When there weren't any holidays for my dad's store to celebrate, the supermarket employees made them up. They rented a live monkey wearing a grass skirt for the "Hawaiian Days" celebration and asked my entire hula dancing class to perform. It was exciting to stand barefoot in that store with a plastic flower pinned behind my ear. When the music started, I directed all of my graceful hand movements toward the meat department, where my father stayed put because he claimed to be too busy to come out and watch.
The party house setup was starting to wear thin for him. He was coming home less and less. When he did come home, I'd sometimes hear shouting at night about where all the food was going, and how he could never get into the bathroom. And then there would be the sound of a slamming front door, then a car starting up and driving away.
This would always drive my grandmother onto the front porch steps where she'd sit, staring up at the street light and smoking her cigarette with the lighted end in her mouth the way she'd been smoking it since she worked in the rice fields as a little girl. I imagine she was missing home. She'd been doing her best to re-create it since she immigrated, but her efforts kept falling apart.
When we all lived at my Uncle Ding's, where the party house used to be, the same thing had happened. Four hundred people living under one roof, eating, dancing, working out under-the-table meat deals and having a shouting good time, and then, \o7 BLAM!\f7 It was over. All because Uncle Ding's wife ran off with someone she met at the Manila Cafe. And since everyone in that house was from her side of the family, we were out on our cans.
I was sad about leaving Uncle Ding's. I liked sleeping sideways on a big double bed with an endless row of cousins, and I liked the wild things that went on there, like the time a couple of us kids wandered into the basement to see if there was anything left down there to break and we noticed a pig. A real live pig, standing corralled in a corner and squinting at us out of one eye.
We all screamed at once, and that scream instantly telegraphed something to all the other cousins, who came avalanching down the stairs against our push to get back up so we could snag the nearest plate of food to feed the pig while trying not to get collared by my incredibly fast grandmother, who was already shouting "\o7 Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!\f7 " One cousin tore out to the front porch on buzz-saw legs to shout an all-points bulletin to the kids in the neighborhood: "Pig in the basement! We got a pig in the basement!"
I have no idea how it got there. I never saw anyone bring it. I know Grandma had connections to Filipinos who worked the lesser jobs at the slaughterhouses because she was always climbing out of someone's car with two clinking shopping bags of peanut butter and mayonnaise jars full of fresh pig's blood. She needed it to make a dish called \o7 dinoguan\f7 , which she translated as "Black Out" in English.
Getting the blood was always a trick because it was illegal to sell blood, but we always had \o7 dinoguan\f7 . If she could get that much blood whenever she wanted it, getting a live pig into the basement couldn't have been much harder.
For the next week or so, that pig became the focus of all the kids' lives. Besides the things we stole or bought from the penny candy counter, Grandma gave us big plates of table scraps and bowls of milk to feed it. But I especially liked to feed it red rope licorice.
We'd scratch its ears, try to ride it, jump back when it tried to bite us, and fight over giving it names like Boris or Igor or "The Girl From Ipanema."
Then one day we were told not to feed the pig. I noticed some uncles drinking beer and digging a long rectangular pit in the back yard. We sneaked the pig some food anyway, then ducked out of the way when some other uncles showed up with long bamboo poles. Someone else showed up with stacks of firewood, and the amount of noise and cooking in the already busy kitchen tripled.
Then someone handed my oldest teen-age cousin the car keys and $30, and a shout went out for all the kids to cram into the car because it was time to go to the Blue Mouse theater. There was a double feature. And we were supposed to stay there and watch both movies twice. We were so happy!
There wasn't a Charlotte in our basement to spin words into her web that could save that pig from what was about to come. And if there had been, that spider would have had to have spoken Tagalog.
When we returned, the party was full-blown. Cars were parked everywhere; people were all over the front porch. A tower of smoke rose from the back yard.
I jumped out of the car before my teen-age cousin could shift into park and was racing down the side of the house when I skidded to a stop in front of the open basement door.