It was a beautiful Wednesday morning when I headed to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, as I do every other month, to restock my dwindling supply of Chinese goodies. First stop was the Tai Pan Bakery on Main Street, where I purchased seven chicken pies, seven pork pies and four curry beef pastries, all delicious delicacies that Llewellyn and I love.
Next stop was 39-16 Prince St., where I purchased a half-duck from Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao, which I was only able to find because Dr. Hung, my Veterans Administration geriatric specialist, told me exactly where it was. The store has no entrance, just a thick plastic window with a hole in it so customers can place an order. Looking in, you can see workers carving up the bird and artfully placing pieces in containers, with glistening, crispy pieces of irresistible duck on top. In the pre-COVID era, roasted ducks, pigs and ribs hung in many shop windows around Flushing Chinatown for all to see, but now they’re nowhere to be found.
On the same street, I bought three sesame balls from a street vendor, then headed to the only place in the neighborhood I could find that still makes crispy turnip puffs, a delicious pastry filled with ham-flavored turnip. I took a seat and ordered some pork and crabmeat soup dumplings to enjoy while I waited for the puffs.
The dumplings arrived, steaming hot, along with a sauce of ginger shreds swimming in light soy and black vinegar. I removed the dumplings from their steamer basket one by one and placed them in a deep ceramic spoon, then cut each dumpling in half, allowing the broth to escape. Each spoonful was like a miniature bowl of soup with two half-dumplings. I topped each one with the sauce and, half by half, ate each piece. I was in heaven. I had my fill after eating three of the six dumplings, and asked the waitress to pack the other three to go.
Relaxed and somewhat pleased with myself at the afternoon’s accomplishments, I sat back and enjoyed some hot tea. I happened to notice a young couple at a nearby table enjoying their order of soup dumplings. They motioned to the waitress for a check, paid, gave her a thumbs-up and left.
It was impossible for me to take my eyes off them. They were just sitting there, the two of them. Beautiful, like identical twins, I thought. Two dumplings in a steamer basket, yearning to be eaten. Why did the couple leave two perfectly good dumplings on the table, especially after giving a thumbs-up?
I knew what I wanted to do. But did I have the courage?
A Seinfeld episode came to mind, the one where George got caught eating from the garbage. He was helping to clear dirty dishes after a meal at his girlfriend’s mother’s apartment when he noticed a partially eaten eclair in the kitchen garbage.
He couldn’t resist. He reached in, retrieved it and took a bite. But the hostess caught him. He was mortified. When Jerry heard the story, he told him: “You, my friend, have crossed the line that divides man and bum. You are now a bum.”
But as I gazed upon the uneaten dumplings, I knew what George would do. And my choice was, in some ways, less bum-like: These dumplings were pristine, whereas George’s eclair was already bitten into and left in the trash.
OK, I’ll admit it: The dumplings had recently shared a basket with other dumplings that were eaten by strangers. But they weren’t in the trash yet, and I could save them from that fate.
How to pull it off, though, without drawing attention to myself and risking being scolded the way Jerry scolded George?
I could walk by the table and, in the blink of an eye, snatch the dumplings from the steamer basket with my hand as I exited the restaurant. If I did it fast enough, with precision, I could probably pull it off.
Or I could quickly grab them when passing, drop them in my Zabar’s hat, which I’d be holding in my other hand, cover them with a package of my pastries, and nonchalantly leave the restaurant. That could work!
Or, I could do the hat thing but quickly put the hat on my head; but no! What if one or both dumplings broke in the process and the soup began to drizzle down my face. What a revolting development that would be.
Or, I could quickly put them in my pants pocket, but then I might have to deal with the leakage problem again, and this time in a very embarrassing place.
I pondered the dilemma. After all, they weren’t in the garbage can, but what if someone saw me? There was something uncool about the act itself.
I sat. I thought. For me, this was not a no-brainer. If I didn’t act soon, the efficient staff would clear the table and that would be that. I kept looking at the dumplings. No one had taken them yet. Was that a sign?
Social impotence was never my style. I had to make my move, one way or the other. “I’m not George, I’m not,” I thought. “If I want more dumplings, I’ll buy more dumplings.” Armed with my resolution, I picked up my packages of pastries, walked right past the two lonely dumplings, and left the restaurant. Unlike George, I did not cross the line.
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