I got back from tutoring at about 10 pm tonight, at at 10:15 pm Gristle and Serena blew into my life. (This pairing makes more sense in Chinese, because their names have the same first character and so they sound like a family of superheroes, like the Incredibles or the Baldwins.)
As I walked in the door, at approximately 10:07 pm, I sent Gristle a text message telling him that I was home. I told him this because he had texted me earlier today to ask if he could borrow our iron again. As soon as I texted him, he called me and said sorry, he was currently attending an English practice session where he had run into Serena, and that he wouldn’t be able to come until later. (Everyone should remember that, no matter what I ever say about Gristle, he does not speak English. He knows some words and some sentence patters, but that’s it. He recently told me that he got a 50% on a English entrance exam for grad school and he was sure that there had been some mistake because 50% is much too high.)
He apologized profusely and said that he wouldn’t be able to make it until 10:15 PM, and that he was really sorry. Since 10:15 was in exactly 8 minutes, I told him that would be fine. These are the sort of generous sacrifices that we make for friends, like lending them irons or taking pictures of them in the shower. Never forget.
So I’m all set to head out to the back gate to meet Gristle and give him his iron, but when I head for the door Gus says, “too late,” and I hear a knocking. (Gus’s expression is not only literally true but it also expresses perfectly the sense of doom that hangs over every impending interaction with Gristle — the sense that today might be the day where he says something so outrageous that we’d have to kick him out of our lives forever.) When I open the door, Gristle and Serena come in and make themselves right at home in our living room.
After several hours of teaching Korean students how to close read, I’m pretty tired, so I greeted their interest with mostly feigned enthusiasm. I was still holding the iron and ironing board in my hands in hopes that Gristle would just grab them and walk right back out the door and let me go to sleep. I continued to hold them and make vague attempts to hand them to Gristle as he took off his shoes and put his briefcase down on our couch. (He has a briefcase and is taking it to English practice sessions now? He’s a part-time high school tutor who can barely form an English sentence. Nothing about this makes sense.)
Gristle then told Gus and me that he had 5 stories to share. He shared them one after another, Chinese firing squad-style:
He was in Nigeria Town (an African community in Guangzhou) and “Shit!” (he said in English) “There were so many Africa people!” End of story number 1.
He went to a chiropractor today. “You don’t have those in America, but they’re a type of doctor who helps you without performing surgery or giving you medicine, he just moves your bones.”
“Gristle, we have those in America.”
“No, you don’t understand. There’s no surgery. Do you know the word surgery?” He then made a cutting motion on his arm. “No surgery.”
“Yes, we know how to say surgery. We have chiropractors in America.”
“Impossible,” he said.
Evidently this chiropractor usually costs 1000 RMB, but he’s an old friend so he helped Gristle for 200. He cracked Gristle’s back, and now the heel of his foot feels much better.
He was in Nigeria town eating grapes (“in a very messy, chaotic manner”) and a Africa man spoke to him in French. His guess is that the man saw his grape eating habits, saw that he was “very liberal,” and assumed he must speak French.
One time, in France, a gypsy showed his friend her breasts and then pulled a knife on him and stole his wallet.
He forgot the 5th story, but he promised it was really good.
Then I decided to talk to Serena instead. She was reading a book to work on her English grammar. This book.
She asked me how to pronounce “lynched.” I obliged. Later, she saw me staring intently at the title and said that I could borrow it if I wanted. I said that it was ok, that I was just looking at the title. “Oh,” she said, “I thought you were interested in the subject matter.” No.
(The amazon reviews for “Heart of a Wife” are fairly entertaining:
This is the worst book I have read in ten years. All the wife did was complain.
You tell ‘em, “A Customer”! Wives are such a drag. It reminds me of this old joke. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
First man: My wife’s an angel.
Second man: You’re lucky! Mine’s still alive!
Pause for laughter.
First man: She was lynched.)
Then Serena pulled up videos of a Korean figure skater on the computer, and Gristle said the he had been a fan of hers until he saw a picture of how ugly she was in high school. At this point, Gristle said that it was late and that they should be going. He finally picked up our iron and ironing board and started heading out the door.
As he left, I asked when I could have our iron back and he said that he was planning on returning it at the end of the school year. In July. He said that if we needed it, we should give him a call and we could come by and pick it up. And then he and Serena left as abruptly as they arrived.
The short version of all this is that I’m going to the department store tomorrow to get a new iron.