At the latest installment of my Vanity Appointment, my good friend Theresa Constantine pinned me down to the specific night.
“You and your dear wife Karen meet me, David and Althea at New Fuji Buffet on Erie Boulevard at 6:30,” my hair and beard stylist implored. “I’ve got coupons.”
Indeed we did. It had been since April that we’d all dined at Yummy, the Chinese buffet closer by our Syracuse city neighborhood of Eastwood. That’s too long in the life of an 11-year-old, and Karen and I wanted to catch up with Althea. Oh, yeah, David, too, who’d switched from an evening shift to days with his job at St. Joe’s Hospital. Karen also doesn’t get to gab with Theresa on those every-four-week intervals like I do. And although we’d never been to New Fuji, Theresa assured me it was better than Yummy, hands-down.
It looked inviting from the outside, with its coating of new snow.
Karen got out of work a tad late, and we showed up five minutes past the appointed time, but Theresa was smiling in the lobby to lead us to the table where David and Althea awaited.
They said that indeed they’d only been there a moment or two, and completely understood the work thing. David had a full draft beer sitting in front of him, and Karen ordered one, too. I stuck with water, which was what Theresa and Althea had in front of them. When the bill came (and when I turned around and noticed the five-by-five-foot sign that stared at me when we walked in) I realized those 16-ounce drafts were only 99 cents with the buffet dinner, and I immediately developed beverage regret.
We all went up to be dazzled by the rows of stocked serving tables.
I immediately grabbled two bowls of soup, one wonton and one hot and sour, because I am a soup guy. After dropping those back at the table, I stacked a plate with a spring roll, some bone-in pork barbecued spare ribs, vegetable lo mein, pepper steak with onions, pork fried rice, General Tso’s chicken, sesame chicken … yeah, I think that’s it.
We all free-styled, food-wise. Althea was the sole adventurer who grabbed one of the chicken feet on her second trip up. I made a lame why’d-the-chicken-cross-the-road joke, and we all look wide-eyed as she took a bite, made a face, and handed the wicked looking red thing to her father. David put it down, somewhere. I didn’t want to look anymore.
We talked about Althea’s budding basketball career as a fifth-grader on the St. Rose de Lima girls team. Her squad is undefeated this season, and Althea has enjoyed something of a breakthrough after scoring her first basket, increasing her point total to double-digits in a game, and even swishing a shot from three-point range. She’s enjoying the season very much, and we all speculated that perhaps St. Rose de Lima has been so successful because her team has only six players while the rest of the schools in the league have had 10, 12, 15 or more. Everybody plays, so perhaps those squads have less chance to develop the familiarity that Althea and her teammates have.
She was also quite happy about a birthday trip with her mom to see the Syracuse University men’s team play at the Carrier Dome. Not only did did her name and a Happy Birthday wish get posted on the big video screen during halftime, but a camera person caught Althea during another break and put her joyous face up on the screens during that parade of fan shots.
She knows that life is more than basketball. Althea assured us she likes a lot about her school, and figures she want to continue her Catholic education, moving on to Bishop Grimes, when she enters seventh grade. David and Theresa smiled.
The adults talked about our next get-together, for Syracuse Dining Week, which is actually two weeks during February. Our next visit will be soon. Mark and Karen smiled.
Is there a child in your life that you enjoy marking the growing process with periodic social occasions, and if so, what years do you see the biggest changes? Did you play basketball in grade school, and if so, did you enjoy a burst of confidence after your first basket? Would you or have you ever tried chicken feet, and what’s your opinion on that as a food?