- Feeling Frank
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I have been in Jamaica for four days and cannot find a place that makes ox-tail stew. I ask one of my aunts, but she says that it’s not something you typically find on a restaurant menu. She’s not sure why. The flavor of ox-tail haunts me, and I am determined not to leave Jamaica without tasting it. Why I am so intent on finding this dish is a bit of a mystery to me. It was never one of my favorites growing up (that would be stew peas), and because my mother does not make ox-tail stew, I’ve only ever eaten it at one of my aunts’ homes. Yet now that I am finally [End Page 150] here—in Jamaica—I am craving this dish, particularly the pleasure of sucking the segments of the ox-tail, absorbing all the gravy with my mouth and tongue. Only after extracting all the juices that I can from the crevices of each bone do I leave these pieces on the side of my plate. Cleaning your bones of any remaining flesh or flavor is paramount in my family, especially for my Uncle Frank. The bones on his plate always look like washed and polished specimens ready for display in a museum showcase. Frank is a champion eater. Was a champion eater. I still forget to use the right tense. But then, how can the past tense really be the right tense to use for my Uncle Frank?
My Uncle Frank was fifty-two years old when he died from colon cancer. By the time he passed away, the cancer had spread so widely throughout his body that in the last year of his life he was on a liquid diet. Which always struck me as particularly cruel since my uncle loved to eat, and he was catholic in his tastes: jerk pork, Korean bbq, Mexican burritos, fried fish from anywhere, Chinese pork buns, southern fried chicken, rice and beans of any variety. Uncle Frank loved finding the most obscure hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served the most authentic food—or perhaps just the place that served the most tasty food that fit his palate. Flint’s bbq in the San Francisco Bay Area was among his favorite spots. The place was a greasy spoon take-out joint, with a menu that had a dozen items on it, most of which probably hadn’t changed from the time the original Mr. Flint opened its doors. I have no idea how long Flint’s has actually been around, although judging from the embedded layers of smoke and grease on the walls, it seems to have been here from at least the early ’70s. Driving to Flint’s (which was in a not-so-nice neighborhood, definitely in the pre-gentrification days of the dot.com era) was the first time I had actually seen sex workers on street corners in the middle of the day. I was thirteen years old, which means I was in junior high and cared very much about being cool. Yet I could not help but stare at the provocatively clad women from my window, blurting out my suspicion in the most uncool way: “Oh my God, are those women hookers? I think they’re hookers!” Frank’s reply was casual. Yes, they were prostitutes, and it was sad that they had to resort to selling their bodies for money since they were most likely addicted to drugs or alcohol, which was a good reason never to get involved with either substance.
This was also typical of my uncle: answering a question by expounding on a life lesson. And these life lessons always happened when we were eating. Once, while buying me lunch at the local Price...