Unseasonably warm weather is screwing with my stomach. Come cold November, I should be slurping soups and hankering for hearty cassoulets and short ribs braised in red wine.
However, global warming has replaced nipple-hardening winds with spring squalls and T-shirt temperatures. My armpits remain moist. Sweat dribbles down my freckled forehead. My girlfriend insists on sleeping with a fan, its whir thwarting my nightly excursions into dreamland.
“I need it to help me sleep,” she complains when I unplug the wind-maker.
“But I can’t sleep.”
“Deal with it.”
I eye the feather pillow and gauge its smothering power, my girlfriend’s measured nocturnal breaths—and my desire to spend the next 20 years subsisting on prison gruel. Sighing, I turn sideways, position the pillow over my ear and suffocate the clatter.
On the flip side, too-warm weather lets me savor Gorilla’s eye-popping iced coffee. Grom’s pistachio gelato—just-roasted nuts transmogrified into a creamy, almost pornographic obscenity—still treats my tongue. And tastiest of all, I discover one muggy bike-riding afternoon, are cold noodles at Sunset Park’s Yun Nan Flavour Snack Shop (775A 49th St. betw. Seventh & Eighth Aves., 718-633-3090, B’klyn).
After Froggering around shopping Chinese grandmas buying produce and ignoring red lights with equal fervor, I lock up and enter Yun Nan. Its hubby and wife proprietors hail from Yunnan, the southwestern China province that borders Laos and Vietnam. Thus, their eatery focuses on herbaceous, wildly flavored spicy broths and glossy homemade rice noodles. If I lived closer, I’d dine at this cubbyhole noodle shack daily. But distance makes it an infrequent pleasure—the culinary equivalent of oral sex.
“Soup? Noodles?” queries the chipmunk-cheeked wife, motioning to the sign above my head. Though the crispy-meat (pork cracklings and the odd offal) soup is superb, tropical weather dictates I order cold noodles.
I plop at a kiddie-height counter and wait. I’m alone, the spare eatery silent save for clanking pots and a radio murmuring Mandarin. Moments later, the cherubic wife delivers a tangle of slippery, spaghetti-thin noodles topped with cilantro, crunchy nuts, heat-seeking chilies, crumbled pork and enough sugar to sweeten morning coffee; the holy mess is perched in a savory-tart lagoon of soy sauce and rice-wine vinegar.
“Xie xie,” I say (pronounced shee-YEH shee-yeh)—thank you. It’s one of several Mandarin phrases I learned when gorging around Beijing several summers ago, snacking on incendiary Sichuan ma po tofu, fluffy steamed pork buns and roosters’ cock-a-doodle-doo cockscomb.
She smiles, then mimes stirring. From my man purse I remove molar-gnawed chopsticks—like a boxcar hobo, I travel with utensils—and whir together the mess like a painter tinting a pigment. My first nibble reveals a cool-hot, chewy-crunchy, savory-sweet contrast: It’s red state–blue state harmony by the bite. I’m so contented that minutes pass before I notice that the Mandarin radio broadcast has segued into accented English.
“Are you ready for the language lesson?” the radio asks.
The tenor-toned announcer, alternating between Mandarin and English, begins his vocab-building lesson. He unspools life, what, most, thing, important. “Now let’s make a sentence,” the announcer says, rearranging the jumble. “What is the most important thing in your life?”
Love? A rent-stabilized apartment? A president smarter
“The most important thing in your life is to make a lot of money,” the announcer says, emphasizing money.
Good luck in this economic climate, I think. Has the linguist not heard of Lehman Brothers?
“The most important thing in life is to get a green card,” the announcer continues, repeating like a broken record, “Green card. Green card. The most important thing in life is to get a green card.”
Also true, I think, envisioning radio-listening Chinese immigrants intoning this phrase, treating the words like a talisman.
“The most important thing in life is to have good, healthy children,” the announcer adds.
Not bloody likely. I don’t double-bag my condoms for fun. I drink the noodles’ meaty sauce like leftover cereal milk and listen on.
“The most important thing in your life is to be happy and content,” the announcer proclaims. Wealth. Citizenship. Kids. Contentment. Initially, I assume these phrases to be incongruent lunacy, orange juice mixed with toothpaste. Stitch these proclamations together, though, and they describe the apple-cheeked American dream, tarnished and tattered but enduringly tantalizing. It’s an idea, I want to tell the wife, every bit as lovely as her lunch.