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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tragic Immigrants vs. Ravenous Rodents

China Max, my favorite source for Chinese food, constantly struggles to survive: Just one Chinese family with marginal English in a battle to make ends meet. They close for one hour a day to pick up their kids from school, then come back to continue their 12-hour day of working for less than minimum wage. They’ve tried many strategies to raise profits, including menu changes (at one point buying a $1000 grill to make American burgers and ribs, which no one ordered), being open 7 days a week, lucky Chinese decorations, etc. Their kids stay in a little storage zone in the back doing their homework, playing with the same pile of toys and watching the same 2 or 3 videos on a tiny TV. They’ve hired register girls a few times, but never for long, because they can barely pay them.

They have a garden at home, and the wife (“Maxine,” let’s say) has shared a few vegetables with me, and I have given her some seeds and plants. This year, a groundhog set up shop there, eating well from their garden bounty. They said they bought a little gun and were trying to shoot it, but he’s “too fast and smart.” So I said I would loan them a trap, which I already had. I brought it over the next day.

For a week or two, they had it set up wrong. They said nothing would go in the trap, and I could tell from their description that they didn’t put it together right. “Max” brought it back and, on the back step of the restaurant, I reviewed the instructions and showed him how to set it. I kept thinking, “Great, now everybody who sees us thinks we’re trapping cats or something for the restaurant, as in the local “cashew kitty” joke. That turned out to be the wrong problem to anticipate.

Within a week or so, they caught a possum. At first they didn’t know what to call it, nor did they know what to do with it. I said, “Just pull it out and throw it in the ditch somewhere--it will act dead, so it’s not dangerous.” Then it was back to never catching the groundhog, who just polished off the freshly sprouted snow peas Maxine planted, among other things. “Groundhog is very smart,” they said more than once. My new advice was to cover the trap with some sticks and leaves to camouflage it, which they did.

Finally, after two more weeks, another beast was captured. Max went over to check the trap before taking his kids to school. He kicked the branches aside and received a full-frontal blast of skunk spunk. Staggering back to the car, he opened the door and the kids went running out, yelling, “It stinks, it stinks!” He changed his clothes but still smelled like skunk for a couple of days. I think he ended up letting the skunk starve to death in the cage, because there was no way to get it out without being sprayed again.

My wife said, “God, when is he going to just give up and die?” China Max, when will the tide of woe turn away from that shore where you have been buried up to the neck? Like Leslie Nielson in Creepshow, you will have to hold your breath for a long, long time.

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