Excerpt of The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie
(Page 2 of 7)
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Fuchs tears off a square of orange butcher paper, which he lays on the scale, then plops the bird on top. "Fresh," he says. "Be my guest, take a whiff. Fuchs won't steer you wrong. Pound for pound, you can't buy better than this."
Cool refrigerated air rises off the dank yellow skin. "I'm surprised at you, Fuchs. I would think you'd be more sympathetic to his plight," I say, fingering the ex-rooster.
"Why? Because I'm a member of the tribe? Because I was circumcised?"
"No. Because you have one to circumcise." I poke the bird. "Us guys have got to stick together, Fuchs. Think about it: Snip! And as if that's not bad enough, they throw him back in with the others to plump, big and fat, and he struts around like cocks do, big man in barnyard, only the hens are snickering behind his back. Think how he must've felt."
"Sterling, what gives? Since when did you become psychologist to the poultry world?" He wraps the capon, ties the bundle with brown twine. "Hey, speaking of snip, how about what's-her-name, the one they let play against the ladies at the U.S. Open last year. Whatever happened to her--or should I say 'him'?" Renee Richards, tennis pro, who in a recent former life was Richard Raskind, medical doctor. I remember the first time I saw her in the newspaper, she was in her tennis whites, in one of those ridiculously skimpy skirts female players wear in order to show off their panties. I was immediately drawn to her looks, found her rather sexy even, that is, until I read the accompanying article detailing her surgical transformation. "Can't tell a she from a he?" I scolded myself. "What kind of man are you?"
A woman enters the store. A young housewife dressed in an outfit; her shoes, belt, and lipstick match. Fuchs snaps back to his business mode: "So how many of these capons would you like, sir? I guarantee you, the ladies at the club will adore this flesh."
The new customer is browsing the beef-pork-lamb end of the refrigerated case. I look at her, then at Fuchs, who rolls his eyes and whispers, "That one was never a doctor."
I nod; he's got that right! "That's it for today," I say.
"Hey, these birds are meaty," Fuchs says, "but just one won't feed that crowd at the club."
"It's not for the ladies." I laugh nervously. "I have this art student from Yale, a total stranger, coming for dinner. A friend of a friend, that sort of thing."
"Why so glum? Yale, you say. At least she's smart."
"How do you know she's a she?"
"Because a guy gets hamburger. She," he indicates the housewife, with a tip of his head, "gets the bird."
"You're right, she's a she. Lisa Lee."
"Chinese too, Sterling! Better than good."
I stare at Fuchs as though he were a freak, natural or manmade, himself a capon. "Why're you looking at me like Madame Chiang Kai-shek just burst from my forehead?"
I shake the shock from my eyes. "I never imagined she might be Chinese."
"No, Lisa Lee."
The other customer sets her purse on top of the meat case.
To her Fuchs says, "I'm almost through here, miss." To me he says, "Lee's a Chinese name. Am I right?"
"Sure, but I've been thinking Robert E. Lee. Vivien Leigh. Sara Lee."
"And don't forget Richard Day-lee and F. Lee Bay-lee."
"And there's that jujitsu guy--Bruce Lee." Fuchs scratches his bald spot. "Geez, when you think of it, hardly anyone's Chinese."
I hand over some money. Fuchs offers to charge the purchase to the Ladies' Club account.
"Boy, you Chinese are honest," Fuchs says. "Well, I wish I was in your shoes, having a blind date like that." He winks, and at that moment, as half his face collapses, I see him as a man from an earlier time in human history, someone who could effortlessly tilt back the chin of a lamb and slash its throat.
Reprinted from The Barbarians Are Coming by David Wong Louie by permission of G.P. Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by David Wong Louie. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.