Monday, December 24, 2012


1984 and we've been in Canada long enough to know that in October we should eat turkey and in April there's something about eggs.  We know that every Tuesday, our dad's only day off, he would take us out for cheeseburgers, McNuggets, and Filet-O-Fish because that is what people eat in this country.  We know that if we're gonna spend a day downtown and shop like a frugal Vancouverite, our mom's gonna take us on the #14 bus down Hastings to gawk at the mannequins dressed in luxury (to us) in the windows of Woodward's, buy velcro runners at Army & Navy, pick up cold cuts at Save-On Meats.  Buying anything from this deli with the flying neon pigs was rare since Dad worked at Dollar Meat Store a few blocks east on Pender, but sometimes Mom wanted to make us lunch for school with Black Forest ham and bologna instead of barbecued duck and char siu.

Save-On Meats felt foreign to me without a charred pig carcass hangin' out in the window next to day-glo puffy octopi and greasy geese hooked at the neck.  Instead, behind the glass were rows of wet pink flesh nestled amongst a garden of plastic green.  Above were enormous loops of things called "wurst".  As I followed my mom and sisters along the glass cabinets, I noticed the absence of Chinese on the signs.  I could never read what's what at Dollar Meat Store in Chinatown; at Save-On Meats, I could literally distinguish between beef and pork and duck and chicken.  As alien as I felt in this Western butcher shop, I felt familiar and welcomed by the English.  Nevertheless, I possessed only kindergarten English and had no idea what that damned "wurst" meant, or "filet mignon", but they aren't even English so who cares.  Mom and Donna and Cindy had proceeded to a counter of cold cuts while I lingered by a tub of glossy red and green cherries.  I knew those cherries.  They were the prize floating in a syrupy womb within a chocolate shell, and but a lone one could be found in a box of beloved Pot of Gold chocolates.  My favourite chunk of chocolate, but only because of the cherry.  And before me was a bucket.  I scurried to Mom.  "Mom Mom Mom, can we buy some cherries?"
"They don't sell fruit here."
"Candy cherries."
"How much?"
"I dunno."
She was mediating between Donna and Cindy about ham or turkey or roast beef and smoked or not smoked, didn't care about cherries, candied or not.  "Okay.  Not too much."
I hopped back to the tub and tilted my chin upward to the rotund woman behind the glass, hair in net.  "I want cherries." I pointed at the glistening globules, having no idea nor care what the hell mar-a-schi-no meant.
"How much do ya want?" the woman grunted.
I thrust out two fists together.  "This much."
She grabbed a container with her wurst-like fingers and scooped two kindergarten-fists of cherries.  She weighed the morsels and wrote something on the lid with a Sharpie.  Handed it to me with an insincere smile.  I suppose my fists weighed 200 grams.

I popped a cherry in my mouth and savoured the hardly-fruit, part gooey, part chewy, all saccharine.  I was bypassing the chocolate chastity belt and getting the straight goods.  Pure uncut candy cherry.  Another.  And another.  And another.  My fingers stuck together.  After twenty-one cherries in the span of approximately under-one-minute, the part of my mouth where tongue meets jaw cramped up.  My jowls tingled with a rush of effervescent fructose.  Saliva gushed.  I noticed Donna was embarrassed, so I joined my mom and sisters while I kept munching.
"MOM!" Donna exclaimed.
"Don't do that!" Cindy exclaimed.
"Don't do what?" Mom said in Cantonese, half-ignoring them, then pointed at a mound of meat with one finger and said in English, "200 gram, that.  Please thank you." The robust woman behind the glass grabbed some unsmoked turkey with tongs and smiled at this minor Chinese argument.
Mom's finger hovered circuitously over the glass.
"Don't use your middle finger!" warned Donna, who is eight years older than me and knows such things.
"It's bad here!" shrieked Cindy, who is four years older than me and was beginning to know such things.
"You think I care what they do here?" Mom commanded in Cantonese with crossed brow.  "It's a perfectly good finger." I stopped eating cherries.  Too sweet.  So gross.  Mom dragged her finger to the left and jabbed it towards a pile of meat, ostensibly telling the fuckin' worker to fuck off and fuckin' give her 200 grams of motherfucking Black Forest ham.

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