Center of the Universe (49)
Kang leaned closer and, in a voice I won’t call a whisper because it was simply his regular voice, said, “I’m the only Asian here.”
It didn’t seem like a complaint, but—to a Scotch-Irish member of the expiring racial majority—it also didn’t seem like a happy thing. “That must not feel good,” I proposed.
As if to say he was used to being the only one, Kang told me how the people stared when he showed up in a remote Brazilian village as the new preacher —“I was the first Korean they had seen!” — and punctuated his observation with the sharp guffaw that is simply his regular laugh. He added that when he was sworn in as a citizen last fall in Oakland he was the only North Korean in the room. And he told me how the locals stared and reached out to touch his grandson’s hair when the boy went to Brazil. But I didn’t know what to make of that because his grandson doesn’t look particularly Asian, nor does his hair. Maybe I was confused. Or insensitive. As if to prove it, I insisted on responding with a moth-eaten, second-hand yarn about how fifty years ago people in Africa reached out to touch my sister’s blond hair. And even as it unspooled, the anecdote struck me as not just canned, but a colonial-era cliché, and off the mark as a show of solidarity.
Ordinarily, we don’t roll into Sorellas until 8, by which time, the theory goes, the parents with the cranky kids will have evacuated for another weary round of Go the Fuck to Sleep. Tonight, per Soy’s request, because of the filming, we assumed our places at 5 pm. And though it was Saturday, Wendy’s night, a simulated Italian of Austrian extraction was playing “That’s Amore” on the squeezebox — playing, not singing, and strictly sotto, Giovanni didn’t have to explain, because of the filming.
The filming was for a TV show called “Check, Please! Bay Area.” Which might not seem like a big deal to you, but is “Young Sheldon” to me and Roni. “Check Please” (I’ll forego the Trumpian exclamation) is a restaurant review show where three average folks — San Francisco average (proudly multicultural and gender-fluid) — under the you-go-girl supervision of host Leslie Sbrocco, each recommend a favorite eatery the two others then visit and appraise. The show serves up brief filmed profiles of each restaurant, including star-filtered close-ups of food and color commentary from the chef, and then, back in the studio, Leslie and the reviewers sip wine and banter — mostly good-naturedly — about their experiences. We always imagine we’re going to discover some hidden culinary gem, but it doesn’t often happen. What really keeps us tuning in is wondering who’s going to slip whom the passive-aggressive fillet knife or how the mildly wounded will passive-aggressively respond.
A million years ago, when we lived in New York, I wrote a book about Kiss, and Roni posed as a publicist to finagle me onto “The Joe Franklin Show,” the corniest talk show in America and, until Franklin hung up his plaid sportscoat after 43 years, the longest running. In recent seasons I’ve been bugging her to get me on two other shows: “World’s Worst Chef” — because it’s impossible to imagine a cook more incompetent. And “Check, Please! Bay Area” — because it’s impossible to imagine a restaurant-goer more enthusiastic (50,000 words — so far). “Check Please” was such a natural for me that when Soy and Sonia were notified that an unspecified fan had picked their restaurant they assumed it was me. And assumed I was fooling when I said no. And still weren’t entirely sure when the producer told them the secret recommender was a woman. Alas, I’m not, and it wasn’t. Turns out my long-suffering life-partner is done with the fake publicist business. So these recent golden opportunities were — it’s the only word, Roni — squandered.
The point is, that’s how much I love “Check Please.”
But it brings up a bigger issue: What do you wear when worlds collide? When your favorite local TV is filming at your favorite local trattoria? Is it like a wedding, I ask Roni, where you’re not supposed to outshine the bride?
“Where she’s the only one gets to wear white?” my bride replies. “I don’t think so.”
Duly liberated, I went full flamboyant: custom Hong Kong suit — silk, with stripes of red, gold, black and green — over a polka-dot Carnaby Street (by way of Siegel’s in the Mission) shirt. Roni looked nice, too. We jumped in the E-tron and silently descended the three blocks on electric-only. And then, in a sure sign the bloom is off the rose for the new car, shoehorned it into the restaurant’s miniaturized parking lot between Gary’s Subaru-Wagon-cum-storage-unit and a stranger’s menacingly dimpled F-150.
A clipboard lady stood sentry by the door. “There’s filming for TV going on inside,” she warned, by way of legal disclaimer.
“Better be!” I said, by way of lying. “You don’t think I’d be out like this on just any old Saturday night?”
Inside, Kang and Maria were already at the table, alongside Gary, who I passive-aggressively teased about being extra careful when he backs that beastly wagon out. Kang said he’d thought about calling me this week, because he had a Time magazine article to share, but remembered I never answer my phone. It was Roni who suggested we juggle the seating arrangements so Kang and I could sit next to each other.
“I still find it amazing,” I told the good reverend, as I slid into the booth, “that you and I wound up side by side in Fairfax, California.” Then, concerned my greeting might send him spiraling into dark reflection, I abruptly changed the subject.
“Look at this,” I said, indicating the crew, “your girls are going to be famous.”
Soon the clipboard lady stopped by the table and asked if we could pretend to do a selfie, and the camera guy shot it. And I glanced around at the rest of the dolled-up friends and family the Sisters had summoned for the occasion and was pleased to see nobody in a red, green, black and gold suit from Asia. I was the only one here.