92 year old “Alice” lives down the hall. She is extremely curious. Her crystal blue eyes light up her frail face when we engage in conversation, our chats typically taking place in the hallway beside the elevator. She stops me when I am tossing the garbage down the trash chute to ask about my running routine or requests I translate words from Hebrew to English (she assumes I speak fluently because I wear shirts with Coca Cola written in Hebrew).
Before her husband moved from their apartment into an assisted living center, he was also curious, but more like the 1920s detective “Charlie Chan.” Every year, he continued to think each of my former roommates still lived in the apartment with me, even though I tried to explain when one roommate moved out, the another moved into my apartment. “How many of there are you in that place now?” he would grumble at me. I would reply sincerely, but nervously always wondered if he was planning to call the NYC Public Housing Authority on us.
When Alice asked me about my newest roommate, I kept it generic. I had learned, things were often easier that way. “What type of girl is she? Alice asked. “What do you mean?” I responded, “like her nationality?” “Yes, that is what I’m getting at!” Alice responded affirmatively. “Well, she has an Asian background,” I replied. “Oh how nice,” Alice nodded.
Then, a long awkward pause ensued in the humid hallway as we awkwardly stood waiting for the elevator. Finally, her response: “Does she have a WOK!?” Alice asked.
I could barely keep a straight face. I bit my lip to stop myself from laughing out loud. It was good I had not taken a sip of the Vitamin Water I was holding because I surely would have spit it everywhere by hiding my laughter. Oh, the things 92 year old women say, I thought to myself. “I’m not sure, I’ll have to ask her,” I told Alice as I waved goodbye.
When I told my roommate this story, she was a good sport about it, laughing at the irony. “I don’t even cook!” my roommate confessed. Nonetheless, we discussed an elaborate plan — we should go to the local Chinese restaurant, order an authentic dish, sneak back into the building, toss the take-out container into the garbage and rearrange the “Moo Goo Gai Pan” on one of our serving plates. We would deliver it to Alice as if we had spent the whole day preparing it in “our wok!”
Too bad, the idea never made it passed the idea stage. And thankfully, Alice never asked me about the wok again.