The King of All Noodles
The Netflix people call on a Tuesday after school, and I know it’s all because of the moo goo gai pan.
Every Monday night we get takeout from Noodle King of New York in the West Village. It’s exactly ten blocks from apartment 4B. That’s home for me and Dad, a two-bedroom fourth-floor walk-up on Charles Street.
Not to brag or anything, but it is my fortune cookie that predicts it. And everyone who’s anyone knows that the almighty fortune cookie is never wrong.
A heavy burden will be lifted with a single phone call.
And that cookie is dead-on, too.
The call comes in the very next day, and I’m the one who answers it.
Me and Dad are just sitting there, eating Monday night’s cold moo goo leftovers in front of the television like it’s any other Tuesday afternoon.
It’s my job to answer the phone after school and on weekends at the headquarters office for Dad’s documentary film company, Totally Rad Productions.
But let me decode.
By company I mean me, Dad and his two best friends from high school--Big John and The Faz. And by headquarters, I mean apartment 4B’s living room on Charles Street, which is littered with empty Noodle King cartons and film editing equipment. At least that’s the way it looks since Mom packed five suitcases last summer on a quest to follow the signs to her new life.
A life without us.
And one thing I know is that when someone packs five suitcases . . . it’s not a good sign they’re coming back. The fortune cookie totally missed that one, but that’s a whole other story.
So, this is how the Netflix call goes.
“Totally Rad Productions, where rad is our name and film is our game. How may I direct your call?” I say in my very best grown-up voice.
I’ve been practicing in the mirror.
Dad gives me a wink while he leans over the coffee table, taking another giant bite from his wooden chopsticks and giving me an approving nod with a mouth full of moo goo.
He always says answering the phone like that makes it seem like we’re bigger than just me, him, Big John and The Faz. After that, I’m supposed to cover the receiver with my hand. Dad says that makes it seem like I put them on hold--as if we have this very official, multiple-line phone instead of the ancient yellow wall phone with the old-fashioned dial on the front.
I finally had to draw the line when he asked me to hum hold music into the mouthpiece while the caller waited.
That’s just weird. Plus, I don’t even know who Barry Manilow is.
“Please hold and I will see if Mr. Vallenari is available to take your call,” I tell the woman on the other end of the line.
That’s when I shove the receiver in my armpit and eyeball Dad hard.
“Dad,” I whisper. “It’s . . . Netflix.”
First he stops chewing his moo goo.
Then his eyes go wide.
He points a single chopstick in my direction.
“Karma,” he warns me. “If this is some kind of joke . . . it’s not funny.”
“I’m not even joking right now,” I tell him. “It’s really them. It’s Netflix calling you.”
He eyeballs me for a few more seconds and then jumps up from his seat on the couch while his chopsticks go flying.
Our extra-round pug, Alfred Hitchcock, is already crouched in ready position for such an event. He gobbles a piece of sauced-up bok choy and a few noodles before they even hit the shag carpet.
When it comes to flying food, he’s a rocket. But ask him to do his business out front on the sidewalk in below-zero cold, the kind of freezing cold where your nose hairs fuse together, and he takes his sweet old time.
“Hitchy,” I tell him, giving his low belly a scratch. “Dr. Portokalos says you’re too big as it is.”
Hitchy stretches his fat neck up to sniff at my plate on the coffee table before waddling back down under the glass to await the next flying morsel.
I keep eating, watching Dad pace the kitchen floor while he listens on the yellow phone. He’s talking and waving his hands in that upbeat way he does when he’s doing business. Up until now, business has consisted mostly of booking weddings and bat mitzvahs, with only the occasional documentary in between.
“Yes, of course,” he says, stopping to scribble a note on the back of an unopened bill he’s pulled from the messy pile on the folding table in the kitchen.
Dad’s so psyched after he hangs up the phone, I’m almost positive I see his feet come off the ground.
“We did it, Karma!” he’s shouting. “This is it. This is the call I’ve been waiting for my whole life. A contract with a major content provider for a docuseries! A docuseries, Snooks! And Netflix? Oh, man, they want an entire season, and this could be the beginning of even more. Do you know what that means?”
“That we can finally add egg rolls to our Noodle King order?” I ask.
Grumpy Mr. Drago, the building manager, bangs a broom handle on the ceiling of 3B right below us to say we’re making too much noise. Four o’clock to four-thirty is an especially important time for grumpy Mr. Drago.
Judge Judy is on.
I asked the Grump if he has a crush on Judge Judy when I saw him out on the front stoop one morning in his bathrobe, sitting on a ratty lawn chair while he drank his morning coffee. But he just shook his head, waved a hand at me and said, “Poof.”
But if you ask me, I think it’s true love.
“Yeah, yeah, I mean sure, egg rolls . . . but it also means a house,” Dad tells me. “Finally. A house, Snooks. Somewhere across the river in Jersey or Staten Island or maybe even Connecticut. Someplace where we’ll have an actual strip of grass. A yard for you and for Alfred Hitchcock. It’s what Mom always wanted. We can even have a barbecue. A barbecue, of all things! Mom loves them.”
“I’ve never heard her say anything about a barbecue,” I tell him. “Or grass, either.”
He’s already dialing the yellow phone.
“Well, she’s always wanted that,” he says, slipping his finger in the dial and pushing it around.
I wonder if Mom would actually bring her suitcases back if he got her a house with a barbecue and a strip of grass. Obviously, he thinks so, but I’m not so sure.
“Wouldn’t you like to barbecue out in a backyard?” he goes on.
I shrug. “Can you barbecue moo goo leftovers?”
“You can barbecue anything,” he tells me, pushing the dial around again.
“Are you sure Connecticut has moo goo?”
“Everyone has moo goo,” he tells me.
“But I bet Connecticut doesn’t have a Toby’s,” I say.
Me and Dad go to Toby’s Estate Coffee every single morning before school. It’s our favorite place in the Village. A couple of years ago they changed the name to Partners, but we still call it Toby’s because it will always be Toby’s to us. It has old brick walls and brightly colored stools, and Ajit, who still wears his Toby’s T-shirt and works the morning shift, knows our order by heart. Dad’s order is Avocado Toast with a Decaf Ghost Town Coffee and mine is Egg on a Roll with a hot Apple Betty.
Ajit’s name means “unbeatable.”
He told me so.
And it fits him too, just like Karma fits me. Ajit is going to college to be a lawyer. He wants to put criminals in jail to keep our streets safer. And I know he will, too.
His very name announces his future success, guaranteed.
Nothing beats unbeatable.
I’m a firm believer that names are very important in the universe.
My mom named me Karma Moon because she believed the theory of karma wholeheartedly. The theory basically states that if you do bad things, bad things come back to you. And if you do good things, good things come back to you.
Dad calls that kind of stuff woo-woo, which is his word for “cuckoo.” But the story goes that he agreed to the name Karma only after Mom agreed he could brand the next kid, which they never had. Lucky for that kid, because I think it’s really wrong to actually name a child C-3PO.
That’s seriously questionable adulting.
“I’m sure there’ll be a place we like just as much as Toby’s, wherever we land,” Dad says.
But I’m not so sure.
I’m used to Egg on a Roll. I love Egg on a Roll. Why would I want to eat anything but Egg on a Roll?
Dad is still dialing.
Because that’s how it goes with an old-fashioned phone.
“Man, the guys are going to flip when I tell them we’ve got an actual documentary with Netflix,” Dad goes on while he calls the guys. “Do you understand how big this is, Snooks? I think you need to come over here and pinch me. Just so I know this isn’t a dream.”
I can’t help but smile. It’s nice to see Dad so happy. To be honest, it’s been a while.
“What’s the show about?” I ask him.
He doesn’t answer me this time.
“Dad,” I say louder. “What is the documentary about?”
“Oh, some haunted-hotel mystery up in the mountains of Colorado.”
I choke on my moo goo.
“Dude! We got it!” he shouts into the mouthpiece.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this,” I call to him, pushing my horn-rimmed glasses up at the bridge. “The last I checked, you weren’t a ghost hunter.”
But he just waves my words away like that tiny fact doesn’t matter.
Even though it seems like a pretty big fact to me.
“Big John! We got a docuseries!” he’s shouting into the receiver.
I watch and chew as he listens and paces the floor.
“You’d better sit down for this one,” Dad tells Big John. “An entire season with Netflix! Netflix, dude! Yeah, it’s some ghost-hunting thing . . . they want a paranormal series!”
I chew moo goo.
Alfred Hitchcock waits for flying shrapnel.
“Yeah, they said ten episodes to start and the possibility of extending to a season two. But they said we will definitely have to get an actual ghost on film for that to happen. Netflix is going to put Totally Rad on the map, man! After all these years! It’s finally our turn.”
I would never actually tell Dad that it was my cookie that predicted it. Because of his whole aversion-to-woo-woo thing. But he only thinks it’s crazy because he doesn’t really understand it. I knew something would come his way even if he isn’t open to his woo-woo, because that’s how it works with woo-woo and whatnot.
The truth is, the universe has a plan for us all. You just have to be open to reading the signs around you. I’m all about living by the rules of woo-woo.
Karma for sure because it’s my namesake, but also the reading of any and all signs, keeping it real with my spirit guide, Magic 8-Ball, tarot cards, past-life memories, the power of crystals, any and every Snapple lid fact and of course the almighty fortune cookie.
My personal mantra is and will always be: Woo-woo isn’t cuckoo and without it you’ll have bad juju.
And everyone who’s anyone knows you don’t want bad juju.
It’s the worst.
A Bad Case of the What-Ifs
That whole night after Dad’s Netflix call, he’s far too busy walking around being happy to notice one very important thing.
I am not.
Far from it.
After Googling the Stanley Hotel, I learned that the place is so haunted, not one single, solitary guest will even stay there anymore.
By bedtime, it’s all I can do not to throw up my Noodle King order.
“Lights out, Snooks,” Dad tells me from the doorway of my bedroom that night. “School tomorrow.”
“Um . . . ,” I say. “So, I--I’ve made a decision.”
“Uh-huh,” he says, coming in and sitting on the edge of my bed. “About what?” he asks, giving Alfred Hitchcock a pat on the head.
“Yeah, soooo . . . I think, I mean . . . I don’t think . . . I mean, I c-can’t go to Colorado with you guys,” I tell him, staring down at my fingers while I fold and unfold them and then fold them again.
“Hmmm” is all he says while he nods and takes in my words.
“What if we never come home?” I ask him.
“It happens, you know.”
“Uh-huh,” he says.
“People go missing all the time, and if you want to know what I think about it,” I say, “there’s a definite possibility of paranormal disturbances behind some of those cases. I mean, unless it’s an alien abduction, which is also a legit possibility. But you know, extraterrestrial doesn’t really apply to this situation. But you never know. Stranger things have happened.”
“Hmmm,” he says.
“So yeah, I guess I’m just saying, I--I can’t go with you,” I tell him.
Here’s the thing. Even though Dr. Finkelman, MD, PhD, LP, is supposed to be some kind of expert at getting rid of my bad case of the what-ifs, all we really do is talk about my feelings and play Uno during our Wednesday appointments. We meet every week for one hour while Dad waits in the lobby reading magazines. And even though Dr. Finkelman has more letters behind his name than anyone I’ve ever met, playing Uno hasn’t changed a single thing about my what-ifs.
They’re always with me.
What-ifs may or may not be the technical term written in Dr. Finkelman’s chart, but it explains it way better than anything else.
Simply said . . . I worry.
But not about weird things, like belly buttons.
That’s an actual thing. The fear of belly buttons. It’s called omphalophobia. I suppose I get it, in a way. Like all the lint and everything. But it’s still a weird thing to worry about, if you ask me. Math, too; that’s called arithmophobia. I totally get that one more than the belly button one, especially if you’ve ever had Mrs. Frickman for algebra.
There’s arachnophobia, too. The fear of spiders. And I mean, that one just makes good sense.
My worries are way more normal than extra lint buildup or algebra.
To put it straight, I’m afraid of what might happen. And New York keeps me real busy.
a nuclear bomb hits New York?
the next lockdown drill
at school isn’t a drill at all?