Chapter Ninety Three
The film goes nationwide, garnered generally good to quite favorable reviews, a medium hit, not a blockbuster. There are a few zillion comments on Chloe’s fan page, Mayumi called and said the e-mails are a flood, far and away supportive. The biggest complaint is not enough screen time, the usual trickle of nastiness, guys who made suggestive and overt comments, but Chloe got those on her page before the movie. One critic called Amaya’s scene ‘the steamiest pole dance in film history.’ Another female critic bemoaned objectification and asked why a noted author would allow herself to be reduced to such a scene. She chalked it up to marketing.
Chloe posted the critic’s comment on her fan page with her own note that she asked Amaya what she thought of it, that Amaya said, ‘It was enormous fun, I may take up pole dancing as a sideline.’ She got thirty thousand ‘likes’ and healthy offers from a dozen clubs.
Childers is delighted, got offered a bigger project, more drama than action flick. He tries to get Amaya interested in a role, she politely declines. She tells him she may do something else, but not now, yes she knows she’s not getting any younger, she doesn’t mention she’s not getting any older either. Maybe they could make a movie about that, they had flicks about old people getting younger, like Benjamin Button, and there are DNA defects that cause accelerated aging, like Werner’s syndrome, we don’t recall a movie about not aging past a certain point. There was Groundhog Day, that was the same day repeated over and over. She went to Google and found a movie called In Time, people stop aging at twenty five, but they only got one year after that unless they bought more time.
She decided to write a book about it, not based on us biographically, but using our experience, seeing parents and friends get older, history happening, life moving on, learning new things, gaining experience without the consequence of gaining years. How does it feel? Is it exhilarating, do you start to feel smug, frightened, never start anything because there is always tomorrow?
We aren’t vampires, that would be a version of not aging. Maybe we are. Traditionally you can only kill vampires with stakes or silver bullets, I haven’t kept up with the new ways since Buffy.
Amaya, “I think I shall take on the challenge, unless the family can think of some objection, since it applies to us.”
Janah, “I don’t care, you aren’t planning on making it non-fiction. People don’t know us as unique in that way, only a few friends and the Shaolin.”
Amaya, “Are you any further along in how it works?”
Janah, “Miyako’s research supports what we already knew, Daphne and I have unusual DNA. Instead of defective DNA, it seems more like enhanced DNA. The genes that normally die off or mutate, don’t. She’s been drawing blood for four years, taking tissue samples. She says we’re almost boring, we never change. Our SIRT1 genes, sirtuins, are the same as when she started. Sirtuins act as gene suppressors, repairing mistakes and keeping the aging factors from activating. We have more NAD, nictotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which further boosts SIRT1 activity. She also found a larger than normal amount of DAF-16 genes.
We produce more telomerase, which is the enzyme that repairs telomeres, telomeres are caps on the end of strands of DNA inside chromosomes. Shortened chromosomes have been linked to age related diseases like heart disease and some cancers.
We also have more active Sir2 genes, which stabilize rDNA, which without the Sir2 genes are typically unstable. Now all of the family has our blood and genes. Miyako herself may be researching for hundreds of years.”
“Is it different than people who age, but live a long time?”
Janah, “Same general idea, but there are something like one hundred fifty genetic markers for long life. Some boost immunity, some cell repair, it’s quite complex when you factor in environment and lifestyle. One overriding theme seems to be that the more work you give your body to do, digesting, stress, injury, the less energy it has to devote to gene suppression or repair. One thing we all have in common is qi. We have learned to absorb energy from the environment. Maybe that helps to overcome the physical stress our martial artists put themselves through..”
Amaya, “It sounds like there is a lot of fun material. Actual biology and chemistry, the psychological effects of both aging and not aging, the difference between living a long time, but still aging, and not aging at all.”
“So you’re going to write a vampire novel without vampires.”
Amaya laughs, “One way to look at it. Is everyone okay with it?”
Nikko shrugs, Zi says it’s fine with her, Chloe thinks she should do it, the twins won’t have an ‘opeenyon.’
“Then it is a go. Geez, wonder what I am taking on? I am not sciency.”
“It’s a novel, you’re allowed a fair range of artistic freedom. The science doesn’t need to be precise. The way things go lately, the science changes every hour anyway.”
Chloe, “And you are allowed to think up things that don’t exist, except in the world you create. Perhaps you will even be prescient. Like our gifts, we aren’t supposed to do the things we do, but here we are.”
Amaya, “My follow up with Chris’ material was reality based, I think this will be an interesting change; I can create a different psychological world, even a different physical one. This one will have a stunningly beautiful heroine, that will have to be reality based, it is impossible to imagine a more beautiful heroine than myself.”
Nikko groans, Amaya giggles, “It was fun, for a film. My impression of strip clubs is mostly trashy, not my style as a sideline.”
“Susan and Chris went to a couple of lesbian strip clubs, they were unimpressed. There are some attractive girls in clubs, and a inordinate number of the, um….hefty. Sis said the places were less fun than raunchy, after two tries, they quit. The place down the street, Cubbyhole, is a dump.”
Daria, Chloe and I walk to the Village Diner, it’s after one, the lunch crowd has slackened off, the place is still near full. Dasha has been here since five thirty, worked the breakfast crowd, then lunch prep, then lunch. Mini waves, I see Dasha’s back, she’s over the grill, apron, tied around her, a bandana around her head, more fashionable than a paper hat.
I check in, “How’s it going?”
Dasha, “Gud. Meeny showed me waffle, I show him scrahmbulled with crème chizz and chop parsley, then I make Ms. Alva special pot roast, it ees still cook though, not ready. Green bean wiz bacon also. Tomorrow I make mash potato, then he haf gud lunch special.”
“Make cornbread for the pot roast.”
Mini comes around, “Dasha has good ideas, and she listens. I had to get her ten pounds of chuck roast and green beans, we haven’t had pot roast on the menu, but she’s determined. I gotta let her try stuff. Her scramble with cream cheese was great, I suggested it to a few regulars, rave reviews.”
“Ten pounds, you’re going to run out.”
Mini, “You think it’s that good?”
“Better. Wait until she does meat loaf, or white beans with hot sausage, you’re going to need to open a new place.”
Mini, “We never went down home, our lunch runs to sandwiches, burgers, chili, I gotta see how the regulars take to new additions.”
“Let her do something once in a while, other than that, she will do what you tell her, you don’t have to mince words, teach her how to make your perfect sandwiches, she will make perfect sandwiches. Tell her she can have a lunch special, see how it’s received.”
Mini, “Well, I don’t wanna hurt the kid’s feelings, I asked her to come on board.”
“Mini, she doesn’t have feelings. Her food will be good, trust me. You may have to guide her because of quantity, the sheer volume, she makes things with me for our family, not a diner full of people. But the recipe will be right, just go with it. And don’t worry about Dasha, you can’t insult her.”
Mini, “I see it. The other guys, they try giving her some shit, you know, the newbie, she don’t pay ‘em no mind. It’s like they ain’t even there.”
“To her, it’s meaningless background noise, they can’t make a dent. Understand, if she sees them doing something dumb, she’s going to say so. I’d worry about their feelings, not Dasha’s.”
Mini, “I gotta get back, you want lunch?”
“Yes, it’s just the three of us, whatever you bring out will be great.”
We have a burger, grilled cheese with tomato and caramelized onion, turkey on toasted sourdough with cranberry sauce and fries. We cut up the sandwiches and share, go through the fries, settle the tab and take a walk. Dasha is dealing with onions and burgers on the grill, her bleu cheese burger is a best seller.
Outside, Daria says, “Dasha is happy to work. She likes to be busy, I am glad for Mini to give her chance.”
“Mini and Chuck won the cook Powerball. If they let Dasha do her thing, I wasn’t kidding, they will need another place, or have to figure out how to expand this one.”
Daria, “You, Nikko and Zi came along and took us from Russians. Now we have a real American life. We will do our part.”
“Chloe has already told you, but I will say it again, you and Dasha are our family, you are obliged to nothing. It is I who am grateful for you both, working on your skills, becoming part of our work.”
Daria doesn’t reply, it isn’t her nature. She let me know, even if obliquely, that she is appreciative of us, particularly of my encouragement of her sister. It’s hard for them to express gratitude. Daria’s comment is everything they are capable of offering. When someone gives you all they’ve got, what the hell else do you want?
Chapter Ninety Four
The next day, Dasha comes home after work, around three.
“How’d the pot roast go?”
Dasha, “Sold out. Meeny says I can make Friday special.”
“That answers that.”
Dasha, “I am tired, Dahfoney.”
“Come on, let’s get a hot bath, you can bubble for a while before tea.”
While she undresses, I get the Jacuzzi going, leave her to relax and take the clothes to the laundry. It’s easy to tell she’s been cooking, the clothes carry a multitude of scents to my ultra sensitive nose.
I let her marinate for twenty, then go up and wash her hair, rinse and dry. Then we sit by the water rock and absorb energy, eyes focused on the still shimmer over black granite. We are still for a half hour, I juice her with my own energy kicker, she is much refreshed.
Dasha, “We will make tea now, Dahfoney.”
She slips on a t-shirt, “You will kiss me, Dahfoney.”
Mind reader. I kiss her smooth soft face a dozen times, linger on lips, we go downstairs.
The family surrounds the dining table today, it’s straight tea, crackers and cookies, no entertainment. Dasha’s been cooking all day, I’m ordering out for dinner.
Zi, “Daphne said your pot roast was a hit, I never doubted it. It always looks so busy in the diner kitchen, do you like it?”
“Da, I like cook. Organize, attention, Meeny yelling, cooks busy.”
Nikko, “Do you have a schedule?”
Dahfoney will put on fahmahley site. After I learn kitchen, fill in when cook has vacation or sick. Dahfoney knows.”
“She’s going to make a variety of specials only on Fridays, so she’ll work Thursday for prep, like beans, pot roast, stuff that needs a long slow cook. Friday she goes in to do finishing touches. To fill in, she needs to know the routines and how the everyday things are prepared. Mini likes things a certain way, like any chef. Once she has it down, she’s more of a specialty chef. It allows her time to keep up her other activities.”
“Daria ees go also. Diner ees busy, Chuck and Meeny behind on recording books. Chuck had wife to do, she ees no to work now.”
“I wondered what they would do, she had to have a hip operation, I think she’s diabetic. Mini mentioned it’s been chaotic without her.”
Dasha, “Run out of this, too much that, not keeping up with accounts, things on paper, not spreading sheets. Sister will feex.”
“Good, I’m glad she’s going to be there with you.”
“Once she haf spreading sheets, set up computer, show Chuck, also working from home. She will go to diner for…Daria, what ees inventarizatsiya?” (prn. een-veen-teriyats-viah)
Dasha, “Da, eenveentory.”
We seem to collect work out of thin air. It’s good to see Daria taking the leap to some small social interaction, even if the primary reason is to be with her sister.
Dasha, “She will also help with cashing register.”
Chloe, “Daria, that’s not mechanical like counting cans of peas, you will be expected to thank customers, count of the change, be polite. Have you thought about this?”
“Amaya will teach. Practice for social work.”
“Just don’t break any bones when guys flirt with you.”
Amaya, “Do not be ridiculous, Daphne. We have already worked on that, she knows what to do. I will go with her to the diner, we will watch the checkout process, practice what to say, she can even smile. It’s still a bit Botox, but she’s got most of it, it will be Duchenne in no time.”
Nikko, “Daria can smile? I don’t believe it.”
“Show the infidels, Daria.”
Daria grins, then a real smile.
Zi, “Gorgeous! you are even more beautiful when you smile, wow.”
Amaya huffs, “Did you think I would leave her stone face unturned?”
Daria returns to Daria, she’s still adorable, just intensely adorable.
Dasha, “We practice making smiling, soon we will be Vesnushki.”
We laugh, I say, “You don’t have the freckles, you have Chloe’s perfect teeth though.”
Chloe, “Daphne, Nikko, either one of you up for kendo?”
We gear up for kendo, Dasha and Amaya clear the table, Lacy calls and asks if they want to have a dance session. Janah joins Daria and Amaya, get into leotards and shoes, go to Lacy’s. Zi stretches with us, then climbs to the meditation loft, Dasha watches kendo, we’re all occupied for the next hour.
Showers, hair drying, time for cocktails and ordering dinner. Lacy joins us tonight.
Everyone one has the beverage of choice, we’re spread around the living room, satellite radio on jazz, dinner should appear in thirty.
Lacy, “We had quite a session, four of us, Janah still has the moves.”
“Amaya is beginning a book with a character who doesn’t age, I’m not sure if she’s decided what point yet.”
“Not yet, probably mid twenties, maybe a bit younger. I am imagining what it would be like to see everyone around me getting older, but not getting older myself. Of course, that is happening to us. Our difference is that our extended family is also not aging. I am imagining what it would be like if I were the only one.”
Lacy, “Parents get older, friends move along, and they move along together, you are, in a way, left behind.”
“Exactly. At first, it sounds cool. But you continue to experience, gain maturity that can only come by experience, so you are mentally older than people your biological age, but physically younger. Does it matter? How does it feel to see lifelong friends come to the end and here you are at twenty or twenty one? I wind up as several generations in one body and mind. Do I become jaded, bored, cynical, happier or sadder? I can make up scenarios, but can only experience the actual as it unfolds.”
Nikko, “There’s the problem of people noticing, close friends, Mini, the Jamaicans, cops Daphne knows, they already notice. We can only dance around for so long. Terrance and his pals constantly give Daphne grief. They are convinced she is withholding Shaolin secrets and grill her about diet, supplements and cosmetics. At first they suspected she was Botoxing, but they’re gay men, they know what Botox looks like, they gave up on that.”
Lacy, “Are you interviewing everyone? Does Nikko feel about it like Zi or Dasha does, for instance?”
“We have talked it over, the problem for the book is, it will be one character. What I am doing is taking parts from each and assembling it into one character.”
“That’s a good approach, and it saves you from having to think up everything. I often wonder if that’s what drives authors up the wall. They can observe people, take snippets of behavior, tone of voice and appearance to guide them, but the ultimately have to think up the story, the motivations, the scenery and atmosphere. Small wonder they occasionally just draw a blank, almost information overload.”
Amaya, “Quite true. I frequently feel I have nowhere to go and just as frequently feel overwhelmed with options. I even find I misspell words I know how to spell from writing so many, in dialect, intentional misspellings or just brain overload.”
Lacy, “How do you handle it?”
Amaya, “I make love to Chloe, things fall into place.”
Chloe smiles, “I love it when she gets stuck.”
Chapter Ninety Five
Dasha puts in two weeks of learning the routines, now she doesn’t do breakfast unless Mini is short or someone is due days off, goes in for lunch on Thursday and helps; when the lunch crowd dies off, she prepares her Friday special. After pot roast came white beans and sausage, hot or smoked, with chunks of ham, rice and cornbread, then meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, rounds of toasted French bread with butter and garlic.
One week, she shredded the pot roast, made brown gravy and served it on toasted French bread, mayo, dill pickle, lettuce and tomato, her version of the famous New Orleans po-boy. We went over that day to sample the sandwich.
Mini, “I gotta get her to slow down, customers are callin’ on Thursday wantin’ to know what’s up for Friday, then they’re haulin’ their friends in here. I hadda line outside down the block, good thing you told her to save you some. Comin’ in this late, it woulda been history. I hadda send a guy out to the store to get more bread.”
“What’s the most popular so far, can you tell?”
Mini, “We sold outta all of ‘em, I have no idea. Customers said they want to see the roast beef sandwich as a daily item.”
“It’s simple to deal with once the roast is done, and you can make two or three day’s worth, keeps fine in the fridge and heats up quickly.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what Dasha said. I dunno, I kind of like to make it a big deal as a special.”
“I know this much, places in New Orleans, which isn’t a quarter the size of New York, serve them every day and there’s no shortage of takers. If sales aren’t good enough, drop it.”
“You got a point, okay, I’m goin’ with it.”
“Yay, I can get a roast beef po-boy seven days a week, cool.”
Mini, “She ain’t said what’s next.”
“I think she’s going with red beans and rice, a different taste than white beans, different seasoning. We use Italian and hot sausage at home, sometimes we make fried chicken. We are discussing whether to add the fried chicken to the red bean special. Fried chicken is labor intensive, but Dasha can make you praise Jesus with her fried chicken.”
“I’m gonna ask her to make up some friend chicken for me, let Chuck and the others try it out, then we’ll see.”
“Fair enough, I guarantee, I’ll see red beans and fried chicken on the special the next week.”
Mini, “You that sure?”
“I said guarantee.”
And when I say it, it is so. Mini calls me on beans and chicken day, I hear a roar in the background, “Daph, you gotta get ova here, it ain’t quite legal, but I need you in the kitchen, we are swamped.”
“It’s legal Mini, I’m registered with the Health Department as a cook at the temple, see you in a few.”
“Amaya, Chloe, suit up, Dasha has created chaos at the diner and I think Mini needs extra hands.”
Janah, “I’m coming.”
Nikko and Zi are working, the rest of us are at the diner in een, it’s a zoo. I go straight to the kitchen and jump in, Amaya, Janah and Chloe clear tables, schmooze waiting customers, take orders. Daria’s fingers are flying at the register, she is smiling, cool as spring water. Two hours later there’s finally a lull, Mini can say lunch is over.
Dasha and I are grease saturated, I have no idea how much chicken I fried, how many ladles of red beans I spooned up. She served this lunch with homemade biscuits, I had to bake three dozen beyond the ones she had. We sit in a booth, on our second cup of coffee, winding down from the frenetic rush.
Chuck comes over, “I gonna have a heart attack, don’t care, this is the most fun I’ve had in years. Mini convinces one Russian girl to make a few specials and a month later we’re swamped.”
“People love the sense of authentic home cooking. I learned from Ms. Alva, Dasha soaked it up like a sponge. It’s people food. No frou-frou, nothing fancy, nothing that a regular human can’t pronounce. It’s reassuring, the kind of eating you do with family and friends. And it tastes amazing.”
Chuck, “ Geez, her chicken was crispy brown, juicy with a nice cayenne bite. I don’t know what goes in those beans, but they’re in a class by themselves. Thanks for showing up, I have no idea how we’d have handled this without you.”
Janah, “It was fun. I saw people I haven’t run into for months. It was like a Village reunion.”
Dasha is in my head, “Dahfoney, sister and Dasha must rest, you will take us home now.”
“Our girls are pooped, I’m taking them home, Chuck.”
Chuck, “Thank you all, I don’t know where this goes, but it’s been great. You ain’t never paying for anything here again.”
I start to protest, Chuck raises his hand, “Daph, it’s a dead issue, don’t even leave a tip from now on, got it?”
“Got it,” Chuck nods, guess we eat free at the Village Diner.
On the way home, we visit the Jamaicans.
Juju, “Miss Dasha, she send ova today’s special. I am telling you, we don’t eat such fine food eva’. Dis girl,” he nods to Dasha, “she got de touch,” he looks at Dasha, “for being so kind, we offer you something, look over de tings, take what you will.”
“Dasha, you can have whatever you want, see anything?”
I mental her, “They want you to take something, it would be an honor for them.”
Dasha selects a bracelet, nods to Juju, he smiles, the circle of offering and acceptance is complete.
“Thank you Juju, Mighty Jim, Timothy, Quiet Man. Our girls have worked hard, we need to take them home.”
And we walk home with our Russian curiosities, they bubble in the Jacuzzi, then Chloe and I dry hair and leave them alone. Without knowing it, they have made diners, Mini, Chuck, the Jamaicans and us, privileged to know them. By not setting out to please, they please. By doing what they do well, for no material reward, they bring joy, comfort, unity, and ask for nothing in return. See, that’s how it works.
Despite never needing to lift a finger for money, and despite not getting paid in money, Dasha and Daria find compensation in contentment during their days at the diner. It isn’t a daily grind, rather a change of pace. Twin girls are generally a curiosity, think of the Olsens; and while Dasha and Daria aren’t building a fashion empire like Mary Catherine and Ashley, they have a significant following in our neck of the concrete.
Bloggers and journalists are in perpetual search of the next story, so I suppose it was inevitable that a food critic shows up for the Friday packed house. The rest of us weren’t there that day, not that we would have known the man anyhow. Diners don’t get reviewed much, Chuck and Mini had no clue who he was.
Then the article came out. This particular critic is known for a zero tolerance level of overpriced lame food. He’d gotten a name for himself by skewering a TV chef who owns a tourist trap near Times Square, trading on his TV mini-fame to sell glop to visitors.
His article on the Village Diner headlined as ‘The South Rises in Greenwich Village.’
‘When I heard about the phenomenon, I refused to believe that such basic fare could be a big deal. And I resisted going to the Village Diner, primarily because diners in Manhattan generally are adequate for a quick meal, almost clones of each other. The Village Diner interior is no different. Booths, a long counter, laminate racks for doughnuts, muffins, and pastry. Shelves of pie and cheesecake. If you’ve been in one, you’ve been in them all. A persistent friend, whose judgment I trust, kept telling me I needed to go on a Friday lunch trip, and he warned me to get there early. I had a free Friday and we showed up at eleven thirty, had to wait on line even then. My party of four was brought to a table, menus slapped down, drink orders taken. It’s a diner, there’s no wine or beer, water, tea and sodas showed up in an instant, the waiter hovered for the order. The varying Friday special and a roast beef sandwich are what the fuss is about, a glance down the menu was no different than most diners, except for a sheet of paper attached with the special. My mouth watered, not for the food, but in anticipation of finding a pedestrian copy of southern cooking, just different enough in New York to make the locals think they were down home. We got two roast beef ‘po-boys’ as they are called in New Orleans, and two plates of white beans, these navy pea, one with hot sausage, one with smoked, on top of ham chunks in the beans. Big hunks of cornbread came with the beans and rice. We waited only a few minutes, I had my knife in hand, ready to cut the meal to ribbons.
Instead, I fell in love. The roast beef sandwich is served hot, just enough brown gravy to be moist, not sloppy. The bread is toasted and still warm. Simple toppings, shredded crisp lettuce, fresh slices of tomato, and pickle. A smear of mayo adds a touch of sweet, not so much as to clog arteries. One bite and I knew somebody was on to something. I’ve eaten roast beef po-boys in New Orleans that don’t hold a candle to what I tasted at the Village Diner.
Maybe I’d get a chance to denounce the plate of beans and rice. No such luck. First, beans and rice are equal portions, not a spoon or two of beans over a mound of starch. Second, the beans are creamy, not half cooked. I didn’t get the exact spices, but Worcestershire is involved, onion, and bay leaf. They have a bare hint of sweetness, but it wasn’t plain sugar, cane I suspect, lots of black pepper. Cubes of ham, big enough to have to cut, which you can with a dull fork. Sausage is cooked with the beans, then sliced into bite sized pieces and plenty of them.
The hot sausage is tangy, not blazing, the smoked flavorful, they use pork sausage here, it’s not a kosher deli. It is so basic as to easily be made mundane, but the Village Diner has stepped right around that, this is gourmet basic, unfussy, unpretentious and absolutely delicious.
My last shot at negative was left to the cornbread. It was not to be. They managed to serve it warm, just brown on top, butter in a paper cup on the side, amazingly, soft and ready to spread, not near frozen as is common and annoying.
In a delightful coup de gras, the specials came with a cup of warm banana pudding, with actual slices of banana, not just banana flavored pudding, and a lovely meringue toasted on top. I set out to be the Terminator, but the only thing I have in common with him now is, “I’ll be back.” (Particularly since I’m told next week is fried catfish with macaroni and cheese.)
I also discovered the most amazing thing. The Friday specials are the creation of a teenager, and she is neither from the south nor even born in the US. Dasha is from Russia, I have no explanation how a Russian teen turned into a soul food impresario, an adorable one at that. Her twin sister was working the register when we checked out, full of smiles and thank yous far too infrequently offered at other places.
One note or warning, we finished at twelve thirty, the line was down the block. Bring friends or bring your mobile toys, or just relax and anticipate the joy you are about to experience. By the way, the tab for four was sixty bucks, an incredible bargain.’
Chapter Ninety Six
A month later, the Times carries an article, ‘Russian Dolls Create Culinary Sensation.’ The girls were interviewed and photographed, Dasha in the kitchen, Daria smiling away at the checkout, an interview with Chuck and Mini, a photo of the line outside with the Village Diner sign over the waiting crowd. Several on line were asked for comments, they ranged from, ‘I wish they had this stuff seven days a week,’ to, ‘Waiting is part of the fun, I’ve actually met new friends out here,’ or, ‘I come every Friday, and usually one other day for the po-boy, I miss Daria at the checkout though, she’s only here Thursday and Friday.”
Daria’s interview consisted of, “My sister is the cook, I just help at the register. We are twins, she is the cooking sister, I am the checkout sister.”
“Does she cook at home?”
“Yes, she is good, she and Daphne cook. We also order out, Marconi’s, Fong’s in Chinatown, Mr. Vitali.”
“What is Mr. Vitali?”
Daria points out the window to the cart across the street, “Cart. He has best hot dog ever, so many things to add. You should go.”
The reporter asks, “You don’t mind recommending the competition?”
“Not competition, friends. Mr. Vitali has a line every day, Marconi and Fong always full, we are happy to recommend. Excuse me, I have to take care of checking out now, thank you for questions.”
Then Dasha appears, “You will ask questions now. I must go cooking soon.”
The woman asks where she learned to cook like this, “I learn from Dahfoney.”
She asks who Daphne is, “We leaf with Dahfoney, she learns cooking from Ms. Alva.”
I see her smiling at Dasha, I’m seeing the interview through Dasha’s eyes, “And who is Ms. Alva?”
“She ees dead a long time. A black lady that help Dahfoney and her mother when Dahfoney ees baby. She show Dahfoney, Dahfoney show me, I make for Meeny and Chuck now.”
It’s a human interest bit, the reporter asks when they came to America, “Years ago.”
“With your parents?”
“No parents, we come to live with Dahfoney and her fahmahley.”
“Where do you live now?”
“How big is the family?”
“Dahfoney, Janah, Eemaya, Vesnushki, Nikko and Zi, all girls.”
“Are they related?”
“Nyet, but still fahmahley. Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Dahfoney, Janah, Chloe and Eemaya all born America. Now we are all American.”
“Interesting. They all work in Manhattan, like you?”
“Everyone works, da.”
I mental Dasha, “Keep it vague, Chloe and I are coming.”
Dasha answers a few more questions, keeps the subject on the food, we show up.
Dasha, “Ees Dahfoney and Vesnushki, I cook, you talk to them,” she turns and walks away, the reporter isn’t quite sure what to do next.
I introduce myself , “Hi, I’m Daphne, this is Chloe.”
The reporter introduces herself as Jan Michelson, “You have interesting twins.”
Jan covers the ground I’d already heard, then asks, “Dasha said,” she looks at her notes, “Veznush…,”
Jan, “Yes, then you introduce her as Chloe. What am I missing?”
“The Russian language.”
Jan laughs, “So Vesnushki is Chloe, but Vesnushki can’t be Russian for Chloe, can it?”
“No, it’s Russian for freckles.”
Jan looks at Chloe, giggles, “She calls you freckles?”
“Amaya calls me freckles, when the girls heard it, they changed it to Russian, Amaya likes Vesnushki better.”
“You obviously don’t mind.”
Chloe smiles, “Why would I? I have freckles.”
Jan studies her, “Not very many.”
“Twenty three, Amaya counts them to see if I get more or less. It doesn’t change though.”
Jan, “She counts them, that’s too funny,” she asks me, “You have an eclectic family, how did it come together? It’s not so much for the piece I’m writing, that’s about the anomaly of a Russian teen and soul food, I got the general idea from Dasha. Can you tell me about,” she checks her notes, “Ms. Alva?”
I give her the simplified version, how I got caught up in cooking, then years later, Dasha showing talent and interest. How we’d come to the diner since forever, then how Dasha made a suggestion and here we are. Serendipity.
Jan, “I don’t see how it could have come around any other way.”
Of course, she doesn’t know Janah, her penchant for the unusual.
Then Jan’s light clicks on, “Wait, you’re Chloe Sylk, the model and actress.”
Chloe smiles, “One bit part.”
“I saw the movie, it was fun. How did you wind up in it?”
“My girlfriend wrote the book.”
Jan thinks for a second, “Get out,” I can see her wheels turning, “Holy crap, your girlfriend is Amaya, the author. She’s the reason I went to the movie in the first place. I’ve read Chris Fischer’s books, then Amaya took over as if she channeled Fischer.
She looks at her notes, “Double holy crap, Amaya was in the movie, that’s the Eemaya Dasha talked about. I cannot believe this. Daphne, what is your last name?”
“But Chloe is also Sylk, you’re not sisters, cousins?”
“No, she liked my name, so she stole it for herself, I was flattered.”
“And Amaya is just Amaya.”
Amaya, “Excuse me, just Amaya?”
I laugh, “If you knew her, you would know she might take exception to ‘just’ Amaya.”
Jan’s turn to laugh, “I didn’t mean it like that. She’s an extraordinarily talented author, and I recently discovered a talented dancer as well.”
Jan, “To satisfy my curiosity, off the record, Dasha mentioned others in her family.”
“Janah is Janah Svensson. No reason you would know her, she and I have lived together since we were ten or eleven, Nikko is Nikko Murakami, born in Kyoto, moved here when she was a child. Zi is Chinese, she is involved with Nikko running our real estate business.”
“Murakami, hmm, you are Murakami-Sylk, the property conglomerate.”
“We’ll not just us, it bears our name, but the whole family is part. Nikko, Zi and Daria do the day in day out.”
“Again, off the record, why is Daria working at a diner checkout, I mean, the company is rather large, and there’s another property management company as well, right?”
“You’re on top of things. Daria and her sister are close, when they were young, they mostly had only each other. Dasha cooks here because she likes it, not for money, Daria is exceptional with numbers, she keeps the diner’s books, manages inventory and it allows her to be with her sister.”
“Gee, they’re so young.”
“They grew up fast.”
“I don’t suppose it’s a story you want to share, on or off the record.”
“Off the record, imagine ugly.”
Jan, “Oh, how sad.”
“Things worked out, we adopted two adorable twins, they found their footing, particularly due to Chloe. We kept them busy and they don’t see any point in dwelling on the past. Dasha says it was worth it to wind up where they are. Our family of eight is our center, the twins are the center of the center. They know that.”
“My female reporter radar tells me the story is much deeper, and rather amazing, but needs to be kept to the family,” she gets a wry smile, sighs, “I feel a terrific book slipping through my fingers.”
“You’ll find one. You obviously have a feel for people and circumstances. Keep the radar on, a story will happen you can write about, and you will do a great job with it.”
Jan, “I wish I felt as confident as you seem to be.”
“I’ll offer a clue, and tell you unequivocally, it is how we live every day. Intention.”
Jan thinks about this, “Intention, just intention?”
“Out of intention flows everything you need, and more than you can imagine.”
Jan scribbles the single word in her notebook, “Thank you, Daphne, or should I say Dahfoney? So cute, I don’t know how you keep from getting twisted around her finger.”
Chloe laughs, “She doesn’t. Dahfoney is Dasha’s lady in waiting, she loves her role.”
Jan looks at me, I shrug, “I keep trying to give her more than she gives me, I never catch up.”
Jan, “I appear to have stumbled into several insights, on the whim of an editor who wants a human interest piece on New Yorkers to distract from war and congressional tantrums.”
“Then I suggest you keep it cheerful, have fun, and there is no need to make a big deal out of the diner itself. As you can see, it’s near overwhelmed as it is. I look forward to the story.”
Jan hands me a card, “I’d like to do more off the record exploration. Your family has struck a note. I guarantee, no exploitation, no publication. My interest is in creating a work on real people doing exceptional things. Not kids with Asperger’s or building schools in Africa. I mean really exceptional, on the edge of credibility. No names, no places, I have an idea for a work that sounds like fiction, but is non-fiction, real. Am I making sense?”
“More than you know.”
Jan brightens, “Yes!!! I knew it. Not you specifically, not until today, but I knew it was real, that there is more. I’m not a spiritual person, it has nothing to do with religion, or reason, or spirituality. But I watch, observe, I talk to people, there is a thread few have caught. I don’t know if I can catch it, but I’m convinced it is there.”
“It’s there. Follow it, now that you have discovered, there is no need to cling, pursue, no deadline, simply intend to find out. Then you will find out.”
“But shouldn’t I plan, make a path?”
“A path to where? You can neither know where it leads, nor what’s at the end, there is no end. Take yourself out of it and it will come to you, put yourself in it and it will escape you.”
Jan, “I….I don’t know…”
“Good, keep that don’t know.”