I had to fill something that was very, very empty.
First the stomach growled just slightly. Then the growling grew louder, turning heads. Before long, belly machinery was grinding, train whistles were screeching, and long dormant forces were hissississing with volcanic want. I looked up to ask directions to the nearest food mart, but my neighbors had already scrambled off to a safer hemisphere.
“What was that?” Ricky asked.
“Umm, I didn’t hear anything.” I said.
“It sounded like thunder.”
“It was probably thunder.”
Far off, I saw a sign for Peking Duck. Keep dreaming, Greg. I knew we didn’t have the dough to drop on a restaurant like that. But then again…maybe it could be a smash and grab—you know, Bond style. There was a tantalizingly large window on the fourth floor. Maybe I could somersault through the glass, nab the feathery bundles from their perches, and leap out with a witty—
“Yang rou, yang rou.” Could it be true? My ears stiffened as the vendor’s words wafted over on plumes that sung of spice and gristle. Lamb meat. The aroma plucked my nose up like a marionette, beckoning, coaxing, reeling the rest of me in toward its smoldering source. The rest is a blur. I remember stumbling across a street, dancing my way among aspiring NASCAR racers and motorcross madcaps who thought I was clear-headed enough to yield them right of way. I remember staggering amid suits and loafers, impelled onward by some prehistoric part of me that still prefers its meat off the end of a sharpened stick. I remember a group of Chinese girls whispering to each other about a good looking teenager ambling by. That last memory is particularly blurry.
I wobbled toward the vendor stand. Quick fingers juggled the spatulas and meat jars. The man was dark-skinned and, as is common among street vendors, a member of the oppressed Uighur tribe from southern China. He wore a shirt that was probably white two years ago. But there was something noble about his demeanor, as if he were one magic carpet away from becoming a prince.
I asked for lamb on a stick. He handed me what could be called a Chinese shish kabob, and I handed him 30 cents. I took a moment to admire the oil-crackled juiciness, the scepter of tingling spice that sparkled as a star. It was like holding the universe in the palm of your hand.
The first bite is bland. You don’t know what to expect. You wait a few seconds for the taste to register. Oh, but when it does….One…two…three….Kapow! Quick breaths as the buried Neanderthal within you bounds to the fore. Boom! Body shudders as spice and tangy flesh and fat and scandalously delicious stuff sledgehammer your senses like an anvil from heaven. Pure satori as the zesty hotness builds up and rockets you upward. Pretty soon you’re seeing stars.
Your heart races forever through that mutton-charred sky.
Sometimes, when I read in the newspapers about the mutual distrust between Han Chinese and Uighurs, I think of the spice-scented stands that pepper Beijing streets. I think of the Han strolling up to the Uighur vendor, as I see them do every day, and doing great business together and sharing a bite out of heaven.
But political problems aren’t the only ones yang rou can resolve.
“Hey, the thunder stopped.” Ricky said.
“Guess the lamb did the trick.”