On my way back from Irvine, I stopped to see a film. Next to me sat an old man. Mid seventies at least. We started talking about the Edwards Cinema Chain, and he told me it used to be controlled by one man, but in his 90th year he drowned offshore and his shareholders took over the empire. They pushed the advertising up a notch -- now this theatre plays an endless loop of commercials as you sit helplessley in your seat. Along with the previews, you are subjected to Coke and Pepsi ads, and jingoistic videos urging you to join the Army. "The old man would never have allowed this," claimed my friend. "I remember when a guy playing the organ would rise up from the pulpit on the left, on this giant pillar, and play before the show. When the movie started, he would sink back down." He paused. "But I'll tell you another thing. These reclining seats sure are a hell of a lot nicer."
He is on his way south from a wedding reception. One of his daughters just got married. His other daughter is in college, and has a job as a web designer. She just finished a new project, and he's going to hop online and check it out when he gets home. He has a tiny cel-phone that he keeps in touch with, a flashy plastic device that looks totally incongruous stuck to the side of his wispy hair. He and I are the last two to leave the theatre, both waiting to see who composed the music. "Huh. Apparently the music was by John Williams," I say, as I get out of my seat. In case he missed it. "Ah, thanks. That's what I was looking for."
Today I met the cook in the back of IHOP. Our conversation started when I heard him yelling about Grand Theft Auto for the Playstation 2, and I yelled back, "Where can I get that game?" A short and powerfully built man, with a face that seems like a synthesis of Korean and Spanish features.
He moved here from Guam about a year ago, with his wife and three kids. Had a fourth child, a boy, while living here. His Guam driver's license looks very exotic. He used to rebuild and install car audio devices, and consumer video gear, when he was younger. He remembers charging a witless customer 45 dollars to fix a VCR that only had a blown fuse. He got very good with hydraulics and boom-bass cars. "Loud suckers, too. You wouldn't even need to put gas in your car, man, just turn up that amp and go boomin' down the street on shockwaves." He used to go to competitions for that sort of thing. A friend of his cut the bed of his truck into four pieces, and mounted it all on a hydraulic assembly that would split the pieces apart, twirl them around, and put them back together differently.
"Sounds like a complete waste of time and money, to me." I say.
"Well, you gotta understand where these people are coming from. In Guam there's a lot of money coming in, and land gets passed down from one generation to another. On the 21st of this month we celebrate our own independence day, our liberation from Japan. There's one main street that goes the length of the island, always next to the beach, and people set up canopies and tents and barbecues there for weeks, and everyone walks around eating food. Families are important there. It's not like here. If you were hungry or thirsty, you could walk onto someone's land, and people would greet you and laugh and offer you food. Even if they didn't know you. They'd get to know you. But you didn't have to know them, you could just come right in. It's like that. There's not much trouble there, and some people spend their time doing ... funny things. Things just for the hell of it."
He goes back to the kitchen to whip up another order. In a few minutes, he pops out and says, "Do you like sugar on your French Toast?"
I never said anything about French Toast, but, "Yes!" I reply.
He brings me out an order of French Toast. "I think this one is just a little bit overdone. So I'm trying again. Enjoy."
A few minutes later, he re-emerges, and sets a gigantic pile of bacon on the table. "Just a little too crisp," he says.
During the next lull, I show him pictures on my laptop, describing UCSC and my road trips. The very tall waitress comes over, and sits next to me on the bench. I give her a backscratch and she melts onto the table. The cook and I get into an animated discussion about online games, rendering, programming, and console wars. Another patron comes in, and the waitress collects herself from the tabletop with a sigh, and tends to him.
We trade quotes from anime films, trying to stump each other. I describe the Ultima series to him. He fondly recalls blowing enormous holes in the green lizards, in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. "If you were quick enough, you could bust a hole in the first one, and shoot the one behind it, through the hole. Bwaa haa haaa!!" He has an easy, ubiquitous laugh, true to his culture of origin. He teaches me the indigenous Guamanian greeting. "Hafa Adai!" (Pronounced, "half-a-day") It means, "What's up? What's happening?"
Another patron comes in. "Honey, I'm going to need you for this.", says the waitress. She's been calling him "Honey" for months. "I gotta go back now, but hey, next time you come in, let me know. I'll hook you up with whatever you wanna eat."
It's good to know the chef.
The spanish cleaning lady is there, from the week before. I get her attention and hold up a fork. She smiles, and points at it. "Tenador!"
"Fork!" I exclaim.
We move on, through the contents of the table. Baso, Plato, Tenador, Cuchillo, Cuchara. She seems very happy to trade knowledge. A sweet woman. Perhaps next time I visit, we'll expand on the lesson.