The Rice Room
by Ben Fong-Torres
New York, 1994, 260pp, $11.95 (Paperback)
By a noted Rolling Stones writer and San Francisco DJ


t sounded like the longest pee ever taken. Lying in my bed, listening with wonder, I'd time it, counting the seconds off in my head. Thirty seconds. Amazing! And on it would go--forty-five, fifty, a full minute.
     The subject of my admiration was Lee Sing, one of the cooks at the Ding How restaurant in Amarillo, Texas. As Lee relieved himself in a nearby bathroom, I thought that I was learning all about growing up. Let's see: You got bigger, which meant your penis would increase in size. And, naturally, you'd pee much longer.
     At age twelve, I was very sophisticated.
     My father, restless working for others, had taken another offer. A Chinese Texan, whom I always knew as "Mr Joe", was building a restaurant in Amarillo, along Route 66, the fabled highway that stretched like a twisted grin between Santa Monica and Chicago. Joe would run the restaurant while my father would be one of the three partner-cooks. He assured my father that it was a no-lose deal. The partners would share in the profits of the restaurant, and if the business somehow lost money, Joe would absorb the loss.

     My father accepted the deal, and he wanted me to go with him.
     I didn't like the idea of being uprooted, leaving school and friends. But I had no choice. As bad a boy as my parents thought Barry was, he'd gone off to Reno and proven himself to my father. I felt like some of the clothes I wore: a hand-me-down, a boy who'd never be quite as big, as strong, as his older brother. This was my chance to prove myself worthy. I began to feel better about leaving.
     One spring night, Sarah sat me down in the kitchen at our flat. She was sixteen, and she seemed envious that first Barry, and now I, had managed some kind of getaway. "You're so lucky," she said. "No more Chinatown. You can do what you want." Sarah was a junior in high school, and all around her were Chinese boys being pressured toward college and white-collar careers.
     We took a train to Texas in the summer of 1957. My father and I rarely talked, and I buried myself in the latest issue of Mad magazine. I'd recently discovered its inspired mix of goofiness and anarchy, and had a stack of issues with me.


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