Denny Baum knows exactly where he’s going when he lets the door to his fifth-floor walk-up slam behind him. He uses the back of his cigarette hand to wipe the tears out of his eyes before he goes down the stairs, crosses the foyer, and pushes out onto the street.
He walks a gauntlet of Hispanic dope dealers who never fail to ask him to buy, even though, in the ten months since he moved into his studio apartment, he never has. As he nears Second Avenue, he passes the girl whose name he still doesn’t know and who, when she caught his eye eight months ago, was youthful and beautiful. He used to talk to her when she sat on the stoop next-door. Now she’s a bony, toothless crack whore, always anxious, like a little kid who has to pee.
Denny turns left on Second towards Chinatown. He walks fast. He’s mad at himself for being an idiot. He knew Kim would turn him down when he asked her out.
He steps off the curb and wipes his eyes again. People are looking. He knows his eyes are red and puffy, but he doesn’t give a fuck; for all they know, his mom got hit by a bus. His thoughts are focused on his self-pity and shame. It’s the usual routine: build up the courage to ask a girl for a date, get turned down, then sulk about it.
He’s going to the Chinatown restaurant that his friend Lim first took him to, where the ducks with crispy brown skin and a thin layer of fat hang in the window next to the suckling pigs. The servers cut the duck into small pieces at the table. He eats the lacquered, shiny skin by itself, dipping it into a sugary garlic sauce between each bite. Once the skin is gone, he folds the juicy meat into tender scallion pancakes smeared with hoisin sauce. The succulent fat is what Denny likes. He likes how it renders in his mouth and keeps the tender, dark meat moist.
But Peking Duck is just Denny’s gateway dish into dim sum–Sunday dim sum in particular. He sits by himself at a four-top in the back and savors red cooked chicken feet, sucks the bones of steamed pork ribs in black bean sauce, and breathes in the sharp aroma of cuttlefish salad before taking a bite. He gobbles up steamed dumplings stuffed with pork, leeks, and Chinese celery, and digs into a platter of scallion noodles.
He sips tea. His hunger is finally satisfied.
Denny’s frame has a certain bulk. He’s one of those young men who’s supposed to be large; even if he wasn’t fat, he couldn’t physically be small. But he isn’t jiggly-fat, he’s farm-boy fat–solid. If you punched him in the gut, your fist wouldn’t sink in so much as ricochet.
Now he sits like a white Buddha and reads the Sunday Times. When he’s done, he folds the paper neatly and sets it beside his dirty plates. His large, fat fingers reach out for the silver teapot, making it look like a little girl’s toy. He tops off his tea and doesn’t add any sugar; he likes its tannic bite.
Finally, the server brings the dessert cart over to his table, full of sweet dishes. He points to three. He can’t resist the custards.