August 23, 2010


The ticket was a ripped, instant internet deal for twenty-percent off one entree from Chinatown with the purchase of another for equal or lesser value. Lying in the parking lot of a backwater Chinese Restaurant with the yellow roof peeling, it was bent in three places, covered with cigarette ash, and completely unusable. Because Chinatown has closed, torn down to be the lot for a new clothing store: Rickmann's Menwear Outlet.

"Too bad." Mr. Michael DeVry, a regular for ten years now said, "I know all good things come to an end, but Chinatown was already in business for 35 years when I was in college. I never would have thought ten years later, it would close."

35 years of cheap fried rice, inflation, booming and crumbling economy, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, and American workers, The Honeymooner that featured the city's only noodle basket, and Health Department battles. In an instant gone.

The owner had been a Taiwan native, coming from a family of seven children. As the middle child he felt compelled to do something great like his older brother, Taiwan's #1 genius at the Abacus. Slick-backed jet black hair and business suit, he sold vacuums to start. He progressed to get his master's in mathematics and married a woman he knew from his friend's friend. They went to a mutual friend's wedding together. Had two kids, they left, and he began shuffling around, cooking lo mein, and making orders to other more successful Chinese restaurants.

He always loved to watch the international news, though, until the day he died--the day Chinatown was no more.

A pink Casio point-and-shoot camera lay discarded in a dumpster. It was raining, but the camera didn't turn on anyway. With a few bumps and bruises, it could be sold back for thirty bucks, if it worked. However, no one really cared on this busy Tokyo street. Occasionally, a punk kid or curious college student would see if it worked, but they would throw it back in.

The memory card was still intact, though. It was the storage of almost a hundred photos of Osaka, Tokyo, the Imperial Palace walls and garden, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, even Akihabara. Over fifty of these photos featured a big-boned college student smiling and posing with a peace-sign gesture. She wore glasses for half of the pictures, and contacts for the others. She was tall, taller than all of the Japanese around her, except one person, a guy. She wore jeans in one picture, a skirt in some, but always leaning towards the conservative side.

"In Japan, girls don't wear, what is it?" The girl's Japanese professor had said in Sophomore year, "The skinny sturap and tight--Yeah! Tan...tanku top?"

So, she had not packed anything sleeveless or tight. Not that she had much. A tomboy and an oddball, Kimani Nakamura was going to Japan to find her roots, learn Japanese, and experience the world. Born and raised in America, all she knew most of her life was Americanized food, American culture, and American techniques. She realized after graduating high school, that college was great, but the world was even better. In college, she didn't feel like she was in the real world, living life to the fullest. She felt like she was in purgatory, going through grueling soul-redeeming tasks to get into heaven. When she graduated, the first thing she did was go to Japan.

The pink camera had been hers since Junior year of college, the camera she had bought for her Study Abroad trip to Japan. It didn't work because she accidentally dropped it from the balcony of her bedroom and it landed in a sewer drain below. She had thought the memory card was destroyed.

That's the way she was, though, air-headed and wasteful.

"Here, have this." The blond man said, handing the homeless guy a hotdog, "I don't like hotdogs very much anyway."

Piled with onions, pickles, diced tomatoes, and mustard, the homeless guy felt his stomach grumble. Thanks. He whispered. The hotdog was the holy grail, the epitome of American hospitality. One hotdog was a dollar, or now with inflation $1.35. Any man, even homeless, could scrap enough money for a hotdog. Fully processed with the remains of all the meat that can't be sold at the butchers goes into the hotdog, so it was like a delicacy or sorts. To the homeless guy, Roberto Romero, anyway.

Roberto stared at the glob of condiments for a few seconds, feeling his mouth water. Dressed in a dirty white tank, brown belt, and khaki shorts, the cold Boston fall gave him goosebumps. Hairy arms and legs, he had traveled all the way from Michigan--hiking, hitch-hiking, "borrowing" cars from stupid owners who left the keys in the ignition at a busy gas station. He had been young then, twenty-something, he wasn't sure. But now he was around forty-something, and bad nutrition and lack of hygienic facilities made him look much older. Like his father, who was still alive, retired in Mexico. That's why he had come to Boston. Roberto kept forgetting and remembering again. He had come to find his father's old restaurant. But he didn't know the name. He could only ask each Mexican restaurant owner if they had ever known a Rico Romero before. Unfortunately, there were a lot of Mexican restaurants... And a lot of Rico's.

What he wouldn't give to be back at work in Michigan, working for a Chinese place.

The belated Alex Lin's wife, Alice Lin, kept records of every worker in her restaurant. The file cabinet half-hidden behind the office door, which was covered completely with receipts and business cards, contained every tax form, every social security copy, legal ID, pay stub, and schedule sheet or every person who was paid something. Romero had been a cook thirty years ago, Ben a delivery driver fifteen after graduating from college, Kimani was a hostess twenty years ago, and Alex was dead. Chinatown died with him.

Now, all that remains are the Things.