On one of my Mondays off during the rehearsal period of M. Butterfly, I'd wandered the streets of Portland, done some exploring, tried to find projects to keep my sanity while out of town, treated myself to a nice meal at a decent restaurant, caught a film and eventually, late in the evening, I headed back to my grungy hotel room.
I stepped out of the 4th floor elevator only to have my nostrils greeted with a bouquet of delicious aromas which I realized were emanating from the room of Man Wong and even though I was still fairly full from my previous meal, the scent drew me towards the door and through said door I heard voices raised in animated conversation. I knocked. The door opened.
"Djim!" Man Wong greeted me "Come een, come een!"
"Wow, what are you cooking Man?" I asked entering the room "It smells terriffic!"
"Chicken!" he replied "My espessiu chicken! I'm cook een Chinese restaurant een New York! Come eat, come eat!"
"No really I couldn't Man, thanks--I ate a pretty big meal not too long ago and I'm still pretty full." I protested even while being marched politely toward the table where sat Luyong Wang with a bottle of sake in front of him.
But my protests grew more feeble the more my nose sampled and soon a full plate was placed in front of me, a cup of sake to one side and I, to my own amazement, cleared the entire plate of food in very short order--his chicken was indeed very special--and finally, well nigh paralyzed from the meal, I sat back, paid my deep compliments to the chef and we all began to chat and sip sake.
Now they had a good head start on me in the sake department but made sure I caught up with them and soon we were all slurring our words on a fairly equal basis as we began to talk about the show. Luyoung was playing the female lead with whom a French diplomat falls in love and has a lasting affair even after discovering she's in reality a man; he was quite astonishing in his portrayal and as for Man Wong he not only took part in all the Opera sequences, but was Luyoung's understudy as well and had memorized all of his blocking and lines. He didn't quite understand all of them as yet though..... After a fair amount of talk and imbibing of sake Man leaned forward, raised one index finger and said blearily: "Djim? I hab a question for you."
"Sure Man, what is it?" I responded.
"Why inna pray do dey caw a man's vageena a peanut?"
"What?" I asked, confused--I got the first part of his question but my alcohol infused brain wasn't translating the rest quite as well and thought I'd misheard him.
"Why do they what, Man?"
"Why, eena pray do dey caw a man's vageena a peanut?"
I looked questioningly at Luyoung just as Luyoung, equally puzzled, turned to me--and then comprehension dawned on us both at exactly the same instant, our eyes widened, and we quickly turned away from each other before we howled with laughter and offended Man or hurt his feelings. There was a pause as we regained our composure. I took a deep breath...........
"Ahhhmm--Man I think maybe you misheard the line--in the play they call it a penis."
"Yah, a peanut! Why they caw a man's vageena a peanut?"
It was getting harder and harder to keep a straight face.
"No, the word is pronounced peeee-niss, Man." I said feebly.
"Peee-niiaahh-t?" he queried. By this time I could barely talk and Luyoung, even though he too was struggling, began to assist me in his cultured tones.
"Peeeee-niiiss, peee-niiis, Man." he coached helpfully.
"Peeeeeeeee-naaaaaahhhhhh-t." He almost had it but that "T" was killing me. I tried again.
"No T, Man, no T--and you're saying UH like in "up" -- it's isssss like in the word "if"."
"Peee--nifff?" he asked looking very confused.
"No,no,no--say it with me slowly--peeee." And he and Luyong both very solemnly (though Luyoung had a definite gleam in his eyes) repeated "PEEeeeeeeeeeee".
"Now, NIIIiiiiihhhh." I said slowly, and both in unison responded with a long drawn out "NIIiiiiiihhhh."
"Now, ssssssssss." And the duo returned my "Ssssss".
"Now put it all together slowly; peee--niihhh--sss." and both dutifully repeated "Pee-niihh-sss."
"Good. Put the stress on pee, now and run all those sounds together."
My final lasting impression of the evening, and one I will always treasure, is of three sodden friends full of food and sake sitting at the table chanting in unison in our different accents, but chanting successfully --
"Penis! Penis Penis!"