You’re on your way into The City. The Train’s about to leave the Station, though, and you’re not ready to board. You:
1) Let it go and look up the train schedule for the next departure.
2) You board, unready, and spend the next half hour trying to figure out what to do about your lack of preparedness.
3) You pull the emergency brake and scream “BOMB!” Now no one’s going anywhere for a few hours and you have plenty of time to finish preparing.
You get to The City and after cleaning up, you head to The Diner for your Appointment. Miraculously, you’re fifteen minutes early. You:
1) Ask to be seated alone but mention you’re expecting someone.
2) Sit at the bar and chat up the man behind the counter, fast-tracking information from him and by the time your appointed meet arrives you are introducing them to the owner of The Diner and act like your meet is a guest in your kingdom.
3) Go to the bar next door and get tanked, out of view of the Diner patrons, so no one’s the wiser when you’re naturally effusive and relaxed.
After the Meeting you:
1) Walk your Meet to their subway station and awkwardly hug them goodbye realizing midway that they were planning on simply shaking your hand.
2) Are headed with the entire Diner staff who has just closed shop for the night, back to the bar where you got tanked earlier. You lost track of your meet, but they’re actually following you into the bar and you just can’t tell because you’re so bombed.
3) Let your meet walk you to your hotel, except you’re paranoid about telling them where you’re staying, so you mislead them into thinking you’re staying somewhere dingy. When you split ways, you wait five minutes and then cautiously head back to your true hotel.
I capitalized arbitrary subjects of this questionnaire because I am:
It took Google more than a few seconds to result me this gem. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what it means, but I just wanted to see what The Internet had to say about it. This is actually a valuable lesson for the kids, I think, and I learned it myself from a Chinese literature professor in college: look up words you already know the definition of. It’s good for you.
I first heard “arriviste” watching “Loft Story,” in France, in the year 2000. Loft Story is their equivalent of Big Brother, and the arriviste in question was a French-Jewish woman who would prattle on for hours (seemingly) about her money and her connections. I had to ask whoever was nearest to me, what the word meant; though it was certainly to be inferred anyway. So I asked because I needed to hear it in French, then. And the whole room responded with their own version of a character, not simply trying to translate it directly into English. I’m grateful in hindsight that there was no smartphone on the ready to app-translate for us.
The respondents, anyway, are all in a room, in an apartment in Caudry, in Le Nord region of France. That’s not my pretentious way of saying I was in the north of France. It’s simply a region called “The North.” The region’s humility incarnate in the simple descriptive nature of its name, which in fact is a description only in relation to the rest of the country; like it can’t exist without the dozens of other regions under it, named after rivers, named after well… arrivistes. It might not have been Caudry, actually. This might’ve even been outside of the population 5,000 town, and in the population 200 hamlet of Caullery. All of this to say my neighbors were for the most part, blue collar or service professional natives with an inevitable lineage to farming in their recent heritage. I didn’t get the impression people moved into these bergs, so much as end up in them. Where better to learn the French word for “an ambitious or ruthlessly self-seeking person, especially someone who has recently acquired wealth or fame,” than in a place where everyone is willfully modest, ruthlessly unambitious.
This is all butter to help understand me. I dealt with a poignantly awful arriviste the other day, but I was confused at first by their lack of arrogance or greed. I suppose that makes this arrivisme insipid. The collective presence of the arriviste’s ego, manifest in social media affiliations and the kinds of questions they are so good at charading in praise, all served to humiliate me and I know I know, I can’t fault a person for having a persona. But this ladder-climb really bothers me today, even while the rungs lead perhaps toward rather my away from my own persona.
2. The friend of my friend is someone I would hook up with.
3. But the mutual friend of that friend will be really pissed off if they find out you’ve been sleeping around with the friend because they might be your mutual friend’s secret crush, in fact it’s very likely, unless either or both have incompatible sexual orientations, but even then, because it’s the 21st century, nothing should be excluded. Just keep it a secret.
4. The friend of my friend and I start dating.
5. Except he insists on calling it “expresso” which drives me nuts so I dump his tacky ass.
7. Soon, he and his friend, the one who crushes on him, are both mad at me.
Friends who’ve seen me stressed or distressed know I say this a lot. When the laser beam is running up that sheet metal platform ready to sear me in half by way of my Double-0 Sevens, I start this mantra:
The very worst thing that can happen is ______________ .
Fortunately I don’t stress all that consistently. In hours flat, I can go from the spastic rantings of a nicotine overdose to the nihilistic contemplation of a jobless surfer, unfettered by the real world. So my guru om worst case chant, one could argue, works.
Part of what makes “worst case scenario” meditation work is the ability to see from other vantage points, and to watch them play out in flagrantedelicto, as it were. We’ve all seen people fuck themselves in the ass.
On Father’s Day, I contemplate the joys of just being alive. I talk to him just to make sure we’re not in our worst case scenarios, and that seems to be just good enough, which is worse than spectacular, which is better than nothing at all.
Avoiding the worst is truly, boring.
I’m thinking a lot today about my flip-flopping on social/political issues.
I used to think only bimbos with low self-esteem got plastic surgery. Today I can’t even make a boob job joke.
Used to be categorically anti-guns, and still am sort of… except a lot of you, my friends, own at least one piece. I don’t know what’s worse: knowing I can’t do shit if you decided to shoot someone (me, most importantly), or coming across as a self-righteous liberal “melt all guns” hippie.
My position on God has changed more times than a diaper. These days, I’m glad my mom has one to believe in. A diaper, and a God.
I used to hate street wear. It was so hetero-opressive. Last week my business was described as an “urban street wear brand.” Rather than shoot myself in the face with your gun, I decided this gay apparel business can be the vehicle of change in a cis-straight crucible. Also, all street wear fanatics are definitely homosexual.
I used to hate yonus-linguistics—neologisms like herstory, and womyn—but now that no one wants to be an un-ironic “she,” and with so many famous “hers” opting out of wor(l)ds like feminism, well… I can’t believe I’m saying this but I really fucking miss the baked tempeh salad at the Womyn’s Labrary* café.
I used to hate cheese till I spent a year in France. Still not sure how I feel about France.
I ate at El Pollo Loco today. Fucking love this place. I remember eating here once with a couple friends from the drumline and starting a chili pepper contest only because they had complimentary whole Serrano chiles at the salsa bar and we were poor kids. I barfed after eating like five peppers. The guy I beat was just convicted of sexually assaulting a minor under his tutelage at a high school.
Sidewalks in Diamond Bar are a joke. I rarely see anyone walking on them, and they serve only as elevated bike lanes and memorial plots for the victims of drunk/bad driving. My mother fell asleep behind the wheel of an Isuzu Trooper once and drove us into a potted tree. We uprooted the tree but barely put a dent in the front grill.
My gyno called while I was in an accountant’s office discussing longterm financial planning, to tell me I need to undergo a colposcopy. She urged me not to put it off. I let her patch me through to the appointments desk and continued my conversation with the accountant while I was on hold. He was able to explain the entire ecosystem of retirement plans during the time I was on hold. 17 minutes. When I finally got a human on the line he told me a nurse would have to call me back with a schedule. I did not put this off. This time.
The Korean American woman who was recently arrested for trying to set gas-soaked puppies on fire as part of an insurance scam is the older sister of a woman who used to come over to the third apartment we moved into after my parents divorced, and talked a lot about big dick. Why are apartment complexes in this neighborhood all called villages?
There was another case of arson nearby perpetrated by the son of my mother’s most pathetic friend. He’s in prison for at least 18 years now. This is the third Asian American man I went to high school with who’s been sent to prison, that I’ve heard of this year. Your children are fuckheads, you Kumon-proud neonazi Tiger Slunts.
There is no hangover too small for a three piece dinner for lunch at El Pollo Loco.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! (Slaps NPR and in my “Scandal” Mellie Grant voice) YOU TAKE EVERYTHING AWAY FROM ME.
I’m completely heartbroken that NPR is taking its ONE AND ONLY show with any REAL multicultural platform off the air. That’s just a million more of us now relegated to finding the champions of our public opinion where… on fucking Hot 97? And yes, I am speaking in part from the self-interested POV of an occasional talking head who benefited not just in intellectual but reputational gain, but “Tell Me More” really IS the only good thing on public radio, AND hosted by a person of color… fuck who’m I kidding, hosted by a *black woman*! The astonishing rarity of that alone makes the canceling of her show deeply saddening. This decision better have been made to give her an even better and wider berth of news and culture talk space.
And don’t tell me “but NPR still has those other race things.” Code Switch has never told me more.
I really wish someone told me sooner that GIRLS is basically a younger female version of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
They happen both to be shows I avoided for fear… of what I’m not entirely sure, but fear anyway, of at least my own repulsion against good entertainment. I didn’t want to end up self-righteously hating something so valued by esteemed peers (like I have with Beyoncé and Joss Whedon). On the other hand, I heard unfair criticism; mostly from bitchy gay friends who complain Dunham doesn’t deserve whoever she’s sleeping with (meanwhile nobody cares that Larry David gets to fuck beautiful women). I defend GIRLS for honor. I refused to watch it for fear.
Once I started watching, I found I really liked the show, but precisely because the viewing discomfort I have with CYE is improved upon by the complexity of a female cast. Forgive me for being the chauvinist, but GIRLS is more pleasant as self-ritualizing satire, than CYE is as self-ritualizing farce, and I find the dichotomy impossible to ignore.
My marathon viewing of the latest season of GIRLS began as an attempt to take advantage of some intermittent HBOGo access before heading to India on a vacation that would take me through Bombay to Rajasthan—a desert region famous for its forts and palaces, and literally translates to “Land of Kings.” Either way, it was appropriate viewing.
Upon landing in India, the first thing I noticed was the curious preponderance of animals everywhere. Cows, especially. Granted, I understood they were sacred animals to the majority population of Hindus in this country, but we’re talking ginormous, complacent, peaceful, not-as-smelly-as-I-feared cows. Wild cows. Just ambling down the street, across the highway sometimes, in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and even more of them in the thinly populated desert villages, where the cows were followed by huge herds of goats, camels, peacocks and the occasional hog.
At one point on our trek through Rajasthan, our driver asked if we’d never seen animals before because we kept giggling and gasping at the sight of them on the road. I told him, “in American they’re all kept behind fences, in cages.” It was much more dramatic than it needed to be, as I will likely only be this reactionary vegetarian for two more days and then it’s back to old-fashioned slaughterhouse detritus-based lunch meats and burger cylinders.
Forget the Hinduism, it was simply remarkable to be in a country with so many vegetarians living cheek to jowl with so many animals; exotic animals at that.
The second thing I noticed was the curious preponderance of men, everywhere. I don’t mean universal man, but dudes; especially in the countryside. I started counting one afternoon in Bikaner, as we people-watched a pageant of rush hour pedestrians, scooter- and moped-drivers, and my unblinking eyes netted around 12 men for every woman on the street. That was after half an hour of eyeballing foot traffic.
There’s a Russell Peters joke about this, too, but one does in fact see straight men holding pinkies on the street (and it is indeed kind of funny). They also sit on each others laps when there isn’t enough room at the chai stand, and embrace each other from behind when hanging out on the stoop. And yes, it’s charming, but I couldn’t escape the thought that this is the same population of men who burn women for marital delinquency.
We met a fellow Western traveler who had spent close to five months in Goa before excursing to Udaipur, and asked him, “do you know what sports are popular besides Cricket?” He joked, “setting girls on fire” and then told us about recent news of a village girl gang-raped by 14 men after her father discovered she was in love with an outsider.
I know better than to assume the absence of girls is due directly or solely to the practice of “bride burnings.” I know better than to assume these are better or worse men than in America. I know that as in the rest of the world, the men and women don’t have a normal pattern of fraternization. That’s all fine.
However, the visual absence of girls in public really started to wear me down after a while. Day 8 into the desert trek, I felt what could only be described as withdrawal—headaches, irritability, loss of appetite. I didn’t want to interact with one more fucking guy. I couldn’t stop thinking about the violence against women I’d read about; the violence I assumed every man on Earth was capable of. There were men everywhere; from the hyper-accommodating hotel owner behaving as if my slave for the 24 hours I was actually in his charge, to the obnoxious textile merchants getting up in my face for a discount I didn’t want. Men. It changed the way my food tasted.
Meanwhile, colorful, gorgeous, bejeweled women would appear like a hoax. India is home to the most awesome women’s vernacular fashion. Saris, kurtas and leggings are the most comfortable and simultaneously resplendant articles of clothing. These are bar none, the best outfits for any body. Draped sheets of vibrant cottons and chiffons (and silks on special occasion), wrapped or cascading over pants without buttons or zippers. I mean c’mon. AMAZING. So when you do see a woman in India, it is a visual oasis. Yes, I’ve effectively objectified Indian women. It makes me no better than the Mattel on Barbie. Maybe this just makes me a proponent of white feminism, whatever that is, but the visceral effect of seeing one brightly clothed woman for every twelve men in dull grey-tones, is profound.
And then I found myself starving for the presence of girls. I was excited, even, by the strangest encounters with them. The pregnant bathroom attendant at our middle-of-nowhere pit stop between Jaiselmer and Jodphur, for example. I smiled like a lunatic at her, with only the faint realization that she would be cleaning up after my shit in a minute.
Suddenly it occurs to me that I might have seen more animals than women on this trip, and I get sad as all hell. Could this be some perverse parallel universe where women are kept behind fences in cages, and the driver would giggle and gasp when presented with women walking wildly down the street, peaceful and complacent?
Would that girls were sacred in any religion, though.
I happened to have been reading Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, and presently noticed that while he mentions murder and violence on almost every page—including the murder and violence against women—I counted but four mentions of the word “rape,” and one of them entirely out of context. I was saddened by the masculine apologism, but I no longer begrudge him this self-censure. I find it difficult to use the words to victimize women, myself. But it occurs to me that this might be precisely the problem—censure, inadvertent or not. There just aren’t enough mentions, presences, iterations, of anything to do with girls.
Mehta cites a great bit of wisdom from an architect who suggests the solution to India’s water supply crisis is not to bring in more water, but to train more urban planners. It’s sort of the “I could give you a fish or a fishing pole” answer to the infrastructural crisis. This tidbit has stuck with me. I have asked myself over and over, what would the equivalent solution be to the plight of women in India (or at least just their absence)? Right now my only answer is that there needs to be a curious preponderance of girls.
Publishers don't need to leave $NY$. NY needs to be cheaper.
We think we’re immune to marketing and advertising but we’re not. And yeah, eventually, everyone realizes this, but usually not until after we’ve sunk a fortune in suites of Apple products and sweat equity at Facebook. I would never suggest dismissing the art of sales, though. Without it, everything would look like Linux.
But that pesky “look like” element of delivery mechanisms is precisely where marketing and sales haunt my every move. These are just appearances. In a perfect world, I learn to love whatever “plain text mode” is, and depend no longer on the emotional response I await in consumer gratification. In the real world=eyes, feelings, taste.
Reading George Packer’s New Yorker feature on Amazon was an experience in extreme self-reflection and cogitation, beyond what I’d expected in typical “I knew that already” disdain and “welcome to capitalism, y’all” pessimism. I heard dozens of past arguments ringing for attention during the bits about consumer advocacy (e.g. “I’ll stop using amazon when you find me a cheaper place to get diapers”), and the bits about labor rights—I had no idea working in an amazon facility represented upwards of 10 miles of walking and that performance was quantified by fulfillments per… MINUTE. I was fully nauseated at discovery of each new detail on Jeff Bezos. He’s a liberatarian. He doesn’t like music.
I felt the strangest tug when Packer went into one of the major pitfalls of Big Publishing that led to its own demise: its inability to leave expensive Manhattan offices.
While I have always complained publishers were slow on the internet game (I’m talkin’ “what is a blog?” seminars at BEA in as late as 2003-slow), I do admit the charms of our most bourgeois of arts—neither aristocratic nor proletariat by industry—lie so dearly in New York as its threshold. Because for as long as I can remember, almost every single book I read had one thing in common. On that stupid copyright page, right under the title and author name, without fail, was always the same two word phrase:
This was when copyright pages were still the first thing in a book, of course. I’m looking at several paperbacks on my desk as I write this, with sclerotic covers revealing lists of endorsements where the excess pages of a signature would in the past be left blissfully blank. [There you go, another example of my ambivalence toward advertising.]
I feel my journey to New York has been inextricably linked to the copyright provenance of all those books I read. If every second page of every book I read said “Seattle,” you’d be sure I’d be there now, and find even some forgiveness for Amazon because of it (though probably not grunge music… cf. Linux).
Now that I live here, I can’t say I hadn’t been advertised to; that this wasn’t some long-game strategy by publishers to get their most ardent readers to consent to indentured work for the farm that fed them. But to the naysayers, I’ll just say: I’ll stop admiring New York when you find me a better place to wear diapers.
In Hair Pieces, the photographer Rebecca Drolen examines the relationship between human beings and our hair, highlighting the impulse to deem body hair beautiful or strange. Inspired by what she calls the “archival” power of hair to outlive the rest … Continue reading →
Eugene picked me up in a limo. The dress I wore looked better when I tried it on at the store, where I nervously did the math between price tags and Mom’s wallet. I felt like a trafficked child bride in it when he wrapped his arms around my shoulders to slow dance. It explains why I refused to kiss him even after having a crush on him the entire duration of the year leading up to the dance. I can’t remember anymore at what point requiting a crush would stop feeling like the end of all of my affection for someone, but I do know it was a sign of immaturity that someone’s reciprocation made me flee every time.
Gavin was my favorite prom date. I wore a ribbon around my throat and borrowed his best friend’s dress. We talked about the independence of Hong Kong. I wonder what he’s up to now. I broke his sunglasses when I plopped into his passenger seat.
Philip was an amazing artist. In a different universe we would’ve been soul mates. The theme of our prom was “Almost Paradise.” How the 1984 ballad became the theme for a 1995 prom is beyond me. Though… I guess “Gangster’s Paradise,” while more timely, would’ve made for a significantly less charming prom theme.
I was Jason’s beard. It was the closest I got to the Asian gangster clique, the source of my constant derision, their wannabe attempts to be “hard” all but parodic, but they were also just hilarious. At least three of them did end up in prison.
Brian brought me to his high school prom, where news cameras were waiting to capture “on the street reactions” of classmates to the school’s first openly lesbian pair (the school refused, and then recanted their refusal to let them come). We all rearranged ourselves to appear in same sex pairs, and I held hands with a blonde girl I’d only just met seconds earlier.
Jimmy and I watched my boyfriend dance with other people.
If you keep a golf ball in your throat long enough you will become a man.
King Midas had no idea when he learned to turn all he touched to gold that his daughter was more valuable soft as lead. All kings want the same thing for their princesses though. A stronger back, a solid inner disposition, purity. I want skin made of gold, by God.
Love. Memories are love. Even the disfond ones. Remembrance is love. I have been driving my mother’s car for the last ten days and as I stare at traffic and let the music on its stereo sound more amazing than I’d even imagined it in my head or laptop, I realize I have no idea what model it is. What year, what color you call it, what is the alphanumeric code car enthusiasts use to categorize it? My mother has small stickers of a cat and a puppy affixed under the “Your next Oil Change” seal. These are reminders.
We have a thousand miles left, Mom.
Meanwhile, the other day I immediately recognized a friend’s late model CRV after three years, could even smell the atmosphere of its passenger seat before hitching a short ride. Not even long enough to count as an integer.
To borrow from West Side Story, Anita says to Maria that the feeling between her and Bernardo is “what happens when he’s not here.” So fuck distance. Proximity makes the heart fonder. Absence makes the heart nostalgic.
To borrow from a few songs, I believe I am full of love. With an accumulation of memories, the treacheries of nostalgia turned sour, I am full of love. I beg you let me love you and when you’re tickled by my smothering, I will squeeze you harder.
Even if it means you’ll be eviscerated.
I’ve clearly been in LA too long. I miss New York. I am shriveling without my cat, my boyfriend, my rituals. I want to be smothered, too, you know.
I’ve learned love on this trip is the conjuring of memory. At least one of the acts of love. This means I refuse to love much. The souvenirs of acquaintance have rotted. The rats are sickly from pink blooms on green bough. The water, compromised. I have left you in the cheese to become someone else’s problem. It takes you years or perhaps days to move out of here. The truck is on fire.
As for sex… I’m of an age and generation where marriage and child-bearing are templates rather than practices. In the broad sun-soaked afternoon of my sexual confidence, every custodial visit with a lover confirms a truth in me. Say for example that so many of you are queer; a fact. That professional sacrifices were always worth a love affair; a fiction.
Many of you, most of you even, do not have the capacity to equal my love. Because many of me, most of me even, does not accept it, give it enough.
Hate. The opposite of love is not hate because love stands alone. Comparing love to hate would be to compare this Gordion iPhone to a message in a bottle. No, the opposite of hate is loyalty. Hate is the betrayal between blood brothers. Hate is the denial of truth, and sometimes memory. Hate splits cells, not hairs.
Cancer is hate.
I’ve been wondering as to the origins of fate, lately. No, not hate. Fate. I know it’s confusing when they look so similar, but fate is also hateful. It gives false hopes that the message is longer than the image by which we’ve compartmentalized the memory. Fate so tender in its resignation.
my unedited missive on mortality. pardon the ramble.
One of the hardest things for a person to have to face is their own mortality. We spend much of our lives negotiating our fears of death, don’t we. Don’t we?
I have always said that I fear death less than dying alone. The thought of dying alone scares me, and I think this is mostly because dying is such an act of solitude, and I am a solitary person. It’s like… every time I am eating, sleeping, traveling, driving, physically exerting myself in isolation, I am taking a huge risk of dying alone. This does not mean I fear I’ll die every time I do something. It just explains how I might treat being alone as an act of courage. For me, refusing company is brave.
This year, I have had to think a lot about what loss means to those who keep company. With the remarkable exception of Law & Order: SVU where every dead character is *discovered*, most people die on-screen in the company of the most salient connection in the narrative—a frenemy, an ex-lover, a nurse…
My mother has been the subject of much loss this year, as in survivor, as in “he is survived by a wife and two beautiful children.”
It began with the separation anxiety of her last daughter moving from Los Angeles. While my sister hardly counts as anyone’s charge, having matriculated from early adulthood with a marriage and mortgage under her belt, the fact that she has been my mother’s neighbor for most of their lives, is significant. What exacerbated the anxiety however, was the completely random tragedy that immediately preceded it when their dog died.
I call it their dog though it began life as the proxy child of my sister and her then-husband. It was my mother’s dog during long weeks my sister spent on business trips, and my sister’s dog when she needed to pay for its grooming and vet bills. It belonged to everyone. Under my mother’s supervision one morning, the dog went outside to pee, never to return. We’re assuming coyotes got to him in this suburban chaparral where Lost Dog signs with shredded phone numbers are not uncommon sightings, but missing dogs are. Moses was a bite-sized poodle. I just hope it was quick and painless. The dog died, my mom took the blame, my sister left town.
My sister’s other pet, the cat, was also adopted by my mother some fifteen years ago. It entered its dotage years ago when she turned 18, but was as loyal a companion to my mother as any dog could be. They went on walks together and slept curled up like… well… kittens. There had been no arguing this was mom’s cat. Mom’s life is full of cat paraphernalia where wonders would never cease comparisons to a child’s mind, clown’s antics, a clearance sale at a junk shop in China; worthless tchotchkes we always teased her for collecting. I hesitate to call it hoarding because the items are not so random as to be arbitrary (read: piles of old newspapers), and the detritus has never occupied more than half of the surface area in mom’s house. Besides, keepsake golf balls and cat-origami earrings were more entertaining than disturbing. Meeshaq, in any case, was mom’s best friend and avatar.
This year, because the kids were in New York, we flew her out to spend Thanksgiving with us. During her two weeks here she took pictures of my cat, and told my cat about her cat, and we all decided she might be a cat, herself. Mom, the cat lady. The day after her return home, the 20 year old cat crawled under the kotatsu (heated table) and passed away. We all agreed, the cat had waited for mom to come home and say a proper farewell before passing.
My mother was so bereft she did not know what to do with herself. For the moment, she had decided to hang out at her friend’s cafe, and have said friend collect the dead cat and take them to the Humane Society, because she couldn’t do it alone. Even the cat couldn’t do it alone. Then she called to explain what happened. I kept asking her if she was OK. In hindsight it was my fucked up way of making my mom cry. She’d always leave the country to cry. Not this time.
"I want to cry but the tears aren’t coming out. Maybe I don’t have any left."
I was six when my baby sister died, so my mother would’ve been 35. That’s about as old as I am today, and not only do I not have children, the thought of having three of them knocks the air out of me every time. The idea of being pregnant is already so frightening for the wrong reason—summarily, body dysmorphia. But I wonder if dysmorphia can encompass the childhood depression of reconciling with your mother’s aging body, from which we learn to fear our own? I have very distinct memories of seeing my mother stoop to pick up clothes and applying makeup; the reflection from the backseat of her car in the rear-view mirror, a tight shot of my mother’s furrowed brow, putting up with gridlock traffic on our way to my sacred piano lessons.
I was so relieved when my mother finally became the old woman she is now, honest about her age and the lengths she will go (or not go) to hide the circulatory fatigue in her skin. She won’t be caught dead in either a turtleneck or a plunging collar.
The loss of Florence was the single most important event of my mother’s life. No one needs proof of this. No one would dare ask for it. What kills me when I think of the loss of my baby sister though, is that my mother was alone with her when it happened.
A person should never die alone, but what about the witness? Could it be like a legal quorum, where one alibi is not sufficient to override whatever the legal statute is for circumstancial evidence?
What I failed to appreciate while I pitied my mother having to watch her youngest die, was that because it was under my mother’s sole supervision, social services would send an agent to investigate the home in which my sister and I were still cared for, in case the death was caused by negligence. I recall being interviewed, being asked if I like my parents and idiotically saying I hated them because they never bought me stuff.
My sister always threatened to run away and we used to joke she was actually sent here from the Moon. We fantasized about running away until the day we fantasized about not being related to each other until the day we fantasized about never having to speak to each other again. We had a few years of total enmity. I tell myself this is normal for teenage girls. I rationalize much of the peace between us as an act of penance to the dark years and the green zone we demarcated in the den during Prime Time. Today we fantasize about owning a home together and starting her nut business.
We can argue my loyalty to people all day and I won’t care when a good friend stops inviting me to parties, but I get mad when I think of anyone questioning my mother’s loyalty. It enrages me when people make fun of her quirky affectations, because each and every idiom is a sign of pure love. She would manifest every ounce of humanity in this world with their own avatar in her home, if humanity introduced itself to her.
Several weeks after Thanksgiving, my mother told me her uncle had passed away a month ago and no one told her till now. This is the uncle that raised my mother from infancy to the age of 16. It remains a subject of some mild contempt that my mom re-appeared in the lives of her six siblings as a fully formed young adult, unscathed from whatever domestic hell that has led to every single one of them becoming alcoholic and/or clinically depressed in their middle age.*
*Note: this is with the exception of the one fringe conservative Christian who doesn’t condone any kind of drug-use… or watches any kind of television. But without exception, all of my mother’s siblings have battled substance abuse or suicidal depression.
The Other Dad, we call him, had passed away in the neighborhood of 80 or 90 years of age, but due to a vicious legal battle with his brother (my grandfather), had not been on pleasant or speaking terms with the rest of the family in over fifteen years. Still, my mother continued to send his new family Christmas and Easter cards every year, and attempted to see him on all five of her average yearly visits to Japan. His new wife would have none of it, and last year finally asked her to stop calling.
My mother was heartbroken upon news of her Other-Dad’s passing, but angry that no one told her. Finally, his son explained that there were some concerns that amidst the legal battle over ownership of the family empire that my mother might’ve tried to implicate herself in the fortune that his kin stood to inherit in his passing.
This crushed my mother. It crushed her that she was kept away from properly praying for and then mourning her stepfather, just because of some fucking money.
At this point I want to share an anecdote from my mother’s family, which in a nutshell, practically embodies the worst and the worse still aspects of The Hudsucker Proxy and Arrested Development. My grandfather was a broke Korean in Japan when he decided to invest hand over fist in a new material made of crude oil and thus became the grand mogul of Japanese plastics. As a staunch Korean conversative, however, the empire had only one of two places to go upon his passing: his oldest son or his oldest brother. His oldest son was an unstable lush. I’d catch him shotgunning beer in grandma’s bathroom during family get-togethers, and I laugh when I remember what he was eating to cover up the smell on his breath—feta cheese.
Number One Son became the president of a bank that my grandfather founded in the island-state of Cheju, off the south of the Korean penninsula. The bank was a tribute and it kept drunky uncle sequestered until it didn’t. One day he was forced to leave, and then Drunky Uncle killed himself by jumping off his workplace building.
What I remember from this suicide mostly is that no one but my grandmother missed him (though this may be the narrative license I’ve been so patently avoiding). If you mention her son or her husband (who had died at least five years before that), she clutches at her heart and sheds an imaginary tear. To the same utterance, the rest of us would approximate the emotional equivalent of typing “SMH.”
But I believe this event marked the voodoo end of the Kaneda brotherhood.
Several years after the death of Drunky Uncle, the rest of the siblings were embroiled in the collective bargaining of my Grandfather’s legacy which was now transferred to his oldest brother and the oldest son’s wife because of arcane patrilineal custom. Then the oldest daughter committed suicide.
Drunky Aunt had long suffered from chronic pain due to a degenerative disease in her limbs, but it was the voices in her head that made her end her life. She left a note very few have read, and this time while the rest of us mourned the life of this woman deferred—cheated from her inheritance by her husband, ignored by her own father, ridiculed by the world—my grandmother expressed what I can only describe as relief and vindication. As far as my grandmother is concerned, though, Drunky Aunt “had a heart attack” and not a broken heart. They found her alone only when a neighbor noticed her door was ajar. No one even had the decency of robbing her.
Last Monday, my mother called in a panic about her flight to Japan scheduled for the 22nd. Her youngest sister and closest friend in the whole family, was just given days to live by her oncologist. My mother would obviously have to cancel her trip, but secretly she knew she was the only one who would be able to tell Grandma, in person.
Yoko is everyone’s favorite. She’s the one who bought me McDonald’s when my mom refused it, and took us to Circus Circus at Las Vegas—the only part of the strip that didn’t make me scared for my life. She drove a Cadillac and was the first woman I ever saw sporting sunglasses for style. Her catch phrase was “showtime” and she’d exclaimed it when she won a bid for a Chagall painting and whispered it when we found a parking spot close to the Chili’s we were about to have lunch at. I adore her because she loved my mother. The two of them always had each other despite the ruckus in the rest of the family, even if Yoko was mostly making my mother the punchline of various retard jokes. However, in this, my father and sister have also been complicit. I have mentally raped everyone with rusty razorwire when they call my mom stupid, so I figure all is forgiven. Still, all that to say my aunt Yoko was also rare in her sense of humor. When I visit her at the hospital she is clutching a morphine drip button and offers me some. I show her my gay t-shirts and say I’ll wear a “crazy” shirt every day till she “gets better” to which she responds:
Bring it on.
Suffice it to say everyone who loves Yoko is close to her, but I started my search for the most affordable flight home to keep my mother company. I knew she would need both a chaperone and a wrangler, because she would be devasted and desperate to bring Yoko back to life. We all want her back on our side of the living.
The challenges of reconciling ones final affairs notwithstanding, Yoko’s siblings have declared unanimously that Grandma is not to be notified despite Yoko’s kids’ desperate pleas that everyone come out here now. I am deeply vexed by the siblings’ request but understand their reasons—Grandma’s too frail, Grandma won’t withstand the shock, Grandma’s too chilly to give a fuck about her youngest daughter and it might devastate her kids to discover their own grandmother will not clutch at her chest at the mention of Yoko.
I’m learning in this week of emotional triage, so cynically timed with Christmas, that being there matters. The thought of dying alone still frightens me, but God forbid I ever become so disenchanted with the world that I refuse the company of friends and family for anything more than an ideology or greed. If I believed in zero-sum superstitions, I would set a mountain of money on fire to make it so everyone would come to this funeral.