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An Exercise in Cultural Awareness




I’m not sure what it is but I’m having the most unusual weekends lately. Or, at least I’m observing the most interesting people lately. Last weekend, it was the species known as the racist, loud-mouthed, inebriated gay southerner. This weekend it was that special breed of homosapien we call the North Shore suburbanite (Nowath Shoah for you locals).

And what a site they are! It’s amazing what 5 or 10 miles will do, but that’s all it took to view this rare breed in its own habitat. You see, Mike invited me to a birthday party being held in honor of an old high school friend of his.

It took place at Kowloon: a “polynesian” restaurant along Route One in Saugus, Massachusetts. We arrived on Saturday at 8:30PM.  It doesn’t look like much on the outside but the place had a parking lot that went on for acres – which is a good thing because we had to walk the length of 3 or 4 football fields just to get to the front door (OK – slight exaggeration there).

We soon discovered that Kowloon is apparently “the” place to be if you’re north of Boston on a Saturday night. The place was mobbed. We could barely get into the front doors and there were scores of people oustide smoking. We ended up waiting outside for a while for the remaining 12-15 people in our party to show up.

And what a parade of people we saw. Despite the fact that very few menu items at Kowloon cost more than $9.99, the thing to do for this rare breed is to dress to the nines for their big night out. No, I’m not talking Armani. I’m talking sequined tube tops (mostly silver or gold). I’m talking micro-mini skirts. I’m talking high heels that would put Jessica Simpson to shame. I’m talking skin-tight low-cut lycra shirts. I swear, I’ve not seen this many breasts since the last straight porn movie I saw…17 years ago.

And the men were equally decked out in their finest. Somehow, shirts in the northern suburbs of Boston don’t come with buttons anywhere near the neck. And who knew that it was a requirement to wear a gold hoop in both ears? I didn’t. And it goes without saying that hair must be spiked straight up using the most crisp and shiny styling product available.

By the way – these requirements (minus the hair product on men) were not just for the youth. Oh no. I can’t count the number of wrinkly, leathery breasts being exhibited among the 40-70 year-old female crowd.

OK – so that was outside. We got in and were directed to the lounge briefly until the table was ready. Fortunately, before any drinks could be ordered we were filtered into the Volcano Room (I don’t lie – that’s the name). We were seated in a little hut at a long table beneath a palm woven ceiling. All I could think of was the great Coconut Grove nightclub fire that killed nearly 500 people. The walls were mock-volcanic lava and our drinks were served in either ceramic pineapples or ceramic coconuts (with “Kowloon, Route 1 Saugus” tastefully written on them).

The menu was 12 or more pages long but I managed to find an entree in Chapter 7. The company I was with were quite fun (as have been pretty much all of Mike’s friends…though, Mike only knew 4 of the 15+ people in the group).

After dinner, we walked toward the restrooms only to discover additional elements of fabulousness at Kowloon. First, the center of the main restaurant had a fountain with multi-colored lights and, I could swear, multi-colored water. There were also fake palm trees everywhere, murals of volcanos and tropical islands on every wall and, most important, the center of the restaurant was designed like the deck of a sailboat. For some reason, the booth formations formed the sides of the deck and there was a mast in the center of the main dining area with an actual boom going the length of the place. At the bow, was a band performing their own interpretations of 1980’s classics from Bonnie Raitt and Cyndi Lauper (it’s a shame the ship didn’t sink with those performers on it…I’m talking Cheeze with a capital Z).

Anyway, we left there and the majority of the gang went to Model Cafe in Somerville. Mike and I ended up escaping to a Boston gay bar instead. We needed to be with our own people in the safety of the urban jungle for a while after that experience.

I’ll write more about the rest of the weekend (including pictures!) tomorrow. I’m still recuperating from Kowloon.


  1. Comment by Lise on March 13, 2006 11:12 am

    I’m glad to hear the bridge & tunnel 80’s crowd is alive & well. Route 1 – MA’s low-rent answer to Vegas. What happens in Kowloon should stay in Kowloon.

  2. Comment by Doug on March 13, 2006 11:13 am

    Karl Darling…and to think that you lived on said “Nawth Shoah” in Salem. I guess you werent here long enough to learn the correct geographic coordinates of the NORTH SHORE (as I pronounce it, and Ive lived here my entire life).

    The North Shore consists of the following towns and cities: Nahant, Marblehead, Salem, Beverly(including the Farms), Manchester, Gloucester, Rockport, Annisquam and Newburyport. On the North Shore we have country clubs and golf courses (not clubs like The Palace or Mini Golf with Dinosaurs).

    What YOU encountered were people who live NAWTH of BAWSTON. Of course, they would LOVE to consider themselves part of the NS (Who wouldnt??)…but due to the excessive use of hairspray, sequins and faux gold chains they have been forever excluded from our exclusive club.

    Im glad I could educate you on this oh so important distinction 🙂 Im off meet Bootsy and Kitten at the country club now…..Kisses!

  3. Comment by Brad on March 13, 2006 11:17 am

    I’m afraid that this is a dining experience that I’m glad I missed. You certainly do go to the best places, don’t you?

  4. Comment by Karl on March 13, 2006 11:17 am

    I hate to break it to you, Doug…but people from Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Everett, Chelsea and even Malden and Melrose (which don’t touch the Atlantic) consider themselves North Shore. It’s true! Plus, you can’t assume that those people at the restaurant didn’t live in(and drive in from) the “official” north shore towns. Most probably did.

    And I recall those types in Salem. Have you been to the Liberty Tree Mall? Or the Willows?

  5. Comment by Karl on March 13, 2006 11:19 am

    OH, and I know Liberty Tree Mall is technically in Danvers. But Salem folk shope there in droves.

    And Lise – your’e right. It’s so Vegas!

  6. Comment by chrispy on March 13, 2006 11:31 am

    fried hair, sagging perma-tanned skin, abuse of hair products and Drakkar Noir? all those people sound like guidos (gwee’doze). im not sure if thats what you call them up there, but thats what we called them in jersey when i was a teenager. the women are affectionately referred to as guidettes. i thought the species was local to the jersey shore area through to southern brooklyn, but APPARENTLY NOT.

  7. Comment by Doug on March 13, 2006 11:34 am

    Sweetie Darling….Perception does not necessarily equal reality. If someone were to look at a gay dating site (Manhunt or for example), one would think that all gay men are VERY good looking and anatomically “gifted”. Reality is…they arent. So it goes for the non-North Shore citizens…LOL

  8. Comment by karyn on March 13, 2006 11:48 am

    You. Are such. A SNOB. LOL. Yeah it’s gawdy and a little dopey but it’s a “Polynesian” restaurant – you will cast your mind back to your formative years on the sandbar and think to THE Popular Chinese Food Place On 132 – it’s in a brown building shaped like a BARN because it used to be a western / rodeo place. Hi – want to talk tackola? Come on… it’s schmaltzy but it’s good enough for Seinfeld – you had fun – let it alone! PS You know you loved the sequins and spray tan and if I REMEMBER CORRECTLY someone ELSE used to employ enough product in his hair to render it statue-like in its crispy immovability. Hm. Who WAS that?

  9. Comment by Doug on March 13, 2006 12:02 pm

    Karyn…would you happen to have PICTURES of said person with enough product in his hair? Im sure his devout readers would LOVE to see one…

  10. Comment by Veselka Slut on March 13, 2006 12:03 pm

    It’s true. Kowloon is representative of the entire north shore, including Marblehead and Nahant. The Squire is as well. As everybody knows, the Lynnway is more than a street in Lynn, and for some reason I think Karl would find himself pleasantly at home there. Snob.

  11. Comment by Karl on March 13, 2006 12:16 pm

    Oh, Karyn – I love you. Believe it or not, as I was writing this I thought to myself “Karyn is going to say I’m a snob and reference my helmet-hair from high school.”

    It’s true – I did have stiff hair back then. But, it was also nearly 20 years ago (1985-1988) and I was not even 18 years old yet.

    People have progressed since then (as have I)…except, apparently, folks on the North Shore.

    Regarding being a snob – I admit it. Wholeheartedly. I suppose I always have been. Karyn would know best. Though, I prefer to think I just have a bit of taste versus snobbery.

  12. Comment by chrispy on March 13, 2006 12:22 pm

    !that picture does exist, ive seen it! hes got long-ish hair TEASED at the top for height and hes dooned a leather biker jacket sans undershirt. very bon jovi. its in his collection of pics of himself (see above, right)in the photo gallery. ah we all did silly things in the 80s!

  13. Comment by Karl on March 13, 2006 12:27 pm

    OH – I’ve got pictures I could show. Perhaps I’ll scan some.

    For the record, the picture Chris is talking about is actually early 90’s….and my hair is wet (I’d just gotten out of the shower…the goal was wet look (there was no product in it).

  14. Comment by Wendy on March 13, 2006 1:02 pm

    I went to Kowloon after my senior prom.

    My town hasn’t even been listed yet – Lynnfield, which is so insignificant it has to identify with the North Shore or risk being forgotten entirely. I haven’t really lived there for 13 years, but it’s home. At least I never had Claw Bangs.

  15. Comment by karyn on March 13, 2006 2:39 pm

    Doug, I may have a few…I’m not sure I’m sufficiently provoked as to post them but you will be the first to know if I do… 😉

    Snarling, make no mistake – I’m with you re: the taste level going on – but it is what it is- it’s not like it’s masquerading as some sort of Hawaiian: Haitian: Mandarin Fusion Newbury Street-esque affair, you know? It’s Kowloon, it’s Route One, it’s good enough and darn it, people like it.

    (Note. Kelleys Roast Beef? Also on Route One. I’m just saying. Also tread lightly – I’ve got a fair few preferred family members who live up there – Lynn, Peabody, Danvers – and they are certainly not of the shellacked, sequinned, funkily-clad variety. Let us be careful of making broad sweeping generalities, shall we. Hem hem.)

  16. Comment by karyn on March 13, 2006 2:40 pm

    And ps: I too have taste. You’ve got it in spades…but you’ve also got the snob factor. It’s ok. I love you too. 🙂

  17. Comment by Will on March 13, 2006 3:28 pm

    Oh, Karl! I’m SO embarrassed for you. You finally get invited to a really classy, tasteful kind of place and all you can do is find fault. I mean, you were in the presence of genuine faux lava, for Gawd’s sake, and you COMPLAIN. The nautical theme in that dining room sounds so sophisticated, but cute at the same time, just precious–I simply can’t believe you don’t get it. I bet you didn’t even like the real injection molded plastic Chinese lanterns.

  18. Comment by Jen on March 13, 2006 4:06 pm

    So, according to Karl, I live on the North Shore, and according to Doug, I don’t.

    I’m going to go out and buy some sequined tube tops, just in case Karl’s right. I’d hate to be unprepared for my regional fashion duties. 😛

    I should go to Kowloon sometime. I love kitsch.

  19. Comment by chrispy on March 13, 2006 5:59 pm

    WAIT! why is being a *Snob* suddenly a bad thing? snobbery or, knowing better, is not a bad thing, eh? sequinned lycra tube tops = bad thing (except maybe in miami, havana, and rio). 80s cover bands in a nautical setting with a chinese name and a fake live volcano, priceless!

  20. Comment by Doug on March 13, 2006 6:26 pm

    Chrispy….we can we take to you Kowloon???

  21. Comment by Brad on March 14, 2006 3:24 pm

    Wrinkly breasts on women . . . at 40 years of age? Isn’t that a little young for that sort of thing? Are they over-tanners or smokers or something. 🙂

  22. Comment by Dean on March 17, 2006 5:18 pm

    i think lynn counts as the north shore too, albeit the geographic and cultural margins thereof.

    i used to hang at kowloon when i was in high school. the last time i was there was new year’s day a couple years back to pick up some take-out to bring to my parents (in lynn), and my partner got a massive msg headache.

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