The four of us were at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate the 10th year I’ve been writing a column.
It was a small dinner party. My cousin and his wife. Me and mine.
Our waiter was a cheerful guy who spoke with a heavy foreign accent. He said he was originally from—and this is why I love Asian restaurants—Mexico.
We knew this because he could not pronounce the Chinese dishes, such as zhá jiàng miàn, and zìchuān huǒguō.
He had an even harder time understanding English words. For example, I ordered a sweet tea, but he brought me a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
“This is an affront,” I said to my wife.
“I’m sorry, señor,” said my waiter, “I will take your beer back.”
“No, wait,” I said. “Let’s not react in haste.”
We ate ourselves silly. We celebrated with spring rolls. We ate Krab® rangoon. Egg drop soup. And when it came to the calamari, we were enjoying our appetizer when my cousin informed the table that this might not be actual calamari.
“What do you mean?” we said.
My cousin went on to tell a story. He knew a guy who used to inspect meat processing plants for a state agency. One day, the man was at a farm and he saw several boxes stacked and labeled “artificial calamari.”
“What is artificial calamari?” he asked the plant manager.
“Hog rectums,” the manager replied.
We all stopped eating mid-bite.
“The industry term is ‘pork bungs,’” my cousin went on.
I ordered another “sweet tea.”
Everyone at the table stared at the plate of puckered calamari on our table. Whereupon my wife brought out her phone and started Googling the validity of the claims about alleged “seafood.”
Come to find out, there is such a thing as my cousin’s unsavory theory. However, it would be illegal in the U.S. to serve pork parts and call them “calamari.” Moreover, the USDA reports they’ve never heard of anyone trying to pass pork parts as squid.
So before you send me three metric tons of hate mail, let me state, for the record: you can ABSOLUTELY trust your local restaurant’s menu. If the menu calls it “calamari,” it’s calamari. Your local restaurant owner would NEVER lie to you just to make a buck. This is America. We don’t lie.
“It’s really not a big deal,” my cousin went on. “If you’ve ever eaten a hotdog or a sausage made in America, chances are you’ve eaten thousands of pork rears.”
Once again, my wife brought out her phone to Google this little tidbit. Whereupon my wife’s countenance fell. She wore a sudden frown.
“I think I’ll just have a salad,” she remarked.
But I’ve gotten off track. The reason I am writing this is because when our meal was finished, the waiter brought out four fortune cookies for the table. We all took turns cracking them open.
My cousin’s wife’s fortune was: “Of all the resources you have, time is the most valuable.”
My wife’s fortune read: “A new romance is in your future.”
The table got a big kick out of this. Then, my wife looked at me and said, “You’re walking home tonight.”
My cousin’s fortune was: “If you tell the truth, you won’t have to remember anything.” My cousin, the guy who once convinced a gal that his job was working for the Secret Service by talking into his sleeve all night.
I opened my cookie. The little slip of paper fell into my lap, along with a crumbled cookie shell. I retrieved the paper and read it privately.
“A man can fail many times, but he can only be a failure if he gives up,” the fortune read.
Ironically, I’ve been writing this column for a decade. For 10 years, I’ve written every day. I have no qualifications. My early life was a total failure. I am a dropout. A construction worker. A former ice-cream scoop. A bar musician.
I graduated from community college as a grown man. I am an educational shipwreck. I have no pedigree. But I’ve been writing for 10 years now and sometimes I wonder how.
Lord knows, I’m not a great writer. I think we can all agree. Sometimes the words are hard to find. Sometimes, I don’t know how I’m going to produce another column. Sometimes I feel like a total impostor. But then, inevitably, something always happens to push me forward.
Simply put, sometimes the words fall right into your lap. Sort of like they did tonight.
No hogs were harmed during the making of this column.
stephenpe - May 17, 2023 10:06 am
A famous comic/movie maker once said “90% of life is just showing up” You have shown up for 10 years and it shows. And we are all better for it. You are my inspiration for awhile now. But do I throw out those hotdogs I bought recently or figure I will soon forget that nugget of information like I usually do.
W. Larry Evans - May 17, 2023 11:18 am
We (all the hundreds of thousands of us) who start every day by anxiously reading your column would vociferously argue about about your self-loathing assessment of your writing skills, Sean. WE LOVE THEM ! And you and Jamie and Marigold and the rest of your family. So please relax and enjoy your specialness. You are a gift from God !
Paul Sams - May 17, 2023 2:52 pm
I think people are often unfairly labeled as a loser. From what I have learned from reading you as a writer, you come across with brutal honesty, and the set backs you have encountered in life. You have also found success as a writer, and a survivor. Being a dropout, construction worker and scooping ice cream shows someone who may have had some failures but you got back up and tried again. I feel a good writer is one who can hold someone’s attention, or describe something another person can identify with. Perhaps being true to yourself is a virtue. I often struggle finding the right words. I struggle with spilling (pun intended). My grammar is not text book perfect. I also hope when you “put yourself down” it is done with humor or just saying how you felt. Be who you are Sean, as you have been. Kindness, manners and caring about others is more important than the text book descriptions of a good writer. I feel at times my comments can come across as crypt, or sounding self righteous. I don’t mean for them to be that way. I think a few concussions have made it more difficult to get my brain and my vocabulary to work together. Have a great day Sean
Becky Souders - May 17, 2023 6:23 pm
The wisest part of that fortune, and one that I believe applies to us all: don’t give up.
“Failure” is too strong a word for the trial-and-error approach to life. Ten years you’ve been writing, you say. In my book, that’s TEN YEARS…. is that shouting? Well, I meant to shout. Keep writing, Sean Dietrich.
pattymack43 - May 17, 2023 8:27 pm
Just keep on writing!!! Thanks!! A faithful reader. Blessings to you and Jaime. (Your cousin, too!)
Dee Thompson - May 17, 2023 10:06 pm
I’ve been blogging for 18 years but I don’t write every day [I am proud of my blog, The Crab Chronicles, though]. I firmly believe a great writer is one who simply keeps at it until he/she figures it out. Nobody can teach anyone to write. You obviously understand the importance of honesty and perseverance — the two essential traits for a wonderful storyteller.
Bill Moore - May 18, 2023 2:38 am
I lived in Singapore in the Eighties. The last time I asked what I was eating I was told “pig fallopian tubes”. After that, I just ate what was put in front of me and practiced saying, “Satu lagi Tiger.”
Patricia - May 18, 2023 4:44 am
You are a wonderful Writer! You write from the heart…you are Real!