My 30th birthday took place at one of the threshold times in my life. I had recently read The Spiral Dance, and was in the process of looking for a Wiccan group. Six weeks later I would attend my first Wicca class/ritual, and my life would be forever changed.
That change hadn’t happened yet, but I was aware of the potential. I wanted my 30th birthday party to reflect that sense of transition. I was determined to do things I had never done before.
I’ve already mentioned one thing I did that was different: a two-city Star Wars RPG session over the phone. But somehow, that wasn’t enough.
I’ve had a long-time love of Chinese food, but there was one item on the menu I’d never tried: Peking Duck. I had no clear idea of what it was or how it tasted, but it sounded exotic. Almost every Chinese restaurant I’d even been to had a note next to Peking Duck in the menu: “This item must be ordered at least 24 hours in advance.” What could it mean? What exotic method of food preparation required a full day? And why did it cost so much?
I did a little research (not enough, as will be seen, but these were the days before Google). I found that the reason that Peking Duck took so long to prepare is that it involved some kind of slow-cooking process that allowed the fat to drain. This whetted both my appetite and my curiosity.
I decided I was going to try Peking Duck for my birthday. And if I was going to try it, why not let the party guests try it too? Peking Duck for everyone! At least, for everyone who wanted it. Almost everyone was as ignorant and curious as I was and wanted to go along with the idea.
I made arrangements with a Chinese restaurant near where I lived, and with one in the area where my Chicago friends lived. I arranged to pay for dinner at both restaurants.
The managers of both Chinese restaurants independently contacted me when they heard that I placed the orders for Peking Duck in advance. They essentially both asked the same question: “Are you sure you want this?” “Yes, I do,” I replied enthusiastically. They were trying to warn me, but due to a combination of language difficulties and my eagerness for the project, I didn’t pick up on it.
The same thing happened at both the restaurant in New York and in Chicago: My friends all sat down, hungry after a long gaming session. The waiters came out bearing mountains and mountains of duck.
You’re way, way ahead of me, aren’t you? What I didn’t understand is that Peking Duck is an appetizer that’s meant to be shared among four people; that’s part of the reason why it costs so much. I asked for one order of Peking Duck per person. The result: More duck than even a bunch of gamers could comfortably consume.
I was eating leftover duck for two weeks afterwards.
For the amount it cost me, I could have flown out to Chicago and had a separate birthday party with that group of friends.
Oh, well. I learned something. Maybe.
I haven’t had Peking Duck since. It’s not that I’m afraid of it; it tasted good and it’s a pretty low-fat dish. It’s that I haven’t been to a sit-down Chinese restaurant with three or more other diners who planned more than a day in advance to order it.
Say, want to try some Peking Duck?