Two middle age guys meet outside Prosperity Dumplings (46 Eldridge Street, Chinatown, New York City, www.prosperitydumpling.com) in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. My old college roommate and me.
I go into order. Prosperity in name but not size. It’s as big as four filing cabinets stacked together.
My calculation reckons $2 per serving buys say 2 maybe 4 dumplings.
But, as the hipsters start to line up for lunch orders, I’m too proud to ask. $2 buys 8 dumplings, it turns out. We mistakenly end up with 64 of them, and a bunch of stuffed pancakes too.
We carry them down the street in two overstuffed plastic bags, past abandoned TV repair stores and restaurant supply places. We struggle to find the entrance to the local playground, its concrete tables, old Chinese guys playing chess…
We haven’t seen each other much since college – many years, many relationships and many kilometres between then and now.
Between drunkenly playing dead for the 35mm SLR camera on the linoleum floor of our college town supermarket to our adult lives and concerns.
Between sharing games of bad pool to sharing stories of bad divorces.
Between a limitless youthful universe to middle age’s quiet constraints and considerations.
We work our way through pork and chive, Chinese vegetable and beef – it seems a numbers game with the odds stacked against us.
The stuff that drew us then still draws us. We are two guys from pretty basic backgrounds trying to “divine” what’s worthy in a complicated world in a complicated time.
A time, he explains, when American jobs seem to go if they don’t go cheaper.
A time when it’s all about the “knowledge economy” but teaching and sharing knowledge – what he used to do and still wants to do – is something for cutting in budgets.
I’m not sure how the hell he’s surviving without a regular job for so long. I admire how he can get up everyday and just persist. No choice, he reckons. I feel dumb for all the damned dumplings.
We look to culture and to nature for ways to explain. He’s looking for a visit from the park’s resident hawk. I’m looking at the supermarket trolley that the homeless guy pushes through the park, all rigged up like an urban pirate ship, filled with refundable deposit bottles and cans.
Across the street is the old headquarters of the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper that broke the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Now, it’s upmarket condo’s for people working on Wall Street.
I wonder about America’s changing prosperity. I wonder when the stuff that’s still important to my friend – the value of education, fairness and community, the stories and photos of how folks lived and strived – maybe stopped being so important to the whole.
He talks about his plans for getting through the summer. Subletting his place in the City, going to the country to build a place for friends, paddling his canoe on a clear lake with his kids, and riding his old motorcycle.
In my heart, I wish him peace and prosperity. In practice, I sit there with a pile of too many dumplings between me and a decent guy, hoping for the right words.