Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why are they eating our food?

A work of fiction prompted by discussions with immigrant friends of other cultures.

When I was little, growing up in the 70s and 80s, sometimes we’d pick up tacos or swing through the drive thru for burgers. In our little suburban town, it was all about Burger King. Always the same. We’d order our burgers and fries; mom would order her onion rings. Then, mom would turn around and ask, “Who wants a strawberry shake?... Anybody?” We’d shake our heads. Immediately, even now too bright pink bubbly frothy mess comes to mind. When I looked at my brother, I could tell he was just as repulsed as I still am.

Later, I got my drivers license and drove some friends through the Burger King drive thru. Jamey ordered herself, “I’ll have a Whopper, large fries and a chocolate shake.” Kiran ordered, “Can I have a Whopper Junior, medium fries and a vanilla shake.” I was speechless. I turned to the girls and asked, “Since when do they have chocolate and vanilla shakes?”

The funny thing is a couple of decades later, my brother and I were talking and after he got his license, he had the exact same experience with his friends with milkshake flavors at the Burger King drive thru.

Cultural differences.

This is just one example of things my mom did that we never really noticed growing up. There were other things too. Hospitality. I saw how happily other moms would receive me in their home – they were kind and inquisitive and fed me meals and snacks. On the other hand, we rarely had our friends over to our house. If a friend happened to stay close to dinner time, my mom would ask in Gujarati, “Are they staying for dinner? Why?” Unless our friends were also Indian... because that meant reciprocation was ensured. If she fed their children, they would do something for her. It was very strange, the difference between the way I was treated in other people’s homes and the way she treated people we brought home. I spoke with some other of my immigrant and second generation friends, and usually it was the same. Their moms had a similar attitude, “Why are they eating our food? Tell them to go home.” If you consider the economic conditions our mothers experienced in their home country and then immigrating here from North India in the 60s, having very little, trying to scrape by, it was understandable. So here, I grew up with the idea of generosity and a different take on hospitality.

My home is open, my kitchen free for all, and my guest room available. When I had a larger home, mine was the Thanksgiving and Christmas-making place for those who had nowhere else to go. Now, in a smaller apartment, it’s pretty much the same except I only have a couch and sleeping bags to offer guests. Still hospitality is something different for an older single woman. The only male guests who I’ve had in my home who have not tried to kiss me, or tried to take advantage of my hospitality in other ways, are my gay male friends. Let that sink in.

EVERY MALE guest I have had in my home, to whom I have offered hospitality, has hit on me.

Here’s an example. One summer Sunday evening, coming home from a massage, I felt an unusual urge to be out among people. I ended up at my local bar on game night – board games. I played a couple of rounds of Kerplunk with three young men – do you know what that is? It’s this game where you stick all these little sticks into holes through the plastic canister; then, pour marbles on top that can’t get through; you take turns taking out the sticks one by one trying not to let the marbles fall – I played Kerplunk with these three young men, 25 years old each at the most who were visiting San Francisco from the Midwest. They had known each other since Freshman year of college when they became best friends, and it was their farewell get together. One of them was going to the Dominican Republic for med school and they wouldn’t see each other for several years. I can’t remember their names, but there was one guy I call Hot guy because he was hot; then there was Innocent guy, and Staple head. They were out the night before and ended up in the emergency room because the one going off to med school had fallen off of a stage and cracked his really big head open; as a result, he had several fresh staples put into his scalp - Staple head. All were hardy Midwestern stock – tall and sturdy.

After we were all bored of Kerplunk, I was ready to head home. After all, I was scrubbin’ it in sweats, clogs and hoodie and was still kind of oily from the massage. The boys convinced me to help them find places open that Sunday night. By this point in a conversation, I usually know if there is any danger involved. I hadn’t any indication of misogyny, racism, dark sides, or bad boys. They were a trio of Luke Skywalkers at heart. Technically, they were men, but they were still 80% young pup trying to play the adult. Ya’ know? Teen pups.

Someone the night before had mentioned Mist Ultra Club on 11th and Folsom, and so these teen pups hailed a cab, treated me like a lady despite my scrubby attire, and off we went to explore 11th and Folsom… on a Sunday night.

We, uh, never went into Mist. They were more than a little intimidated by the zebra print dress and big 80s hair one girl had, and the purple zoot suit another guy was wearing. So, we went to Holy Cow around the corner instead. It was their first time to gay night at a club. The Midwestern teen pups were scared. By this time each one needed to go to the bathroom but they didn’t want to go together - they needed me to escort them one by one across the dance floor to the restroom and back to the corner of the near empty bar. I was their protector. Each one had a conversation with me that went something like, “It’s my first time in a gay bar. These dudes aren’t going to hit on me, are they? Did you see the guy at the door?” The 20-something kid at the door had on white deliciously tight hot pants, and was topless except for the white angel wings on his back. I was witnessing their first exposure to such normal things. For god’s sake, what if they had come during Love Fest, Bay to Breakers or Pride Week? I was their guide through the Star Wars Cantina scene now. One by one, each had their alone-conversation with me to send a message out to the other men in the bar that they had eyes only for girls.

I could see their discomfort growing, but they insisted they wanted this experience. They got drunk. They started horsing around. I was standing at the bar with Innocent guy when Hot guy and Staple head very quickly went from horsing around to seriously angry. Hot guy had forgotten about the staples and had lightly hit Staple head’s stapled head. Now Staple head was in some serious pain, and all three of them were drunk. Staple head did have pain medication with him, but now that he had been drinking, he didn’t want to mix the meds with the alcohol. Staple head’s head was bleeding, Innocent guy was trying to keep everyone cheerful, and Hot guy now felt guilty so he was feigning anger. This is when it’s time to call it a night.

So, what would you do? These three teen pups you had been protecting and looking after, even if they could remember where they had parked their car, are too drunk to drive anywhere, like to San Mateo where they’re supposed to crash at someone’s house.

I assessed: Hot guy and Staple head are angry at each other. Staple head is bleeding. If I left, Innocent guy would be left holding it all together. Sure they were friends. Sure they were boys. Men? Maybe. Sure I could have left these Midwestern Luke Skywalkers on Folsom Street. Would they have survived? Sure they would have. Still, some benevolent instinct had been triggered by these adorable boys, just a few years older than my nephew. I mean, technically, I could be their mother. I remembered crashing at people’s houses when I was in my 20s. I imagined my younger brother or nephew in their position, and rather than leaving them on the street, I invited these young pups to my home where I had sleeping bags and an air mattress sofa bed.

We get to my home, a one-bedroom in a quiet hood. Hot guy is the drunkest of the three, goes straight into my room, strips down naked and climbs into my bed, having every intention of trying to bang me. The hotness factor doesn’t matter one bit when you know that now you’re going to have to wash your sheets tomorrow because there’s some hot drunk naked dumbass in it. Innocent guy got pissed at Hot guy because, he tells me, “I’m invisible.” Translation: he never gets the girl, and wants me to want him and not Hot guy. And, after helping me set up the sleeping bag and pump up and set the air mattress sofa bed, Innocent guy tries to leave. I go after him like he wanted, and convince him to come back, assuring him I’m not banging anybody, much less the Hot naked drunk guy in my bed who I just couldn’t be bothered to throw out. I honestly didn’t know where the hell Innocent guy thought he was going to go. He didn’t even know where he was, and cabs don’t come out to my hood regularly. Plus, I just didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of having only two of them in my place in the morning. They worked well together.

So I get Innocent guy to come back. We decide that Staple head should definitely sleep on the sofa bed because his head is bleeding and is still hurting a lot. Innocent guy doesn’t want me to sleep on the floor in the sleeping bag in my own house, so he sleeps in the sleeping bag and lets me sleep next to Staple head on the sofa bed. Innocent guy sets up the sleeping bag next to me and tries grabbing my hand, tries kissing me, tries and tries, and I tell him in my babysitter voice reserved for bedtime when the books and toys need to go away that, “it’s time to go to sleep now.” He followed these directions quite well.

Now, the one I’m most concerned with is Staple head. Is he in pain still? Can he sleep? Does he need anything? Is his head bleeding on my sheets? Staple head turns to me and begins to pull me close. Of the three, if I were their age, this is the one I’d want to kiss. And, here he is about to kiss me, and I pull away saying, “If you do this right now, you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings – your friend on the floor.” He turns onto his back, takes my hand and arm, and we both fall asleep holding hands, arms linked as if we could be walking down the street together.

It’s interesting to note here that I can’t sleep easily when there’s any man I’m not related to in my home. Here are these young pups, Hot guy, Innocent guy and Staple head. Each one made some kind of advance after I had offered them hospitality. I determined enough about their natures that I knew without a doubt I was safe. And, I actually slept. I slept well with Staple head holding my hand all night.

I have had women stay over. But again, there hasn’t been a single man in my home who hasn’t hit on me – even the married ones. These boys were very easy to manage in comparison to the others.

There’s the guy who, when I went into the kitchen to make some tea, chatting the whole time, I came out to discover he had is pants and shorts off, erection in hand – put your pants back on and get the F**K out. Is that what your mother taught you?

There’s the guy who, we had mutual friends in common, he missed the last BART to Oakland and was stranded in SF. He slept on my couch… not before trying to grab me in the kitchen and trying to follow me into my room.

Again, I do gauge the safety and whether I can take ‘em out if they get out of line. It takes quite a bit of safety awareness for me, an older women, an Indian auntie by age, to open up my home to men – a lot really does go into it. Many people might be questioning why I do this, why I let some people use my couch. My question back is, shouldn’t these young men be ashamed of themselves? This is how they treat someone who is trying to show them hospitality?

And, in the end, my mom’s words, the words of other immigrant moms, come to mind. “Why are they eating our food? Tell them to go home.”

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