Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood


Good Deal

The sign—“Smile! You’re on camera”—greeted us at the entrance of our neighborhood’s Good Deal Oriental Foods, but I didn’t need the reminder. The memory of crates of produce on the floor just inside the door had me smiling already. Stalks of sugar cane, stacked like firewood, filled a box next to other fruits, like rambutan, a tropical offering I had often passed by. I would try the prickly-looking food one day, I had told myself too many times. But when I finally decided to buy some, it was gone.

“When will you have rambutan again?” I asked an employee.

“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Next week?”

While we waited, Flicka and I bought the canned variety to sample, along with two of its cousins, lychee and longan. When Good Deal carried the fresh fruit again, I snapped up a package.

Back at home, we scrutinized the rambutan like botanists. The tropical treat was fun to peel, the spikes on its reddish-brown skin were rubbery and not sharp like they appeared, and the delicacy vanished like a box of chocolates in a house full of women. 

On another visit to Good Deal, I picked through the produce, plucking a Styrofoam tray of greens—an herb?—swathed in cellophane. Pac Pew, the labeled stated. If it was a kind of basil, I could use some for a recipe. I scanned the area for an employee and spied a woman transferring taro root from a box into a bin.

“Excuse me,” I said, showing her the package of greens. “What is this?”

“Pac Pew,” she said.

“And in English? Is it basil?”

“It’s Pac Pew.” The woman punctuated the words with a bob of her head.

“Hm.” I furrowed my brow. “Thank you.”  

I pulled out my phone and searched the name. Nothing. I moved on to a vegetable that looked like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini. The sticker called it Moap Moap. But again, Google let me down.

While Flicka perused the merchandise in the candy section, I wandered into the meat department. I had read about the silkie chicken, a small five-toed bird with black skin and flesh, known for its rich flavor, and there it was nestled amid other varieties of chicken. Maybe one day I would buy one—and gather tips from my Hmong or Vietnamese neighbors on the best way to prepare it.

I strolled back to the produce department where Flicka held a young coconut in one hand and a mature one in the other.

“What’s the difference between these two?” she said.

“I suppose we better find out.”

She plunked them into my basket, and I went back for the Pac Pew and Moap Moap. Then I scooped fresh longan into a bag.

At the checkout, a teenage boy—all smiles—rang up our grocery items like it was his favorite game, his dimples playing along.

“The cashier was Handsome,” I said to Flicka when we got back to the car.

She shrugged. “Okay?”

“His name was Handsome, I mean.” I showed her the receipt with the proof.

And Handsome was the perfect conclusion to our otherworldly jaunt within our own neighborhood. Smiles at the beginning of our trip; smiles at the end.

*Photo creds go to Susan Dyrud McDonald.


*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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