Free

Most people jump at the opportunity of “free.” At the end of our serving shift, I told the other server our tips were a dollar over, and I wanted her to have it. She tried shrugging it off. She continued pushing the vacuum cleaner over the tan carpet. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. I insisted. I told her I left it in my pocket and almost forgot it. If she didn’t take it, the guilt would eat me. She thought about it for a millisecond. “Okay. I’ll take it. I’m poor,” she said with a short laugh, then, just
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Service

“It’s not just about making tips,” Frank said. He’s always said it. “Don’t look at your job like that. Otherwise, you start thinking, ‘I’ll treat these people sitting over here better than those people over there because I think they’ll tip me better.’ You might know they won’t leave you a good tip. You might remember the last time they came in, how nice you were to them and how the man thanked you and shook your hand on the way out, but when you counted the cash on the table, you found they only tipped you 13%. Some people
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Joseph

The giant textbook took up two tables – half of his, and half of the table to his right. He made enough room for his lunch after pushing aside the drinks menu and the soy sauce container: a beef teriyaki bento box, with shumai instead of harumaki, and sides of wasabi mayo and mustard. The cast iron teapot steeped the genmaicha. The warm bottle of sake rested by his left hand. Joseph signaled for a second sake, and it was only as I poured his cup did a downwards glance catch the book’s color-illustrations: warriors in full-metal jackets resembling skirts,
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Creare

He cuts the nori into tiny pieces. Not like mincing garlic; it’d leave the sheet in assorted flakes sizes and shapes, a confetti of seaweed. Michael wants order. He slices the seaweed into strips first, turns, slices again. He doesn’t rush, his expression neutral as he works. He imagines the taste and look, the visual balance between nori topping and garnish. He takes the two rice balls he made earlier, tennis ball-size, and gently rolls them over the flakes. The sticky, short-grain sushi rice is perfect for latching onto the seaweed. It lifts the shards easily, and Michael coats each
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Rolling With Michael

He wants to build his vocabulary and improve his grammar. So we don’t say much in way of conversation as I stand to his left, his wakiitai, his side-cutting board. Instead, we practice expressions while taking turns scooping rice from the Zujirushi rice warmer, pressing fluffy mound onto nori. Broke, I say. “Bloke.” Broke, I repeat. “Bloke. Bloke down.” I nod my head. But broke down, you can only use that when you’re talking about your car. Everything else, you just say broke, I say in Chinese. “Yeah, car bloke down,” he says. Then he points to an imaginary object
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Pride

He wanted to say something. I could feel it in the air – that tension tingling in the space between us. I put down my tray. He waited. I took off the three tall soda glasses, and fit them snugly into one hand. My other hand reached for the soda gun. My thumb fired off two “D’s” and one “P.” Besides the fizzle and pop of carbonation striking soda mix, it was quiet. He waited. I handed my patrons their respective refills. When I returned to the bar, I put him out of his misery. What Martin? I asked him.
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The Day Off

Chen Sifu crossed the intersection, between the supermarket and the house-turned-dormitory where local restaurant owners rented rooms, to house help they hired from The City. The October air was cold. The wind cut. Chen zipped his jacket up to his chin, and burrowed his neck deep into the thin cotton. He hustled towards the supermarket. His pace gave away the discomfort that his facial expression didn’t reval. It was impassive, as always. Closed, wide lips. Round eyes that registered surprise or excitement only after a 2-second delay, as if hooked up by loose connections. He wore that same expression while
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Tempura

“It looks easy,” Frank told me as he moved the circular, steel mesh strainer through the vegetable oil, scooping out the tempura flakes clumped together like bunches of oats. “But tempura takes some of the greatest skill in Japanese cooking.” He switched to the rectangular strainer – a squirrel-sized hockey stick, with a steel mesh blade instead of wood. He dipped it into the yellow oil, and lifted it out, covering the surface with an even layer of tempura flakes. His left hand reached across his body, and with two quick plunges into the white batter, coated the long strip
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Sushi Rice

Cold water poured from the faucet. It struck the steel strainer filled with mi, uncooked rice, below. Drops scattered and jettisoned as they hit individual grains sitting at precarious angles. Silently, we watched the water level rise. Clear turned to an opaque, milky white after a few moments, like mayonnaise on Wonder bread. “Watch,” Danny instructed. His right hand scooped down, scraping the bottom of strainer. In a wide circular movement, he pulled a handful of rice out, breaking the surface. His left hand quickly rubbed the rice, before letting it slip back into the water. The right dove back
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Heart

“When Old Man cook, it more tasty, right?” Danny glanced at me. We sat at the bar. He was hunched over his dinner: white rice, beef cooked in oyster sauce and Chinese cabbage. I took another bite. I was sympathetic to Chen Sifu’s cooking, since I’d been told my own cooking was pretty bland. But Danny was right; whenever Chen Sifu cooked, it required hibachi hot mustard to make it an enjoyable experience. I nodded. “Yeah. See, this guy, no good.” He shook his head, then glared at the contents of his bowl. “I think no one teach him. He
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