He and Mel had been out drinking with the gang, but everyone else had pooped out and gone home. Tomorrow they’d graduate from high school. It was a celebration worthy event to be sure.
The idea of a small liberal arts college had appealed to him. He’d looked at Grinnell, Colby, Middlebury, and Carleton College, but none of them had appeared achievable given his grades and SAT scores. It was rather like trying to stop on the proverbial dime, come to a screeching halt on the downhill skid of indifference to academics, do an about face and turn in to a super student in your second semester of senior year, hoping that would somehow change your 4-year cumulative GPA in some incredibly magical way. A pipedream.
His parents had been right: he should have applied himself. He wasn’t nearly as stupid as his grades and his standardized scores would indicate. School, except for English, Art, and Music, had meant little to him. So he had indeed not applied himself to his other subjects, and now that this strange idea of attending a small liberal arts college had struck his fancy near the end of his non-studying time in this outpatient institution, he would indeed not be able now to apply himself to Grinnell, Colby, Middlebury, and Carleton College.
His academic record had been sufficient, however, to get him into the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and that was good enough for now. Who knew what lay beyond.
Mel Yonamine was headed for UH as well, although he was smart enough, his 4.0 GPA high enough, and his 700 verbal and perfect 800 math scores on the SAT were definitely high enough to get him into all kinds of great schools. UH had, however, always been his goal because he loved the ocean more than girls. The Oceanography program at UH was second to none. It was the perfect place for him.
They stumbled into their favorite post-party establishment, the Pine Garden Chinese restaurant. An old woman sat at a table in the back near the kitchen. A precision machine, she looked up from her work of banging out one perfect won ton after another.
“You boys shouldn’t drive when you like this,” she said.
“Is it that obvious again, Auntie?” Mel asked as the two comrades in borderline alcoholism collapsed in a booth.
“You boys,” she said, shaking her head as she approached, “if your mothers knew you drink like this, ho the dirty lickins you would get.”
“Auntie, you say the same thing to us every time. You no get tired of saying it?” Mel said jokingly.
She laughed. “You, you. Give me your phone number and I call your mama right now.”
He and Mel laughed. So did she.
“Good you come here and get sober, though,” she said. “Sometimes I’m like your mama, hah.”
All three laughed again.
Mel looked around the place. It was nearing midnight. The Pine Garden was also liked for their long hours of operation. Right now, though, they were the only two customers. “Auntie,” Mel said, waving his arm around the room. “You kept the place open just for us or what?”
“Of course, you,” she said. “You two boys my best customers. I stay open late every night just in case you coming.”
Again the three laughed.
“So saimin?” she asked.
“Yes, mama, please,” said Mel. “If I don’t have your saimin tonight, I might have to miss graduation tomorrow.”
“Oh, how good you two. So you graduate from high school tomorrow. That’s very good, you boys. Congratulations,” she said as she turned and headed for the kitchen.
“Man,” said Mel, “I cannot believe we’re getting out of that place tomorrow. If I have one more year of Christian education, I’m going go take a long walk on a short pier.”
He laughed. “That would put you in the ocean. Isn’t that where you want to be, Mister Oceanography?”
Mel realized through his haze this was indeed funny irony. “Well, yeah, but I wouldn’t swim. I’d just let myself sink.”
“The Lord would probably buoy you up for being valedictorian,” he said.
More laughter still.
Then the conversation took a serious turn.
“I’m kinda scared, though,” Mel said. “College is going to be a whole lot more studying than we’ve ever done before.”
“For you?” he said. “You study way more than enough. Your grades are so good. If anyone should be scared, it should be me.”
“Well, I guess maybe, but you know, really, no, I don’t think I am.”
“How’s that?” Mel asked.
“I don’t know. High school, it’s been such a drag. For me, escaping to a place where I can study anything I want, well, it seems like a pretty great change. I’m kinda excited, really.”
Mel nodded. “Yeah, yeah, me too, probably. I’m excited to get going with my ocean courses. Too bad I have to take all that math and chem and bio before I can start taking the upper division ones.”
“That is too bad,” he said, “but you know the time’ll go by so fast you won’t believe it. Me, I’m just going to try a whole bunch of things.”
Mel said, “You mean you still got no idea about a major?”
He shook his head. “Nah, I’m going to wait for something.”
“Wait for something? Wait for what?”
“I’m going to wait for some subject, some reading list, some great professor to turn me on. It’s going to hit me, you know, like lightning. I’ll know what it happens.”
“Aiya you and this religious stuff they been throwing at us. You sound like you’re gonna be a guy who gets a calling to be a priest.”
“Yeah, well, I think it actually is gonna be something like that.”
“Please, Brains Lee, don’t tell me you would even consider going into the priesthood or something like that.”
“Um, no, no. I’m pretty sure it won’t be that route. But I know something is going to grab me. Something good. Maybe even first semester. That would be awesome. I don’t want to be searching for ten years. My folks would have kicked my ass out on the street by that time.”
“Yeah, too bad about that one thing. Still living at home. I sorta wish I could live in the dorms.”
“Not me,” he said. “I don’t want to live with a bunch of strangers. I mean the very idea of using the same toilet or the same sink where these strangers have been spitting their toothpaste, the whole think reeks for me. I’ll take staying home for four more years.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like my parents hate me yet,” said Mel. “I think we can put up with each other for a few more years.”
The old woman brought two steaming bowls of saimin.
“Ahhh,” sighed Mel, inhaling deeply. “Auntie, you know you guys put more char siu in your saimin than anybody else. You da best.”
“Of course, of course,” she said. “You right. That’s because we the best Chinese restaurant in town, right?” She smiled. “And for you boys,” she patted them both on the shoulder, “I give you even couple more slices every time.”
“Thanks, Auntie,” Mel said. “You know, you should be my mother. She thinks char siu and roast pork and roast duck’s gonna kill me. She says they all too fatty and oily and unhealthy kind.”
“She’s right, you know,” the old woman said, laughing, “and that’s what makes them so good.”
The three agreed this was the gospel truth.
“But,” the old woman said, “if you drink black tea, that helps take all the fat and oil out of your body. You boys want tea tonight?”
“Yes, please,” he said. “You definitely make the best black tea in town.”