Two years ago, I was sort of in love with a Prince of Denmark. Apparently, Denmark has many princes. The one I liked was tall and skinny. In the brief two hours that we knew each other, we never spoke, I just smiled shyly, or looked like I had a toothache—a Neanderthal form of flirting that has no chance of survival. Somehow, he found my phone number.
For several months, we chatted via sms and phone, details I won’t bore you with,as I didn’t really have anything to say, not even in the presence of this royalty who visited Rome every few months. I liked him so much that I clammed up. And then I liked him too much that I discussed the meticulous details of vintage car buying, selling and fixing. I couldn’t shut up long enough to kiss him. He went back to Copenhagen.
One day, in November, I decided to extend a business trip to Hong Kong and visit my sister in Hanoi, Vietnam. I sms’d the Prince a what-i-thought-was-flirty “Hey, I’m going to Hanoi in a month. Wanna come?” As it turned, he was going to Hanoi to help his chef friend cook a dinner for the Danish Ambassador. And he would be there at the same time.
It was nerve-racking—what would I say? What wouldn’t I say? In the end, it didn’t matter because he was very busy researching Vietnamese food with his garrulous friend who did all the the talking. The special banquet was to be held at the Sofitel, a beautiful hotel where Graham Greene once drank heavily, and eventually I too would drink there. The day before the event, my sister and I were driving around the markets when I saw a woman chop up a dog. I lost all appetite and from then on was only able to eat peanuts. Mushrooms made me ill and gum turned my head in circles. Chewing disgusted me. I warned the Prince of my new aversion to all food, he didn’t mind, and wanted me to come to the dinner even if I wouldn’t eat. Of course, I went.
There were about 15 tables of ten people each, and I was seated with friends of the chef (a couple- Dane wife, Vietnamese husband), and their friends. There was a very pretty woman seated next to me who stared at me. I thought it was because I kept reaching into my purse to snag some peanuts. What I came to discover was that she did not like me and was studying me to see what I possibly had that was attractive to the Prince.
Girls, you know what I mean—I was sitting next to a woman who liked the Prince and was eyeing me up to see if I was worthy competition. The conversation went something like this:
“The Prince is the year of the Tiger. I am the year of the Dragon. Tigers and Dragons go very well together—you know, both very powerful. What are you?”
“The year of the Rat.” Did that mean I was 32, thus older than her and potentially more astute in catching men, or 24, an easily defeatable foe? I didn’t say anymore.
“Really? You are a rat. I don’t think that has anything to do with Tigers. Do you watch Sex in the City?”
The non-sequitors amazed me. I wanted to respond, “No. I only eat peanuts and am infatuated with nurses’ shoes,” but instead shook my head.
“Really? You look like you do. I do, really I do. In fact, I have all the seasons on DVD and I am just like Samantha. I think you are like Miranda, you know, the lawyer who has bad clothing taste.” She dimissed me with pop culture.
I, the poorly dressed rat, was obviously not going to be a problem in her conquest of the Prince.
The first course arrived, an artistically decorated rectangular plate with unidentifiable food and some foliage. In typical Alpha dog fashion, the woman grabbed my digital camera and took a photo of the dish.
“You know, I am taking photos of each plate prepared by the Prince. I am going to email them to him so that he can then teach me how to cook them when I fly him back here. You are going to email me the photos, right?” She handed me the camera.
“Wow, this photo is great!” I commented as I deleted the photo. “Make sure to give me your card and I’ll email you the photos so that you can send them to the Prince.” This snapshot/delete routine happened six more times that evening. She never noticed, she was too busy talking about herself and her plans to seduce the Prince.
“I would fuck him in the kitchen if he wanted to. I love to fuck in kitchens.”
I wasn’t invited to participate in the conversation and nor did I eat any of the five courses. I just listened to her ramble about conquering the Prince and munched on the greenery, washing it down with water and the occasional Danish beer. I went to the bathroom three times that evening. After the second trip, I leisurely walked around the dining area towards my table. I noticed all heads were close together, the girls were engrossed in an animate conversation. The few words that I heard as I approached were—
“What a bitch. She’s trying to be anorexic. Doesn’t eat a thing. But she’s not skinny. She should barf some more.”
“Must be doing coke, that’s why she keeps disappearing.”
“Nah, she just wants to hang out by the kitchen to watch the Prince…pathetic.”
I wanted to tell them that I was feasting on peanuts and peeing buckets of water that I used to fill up my stomach, but I decided to just sit down and keep quiet. From my experience with girl gangs, it is best to not say anything. They usually forget about you. This time, I was wrong.
“So, has the Prince ever cooked for you?” One asked me accusatorily.
“Dinner? No. No dinner. He’s only cooked me breakfast a few times. Does that count?” I asked naively, with just the required amount of cattiness for a nice insult. The affect was as expected—they thought I fucked or was fucking the Prince. Now I was not just competition, I was a threat.
They continued to interrogate me, each taking her turn in the attack– what did I do? How come I didn’t have a real job? How long did I know the Prince? If so, did I really know him and what was his middle name? Did I ever visit him in Denmark? What year was I born? I answered each question just as vaguely as before, few words and less direct, and often times, immitating their earlier non-sequitors.
“Yeah, he’s nice. He’s got great hair. Have you ever seen his licorice collection?”
The sixth course arrived. Finally, something I could eat—a lovely bowl of pudding, again artistically displayed– sweet, comfort food. I needed it. I put a heaping teaspoon in my mouth, at the same time the Dragon nibbled at her pudding. Almost instantaneously I began to gag as the Dragon shouted with glee,
“Do you know what this tastes like???!!!”
(Yes, a raw egg, expired cream and two-day-old salmon.)
“It takes like my pussy! We know what the Prince was thinking when he made this. He was thinking of pussy!!! We know what he wants! And I will give it to him.” She then turned to me– “What do you think?”
I swallowed my pudding spoonful with beer, and answered, “I was always told mine tastes like honey.”