Sometimes my hands smell like Cup O’Noodles for no apparent reason. Not the kind that’s already hot-watered and made either, but dried Cup O’Noodles. You know, the ones with the “vegetables” and powdered seasonings on top. Especially the right hand. More specifically, the right index finger and thumb. A little like salt, paprika, and boiled Styrofoam.
I ate a lot of Cup O’Noodles growing up. Sometimes I’d eat seven cups a day. Sometimes I’d eat three cups in one sitting. I would make multiple ones at once, then serve it to myself in a large soup bowl. I’d prop it on a chair in front of the TV and eat it sitting on the couch while my parents were at work. I would imagine that it was actually a big bowl of spaghetti, that I was actually in a restaurant, that the mustached waiter had come earlier to take my order wearing his waiter garb: black vest and white napkin draped over his arm.
“How is everything, miss?” he would ask. In Italian of course, because we were in a fancy restaurant. But my Italian was so good that it would come off as easy as English.
“Quite nice Geoffrey, thank you,” I would respond.
“Your Italian is so flawless!”
“Why of course. I was educated by the best.”
“And to think you’re only 10! How marvelous.”
His name would be Geoffrey. I’m sure I had seen something like that on TV where all fancy wait staff were named Geoffrey. Maybe it was on I Love Lucy. And yes, I’d also overlook the discrepancy between the English name and the imaginary location of said restaurant in Italy.
“Don’t answer the phone,” my dad said to me as he exited the back door for work in the mornings. “We don’t want anyone to find out you’re home alone. It’s illegal to leave kids by themselves in the US. They’ll take you away.”
He lied and said that he had cameras installed everywhere in the house. But that they were all hidden so I couldn’t see them. Then right before he bolts the door from the outside, he’d make me repeat what I wouldn’t do while I was home alone.
“I will not play with the faucets, the electrical outlets, the knives, the scissors, and the stove,” I’d say. He said it so many many times that I could repeat it verbatim.
“And what else?”
“And no climbing on the cabinets!”
“Good. I’ll call you when I get checked in at the motel and Mr. Lee is gone for the day. I’ll ring three times and call back again. That way, you’ll know it’s me, okay?”
“And don’t speak into the phone till you hear my voice.”
Mr. Lee was dad’s boss at the Alexandria Motel on 3rd and Alexandria. He was from Taiwan and from what dad said, never even went to college. He raised these smelly little pageant dogs that dad had to pretend to be nice to. The dogs were actually nice. Dad liked them, but he just didn’t like having to make a lowly show of ooos and ahhhs each time they got a new competition metal.
Summer and winter breaks from LAUSD lasted up to three months when I was a kid. My parents worked long hours, so I was home alone for long hours too. Dad worked 24-hour shifts every other day at the motel. Mom worked 12 to 14 hours. When he knew his boss wouldn’t be around, he would let us stay at the motel with him. Mom left for work by 7:00 a.m. He left by 10:00 a.m. Mom would get home at 7:00 p.m. And he wouldn’t get home till noon the next day.
Sometimes when my mom got home early and it wasn’t dark out, she and I would take the bus to go see him. We’d take the 45 bus up Broadway from South LA, then make a transfer around Westlake that took us into Koreatown.
“What did you do at home today?” dad would ask once me and mom got to the motel.
I’d report back to him all the TV I had watched for the day. Or the number of movies that I had helped him copy. In the 80s and 90s, Hong Kong screwball comedies and gangster films were really big. Dad liked to rent them from the video store in the San Gabriel Valley and record them for later. Once we figured out how to link two VCRs together, dad had me record over blank tapes from the 99 cents store.
Over dinner in the motel office, which sometimes were only Cup O’Noodles we got from the Jons supermarket around the corner, I would recite back verbatim all the scenes and episodes of TV that I had committed to memory. He and mom would then sit back in white plastic lawn chairs, which were the only chairs Mr. Lee got for that 150 sq ft carpeted office, and ooo and ahhh and applaud while I gave them my best character impersonations and Mandarin-dubbed dialogue.
Originally published at curatedininterestingness.com.