing, pet the 4H farm animals..... She even danced when that washed up Disco band played. State Fairs. County Fairs. It's where musical careers begin, and end. Or she might have been drunk when we were watching the fireworks display - and she kissed me.

I had an AMEX. I still have an AMEX. Darn Karl Malden commercials. At The BBQ Pit, I ordered enough food for the group to share. Giant turkey legs. Brisket. Chickens. Ribs. I really like ribs. It's the cultural food of my people. That's how I found out that she didn't eat pork. Apparently, the pinnacle of my people's cuisine, was offensive to her people. I told her that if she trusted me, to close her eyes, open her mouth, and swallow whatever I put into it. We were all drinking. Actually, drinking a lot. There were pitchers of beer. I still don't know which one of the guys paid for all that beer. I fed her a piece of rib meat.

She started off with appointments to different committees, sat on the board of several civic projects, then successfully won a low level public office. There were powers-that-be who decided that she could hold higher offices. That was where we started drifting apart. Her image was groomed for public office.

I had to not-so-gently remind her, that the same religion which advises her not to eat pork, also forbids shellfish! Which we're also having. And she loves eating.

"Is that dungeness crab caught illegally before the commercial season is open?"

Uh-huh. Yeah. And avocado picked after the season is over. By the way, the aioli is made with egg. That's a dairy product. You're also not suppose to have dairy with meat. What will your religious leader say about you not being a virgin?





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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
It was 1970-something. I was crossing off the days on my wall calendar. I couldn't wait for the decade to end. Wishing and Hoping that the new decade would bring a new POTUS. But mostly, I was wondering when I could stop wearing polyester clothes and cheap cologne.


"What are you doing? Why are you cooking dinner like we're living in The Great Depression?'

Nothing was ever good enough The Princess. Now I know why her Dad had no objections to her moving in with me. He couldn't wait to get her out of his house. I popped a handful of Vitamin Q like they were Tic Tacs, and turned the volume knob up on the 8-track.


How do I tell her that I'm broke? Broke because we were experiencing the highest inflation since The Great Depression, and gas prices are through the roof..... on the alternating days when I can get in line to buy gas. I'm broke because she keeps running up my bar tab at The Regal Beagle. Broke because she just bought a new Renault LeCar.


Beef. It's what's for dinner. I just bought a chuck roll. The lowest price piece of meat that the store sold. From the cow's shoulder. A collection of different muscles, with the grain running in opposite directions, embedded with silverskin and connective tissue.


I'm lazy. I just shove the whole piece of meat in the oven. Make roast beef. It does not get any simpler. Just like Dad taught me. I'll be eating roast beef samdwiches for the whole week. I'll slice it after it's cooked. No secret there. Separate the meat at the seams. Then slice on the bias into bitesize pieces.

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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
I can't confirm or deny if I was there as a witness to facts. That's not what people pay me for. They pay me to be there, and then after the fact, I was never there. I forget it ever happened. I never saw a thing. And I never talk about it again. People don't hire me for what I do. People hire me for my silence. The Government has people, who keep secrets. An entire agency which sees and hears everything, then keeps it all a secret. What I do, is similar, but different. In the same way that Sinatra was like Elvis.


But it happened. I can't tell you that I was there. A few decades later, it was confirmed as fact.




Now, we can laugh and joke about it. I told her, "look, these are just like 'those' pancakes". Thick. Fluffy. Just like you would expect to be served, by an effeminate little man, wearing make-up and jewelry, in the middle of the night.


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She glares at me.

I tell her, "I'm sheltered. I've never seen much of the outside world. I've never even left The Neighborhood. There's a whole world outside of Chinatown, and I've never seen it. Until I met you, I thought your people were all rich, and ate pancakes."

"My People? I'll cut you!" She playfully lunges at me with a knife. So cute. Attempted murder as a term of endearment. Apparently, from what I've seen on television, homicide is widely practiced in her community, and as such, commonly accepted as a social norm. Just like running from The Man.


" Your people. Southern Californians. When I was down in The SouthLand, you people were all the same. Wealthy. Eccentric. Androgynous. Flamboyant. And every one of you could sing, dance, and play basketball."

She was no different. Inherited generational wealth. The kind of wealth where it's managed, and all that she had to do was spend it. No amount of foolery, could empty the coffers. They will actually give you a reality show, because the rest of America wants to watch extremely wealthy people act crazy. Because Americans don't have Royals. And watching POTUS's son on TV is just not sexy.

We had short ribs with the pancakes. Why? Because they were in The Fridge. I got them on sale.




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I've got to be careful. I don't want to get any syrup or sauce on my good pirate shirt. In today's economy, pancake syrup cost more than any other single item in the entire grocery store.


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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
I grew up poor. I'm still poor.

There are different levels of poor. For whatever reason, my local vendor sells the brown boots for less than the black boots. I get the brown boots, and color them black. It's cheaper that way. I'm poor.



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"Why do you embarrass me with those shoes?"

Billy Jean. She's not my lover. Light years ahead of TSA agents inspecting your shoes, I had to take mine off for the Department of Corrections. They had to give us cavity searches, before they could serve us breakfast. Weird rules like that when you eat breakfast at a maximum security prison.

I was looking good. Long hair. Sideburns. A pornstache. My Fonzie leather jacket.

Pelican Bay. The prison which houses the worst of the worst. Level 4 security. The most violent inmates, with no hope of ever leaving, are sent here to serve out their "WOP" sentences. Without possibility of parole.

Tricky Dick, a local politico, sent us up there. Billy Jean was then, and still is, legitimately a member of The Bar. Only nobody really knows what area of law she specializes in....... like Robert Kardashian....... she just "represents" people, in a vague way.

The night before, at midnight, the bartender says that there's a call for me. So I go downstairs to basement, where amongst the cases of liquor and kegs of beer, there's a folding TV dinner tray table with a telephone and a stack of handwritten receipts which serves as the receiving clerk's station. I get calls here. The phone number is actually suppose to be in service at an address around the corner.

My supervisor. That's how it works. Nobody actually talks to me directly. The bosses tell my supervisor about what they want done, and then he tells me. Only, I'm given the least amount of information, as I am only told what I need to know. At that moment, what I needed to know, was that Billy Jean was on her way to the bar, and I was going to do whatever she asked.

Billy Jean came into the bar 5 minutes later. She closed out my bartab. The whole bartab. My bar bill from the last 6 weeks. She had a roll of bills, which looked like it was taken from a pimp's sock. Without looking at me as she was counting off a generous tip for the bartender, she says, "it's part of your per diem, Tricky Dick is being very generous". That's how I found out who we were working for.

She took my arm, and leaned in close, yelling over the volume of the jukebox, "I heard that you got a new 'Le Car', where is it?" We walked to the car a few blocks away. She hung off my arm the whole way. It felt nice. Only I didn't deserve it. There was no reason for me to enjoy her bosom rubbing against my bicep.


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She said that she wanted to drive it. Okay. She wasn't just spinning around the block. She grabbed a couple of cups of coffee from Clown Alley, told me to use the bathroom if I needed to, filled up the car, then drove straight for The Golden Gate Bridge.



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Without even asking, she helps herself to the pack of Lucky Strikes on the dashboard.


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Then she picks up The Motorola and makes a call. Again, without asking. I make a mental note to myself, that I will have to submit a reimbursement request for the pack of smokes and the phone call.



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US 101 is dark. Large parts of it are unlit. It goes from The Mexican Border to The Canadian Border. Parts of it are still single lane in each direction. And as it passes through some of the small towns, there are still stop signs and traffic lights. On that brand new Renault Le Car, I drilled holes in the roof, and installed a set of Mickey Mouse ears, just like Colt Seavers had on his pickup truck. The 1970's version of "day makers". They turned day into night, and we could actually see the road.



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I had been drinking all night. My eyes were tired. Yvonne Elliman was playing on the 8-track machine. I told her, "wake me up for breakfast." I drifted off to sleep as her hand drifted off the stick shift and found my thigh.


 

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Fifty150

One Too Many
Messages
1,873
Location
The Barbary Coast
It was a generic interview room. Like you would find in most facilities. Steel table and chair bolted to the floor. There was a camera mounted to the ceiling in one corner. A reciprocal mirror on one wall, which didn't fool anyone. The first thing that they told us to remove was our shoes. Presumably, in case they found contraband, it would be harder for us to run away....... if we could get out of the locked door, into the hallway, where there were another half dozen locked doors before we could get out of the building.

A small room with five people feels cramped. There was a supervisor, with 2 guards, searching us. I was already disarmed. The first thing that they asked was if we were carrying any weapons. My .45 was being held by the Sergeant, in a plastic bag, the slide locked open, the magazine emptied. The next thing was to empty our pockets, remove our belts, then jackets, shirts and pants. We're literally standing in our socks and underwear, waiting for the grope and poke. Each correctional officer was thoroughly feeling along the linings and inspecting the seams and stitches of our clothes. Perhaps hoping that they would find contraband sewn into our clothing.

The heavy steel door clunked open. A somewhat less than imposing figure, with command authority rank insignia, said, "You officers are done for now, thanks for your help. Sergeant, give him back his gun." Just like that, the Correctional Officers stopped what they were doing, the Sergeant placed the plastic baggy with my sidearm on the steel table next to our personal belongings, and they left the room.

Thinning hair, in need of a barber. Medium height. Narrow shoulders, Paunchy midsection. Ill fitting trousers, baggy in the seat. He took a puff off his asthma inhaler. This was not the guy that I wanted to back me up in a prison fight. This was the guy who was in charge of the facility. He goes over to the table, looks at Billy Jean's business card, then inspects my credentials. "A lawyer. And you are 'special counsel' for an island in The South Pacific, with diplomatic immunity, carrying a firearm into my prison."

I know the routine. The strip search was over before it began. They didn't get a chance to fondle my privates or shine a flashlight into my colon. I wordlessly start to put my clothes back on. Billy Jean starts getting dressed also. The prison administrator actually hands my firearm back to me. He finally says, "I just got off the phone. Interesting caller. Said that you two are here to have breakfast."

He leads, and we follow him. Out of the room. Down a hallway, though a locked, heavy steel door. Down several other hallways, with locked, heavy steel doors. Up several flights of metal steps. We were going deeper into the facility. Here and there, we passed inmates who were sweeping, mopping, or pushing carts around. We didn't really need the explanation, but the prison administrator volunteered, "These aren't our bad guys. This is a Level 4. Our bad guys are locked up. These are lower security level inmates who get bussed in to work."

He takes us to the staff break room. A small scale version of the inmate chow hall. Obviously, the correctional officers can't all go on break at the same time, and none of them could go on break and eat in the chow hall with the inmates. There was a cafeteria serving line, just like what the inmates have. But that's when you notice that the food, is not inmate slop. It wasn't a Vegas buffet, with a steamship roast. But all of the food looked edible. It was breakfast time, but you could select breakfast, lunch, or dinner food. Eggs. Pancakes. French toast. Sausage. Right alongside baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, chicken breast, ham, rice pilaf, hamburger patties, et cetera. Even pieces of what might have been 8 oz beef steaks. Just like what you would get from Sizzler. This was the same food. It all comes from the same vendors. Companies like US Foods, and SE Rykoff, who supply chain restaurants, hospitals, factories, schools. About the same grade of food that you get at places like Lyon's, Applebee's, and Denny's. But for whatever reason, it's not disgusting, and looks edible.

I loaded my tray with rice, two burger patties, gravy, and scrambled eggs. A prison version of a Loco Moco. I passed on the prison steak. For the same reason that I never order steak Black Bear Diner, or truck stops. There's no pleasure in eating a half pound of tough, chewy meat. Billy Jean opted for cereal, milk, and fruit. The Warden had 4 slices of bread, lightly toasted, with little paper pill cups full of peanut butter and jelly. I watched, as he made 2 sandwiches. A peanut butter sandwich. And a jam sandwich. Not PB&Js. Weird. He ate them separately.

Billy Jean, being quite the charmer, lead the conversation and engaged our host in small talk. She got him talking. About his weekends at The Lake. His kids. His gardening. I now knew that he liked to wear Florsheims, instead of the regulation, issued uniform shoes.

In today's world, Al can make a pair of shoes for me.


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As a kid growing up in Chinatown, Florsheim was the best shoe that we could buy. Alden of New England did not have a boutique in Chinatown. Indiana Jones did not shop in Chinatown. Back then, Florsheim still sold a reasonable pair of shoes. Not the best. But you got your money's worth. I still have a pair that have rubber soles, in case the bar room floor gets slippery, or I need to run away from all the bored housewives who chase me around.




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The Warden ate the jelly sandwich first. Then the peanut butter sandwich, with a banana. After his second cup of coffee, he finally says, "so, why are you here, to see me?" Billy Jean, who now had a habit of resting her hands on my thigh, produced a card. A blank note card with a handwritten message. It said, "have a nice day". She laid it in the middle of the table. Without a word, The Warden picked it up. He unzips his shirt, and stuffs it inside. Uniform shirts are made with a fake button placket, and have a zipper. It's quite common for cops to use their shirts like a kangaroo pouch.

Billy Jean casually lights up a cigarette, and blows smoke right into his face. He once again had to take puffs from his asthma inhaler. She smiles, knowing that he was feeble, and powerless to object. He was bought and paid for. And we were just the messengers, sent to remind him, of how powerless he was. Blowing smoke in his face. Bringing a gun into his prison. Of all days. On the highest and holiest holiday of his faith. A day where he should be family, and at his place of worship. He gets a predawn phone call, to come into work. He lived over an hour away. And for what? It was a power play. It was to send him a message. They drug him away from his family and his faith, as a reminder. To remind him of who was in charge. He had to do whatever was asked of him. And he couldn't say no.
 

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Fifty150

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It felt good. I'm relaxing in my chair with a can of beer.


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.

She was sitting in my lap. Not like I didn't have other furniture. Her habit was to sit in my lap. Every wiggle of her hips, made me hot and turned her on. Leather jacket, moustache, and sideburns. I had the look.


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I was barely out of high school. Just another kid from the neighborhood. Taking classes part time at City College. Hustling a few dollars on the side. The highlight of my week, was going to the bar. I was at the bar every day. Mostly standing around on the sidewalk in front of the bar. I got to see who was on the street. As they passed by, I always caught a few words. It kept me in the loop. In the days before social media, I knew who was going where, what different people were up to, and what everyone was doing. Most important, everyone saw me. See, and be seen.

The Ikettes were twerking on The Ed Sullivan show. She said something about the look in Tina's eyes. Not looking happy. I told her, "don't say that, you'll jinx the band and cause them to break up".


She was a decade, maybe a dozen years my senior. She had this habit of wrapping her arm around my waist, and feeling around for my wallet. The same way that Connie held onto Tony Manero. I carry my wallet in my front pocket.


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Already established in the world. Where I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up; she was already doing what she grew up to do. With a license to hang a shingle, she catered to a very discreet clientele, in a very ambiguous way. She did their bidding, under the cloak of "Attorney Client Privilege". She didn't practice any sort of conventional law, in the way that she was not a trial lawyer. Even when "sitting at the table", she is usually passing notes or whispering to co-counsel, as if she was the coach calling all of their plays. Even more bizarre when you see it in person; a young girl issuing directives to barristers who were old enough to be her dad. A real sight to see in the days before Court TV, as some of these solicitors were actually very well known.

Billy Jean, is not my lover. She did have the habit of "sharing" my barstool, which to anyone watching, looked like a lap dance.

Power, politics, and money. The lines blur. She had clients who commingled their interests, in the sanctity of her counsel. She represented the movers, shakers, famous, infamous, and people you've never heard of because they don't want anyone to know who they are.

"So this is how it's done? Chinese food. It's all cooked in this big pan?"

I was making a quick stir fry. Wok sear a protein. Today, it was beef, because I happened to have beef handy. Add some vegetables. Again, whatever veggies you have on hand. Then finish with something to flavor it with. Soy Sauce. Oyster Sauce. Sesame Oil. Red Pepper Flakes. Or whatever you may have on hand.

Light years before exhibition kitchens became popular, and well before Martin Yan was a fixture on television, nobody knew how Chinese food was cooked. Nobody knew what a wok was. I tell her, "yeah, it's a wok. I got it at The Wok Shop down the street."

She laughs. Only I wasn't joking. "Isn't that the store where the lady yelled, cursed at you, spit on the floor, and threw something as we were walking by?"




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"I got a call from 'The Senator' today."

Odd she never talks about work. She shouldn't talk about work. I say nothing.

"You know which one? The one who is married to 'The Auntie'. He wanted to know if you were available."

Again, I say nothing.

"Why are people calling me, looking for you?"

She didn't know it at the time, and I didn't either; was that she was representing me. It just works that way. I never asked her. And she didn't want to. But that doesn't matter. That's how it happened. A certain party made a few discreet inquiries. Word got around. "The Uncle" told "The Councilman" to ask around, maybe check with "The Commission". A certain warden mentioned that the last time that he saw me, I was riding with her. The next thing you know, someone else might have said, "if you are looking for 5150, check with Billy Jean, her hand is usually in his back pocket".
 
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Fifty150

One Too Many
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I'm lacing them up. The leather is stiff. They're heavy. Thick lug soles held in with screws. Steel toes. She said that these could last a lifetime. Apparently, she was bothered by my boots, and decided that I needed to wear shoes that didn't embarrass her. So she bought me a new pair.

I didn't object. I couldn't afford such expensive footwear, She could. I didn't know it back then, but every dollar or two that I made back then, was because she allowed me to make it. Just about every odd job that I came across, was because she allowed me to have the job. People, her clients specifically, asked for things to be done. And she was the person who dispatched me to do those things.





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"So much better than those brown shoes from the clearance rack, that you dyed black. Now let's go for a walk, so that you can break them in."

She took my hand. We strolled aimlessly around the neighborhood. Or so I thought . She led me to an alleyway, to a red door. Up a narrow flight of stairs. This could have been someone's luxury apartment. On the outside, you saw different buildings. On the inside, common walls were removed and we were in a very large loft space which took up the same floor of 4 buildings. The space was haphazardly decorated with Mahjong tables, folding chairs, and folding tables which all could be moved to create an open space. Along one wall, there was a makeshift kitchen with pieces of commercial restaurant equipment.

I began to recognize that some of the people in this room were familiar to me. People I've seen in the newspapers and on television. Decades before any of them would be indicted. Powerful people with elected offices. Nobody even appeared to notice that we came in. Nobody got up, or even turned their head in our direction. They were all preoccupied with reading newspapers, card games, or other activities which take place in a social club. Drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, having conversations.

Billy Jean, is not my lover, still holding my hand, led me to the refrigerator. The kind of refrigerator which you find in a liquor store, with double glass doors and a beverage company's logo over the top. She grabs a bottle of Tsing Tao, and tells me, "they stocked this for you when they knew you were coming". Then someone else said, "how are the new boots?"

I look over. It was 'da Cat in the Hat. He was wearing a tank top and an apron. His shirt and tie were draped over the back of a folding chair. His fedora hat on the table next to it. His back was turned. He was cooking. Short ribs. Seared on smokey cast iron.


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She leads me to the table, where I take a seat next to the hat. 'da Cat comes over and sets a couple of plates of food in front of us like he was waiting tables. "Break in those boots. You're going to put 1000 miles on them. We're putting you to work."
 
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Fifty150

One Too Many
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小美美

Chef Mei Mei. The Little Beauty. For as far back as I can remember, she was always wearing a white apron like every other kitchen worker in Chinatown, and doing stuff around her dad's restaurant. She was in the back alley, drinking a beer and having a smoke. Drinking beer, at 3:30 in the afternoon, and only 16. This must have been her after-school beer. She hooks a finger into one of the belt loops of my Levis 501 jeans, and pulls me in for a little kiss on my cheek. She then lead me in through the back door. Her Dad wanted to see me.

They were having the staff meal. Usually, it's what they want to eat. Not stuff that's on the menu. Today, was roast pork shoulder, with American style BBQ sauce. Spinach blanched in stock made from the pork bones. Wrapped in a lotus leaf bun. The kind of bun that cost a fortune when served as the wrapper for Peking Duck. There was a roast duck on the table, for anyone who really wanted duck. The pork was what everyone was eating. Back then, you couldn't buy them in the frozen section of an Asian market. They were all still handmade by a local Chinese bakery.




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Chef Mei's grandmother was from South Asia. That made her Dad half Chinese and half Indian. In Chinatown, a lot of the oldtimers had colorful nicknames. Street names. They called him "Gandhi".

Uncle Gandhi says, "So that's what you brought back from Mexico? Go into hiding all summer, and you come back with cowboy boots?"

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Uncle Gandhi continues with his narrative.

"Im being squeezed. Starting this weekend, The Association is turning this place into a hostess bar. After dinner service, they will bring in girls. You're going to have to be here by midnight."

His daughter was sitting in my lap. He didn't flinch. I asked him if he needed me for security.

"No. The Association will send in an off-duty policeman and a Patrol Special, just like they had at The Golden Dragon. That's part of 'the squeeze'. The police department will be happy getting their cut, and no uniformed police will harass us. 'da Cat in the Hat's firm will represent me for The State's liquor license - which is how they get their piece of the pie. 'The Auntie' has already expressed how grateful her husband is going to be, when I support his bid for The Senate. Everyone is squeezing me to run a business that I don't want, so that I can pay off people I don't like."

The Golden Dragon was attacked over the summer. Gunmen came in from both doors, and shot up the restaurant while it was full of diners. There was an off-duty cop who happened to be there having a coke. And a Patrol Special, who happened to be there sipping tea. Patrol Specials are uniformed police, who protect private clients. In this city, you can literally rent your own private cop, in a uniform, with a gun. If you operate a night club, a massage parlor, or maybe a social club where people are playing cards...... it's in your best interest to spread the wealth.




I asked Uncle Gandhi how I fit into this. Whose interest will I represent?

" 'da Cat in the Hat already told you that you were going to get more work. You will represent yourself. My daughter likes to sit in your lap. You will be putting the squeeze on me. It's better that I pay you off, than have to pay some other neighborhood rufian. I'm paying you protection money. So nobody else comes around to try to collect. You, will be extorting me. Just ride up every night, park your bike out front, hang around the bar, and stick around until I close. "
 

Fifty150

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I got there 30 minutes early. I wanted to circle the block a few times. I pulled into the back alley. There was an armored taco truck. The cop told me that I was supposed to use the front door. Park the bike in the front, where people could see it.

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He was wearing one of those expensive silk Hawaiian Aloha shirts with the fancy buttons. His badge was around his neck on a chain. The hem of his loud shirt was pulled up to expose his pistol. A 5 shot .38. Everyone knew who he was. Back in those days, there weren't that many Asians working for the police. Most were American born, 2nd or 3rd generation Asian Americans, who only knew how to speak English. The police department was decades away from being able to police Chinatown, and they knew it. So they got every cop with an Asian face, and it didn't matter that they couldn't speak Chinese or that they weren't even Chinese, and put them in plainclothes in Chinatown. They put them in plainclothes, as an intimidation factor. They were no longer uniform patrolmen. To people who didn't know, they appeared to be special detectives or some kind of task force driving undercover cars. To people who did know, they were just cops without uniforms, driving junkers from the tow yard.

He knew what he was doing. He even knew what I was doing. He flicks his cigarette towards the curb line and says, "you're with me." So I follow him inside. He leads me to a table by the kitchen, and motions for me to sit. There was a crystal decanter of very expensive cognac, a bowl of ice, a few bottles of tonic and soda, and plates of banquet food. Really expensive food. Duck. Abalone. Shark fin. Oysters. Lobster. Shrimp. Crab. "This is our table. We can watch everyone coming in from the front door. And watch everyone as they go to the bathroom. If anything goes down, we can go out the back door where the uniform is covering the alley. There's a shotgun in the truck, and the uniform can come in to back us up if I can him."

So this guy was the off duty cop that Uncle Gandhi was paying to provide security. Nothing nefarious. Nothing crooked or illegal. He wasn't being bribed, or on the take. He was The City's only Samoan cop. Somehow also related to the pro wrestling champions. In those days it was little known, that you could actually go to the city and pay for a cop to perform security. Section 10B of the city's administrative code spelled it out. In those days, you usually only had police officers working ball games, concerts, and special events. You never thought of them protecting restaurants for late night dining.

"The girls start coming in after midnight. You see that lady at the end of the bar? She will bring them over to introduce them to you. That's kind of what she does. She's the 'mama san'. She manages the table reservations, bottle service sales, and arranges for which girls to sit at which tables."

And it started to happen. The lady brought different girls to the table, and introduced them to me. What caught me off guard, was after pleasantries and minimal conversation, they all said an obscure phrase in Chinese, and offered me an envelope. Not the paper kind like kids get during Lunar New Year. But silk embroidered pouches, like gifts at weddings. Not just for me. The cop got one also.

一帆風順

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"One sail, smooth winds. It's a phrase meaning good luck. It also means that we're all in the same boat."

Thanks. I needed a Samoan to explain Chinese to me. Like I'm the Pālagi.

"You're 'watching' this place. You're the 'dai low'. The girls have to give you a red envelope for them to be here. They tip you. They tip the mama san. They tip your Uncle Gandhi. You're all in the same boat. Those girls have to pay you guys off, before they can make their money."

Throughout the night, the mama san would come to our table and say to us that a certain party would like to buy us a drink, or come over to say hello. After we gave our approval, she would lead people to the table, make the introductions, and pour our drinks. Our cups were only filled from our bottle. I soon found out that our bottle had zero liquor. It was filled with tea. Because it would have been impossible for us to drink and toast 50 times a night without getting extremely intoxicated. A waitress would serve their drinks from the bar, along with a check which included the cost of our Remy Martin XO. People would come over to buy at least a dozen bottles of Remy Martin XO for us, while we drank tea from a crystal bottle. They are paying full price, and no liquor is being sold.
 

Fifty150

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"Here's the deal. The way this is suppose to work, is that everyone knows that I'm a cop, and I'm 'watching' this place. You're also here 'watching' this place. So either I'm halfway crooked sitting with you, or you're halfway connected sitting with me. A lot of these people are somewhat legitimate business people. They want to entertain clients, impress business associates, or just impress whomever else is around. See and be seen. This is the new hot joint. The most expensive place to be. Reserved tables and bottle service. Even has hostesses like those high class places in Japan. And especially after the Golden Dragon shooting, this place is safe. Word on the street is that it's 'protected'. They see your bike outside, before they even come in. Then they come in, and see us sitting together, with a full course banquet table laid out with the most expensive food on the menu and the most expensive bottle of liquor. It's all smoke and mirrors. Misdirection and redirection."

Mostly legitimate business people. What about the other people? Well, they were not so legitimate, as I would find out later. The hostesses actually didn't work for the restaurant. As they weren't employees with time cards and health insurance. They actually maintained the network of clientele. They brought the customers. The customers went wherever the girls went. If those girls went to another club, those customers would go with them. It was the girls who actually "booked" the table reservations with The Mama San. The bar girls were like nightclub promoters, or the casino hosts who catered to big gamblers. The girls would contact the customers, and ask them to reserve the tables, as opposed to a customer calling the bar to make a reservation. They knew what the customers liked to eat and drink, and got the DJ to play the customers' favorite songs. The girls made their money by entertaining the customers and getting tips.

And now for the part that I didn't really get....... the bar girls had to actually pay for the privilege of being a bar girl. She had to "tip out" the owner of the bar, the Mama San who was supposed to be her manager, and me because I was protecting the place. In a less legitimate operation, there would be some gangster shaking the place down, and they would have to pay him. It was almost like the bar girls were running their own small business, managing the client list, and they still had to pay their share of the rent.

All the while, there were layers and layers of legitimacy. Everything on paper, was on the up and up. The uniformed cop in the back alley was a Patrol Special. The cop on the inside sitting at the table with me was paid overtime by the city. Mei Mei's Daddy was the license holder for the liquor license. The business itself was a company who rented out the venue for the evening, the same way that your company may rent out a restaurant for a corporate party. So it was always a "private party", where they had a guest list, and nobody came in without an invitation. That's how the general public never got in. The same way you couldn't barge into someone's wedding, bar mitzvah, or corporate party. The food service was subcontracted to a catering company. The bar service was subcontracted to another catering company with a liquor license. These companies were all externally managed. Even the rent on the building was paid to an externally managed real estate investment trust. All of them used vendors, subcontractors, and consultants. Equipment was leased. Party supplies were rented. Restaurants don't even own their own napkins. It all comes from a linen service. And everybody donated to non-profits and other tax exempt entities. Every company gave to political action committees and "the friends of so and so for elected office fund". The money went all over the place "on paper".

Street money. Money from the gambling houses. Money from the massage parlors. Money other operations which were not on the books. No restaurant or bar knows where the money comes from when a customer comes in as a big spender. It's not like a car dealer who has to report large cash transactions. This was practically "audit proof". As in most of these small mom & pop restaurants and bars did business with COD accounts. Their supplies and deliveries were all paid Cash On Delivery. Layers of plausible deniability, and tens of thousands of dollars a day of street cash becoming legitimate clean money.

So for example....... everyone knows that if you call a plumber in the middle of the night, it's a few thousand for that emergency service call. It would not be unheard of for a bar to call at least once a week when people partying mess up the bathroom. Not unheard of for a plumber to want thousands of dollars on emergency calls to unclog lines, cut into pipes, replace valves, and so forth. It would be completely normal for a nightclub to spend $15,000 or $20,000 a month just for plumbing. Some bars actually buy ice and rent ice boxes from an ice company, because of service volume. You can spend thousands a night on ice, when you're catering a 1,000 person event. Nothing unusual when you write a check for $15,000 or $20,000 to an ice company. Only that plumbing company didn't actually do any plumbing, and that ice company never sent any ice. They cash the check, then write another check to their consulting firm for external management. That firm then......... and the money washes it's way back legitimately. It leases a company car to a newspaper boy, or rents a company apartment which nobody at the company knows about.
 

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