Category Archives: Life

Life… Friends, family, relationships (or lack thereof) — and how we juggle our commitments, pursue our wants, and keep ourselves sane.

Yes, Girls Are Crazy

“I’m not like other girls.” – Every girl

You meet a girl.

At first, she seems perfectly normal.  She’s pleasant and sweet.  She goes with you on long walks beside the river.  She even listens politely to your dull work stories—you know, the one about the copier being broken all day, and what kind of office is this?!  But then, as time passes, things start to change.  Maybe she begins lashing out for no good reason.  Maybe her mood fluctuates as wildly as her appetite.  Maybe her fun-loving self deteriorates so that you can barely coax out a dead-eye smile.  Pretty soon, you must admit that the inevitable has happened.  Your perfect, sweet, beautiful girl has contracted bovine spongiform encephalopathy.  Because your girl is a cow.  And the bitch has got what’s more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.

Stretch?

Image

Not really.  Because even though (most) girls aren’t cows, at some point in her dating life, every otherwise-normal human girl will do something absolutely, embarrassingly, crazy.  You think everything is going great, and then, all of a sudden, BAM!  Mad Cow.  And now your once-cool girlfriend is a hyperventilating mess of tears and screaming and excruciatingly-long text messages.   Just as the neurological Mad Cow Disease incubates for years inside the minds of cattle, so too does a girl’s doubts.  Her insecurities.  Her fears.  (Inside her own mind, not the minds of cattle.  Poor parallelism there, but you get it.)  And every now and then, without warning or even provocation, the festering disease will emerge, resulting in furious acts of girl-gone-crazy.

Like my friend Ashley.*  She was dating a guy for just two weeks, but if he didn’t respond to her text message within fifteen minutes, she would drive by his house to see if he was home.  Or my friend Katie.  She “accidentally” left a running tape recorder at her boyfriend’s house just to glean information about what he wanted for his birthday.  Or my friend Jen.  She created a fake online persona on Facebook and Twitter, topped the profiles with a Google-Imaged chick in a bikini, and started trying to virtually seduce her boyfriend to see if he would cheat.

These aren’t just desperate, psychotic, fugly-faced girls.  These are attractive, intelligent women with careers and previously-functioning cerebral cortexes.  It’s just that, for whatever reason, they spun off and went a little nuts.  Okay, fine, maybe a lot nuts.

So how do you respond to the crazy?  There are two options.  The first option is to recognize that all girls are a bit crazy, and that all girls will inevitably suffer from bouts of relationship-induced temporary insanity.  And come on, you’ve got to admit that part of it is your fault too (maybe?).  So, you learn to accept it.  You soldier on through because you love her, and you hope that this too shall pass, and hey, you’re not getting any younger either, so she’s probably like the best you can do anyway.

The second option is to bring your girl out on an idyllic countryside drive, take her hand in a remote meadow, and then chop her head off.

So, yeah… Option 2, right?

—-

* Names changed to protect the innocent and I swear one of them is not me.

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Mom, This is Why I’m Single

Mom, here it is.  I’m going to address the one topic that you keep bringing up, week after week, day after day, in your most innocuous, grandchild-seeking voice.  Why am I single?  Why haven’t I found a yin for my yang, a Romeo for my Juliet, a chewtoy for my cynical, frowny-faced bulldog?  Sure, I’m only 26, but you’re right: the mere fact that I’m not married/engaged/in a serious relationship indicates that there is something deeply wrong with me, possibly pathological, definitely egregious, and I must figure it out now or live the rest of my life alone, in a dank crawl space where every unmarried woman goes to die.

So, why haven’t I found a man with whom I’ll fall in blissful, romantic, crazy, stupid love?…

BLAME IT ON ME

I was not molested as a child.  In fact, as you know, I had a rather idyllic and uneventful upbringing.   But, perhaps the absence of suffering can explain why I became such an unlovable, cold-hearted adult.  Instead of growing up with a natural enemy (Focus all your hate on your molester! On your parents! On that oddly-fat, muffin-topped bully!), I imposed my wrath across all walks of life. So if you stole my candy, I would spear you in the head with a pencil (sorry, Nick).  If you copied off my test, I would knee you in the balls (sorry, Greg).  And if you just happened to catch me on a bad day, I would tell everyone that you peed in the middle of the locker room (really, really, sorry, Nacie).  So, why am I single?  Well, I guess it’s because I am an irredeemable bitch.

As a child, I was never broken down or kicked in the face, even when I should have been.  Thus, I emerged from adolescence with an unhealthy, enduring narcissism: I am a 10. Everyone else is a 6.  And as an adult, most kindhearted 6s don’t want to deal with pretentious jerkface not-really-10s.  So, Mom, if you’re wondering why I’m still single, this is one reason.  When your daughter was acting like a prissy little shit, you should’ve just left her with a recently-divorced uncle and not asked too many questions.*

BLAME IT ON THE BOYS

OK, Mom, perhaps it’s not just bitchy me. Maybe the guys have something to do with it as well.  I’ve never had a great track record with los hombres.  It started out okay: my middle school boyfriend once gave me a heart necklace from K-Mart.  But since then, I’ve been on a string of terrible “relationship experiences”.  I’ve gone on first dates to awful places like Wendy’s, the New York City Bodies exhibit, and a guy’s office Halloween party where I saw three mimes and his friend in blackface. I’ve met a weirdo who only wanted to play “the Dictionary game”, which involves picking a word from the dictionary and guessing its definition. I once went on a date with a guy who strangely insisted on sticking his tongue down my ear; I lost an earring in his futon.  So even if there is something wrong with me, it appears that everyone else is damaged too.  Maybe the entire single male population is just a cesspool of mediocrity and creepiness.  Just last month, my kind, sweet, middle school boyfriend robbed a Hollister store at gunpoint and went on the run.  He’s facing armed robbery and assault charges now, but word on the street is that he’s single… yup, I’m on it.

BLAME IT ON THE ORANGE SHAG CARPET

Fine, Mom.  You say that no, it can’t just be my terrible personality or an overarching “men are bad” excuse.  Well, then, perhaps I’m single because I simply have bad taste.  If Patti Stanger from Millionaire Matchmaker were to give her analysis, she’d say my “picker’s” off (if I were a guy, she’d also say my pecker shouldn’t be the picker).  But if that’s the case, then my picker has been steered awry from the get-go.  Remember our first house, with the bright orange shag carpet and the blue, plaid checkered couches?  Remember how I loved wearing sweaters with poofs, neon scrunchies, and oversize, ill-fitting Orlando Magic t-shirts?  I’ve had horrific, vomit-inducing taste my whole life.  My picker has always been off.  If my picker were a pecker, it’d be all bent and mutilated and probably diseased.  So if this is really it, then maybe I’m not meant to find someone at all.  Maybe I’m destined to be the orange shag carpet that will clash with everything and match with nothing.  Maybe I’m Craig Sager’s suit?

I don’t know, Mom.  I guess all I can say is that even though there is nobody significant in my life right now, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future. Perhaps one day I will meet a nice guy who can deliver your blessed grandchildren (because, of course, he will be a doctor too).  But also know that I don’t necessarily have to be married to give you grandchildren, and constantly nagging me about getting a boyfriend may drive me into the arms of some incredibly-fertile, economically-unstable miscreant with whom I’ll have a really ugly, really stupid, four-legged heathen baby, so let’s all just take a deep breath and remember I’m still young and don’t need to be tied down right now, okay?, okay?, and yes I know that writing this was a huge waste of time that I could’ve spent on finding a boyfriend but it’s also possible that there is someone out there who, upon reading this, will say, “She’s the one!” and decide to find me, hunt down my address online, secretly follow me to learn my likes and dislikes, and then, armed with that information, sweep me off my feet so that we can live happily ever after for the rest of eternity because by then technology will be so advanced that everyone lives forever.

Hey, a girl can dream.

 ——-

* No, I really don’t think I should’ve gotten molested (or that anyone should get molested) — this was just a cheap hook so that you’d keep reading. And aren’t you glad you did?!?

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Occupying Wall Street

It’s Monday, July 10, 2006, and I’m wearing a dark suit and pantyhose, standing in a sea of dark suits, all nervous and fidgety.  It’s the first time I’ve worn something from the Misses section at TJ Maxx, and it feels like a personal milestone.  Goodbye, Juniors, with your bedazzled t-shirts and l.e.i. jeans with patches on them: I’m a suit n’ pantyhose woman now.  And why wouldn’t I be, here, in midtown Manhattan, standing in the marbled lobby of a $40 billion company on the first day of my summer internship, the first job to pay me more than minimum wage, the first place where I’ve spent a whopping $89 on a suit jacket to still look like a street urchin in a Brooks Brothers catalog.  I’ve made it, Ma, I’ve made it!

As our group of eighty-or-so interns is herded into the auditorium for orientation, we pass through sleek elevator banks hidden by translucent glass panels, the ultimate markers of lobby opulence.  I never thought I’d end up in this kind of fancy place; in fact, my almost-Marxist teenage self would’ve totally pooh-poohed it: “Ugh, so corporate.  Gross.”  But now, sitting in a plush leather chair, facing a gourmet spread, I’m thoroughly ready to drink the hoity corporate Kool-Aid: drink it, guzzle it, pour it into an IV bag and take it intravenously, whatever.  All I know is that I have just one goal now: do well this summer and get a full-time offer, ‘cause this is where I want to be.  Maybe, just maybe, I could work here for the rest of my life.

“Hello, summer analysts,” the HR rep says. “Welcome to Lehman Brothers.”

HILARITY ENSUES

My mom always says that you don’t know what you like until you try it.  This is her rationale for why “trying out” Wall Street would be a good idea (although this doesn’t seem to extend to drugs, skydiving, or black guys).  In truth, I’m totally up for it.  All my friends are working in banks, so Wall Street sort of becomes our white-collar pregnancy pact.  We get the chance to live in New York, make money, and piss it away like spoiled-rotten socialites–what could be better?  Plus, there’s a certain prestige that comes with working on the Street: If you manage to land an internship at one of the big investment banks, you earn 50 douche points for Gryffindor, and everyone at Harvard wants to be Head Douche.

So that’s how I end up at Lehman: eager, young, impressionable, and in search of shits and giggles.

After our week-long orientation, I’m placed in the Equity Research group, reporting to a man who is the spitting image of Mr. Bean (perhaps with less charm).  His second-in-command, and the guy who is in charge of dealing with me, is a big, rotund, former offensive lineman who I call Diabetes, but not to his face.  While they’re nice, well-mannered, aromatic men, I get the feeling that despite my best efforts, giggles will be hard to come by.

Once I start the job, Mr. Bean and Diabetes have this crazy notion that I’m actually interested in what they do.  So they regale me with stories about free cash flows and outsize valuations and setting appropriate price targets for the stocks they cover.  Diabetes gives me a stack of research reports to read, which I use to create a little fort in my cubicle to play Berlin Wall (“Left hand, tear down this wall of annual reports!” “Okay, right hand!” *Crash.* And that’s the end of the game).  I find ways to amuse myself, because while Lehman might have a lot of money (in 2006), it’s severely lacking in personality.  At one point I try to joke around with Mr. Bean: “You’re such a lucky guy, getting to play around with all these models.”  Blank stare.  “Like, financial models.”  Blank stare.  “It was a joke.”  Curt nod.  “Okay, if you need me, I’ll be at my desk, trying to draw a pterodactyl in Windows Paint.”

I have a feeling this will be a long summer.

DEPRESSION HITS

As the weeks go by, I start to understand why bankers have such a high suicide rate.  The job is a depressing combination of number crunching and Powerpoint presentations.  Sometimes the highlight of my day is doing extensive data entry.  Other times, I get the privilege of formatting a chart.  I’m beginning to think that my job can be filled by a seventh-grader with basic typing skills and a knack for bar graphs.

Soon I realize that I can get by with minimal effort as long as I present something that already confirms Mr. Bean’s hypothesis: “You were right again, the lagged NASDAQ index is a better indicator for revenue trades.”  This strategy seems to work well, especially when combined with my flowery new finance vocab.  Still, even though I’m barely working, often eating, and most likely napping in the handicapped stall with the bench in it, I’m in the office past 9 pm every night.  Because despite the Wall Street stranglehold on words like “optimization” and “efficiency”, the mantra of “face time” rules over them all.*

In my last week at Lehman, I’m given an offer to return full-time.  At the start of the summer, I would’ve been ecstatic.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Diabetes takes me out to lunch to discuss “my future at the company.”  His argument is a good one: it’s a great offer, at a prestigious company, in the best city in the world.  But I have spent the last eight weeks painstakingly manufacturing fun in a job I hate.  I know now that no gourmet spread will be able to sway me.

So, I decline my offer.  Two years later, Lehman declares bankruptcy.  I guess it was a good decision.

SHITS AND GIGGLES

I never foresaw the economic crisis that would lead to Lehman’s demise.  As much as I like to think that I psychically predicted this, I simply left because I didn’t enjoy the work.  And since that summer, I’ve been detached from the turmoil that’s surrounded Wall Street.  I can sympathize with both the protestors and the good people I used to work for.  Ultimately, though, I hope that both sides can see that we’re in this slog together: We need our banks to efficiently allocate capital, and we need an informed public to keep it in check. We need enthusiastic young people to work hard and kick out those caught napping in the bathroom.

But no matter how much we compromise, everyone—people and institutions—must recognize the human fallacy that can be the source of our problems: it’s much harder to take a stand on your own, and it’s much easier to blindly follow the crowd.  That’s how I ended up shoveling shrimp cocktails into a TJ Maxx power suit, and that’s how our country got stuck in this current financial mess.

When I was at Lehman, our group published a 100-page research report in August 2006.  In the report, we predicted that one of the stocks we covered would be trading at $32 by next year, based on our sophisticated (financial) models.  Diabetes had wondered if we were being too bullish, so Mr. Bean asked me to compare our target to that of the other banks.  After a thorough Bloomberg inquiry, I found that we were right in line with the Street: all the other big firms (Fidelity, Moody’s, Merrill, etc.) were giving targets within spitting distance of $32.  So we went with it, confident that we were in the ballpark.  Make little ripples, not waves, they say.  All these smart people can’t be wrong, right?

A year later, the purported $32 stock was at $3.

Oops.

————————

*Also, in most big banks, if you work past 8 pm, you can order dinner. If you work past 9, you can get a black car to take you home. So if you’re already there at 7:30, why not stick it out for another half-hour and get some food out of it? Resourcefulness.

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To All The Single Old Maids

One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that I’m constantly bombarded by thought-provoking intellectual discourse.1 And so it happened this weekend that I came across two women at Starbucks whose conversation blew my mind.

Woman #1: Do you think I’m an old maid?
Woman #2: No, not at all!
Woman #1: I think I am.
Woman #2: Honey, you’re so not there yet.
Woman #1: I don’t know, I feel like I am.
Woman #2: You’re totally not.

Keep in mind that Woman #1 had probably just turned 22 (she was wearing knee-high boots with shorts and stretched out “uh huh” into three syllables).  At this point, Woman #2 deftly latte-swerved2 into a fascinating new topic (yoga!) and they abandoned the old maid talk. But it got me thinking: At what point do you go from being a single woman to being an old maid? What’s the lady to hag cutoff age?  And then: Jesus Christ, am I an old maid?  Wait–Why am I even thinking about this?  Why is anyone thinking about this?

Other than psychopaths, single women are probably the craziest, most irrational people in the whole world.  Our incessant desperation appears to stem entirely from our pathetic role in history:  Years ago, it was a lot easier to know whether you were packing up your hoo-ha for good.  Back in the olde days (when people added an “e” to “old” and my ancestors were building your railroads), everyone hooked up so young.  Once a girl hit double-digits, she was hiking up her petticoat and courting her cousin.  If a chick wasn’t married by 18, she was relegated to spinsterhood or thrown into a river (my ancestors).  But as we moved into the 20th century, it seems that the hag cutoff age was pushed back.  Feminists tried to suppress the entire “old maid” paradigm, because hey, women don’t need men!  We can vote now!

But of course, that’s not true.3  And so the “old maid” label persevered, bandied upon any husband-less, child-less woman with an unexplored crevasse and shriveled-up fallopian tubes.

Nowadays, the whole spinster exemplar has almost become chic.  The new-age old maid has evolved far past the cat-loving, never-been-kissed spinster of old(e).  While there are still classic examples (Susan Boyle, Susan B. Anthony, Suddenly Susan, and every other woman named Susan), there are now “career women” old maids (Condi Rice), “hot but mean” old maids (Ann Coulter), and “probably lesbian” old maids (Diane Keaton).  The old maid has become the equivalent of the expired cheese puff that you find between your couch cushions: revolting, yes, but somewhat endearing at the same time.

So back to the original question: When does a single woman become an old maid?  I don’t know.  It now seems anti-feminist to even think about such a thing.  So, I want to make a declaration, for all the single ladies out there who are so freaking worried about their descent into sad-sack spinsterhood: Girls, STOP FREAKING OUT. That thing that you want so desperately–to get married and then half-get divorced?–It will happen one day.  And if it doesn’t, well… kill yourself.4  But for now, just know that you should not have to put an expiration date on your happiness.  You should not have to settle.  Stop counting down the days to some imaginary deadline*, and just enjoy your life.  Besides, if Jennifer Aniston could be called an old maid, then we’re all screwed anyway.

*By the way, it’s probably, like, 37.

———–

1 – If intellectual discourse was limited to only the weather, the gym, and new vegan restaurants.

2 – Latte-swerving is a fabulous conversation-avoidance technique honed in Los Angeles in which you switch topics by making a comment about your coffee. “Oh my God, I just burned my tongue on this coffee. Woo! That hurts! Anyway, enough about global warming, let’s talk about the gym!”  It’s brilliant.

3 – Women totally need men. We need men to kill things, like spiders.

4 – Do not do this unless you are Ann Coulter.

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A White Man’s Guide to Dating Asian Girls

“A White man seeks Asian woman not for her immense beauty or intellect, but for her tiny cooter.” – Confucius 1

Hey, white guys. You probably know by now that having an Asian girlfriend is a rite of passage for all white men. “Date an Asian chick” has become akin to “Go skydiving” or “Live in New York” in the veritable white guy bucket list.  Of course, dating an Asian girl is very different from dating your typical Nancy or Betty 2.  So, in order to snag yourself a little pre-op Mulan, I present to you a White Man’s Guide to Dating Asian Girls.

STEP ONE: Finding an Asian

Asian girls typically hang out at one of three places: the mall, the library, or Pinkberry. When you get there, look around: the best Asian girl to pick up will be the one wearing a hoodie and heels (there is always one).  When you approach her, ask for the time. As she takes out her phone to tell you, you should make a nice comment about her phone flair (Asian girls always have some bedazzled jank hanging off their phones, like a cartoon duck or a jade tiger). And with that, you’re in.  Asian girls will go on a date with anyone if she can tell a cutesy story about it later: “And then, after he saw my Keroppi keychain, he asked me out at Pinkberry! Pinkberry!”

STEP TWO: The First Date

It doesn’t matter where you take an Asian girl on a first date (as long as it isn’t Wendy’s 3). You can impress her by simply sticking to the following topics of conversation: food, fashion, and making fun of other Asians (“So, did your friends just stay in and do math problems all night? They are so bad!”).  If, by the end of the night, she giggles into her napkin/hand fan, you’ve got yourself a second date.  However, no matter what you do, don’t step on the yellow-fever land mine that is acknowledging the Asian fetish.  Yes, we all implicitly know what’s going on here–Why else did America go to war in two Asian countries4 last century?–But don’t say it out loud. Us girls all like to pretend that we’re your first Far East foray.

STEP THREE: The Relationship

If you get to the point now where you want to date an Asian girl (like… really date her), you better understand where she’s coming from. Given our immigrant roots, most Asian girls endure a latent insecurity about everything from our boobs to our patriotism (both things that are just slightly there).  We never quite think we’ve assimilated into American society… and sometimes, we’re right. So, as her white, Jewish (80% of the time), totally-secure-and-normal boyfriend, you better be prepared for when your girlfriend mistakes “Soup or salad” for “Super salad” (“Yes, I want the super salad! What is wrong with this Sizzler waiter?!”).  And since Asians have eyes like gravy boats, her crying jags are bound to extend late into the night.  Just FYI.

STEP FOUR: Locking it Down

If you’ve made it this far, then you know all the dirty secrets of dating an Asian girl. You know we hate animals.  You know we pretend to love drinking, even though we turn into full-blown red-faced injuns when we do. Oh yeah, and you know we are racists. Your saintly self just goes with it.  But how can you tell if she feels the same way? Well, you know you’re “in” if your girlfriend takes you home to meet her parents. In Asian cultures, meeting the parents is practically an engagement. Asians don’t let people meet their parents, ever.  (I’m pretty sure I told all my friends in high school that I was an orphan.) But once you’ve broken the seal, you better put a ring on it within 5-7 business days. If you don’t, then you risk alienating the parents. They’ll start asking questions. Getting involved. Calling you at work. Once you’ve met the parents, in Asian cultures, you are now part of the family. And they own you. So just man up and fucking 6 do it.

Lastly, you should know that in Chinese wedding traditions, the groom pays for the wedding. Therefore, my parents want me to marry a Chinese guy and my brother to marry a white girl. It’s just good fiscal policy.

FINAL THOUGHTS: A Bit of Encouragement

Yes, some of this sounds terrible.  But, having an Asian wife does have its perks. Even if you’re uglier than Pau Gasol, your half-Asian children will be adorable.  Plus, you’ll get to be the peacekeeper (and favorite parent) while your wife turns into an evil-witch Tiger Mom. Finally, if you’re ever attacked by a pie-wielding assailant, your Asian wife will be sure to leap out of her chair and protect you, even if you totally deserve it. Because even though we may be high-maintenance and needy, Asians are nothing if not loyal… Well, except for the 1/4 of us that was in Tiger Woods.

———————

1. Confucius probably did not say this.

2. These names are so white that they went out of style years ago. Do you know anyone under 30 named Nancy or Betty? Neither do I.

3. Yes, someone took me on a first date to Wendy’s. I know what you’re wondering… Chicken nuggets and a baked potato.

4. Counting only the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I would’ve mentioned Japan had we not nuked the place.

5. My parents started learning English by watching Braves games on TBS, so I grew up loving the Braves tomahawk chop. I would do it everywhere… which unfortunately, out of context, looks very much like a Hitler salute. Assimilation fail.

6. I just started a new job and I’ve learned that “fucking” is the best adverb to use when trying to make an emphatic point. So there.

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The Only Thing We Have to Fear… is Everything

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address1

I’m always amused by parents who keep their children on a leash.  I used to think that treating a child like a German shepherd was only appropriate in crowded, pedophile-rich places (subway stations, Times Square, Montana2), where one could easily lose a kid in the throng.  But just the other day, I saw a father calmly walking his toddler son in Target. Target! (It wasn’t even a busy Target.)  The kid kept trying to run off to the toy section, only to be bungee-boomeranged back to his dad.  It was actually rather funny to watch a guy play paddle ball with his son… except it was with his son.  However, when I mentioned the absurdity of the scene to my mom on the phone, she immediately leapt to the father’s defense: “If parents don’t keep an eye on their children nowadays, the child will get kidnapped.”  She went on to list several examples from Dateline in which un-leashed children were snatched away from their negligent parents.

(Thankfully, I never had to suffer the indignity of a leash.  I merely have memories of my parents telling me to stay close unless I wanted to be abducted and sold to a Nike shoe factory.  When I got older and questioned the likelihood of this ever happening, my mom was adamant. “They want Asian children because of your tiny fingers.  For the laces.”)

My parents were great at manipulating fear as a weapon.  After all, fear is entirely a product of nurture.3 I grew up fearing almost everything: snakes, spiders, roller coasters, big dogs, strangers, light poles, peas, the deep end of the pool, my own closet… I feared it all.  If you asked my parents, this was a good thing.  They would say it’s better to be fearful than cavalier.  Fear makes you more cautious, and caution makes you less likely to end up dead or with a venereal disease.  If it were up to them, they would encourage all parents to subliminally inculcate fears in their children like this:

Age 6: “Yes, the boogie man is real, and he chops off children’s heads.  The good thing is, he’ll only chop off your head if you don’t eat your vegetables.”

Age 13: “Yes, ninjas are real, and they will attack you in your sleep.  The good thing is, they’ll only attack you if you’ve been drinking or smoking.”

Age 16: “Yes, there really is a serial killer running around town.  And he will kill us unless you take out the trash. So do it already!”

Thankfully I managed to avoid permanent scarring, outgrowing most of my fears as I got older.  But the funny thing is, my parents kept theirs.  Even now, my mom always offers warnings about grave dangers that are immediate threats to my life.  Her long list of “Things to avoid” includes: the beach (tsunamis), the sun (cancer), left turns (inevitable car accidents), men with tattoos (you will get attacked and go into a coma), baseball games (you will get attacked and go into a coma), and drinking bottled water that’s been left in the car (you will die).

Since now I’m living 3,000 miles away in California, her worries have intensified: I’m almost certainly going to encounter a life-threatening earthquake, wildfire, mudslide, or errant Botox injection.  Scumbag LA agents and managers will eat me up and spit me out.  The Hollywood sign will tumble down and leave me trapped in my apartment, forcing me to eat my own arm to survive.  The only thing that could possibly keep me safe out here is marriage. Marriage (and grandchildren) will save me from all such ills.

My mom maintains that her concerns are just the normal fears of all parents.  And I suppose she’s justified, in some way.  After all, parenthood is cruel: having a child is like planting a seed and watching it grow for 18 years into a big, tall tree… and then having the tree ripped out and hurled across the country, fending off wood chippers and paper plants along the way.  So I can understand the anxieties of those parents who put leashes on their kids and who hound you about getting a first aid kit with flares for your car… at least you know they care.

And truth be told, there is a value to keeping a healthy dose of fear alive, reminding us of our own mortality, encouraging us to optimize the time we have on this earth, pushing us to live life to the fullest… because, like my mom4 says, we’re all just hanging on by a thread… a thread that may be contaminated with leftover radiation from Japan.

___

1. With apologies to Frankie D, WHAT WERE YOU TALKING ABOUT?  Sure, your speech went a long way in lifting post-Depression spirits, but if we really think about it, you essentially said the equivalent of: “The only thing we have to celebrate is celebration itself,” or “The only thing we have to eat is food itself.”  Okaa-ay. Worst famous quote ever.

2. Montana is the state with the highest number of registered sex offenders per capita, according to the sex offender registry. Go Montana!

3. Actually, let me rephrase that: surplus fear is entirely a product of nurture. Naturally, all human beings are predisposed to certain baseline fears that threaten our survival, like hurricanes, sharks, and other things that we name professional sports teams after. It’s nurture that separates the notoriously fearful (like Chicken Little) from the notoriously fearless (like Chuck Norris).

4. And Nostradamus. And the Mayans. 2012, baby!… I am terrified.

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Growing Up Asian

“Do you… speeaaaak… English?” – Pizza Hut waitress, 1990

It was in kindergarten when I first learned I was Asian.  Sure, there had always been signs–I was nearsighted, loved rice, and caused an unfortunate tricycle accident at age 3–but I’d always just assumed it was typical of American families to speak two languages at home and get insulted by employees at Pizza Hut.

It all changed when I arrived at KinderCare, a veritable child’s paradise full of apple sauce, alphabet books, and… other kids.  While I had certainly seen other children before, I’d never seen so many in the same place, all looking somewhat different.  One intrepid boy finally gathered the courage to welcome the new alien in their midst, coming up to me and saying, quite eloquently, “Ching chang ching chong choo.”  Ever the clever linguist, I responded by smacking him on the head with a Tonka truck.  I had to sit in time-out for the rest of the day.

Despite my crude introduction to ethnicity, I never thought much about being Chinese… mostly because there weren’t any other Chinese people around.  Growing up, there was only one other Asian girl in our elementary school, Lisa. The fact that we had rhyming names made it a lot easier to mix us up, even though she was Vietnamese and stood a foot taller than me.   When her family moved to California in the fifth grade, my mother celebrated – now that we were the only Asians left in the school, she didn’t have to introduce herself at parent-teacher conferences anymore. Everyone knew she was Teresa’s mom.

Of course, assimilating into American culture wasn’t always easy.  When our Pizza Hut waitress found out we did speak English, she proceeded to ask if we celebrated Christmas too.  But the cultural learning went both ways. When I was twelve, I accompanied a friend to Mass.  I had never been inside a church before, so I had no idea what to expect.  “Don’t worry,” my friend whispered. “Just do everything I do.”  So I bowed, I prayed, and I followed her up to the altar where I proceeded to grab the cookie out of the priest’s hand.  It was not very good.  Only later did I find out that I had just spit out the body of Christ.  Suffice to say, that was the first and only time I’ve taken Communion.

WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?

I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?” followed by, “No, where are you really from?”  I usually say I’m from Boston, but I’m really from Indiana, where I was born.  And even though I look like I could regale you with stories of Confucius, I’m probably better equipped to tell tales of my adventures to Dairy Queen.  Of course, no one asks me about that.

There are certain expectations that come with being Asian.  We are good at math.  We are socially awkward.  We know kung fu.  We are terrible drivers.  All these stereotypes are interrelated–We are good at math mostly because our Tiger Mothers read calculus textbooks to us instead of Goodnight Moon.  This, in turn, ensures that we are poorly socialized and ostracized by our classmates, so we do kung fu (usually in a cave) to cope with our loneliness.  After honing our kung fu skills to master gravity, flying from rooftop to rooftop, we recognize the banality of on-the-ground transportation. Thus, we never properly learn how to drive.

Obviously, these are mostly harmless stereotypes.  But the uglier stereotypes of Asians–that we are cheap, bigoted, and cold-hearted–are not necessarily true either.

This winter, our family took a trip to Taiwan to visit my grandparents.  In Taiwan, the first thing we did was go to Costco, to buy a gift for a family friend’s engagement party… which is being cost-effective, not cheap.  In Costco, we passed by a huge display of Black Man’s Toothpaste, the best-selling brand in Taiwan… which is reverential, not racist.  When we arrived at the hotel for the engagement party, we were greeted by a beautiful ice sculpture, which prompted my dad to say, confused, “What does L-O-V-E mean?” …which means that Asians have daddy issues too, just like everyone else.

FINDING MAURY

For some reason, men love Asian women.  All types of men… but mostly white guys.  As an Asian woman, I often wonder why. Perhaps it’s the allure of an exotic beauty. Or the promise of attractive, half-Asian children. Or it’s the fact that our feet are the size of normal people’s hands.

Today, it’s no longer just white guys who do the picking.  Asian women actively pursue non-Asian men too.  Every woman wants to find a Maury Povich to their Connie Chung.  This leaves me feeling bad for Asian men, who are often left with just their engineering prowess and no one to wrap their skinny arms around.

At the same time, it’s not all roses for Asian women either.  We have to deal with the freaks, the pervs, the tools, and the fetishists.  We have to answer questions like “Where are you really from?” which inevitably just makes the guy sound like he’s marking countries off a map.  And we also have to appease our parents and grandparents, because if we’re not married with kids by 30, our eggs will shrivel up and the bloodline will die with us.

I’m just glad that I have a brother.

TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION

Even with all the stereotypes, the William Hung references, and the occasional ignorant Pizza Hut employee, there are advantages to being Asian in America.  Since people can’t tell Asians apart, we can sneak into bars with other Asians’ IDs, find a stunt double to sit in for us at work, and get away with murder (good luck picking the perp in that all-Asian lineup).  Asian kids rarely get kidnapped (high-profile, baby kidnapping is mainly a Caucasian sport), and we don’t have to worry that much about identity theft–Unless another Asian has jacked our credit cards, the cashier would probably find something suspicious: “But you don’t look like the type who’d have three consecutive vowels in your last name…”  Thus, being Asian affords us peace of mind.

Of course, the one downside to being Asian is that it gets tiring to keep up the peace signs/bunny ears for every photograph we take.  But in spite of that, Asians in America have come a long way, and we haven’t peaked yet.  So watch out for us, because we’re taking over. After all, with our squinty eyes, straight hair, and aversion to sunlight, we’re pretty similar to vampires… and vampires are really “in” now.

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