My Trip With Marvin Ming to Atlantic City- part 2

15 Nov

from July 25, 2008

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to go to Atlantic City with Marvin Ming and his parents. This was possibly my first or second trip there. I was 18 or 19 or so and it seemed exciting. But so do bungee jumping, bull riding, and voting for a third-party candidate, and who would do any of those?

I was working retail back then, and a good week was when my paycheck reached as much as $100. But I also had far fewer expenses. For example, out of that money I’d take out maybe $5 a day for lunch at work, usually less if I brown-bagged it, and maybe I’d buy some action figures (I had a giant load of toys back then- excuse me, “collectibles.”) so out of the $100 I had most of it to spend. And spend it I would- I didn’t save a drop. I took with me to AC the huge sum of $50, and I was worried that it wasn’t enough. I know they say that you should only take as much as you could stand to lose, but even in the late 80’s I could afford more than that. When I mentioned to Marvin’s father he was shocked. Shocked! His limit was $5.

Let me tell you about Marv’s dad.

I knew I was in trouble even before we got on the Belt Parkway. I was sitting in the backseat of the car, driver’s side. I was looking out the window and almost jumped out of the hatchback when Marv’s dad went up the exit ramp to enter the Belt. He blew past a sign saying “DO NOT ENTER,” a sign saying “NOT AN ENTRANCE,” and a sign saying “YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!” I would not be here blogging today if there was a car exiting the highway. Fate is cruel, depending on how you feel about me.

My heart started pounding and my stomach felt like it did when I saw Starship Troopers in the movies- in other works, I felt like I was going to die. Before we hit the highway, or a truck hit us, I managed to tell Marv’s Dad “you’re going the wrong way, you better turn around.” It didn’t come out quite like that. This was a time of stress, great stress, and in times like that the human brain jumps into high gear. Very little is known about the upper limits of the human brain or body. There are stories of mothers performing amazing feats of strength, like lifting cars, to save a baby. There are accounts of soldiers surviving in the face of certain death. The brain releases adrenaline, endorphins pump, and reflexes work at a pace far higher than normal. This was one of those times.

“OHMYGODHMMMYUNGRRRUGH!” I shouted, through arms clenched tightly around my head as I assumed the crash position. This isn’t the crash position they teach you when you take a flight, this is the instinctual one, the one you assume when you are in a speeding car going the wrong way onto the highway. You know, the one where you manage to squeeze yourself into the tiniest corner of the seat, somehow believing that your square inch will not be crushed by the engine block when the car wraps around the front grill of an oncoming semi and squishes like an accordion.

“Ha ha, when did they change this?” Marv’s father asked, as he came to a stop and backed down the ramp. When I peeled my self from the pleather I looked up and saw that A- we were going up the correct ramp, B- Marv’s father was totally calm, and C- so was Marv. Not calm as if they would be great to have around if a disaster hit, calm like they were used to it. This happened all the time!

He was a bad driver.

He changed lanes at the drop of a hat, sometimes two at a time. Then he’d decide he liked the last lane better and without signaling or looking he’d change back. Sometimes he would go really fast and sometimes he would go really slow. Most of the time he was missing exits and not knowing where he was, looking everywhere but the road. Me? I had already put on my headphones. Marvin had already gotten into a fight (In Chinese) with his mother and was in a funk. All I had to do was look out the windows, and no way was I doing that anymore. The odds were fairly low that we’d get into a fatal accident, but fairly high that I wold have a heart attack when it seemed like we’d get into a fatal accident, which was very few minutes. (“Hey, what was that guy honking at us for?”was a typical Marv Sr. question.)

Somehow, with God at my side, we made it to Atlantic City. Ever see passengers get off a boat or plane and kiss the ground when they were safely ashore? Well I didn’t do that. What I did do was jump out of the car, literally, and move as far from the car as I could, on the off chance that Marv Sr. Would decide to drive on the sidewalk, over a fence, whatever, just because. We had arrived at the casino, and his mom got out, then I was told to get back in, we weren’t there yet.

Marvin was not cheap, but he was a little tight with a buck. His dad was cheap the way Obama cares about getting Germans to love him- a helluva lot. So while Mrs. Marv went to gamble away her $5, us three menfolk parked the car and went to the boardwalk in search of the fabled “cheapest buffet.”

This was a place with an all-you-can-eat offer that Marv Sr. had been to before. He had found the cheapest place on the boardwalk, maybe $3 per person. It was above a souvenir shop that sold t-shirts in the front and drug paraphernalia in the back. We climbed up a rickety staircase with half the lightbulbs burned out and found a buffet which would have had a great view of the ocean if the windows were clean.

We paid upfront and went to the buffet. Seats were first come first served and there was almost no competition. The place looked fairly clean, the food seemed fairly edible, but the whole place had the feel as if the Salvation Army had donated some of the furniture and refused the rest. The patrons ran the gamut from seedy to seedier. I think some Depression-era movies had been filmed there and the extras stayed and died at their tables.

I made the first mistake and broke Marv Sr’s number one rule- do not eat any bread at a buffet. “They want you to fill up on bread so you can’t eat any food.” He took the bread off my plate (bare handed) and put it back on the tray. I made the second mistake and ordered a soda.. “Water is free.” (Soda cancelled.) He had paid his $3 and was determined to get at least $6 worth of food. He actually said so. You’d think the third mistake was actually eating the food but I tried a couple of bites and didn’t want to press my luck. I had survived a car ride with Blind Man Ming at the wheel and wasn’t about to die from some badly cooked chicken.

Marv Sr must have tallied up the value of all the food on our plates and found that he was under his tally. He and his son got extra napkins and, while looking suspicious, but no more suspicious than anyone else there, loaded scoopful after scoopful of food into their pockets. All the while they looked around out of the corners of their eyes like bandits in an old Western, rice dripping out of their pants.

This place had a sort-of cross between security guard/bouncer/dealer there and I went outside, convinced that Marv and dad would soon be tossed down the stairs behind me. They weren’t and, stomachs and jacket pockets stuffed, it was time for….. walking around the mall.

Marv’s father dragged us to the big shopping mall on the boardwalk in search of the fabled “cheapest bookstore.” See a pattern here?

We found it and I was unimpressed. “They must have raised their prices.” So we walked around the mall and Marv Sr decided that we should go out and sit on a bench while waiting for mom to finish gambling. Neither Marv nor father had any intention of gambling. They took me there with the direct intention of sitting around and not gambling. To Marv and his father it was a waste of money and they only came in the interest of family harmony- i.e: if Marv Sr let his wife go to AC alone she may lose over the $5 limit and cause a financial disaster. Price of gas aside, and I’m sure he siphoned it out of some other car when I wasn’t looking, they were determined to make a profit, some way, on this trip regardless of if mom won or lost. So far they were showing a profit from the buffet. And to prove my point, they munched on some stuff out of their pockets while they sat on the bench.

I wanted to gamble. While they sat I went into the casino and lost about 40 of my $50 dollars in about ten minutes. I came back out to find Marv looking at his watch and wondering where his mother was. We were only in AC for about two hours and it was already time to get mom and leave. At this point I should say that, except when they were talking to me, almost all conversation was in Chinese and I had to figure out, by body language, inflection, and whether or not we were going the wrong way on a one way street, what was being said. The male Mings both spoke very good English but mom spoke little to no English.

To finish off my description of Marvin Ming Sr, I offer this. By a fluke of fate, my father and Marvin Ming Sr were old high school friends. Dad remembered him well. My father was a people person in every sense of the world. For example, I was walking with him in Manhattan when he greeted, and was in turn greeted by name, by a former Steeplechase Park midget. We were together at a Waldbaum’s deli counter (Bay Parkway, which is now a Best Buy) when Dad, striking up a conversation with the total stranger behind the counter, talked him out of his Waldbaum’s hat, for no other reason than he could. (He gave it to me, and some months later, while wearing it in the store, I unwittingly stopped a shoplifting because the crook saw me in the hat and thought I was security.) Dad became friendly with some chefs in Las Vegas and would bring them NYC pickles and bagels (the difference is the water) when he flew out there a couple of times a year. No matter how incidentally he knew you, my Dad always knew your name and wanted to talk. He never, not once, showed any interest in seeing again his old high school chum Marvin Mind Sr, and that tells the whole story.

We eventually found Mrs. Ming and I think she may have lost as much as $6.50, which as you may imagine caused a huge fight. They spent a lot of the trip back fighting and I spent a most of the trip with my headphones on pretending not to be totally hating the whole day. Someone else might have been embarrassed for Marvin, with his family feuding and acting all crazy, but Marvin had no such emotions. This was all normal family stuff for him, food in pockets, feuding parents, almost dying on the highway and all.

Somewhere outside of AC the road splits. One way leads northeast to NYC, the other leads westward to Philadelphia. So when we went west I was sure it was another wrong turn and, calmly, since at least we not rushing into oncoming traffic, told Sr so. “Oh, didn’t you hear? We’re going to Philadelphia to see my other son. He’s in college there.” How could I have heard? It was all in Chinese!

Marv’s mom was in a stew, every once in a while barking out some short of angry burst, Marvin was sitting there stoic as a boulder, and I wished I was home.

But I wasn’t, I was going to Philadelphia.

 

 

to be continued.

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