Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Sumida Interview
Narrator: Frank Sumida
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 23, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-sfrank-01-0014

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TI: Well, did you notice things like, in terms of tipping, did people tip back then and was there a difference between Japanese and your other...

FS: Wednesday, every Wednesday and Friday, 9 p.m., a lady in a fur coat or fur stole, high heels, man was she a good-looking woman. I was a kid, but I look at her and said, "Man, good looking." She came in the restaurant. At that time of night, there was a lot of young people eating to go to work in the market, fruit market, vegetable, because they worked nights. And they'd sell in the morning and they go home by nine, ten o'clock until evening. So all those people, they were full of young kids, young teenager, you know, single people. She came in and conversation just stopped. It was like a church. You could hear it drop. You drop a spoon on the floor, you could hear, they just follow her as she goes into that, we have two booths. She'll sit in one of 'em. And I see her come, and I reverse my apron, and then dive in and serve her. My mom used to make me serve her. She didn't like her, because my mom knew what kind of woman she was. She was a high-class call girl. She came in a taxi, taxi was waiting out there. Yeah. So I said, "Good evening, Ma'am," had my apron reversed. She said, "Oh, good evening, Frank." By then, she knew me. She said, "What do you have for special for me tonight?" So I'd tell the cook, I'd even go get this food for her, Wednesday and Friday. "We have nice spring chicken with..." what do you call it? College fries? Like big french fries. And I still remember, I looked up in a menu about Waldorf salad. It's fancy salad, fancy, some kind of dressing, I forgot the name. And I would repeat it, she said, "Oh, that sounds wonderful. I'll have that." She'll sit down and take her coat off, and she'd go to the restroom. She'd go through the kitchen to the restroom, we had a young cook, nighttime. He'd drop everything. My mom would place an order, he couldn't even hear it, he was just watching her. Plus all the guys in the dining room. All during the time she was there, everybody was just looking. And she did that twice a week, and then her bill came to about, everything was special price, it came to about sixty, seventy cents. Everybody else paid twenty cents, for a three-course dinner, twenty cents. Soup, entree, salad, you know, all that, twenty cents. And here it was sixty, seventy cents. I had to bill her special. And she'd flip that bill, and she gave me a dollar for the bill, and then she'd give me two dollar, put it under the dish so I could see it. Two bucks, folded in half. Dollar and... three dollars. Dollar and two, that two dollar my tip. That's what I went for. And for about a year and a half. The war messed me up. I lost that customer; I had to go to camp. I regret that. I knew what she was, I heard stories, but it didn't bother me.

She used to always cater to me, and she used to give me a riddle, a question. She must have been one smart woman at one time. She would tell me about a man had a mining claim, and he went digging and got a little bit, flakes of gold, got a little bigger and bigger but he couldn't find the mother lode, but he kept going, but he was getting bigger returns. So he went back home and told people, family and neighbors, everything, to get a venture money, huh, so he can buy equipment. So they loaned him money and he went in, he was getting rich. He was paying the money off and everything. Then one day he just plum ran out, ran out of the gold. And the question is, she said, "Frank, what did he do?" So she said, "When I came Friday, I hope you have the answer." You know how much that answer is worth? Five bucks.

TI: She told you beforehand that she would pay you five...

FS: Yeah, "If you solve the riddle." Man, Thursday and Friday I wracked my brains out. I asked people, god, I couldn't get it. And then finally, finally, my dad was talking with somebody, this was Thursday morning or Thursday afternoon before, she came in the evening. But it was after school or something, I talked to somebody about, "Shoemaker's a shoemaker, and a daiku's a daiku, and a doctor's a doctor. You can't be everything." So, okay, well, that miner, he wanted to be everything. You know, miner, financer, he thought he was a geologist, everything. But said, "No, no, you're missing something." So I wracked my brain, said, "What could he do? What could that man do?" I said, "Hire a geologist." 'Cause I knew what a geologist was in those days. Even my age. So I put the answer in, said, "They hired a geologist and make him tell where the gold is." Before she left, five bucks, plus my two, that's seven bucks.

TI: [Laughs] That's a good story.

FS: But that was going on all the time.

TI: And so the war, sort of, just changed all that.

FS: Oh, it disrupted my whole life.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.