‘Would you date a guy with a really camp voice?’ I ask as we pass a tall, smartly dressed young man speaking to his friends with certain flair. ‘Ummmmm, would I date myself, you mean?’ he answers with a sly sideways glance, ‘why yes, yes I would.’ I try to protest that he doesn’t sound that effeminate but I’m cut off. ‘Sometimes on the phone people think I’m a woman, you know. Like, they’ll ask my name and when I tell them they say, “oh, that’s an interesting name for a woman”’. I howl with laughter on the fourth floor of Westfield, tripping over my penny loafers with glee.
In the suit store, trying on suits, he worries that the pants are too slim cut. ‘They are slim, but they don’t look creepy,’ I assure him. ‘And we should definitely come here more often…’ We make wide googly eyes at each other, the shop floor swarming with handsome men in the market for new suits.
‘That guy was checking you out,’ he nudges me as we ride the escalator. ‘Grossss,’ my gut reaction and reply. ‘Yeah, that’s actually what I thought: “ew, that gross guy is checking her out.”’
Late night shopping in the city, suit search over, we feel like Chinese food – our favourite. The long line at Din Tai Fung is repellant, so we hit Sky Phoenix on the next floor up. The cavernous mess hall is filled with neatly arranged tables clothed in a square of white topped with a smaller square of burgundy, and surrounded by grey patterned chairs.
‘Why don’t you pretend we’re on a date? You know, get in some practice,’ he suggests brightly as I shovel the pineapple and diced chicken fried rice in ($18.80), using the serving spoon for speed and efficiency. ‘Isn’t that what I’m doing?’ I wipe my sticky chin and pick stray grains of rice off my jumper under his pitying gaze.
We clock the young family – cute dad, cute baby, um, tired-looking mum – eating at a table in the corner. ‘Will I ever meet a handsome man who wants to marry me?’ I ask, turning my shovel to the gluey, phosphorescent sweet and sour pork ($18.80). ‘I mean, what has she got that I haven’t?’ I pause, shovel hovering mid-way between plate and open gob.
‘Nothing, she has nothing you don’t have,’ he answers kindly. ‘But those boys don’t marry pretty girls.’ I almost choke on the compliment, then laugh nervously instead, waiting for the punch line. ‘But I’m not the pretty girl…?’ I flinch in anticipation of the backhander.
‘Yes you are. Look at her! Look at that dirty top-knot and denim vest. Boys like that date the pretty girls then marry the dirty, non-threatening ones.’ I mumble something about my inability to leave the house without washing my hair, smooth it down self-consciously and get back to my dinner. ‘You know I’m ri-ight,’ he sings, offering me some of his sautéed beef with black bean sauce ($18.80); I decline, ‘not really hungry’.
Both of our classic mains are generous, glutinous, $18.80 and so fraught with salt and sugar they could be preserved for all time. Plus, hot pineapple. I wonder if there’s someone at Chinese mega-restaurants employed specifically to cut onion and green capsicum into neat 2cm squares. At Sky Phoenix they’re doing a good job. The golden nuggets of pork taste of amorphous fatty, porky, doughy ‘sweet’; almost raw onion and capsicum squares add bitterness to the ‘sour’; and a pretty curly-parsley-with-orchid-on-top garnish goes untouched, providing the ‘sad’.
‘Did I ever tell you about the time I worked for the phone sex line…?’ He asks innocently on the way back to the car. ‘NO!’ I squeal with excitement. My tawdry bubble is burst as he explains the role was purely administrative. ‘But of course everyone thought I was a woman with a sexy voice… my name was Alex, quite unisex…’ he purrs. Full of my favourite comfort food, on a rainy night in the city, a favourite friend makes me laugh so hard I can barely make it up the stairs.