Monday, September 29, 2008

hooray internet!

My new roommate Lila is a chef at America's best restaurant. She is living with me for three months, until she can move into an apartment attached to her boss' house. I was initially apprehensive about having a roommate, since I like to disgorge gases loudly all over the house and mine my nostrils and fling my natural resources into the atmosphere while reading and shit with the bathroom door open, etc., but Lila moved in tonight and was charming and respectful and chatty, and I became happy with my decision to sublet.

Most importantly, Lila burst out of her room at 1 a.m. screaming "WE HAVE INTERNET!" and directed my attention my neighbor's unsecured wireless network. Was I just too stupid to notice this? Or was this network added within the last few days? Who gives a damn! It means that I have Internet in the house! FREE PRON!

Also, it means that I can finally post an update without fearing that the U.S. Marshals will catch me wasting valuable judicial resources. I also happens to be 2:30 a.m. on a school night, so I will just have to write fast.

I started work. I'm not qualified. I think I went over this in my last post. So blah blah blah. These are some of the things that happened to me this week. After a tottering but forward-leaning summer and then five weeks of inexplicable radio silence, the love of my life broke up with me in a totally unspectacular, utterly heartbreaking fashion - by EMAIL, by a one paragraph email that ends with the backhanded "With all the love I have for you, SH." It was horrible and maddening and horrible again. I'm cycling through all the stages of mourning, but sticking mostly to denial, so far. A new friend said today that her heart feels like it's been ripped out of her chest, stomped on a thousand times at a concert, pissed on, thrown under the el tracks, run over by a thousand trains, then thrown into Lake Michigan, then eaten by a bass, then shat into the abyss. Fish shit at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

She said that about the state of her heart but I am stealing it to describe mine. It's fucking with my dreams. Last night I dreamt that I sawed Boo in half, to make him more portable, with the idea that I could just freeze him and have a doctor reattach his halves and have him be my funny old pup again, like new. In my dream, I put Boo in a kitchen sink and the upper half of his body cut the noble upright profile that it always does, and I thought he was alive. But then I picked him (or that half of him) up, and I realized at that moment that I had just killed my dog, and that no doctor could sew him whole. So I cradled Boo's upper half in my arms, and put my face on his, and cried. I woke up relieved, but also exhausted and befuddled. Boo is right now with a stranger, a friend of my fifth aunt's, while my parents visit my brother in Sydney. So that's that. I decided to break the blog silence about Stephanie, but it still feels weird to write anything more. I told my mom about two weeks ago; try explaining "open relationship" in a language you hardly speak. Maybe I should go back into blog silence about this

Other eventful things: I visited Obama HQ yesterday because my friend KG, a DNC staffer, is working there until election day. It occupies a floor of an office building on Wacker and Michigan, about a mile from my office. Average age of the five million industrious people crammed into that space seemed to be about 24 years old. It was a Saturday but still packed with people staring at emails, Excel charts, and the Gotham typeface from the Hoefler & Frere-Jones foundry. Incidentally, a note on Gotham: I love this font. It's in the same no-nonsense san-serif genre as Helvetica but much more modern because of the way the ends of the letters end in slants instead of horizontal. Also, the lowercase As enclose round ovals instead of those teardrop shaped absences. And it's American, not Swiss, and it makes me proud to be American. Obama HQ has a whole section for graphic designers, which KG tells me is unusual for a presidential campaign. The results are phenomenal. Contrast this:

With this:

Sure, Obama's style seems like corporate branding. But why is that so bad? It tells you that he is a man who knows how to manage his campaign and is attentive to detail. McCain, on the other hand, uses the whiny, unprofessional Optima font, whose bulging verticals would not be suitable even for the cover page of a fourth grader's science report. What idiot chose slate, white and yellow for McCain's campaign? Is this some veiled military color scheme I'm too pacifistic to understand? Or did I not get the memo about the flag changing colors? If you're at all interested in graphic design, I invite you to compare Obama's cautious, clean and consistent website with McCain's clumsy, erratic font carnival and tell me what each projects about the man's style of leadership.

You can hear the creators of Gotham talk about the theory behind it:

Wait, how did I go from heartbreak to typography? And how is it now 3:30? Before I collapse, I want to share with the world some important things I learned today. So my new friend/bandmate Steph is the kind of person I would never be friends with. In brief, she's a popular girl. She's one of those girls I would have (1) aspired to be friends with in sixth grade, (2) distained as conformist for the rest of middle school, (3) ignored completely for most of high school, (4) exchanged pleasantries with in the detente that seems to happen during of the final semesters of high school, and then (5) forgotten about for the rest of my life. She is easygoing, charismatic and crass in that way that pretty girls who play soccer and drink beer and work in marketing and do yoga are. Let's be clear that she is not a Trixie, which is something she defined for me today as we rode around in her cruiser bike gang (the "Queen Bees," started as a sort of post-breakup ladies empowerment gang, with the motto "Fuck 'Em and Chuck 'Em").

She is not a sorority girl or a dumb blonde or a rich, pretty prude like Cindy McCain. She ends sentences with "Suck my balls!" and yells more or less freely. She started out the day yelling things like "BANANAS ARE STICKY! ROW YOUR BOAT! STOP YELLING AT ME!" (no boats or bananas in sight, but indeed some security staff at Soldier Field yelling) and at the end of the day, when we passed a horde of people with suitcases waiting by Union Station, she yelled "MEGABUS HOLLER! HAPPY SUNDAY EVERYBODY!" and the people standing on the sidewalk returned with a loud cheer. She has about six lobe piercings in each ear and several tattoos - a puffy looking skull and crossbones on her ribs, a scorpio sign on her instep, and a ladybug on her big toe - but she still looks sunny and all-American, not hipster. She likes to play and watch sports. Today's bike ride was supposed to culminate at a Lincoln Park bar for the Bears game, but I opted out for that portion since I had to meet Lila at home. She said things like "totes rando" (which is short for "totally random") and "Who is Sarah Palin?" and she told me that I was good at math because I said that our $60 bill for dinner divided four ways meant we had to pay $15 each. She forced our group to stop in a park to take a photo of a garden gnome embedded high up a tree trunk.

Our extremely slow, meandering bike ride today trapped us on the lakefront path, so we had to detour through McCormick Place, a huge Javits-style convention hall, to get across the highway. We rode our bikes through the convention hall until security guards yelled at us and directed us to a series of escalators to get to the skybridge. Steph's friend Molly attempted to take a cameraphone photo of us on the escalator. She let go over her bike, which sent it tumbling down the escalator onto me. It got jammed in the escalator even as I continued to ascend and I had a moment where I thought for sure that I was going to be maimed in a disgusting way, but then I caught the wheel and placed it back on the stair. Steph laughed all the way to the top and said that I had saved her and the girl behind her because they would have just cried and fallen to the bottom, and then she called referred to me as "Muscles over here" for stopping the bike.

Not very many Queen Bees showed up today, so our bike ride was four people: me, Steph, Molly, and Trish. The other two were just as manic and weird and loudmouthed and likeable as as Steph. Trish wore a housedress and no shoes, just fuzzy slippers, and dropped the leftover almond cookies from our Chinese food dinner directly into her purse, for later eating. Then there was Molly. The first story Molly told was about the man she was dating. Gus had made fun of her to his friends for her saying that she liked him, and one of his friends composed a poem mocking her neediness. Gus forwarded this poem to Molly, and Molly responded with an email to both Gus and his friend saying, "Hey, I like your poetry idea. Why don't we go to an open mic and I can start the reading with my own poem, 'Gus, Why Do You Cry When You Come?'" Later she told a very simple story: she was at her aunt's house, where she was served a glass of whiskey. She finished the whiskey and threw the glass in the bushes. Molly did not explain why she felt compelled to throw the glass in the bushes. The moral of the story was that Molly did not know her aunt's glass was $200 crystalware, but "Why the fuck do people have to have that expensive shit anyway?" Another story she told was about eating dinner at a diner the night before. A couple at a nearby table was feeding each other food and making googly eyes at each other. Molly said it made her want to throw up and die, and at the end of the dinner she walked over to the couple and sincerely told them that she thought their love for one another was beautiful. Also, Molly referred casually to her "rape alarm," which she explained thusly: she likes to have sex and then sleep for an hour. So she sets her alarm for 6 a.m., wakes up her boyfriend, makes him have sex with her, then goes back to sleep. This also introduced another term, "dead fish," which refers to a person who has been awakened by another person wanting to have sex with him/her, but are too disoriented to do anything. Molly said that she was more frequently the dead fisher. Steph then came back with a seemingly unrelated story about biking home so drunk that she slowly tipped over and fell/laid down on her side and got trapped underneath her bicycle.

I write down these stories as if I were participating, but I was not. I was mostly silent and shy the whole day, observing and absorbing because I wanted to race home and write down everything I saw. I had the feeling that I was getting exposed to something I would never see this close again. I know that I'm not going to be friends with these girls, no matter how friendly and inviting Steph has been to me. They are unself-conscious and loose and fun, whereas I am afraid to allow my voice to modulate in public. They like to have sex with boys and play in a competitive adult soccer league; I like to have sex with no one and dream about sawing my dog in half. I'm Chinese and butchy, and I felt uncomfortable when they forgot their audience and said "Let's go to Chinatown" in their Mr. Miyagi voices and when they assumed that the heartbreak I was talking about was heartbreak about a boy. I'm not expecting to see any of them again like I saw them today, so I was just very happy to have had the chance to bike around with them today and learn a little bit about how the other half lives.

Ugh, 4 a.m. Better get to bed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

i leave to freddie to say

what I refuse to say.

And I have nothing else I want to say in public about related matters.

I had my first week of work. The three people I work with are excellent. Intellectual heavyweights, light at heart. I am grossly unqualified to make decisions. Bratwurst played a role in my decision to throw up in the chambers bathroom on Wednesday. We hired people to replace us. One hire is demographically similar to me, only better in every respect, such as grades, life experience, and personality. I underestimated my responsibilities; what I thought was an intraoffice memo was read into the transcript as American law on Friday. The first opinion I have to write is an art law case. The question is: is the garden art or merely landscaping? I may actually use what I learned in my last semester of law school for this one. The hours are long, but it's not like I have anything better to do. So long as I get my half hour of exercise and hour of art and hour of reading and hour of writing in my journal after work and before bed, I'll be fine. The subway is, like the NOFX concert I attended in 1997, filled with other people's elbows and bad attitudes. Alternatively, the bike ride is sweaty and I come to the courthouse with my clothes looking like Barbara Walters' unaltered face. My brain will be better at the end of the year, but it begins the year baffled by everything: a new comforter, the economy, the meanings of Latin phrases, future prospects, futurity generally. Louis called on Sunday to say he was coming to Chicago on Monday, and stayed with me for five days and cheered me up with his babble. I spent some time alone, and some time with friends, and some time underwater.

Friends say: fresh start! But when I want to be dramatic, I tell myself I've lost everything I once had: all my possessions, shipped stupidly via USPS during Hurricanes Gustav, Hannah, and Ike, have disappeared from even the online tracking system; my dog is somewhere with someone I don't know; my lover has left me, not in any of the fifty ways I've heard of lovers leaving; and like Emmylou, I'm sixteen hundred miles from the people I know. All these pieces will come back to me, although today I refused to spend $16 on a scarf that I know I will need soon, because I still believe that one day my boxes will come. This is one way to cope, and I am applying this to deal with the rest of this terrifying adventure of starting over with no friends in a brand new city, which is to say, I am coping via denial. There is also an aspiration for the rest of the year. Let us call it the Prairie School of life management. It involves open plans, horizontality, natural materials, and a frontier spirit. The woman with whom I play guitar tells me that her witch psychic and her Reiki healer ("Lucien," for light) both tell her let her love for herself take precedence over her desire to be loved by others. Looking in a mirror, she taps herself on the chest with her fist and says, "I love you," to her heart. I'm going to try it once I leave this cafe.

I am sitting in Starbucks leaving salty splotches on the front of my shirt, and it's now the third time the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" is playing on the radio. Some java jockey loves himself some Black Francis.

It was the last day of the summer today. High seventies and clear blue sky, except a fog and filthy air hovering over the tallest buildings in the Loop. I ran two miles down Division to the lake, then up the lakefront path to Fullerton, where I dropped my shorts and my shirt and ran into the water with a set of goggles on my head. Yesterday I looked into the water off the edge of a pier near Burnham Park and the lake was so clear and light you could see perfectly the giant brioche rocks six feet under the surface of the water, but today in Lincoln Park the water was cloudly and my goggles were useless. I swam out to the gulls sitting on a line of posts about a hundred yards out, then bobbed on my back looking at the triangles sailing on the horizon. It's strange to be in a body of freshwater as big as Lake Michigan. Ebola levels were acceptable today, I learned later. I hooked a dog's harness with my toe and brought it back to the shore. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

my antonia

I finished My Antonia and ran out and bought another Willa Cather novel because I like her so much. There was a story in My Antonia so great that I had to transcribe it and share it with you:

When Pavel and Peter were young men, living at home in Russia, they were asked to be groomsmen for a friend who was to marry the belle of another village. It was in the dead of winter and the groom’s party went over to the wedding in sledges. Peter and Pavel drove in the groom’s sledge, and six sledges followed with all his relatives and friends.

After the ceremony at the church, the party went to a dinner given by the parents of the bride. The dinner lasted all afternoon; then it became a supper and continued far into the night. There was much dancing and drinking. At midnight, the parents of the bride said goodbye to her and blessed her. The groom took her up in his arms and carried her out to the sledge and tucked her under the blankets. He sprang in besides her, and Pavel and Peter (our Pavel and Peter!) took the front seat. Pavel drove. The party set out with singing and the jingle of sleigh-bells, the groom’s sledge going first. All the drivers were more or less the worse for merry-making, and the groom was absorbed in his bride.

The wolves were bad that winter, and everyone knew it, yet when they heard the first wolf-cry, the drivers were not much alarmed. They had too much good food and drink inside them. The first howls were taken up and echoed and with quickening repetitions. The wolves were coming together. There was no moon, but the starlight was clear on the snow. A black drove came up over the hill behind the wedding party. The wolves ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there were hundreds of them.

Something happened to the hindmost sledge: the driver lost control – he was probably very drunk – the horses left the road, the sledge was caught in a clump of trees, and overturned. The occupants rolled out over the snow, and the fleetest of the wolves sprang upon them. The shrieks that followed made everybody sober. The drivers stood up and lashed their horses. The groom had the best team and his sledge was lightest – all the others carried from six to a dozen people.

Another driver lost control. The screams of the horses were more terrible to hear than the cries of the men and women. Nothing seemed to check the wolves. It was hard to tell what was happening in the rear; the people who were falling behind shrieked as piteously as those who were already lost. The little bride hid her face on the groom’s shoulder and sobbed. Pavel sat still and watched his horses. The road was clear and white, and the groom’s three blacks went like the wind. It was only necessary to be calm and to guide them carefully.

At length, as they breasted a long hill, Peter rose cautiously and looked back. “There are only three sledges left,” he whispered.

“And the wolves?” Pavel asked.

“Enough! Enough for all of us.”

Pavel reached the brow of the hill, but only two sledges followed him down the other side. In that moment on the hilltop, they saw behind them a whirling black group on the snow. Presently the groom screamed. He saw his father’s sledge overturned, with his mother and sisters. He sprang up as if he meant to jump, but the girl shrieked and held him back. It was even then too late. The black ground-shadows were already crowding over the heap in the road, and one horse ran out across the fields, his harness hanging to him, wolves at his heels. But the groom’s movement had given Pavel an idea.

They were within a few miles of the village now. The only sledge left out of the six was not very far behind them, and Pavel’s middle horse was failing. Beside a frozen pond something happened to the other sledge; Peter saw it plainly. Three big wolves got abreast of the horses, and the horses went crazy. They tried to jump over each other, got tangled up in the harness, and overturned the sledge.

When the shrieking behind them died away, Pavel realized he was alone upon the familiar road. “They still come?” he asked Peter.


“How many?”

“Twenty, thirty – enough.”

Now his middle horse was being almost dragged by the other two. Pavel gave Peter the reins and stepped carefully into the back of the sledge. He called to the groom that they must lighten – and pointed to the bride. The young man cursed him and held her tighter. Pavel tried to drag her away. In the struggle, the groom rose. Pavel knocked him over the side of the sledge and threw the girl after him. He said he never remembered exactly how he did it, or what happened afterward. Peter, crouching in the front seat, saw nothing. The first thing either of them noticed was a new sound that broke into the clear air, louder than they ever heard before – the bell of the monastery of their own village, ringing for early prayers.

Peter and Pavel drove into the village alone, and they had been alone ever since. They were run out of their village. Pavel’s own mother would not look at him. They were away to strange towns, but when people learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the two men who had fed the bride to the wolves. Wherever they went, the story followed them. It took them five years to save money enough to come to America. They worked in Chicago, Des Moines, Fort Wayne, but they were always unfortunate. When Pavel’s health grew so bad, they decided to try farming.

Pavel died a few days after he unburdened his mind to Mr. Shimerda, and was buried in the Norwegian graveyard. Peter sold off everything, and left the country – went to be cook in a railway construction camp where gangs of Russians were employed.

At his sale we bought Peter’s wheelbarrow and some of his harness. During the auction he went about with his head down, and never lifted his eyes. He seemed not to care about anything. The Black Hawk money-lender who held mortgages on Peter’s livestock was there, and he bought the sale notes at about fifty cents on the dollar. Everyone said Peter kissed the cow before she was led away by her new owner. I did not see him do it, but this I know; after all his furniture and his cook-stove and pots and pans had been hauled off by purchasers, when his house was stripped and bare, he sat down on the floor with his clasp-knife and ate all the melons he had put away for the winter. When Mr. Shimerda and Kraijiek drove up in their wagon to take Peter to the train, they found him with a dripping beard, surrounded by heaps of melon rinds.

The loss of two friends had a depressing effect upon old Mr. Shimerda. When he was out hunting, he used to go to the empty log house and sit there, brooding. The cabin was his hermitage until the winter snows penned him in his cave. For Antonia and me, the story of the wedding party was never at an end. We did not tell Pavel’s secret to anyone, but guarded it jealously – as if the wolves of the Ukraine had gathered that night long ago, and the wedding party had been sacrificed, to give us a painful and peculiar pleasure. At night, before I went to sleep, I often found myself in a sledge drawn by three horses, dashing through a country that looked something like Nebraska and something like Virginia.
I start my job tomorrow and expect that the reading and the blogging will fall off a bit. TTFN.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I recently converted the swastika that was graffitied on one of the columns of my front stoop into the Chinese word for field. 田 is much nicer to look at than the backward swastika. Are all white supremacists too stupid to realize the windmill is supposed to roll to the right? Or perhaps there are some Buddhist taggers in my neighborhood.

This is a portion of an email that R.K. sent me today: "hi. i hope you're not crying. i just read your most recent blogpost and feel the burning in my nose and eyes which is about as close to actual crying as i get. i guess this is empathy?" The question mark is my favorite part of the whole email.

I spent a lot of time laying in my bathtub yesterday finishing up The Tattooed Soldier, and getting distracted and thinking about the lyrics "When you were young and your heart was an open book" (from Live and Let Die) and "If I took all the girls I knew when I was single, and put them all together in one room, I know they'd never match my sweet imagination" (from Kodachrome). I like that from this line you can tell exactly the kind of lonely, nerdy asshole Paul Simon must have been when he was a boy and how it carried over even when he became a successful man.

Willa Cather is one of my favorite novelists, I decided. There is so much love in her writing it makes my teeth hurt. I started My Antonia today and was crying by the 35th page from the toothache. So much beauty it could choke a horse.

I've forgotten everything I once thought I knew about the law - I stared at the Westlaw start page for a few moments today trying to remember what button it was you were supposed to depress with your little hand icon to get you to the right page where you could put things in parentheses and have other things pop up - so I decided to subscribe to the Economist, Harper's, and the Atlantic Monthly, none of which have anything to do with remembering how to be a lawyer. I guess I am also concerned that I have forgotten how to be a citizen, because I stopped caring about the news when Barbri started and have recently only been skimming Politico and Pollster once in a while to see if Barack's numbers have fallen further. C.P.'s blog is actually helping me on this front, because she's so smart and filled with outrage and she links to interesting important stories about injustice. I am too lazy to go about finding the right links myself. Please continue to post, C.P.

Now I am going to stop by the Renegade Craft Fair and buy some useless shit made from repurposed garbage and see if Mahjongg, a cowbell-heavy band that I saw at the Knitting Factory seven million years ago, is still playing. And then I will go to the used bookstore and buy some more books, because I've already read all the books I bought there five days ago. Reading is not a good substitute for cable TV, I decided, because there is no library nearby and I am spending about $40 a week on books. Cable is cheaper and you get to see Rachel Ray's bazooms, which are much more interesting to look at than to read about.

Things I have seen at Starbucks today: a man using two new straws to stir sugar into his iced tea, then throwing away both of those straws, and unwrapping a new one to use for drinking. A woman yapping into her cell phone: "But I'm IN Starbucks! At Division and Paulina! Is there another one here? (A woman on a cell phone emerges from around the corner.) OH MY GOD THERE YOU ARE!" A woman and a man are examining scraps of fabric clasped in a three-ring binder, and another woman is saying to them: "If you wanted to go with a Renaissance theme for the wedding, I would look at some of these jewel tones..."


Friday, September 12, 2008


Not feeling particularly chipper or clever recently so I haven't had much desire to write. Hurricane Ike is blowing Texas up to Chicago so the skies here are about as soggy and expressionless as I am feeling. I sit in Starbucks about two hours a day, relishing contact with the outside world via Internet access, and otherwise lie on the nicely accoutered cushions of my couch reading one novel after another. (I am on my fourth of the week already.) Yesterday I took a long hot bike ride along Lake Michigan and thought of The Professor's House, a Willa Cather book that first Stephanie and then I really liked. The titular house overlooks Lake Michigan and the view is something the professor will not give up to move into a better house farther away from the lake. It's not as much about property rights as you might believe, but really more about cherishing an object as a memory rather than just as a commercial value. Which is a funny thing for me to be thinking about, surrounded as I am by new things in a gut rehab house that has no memories but a great deal of borrowed capital sunk into it.

The other books I've read/am reading are The Sun Also Rises, Love Marriage, A Walk in the Woods, Letters to a Young Poet, and The Tattooed Soldier, which put together make me feel masculine, moody and curt. (Btw, I have tried to battle back my female masculinity by spending a small fortune at the Gap. I am now able to answer that previously unanswerable question: "Who buys the $16.50 merlot-colored deep v-neck t-shirts from the Gap?") The second is the first novel by my friend and former college suitemate V.V. Ganeshanathan, which you all must buy immediately. I like imposing the authorial fallacy upon my reading of this book because I have known the author since we were eighteen, and I know her to be a journalist, and journalists prize their centrism/independence/moderation, and this book proclaims to be moderate (but also about choosing sides) but in fact condones the Tamil Tigers, which makes it a politically confounding and delightful book to be bothered by. I also joined a band yesterday, which is something I would ordinarily write about with more gusto, but again, Ike's overhead, and it is hard to work up the energy for excited typing when it is so glum outside. The small things that make me happy are: chatting by telephone with friends, one a dear friend who has a one-way ticket to an elephant-worshipping country very far away, and another a dear old (old old old) friend whom I lost touch with for too long, and who recently reentered my life at a point where we are both older and more mature and I am less of a crazy mean bitch so I can be a better friend now; and Lake Michigan, which is much larger than you'd think a body of freshwater in the middle of the country could be.

I wanted to write about two dreams I had recently.

In the first dream, I was at a house party. The house was dimly lit in orange inside and out, and the decorations reminded me of a Mexican family restaurant because the floor was hard brown tiles. I was tasked with filling a bowl with water for the dogs. I overfilled the bowl and carried it into a back room. I didn’t notice that there were four men sitting cross-legged on the floor of that room peering at laptops, so I tripped a bit and water sloshed over the edge of the bowl and onto some of the men, and also on their laptops. It was a party, so I grinned and said, “I’m Mandy.” One of the men said, “I am Sergei.” “Sergei?” I said. “Yes, you’re in my house,” Sergei said. He was not grinning at all. Neither were the other three men. I kept trying to stabilize the bowl but water kept spilling out. I realized that the man I was talking to was Sergei Brin, the founder of Google, and I was making a mess out of a special meeting to discuss a top-secret Google product by spilling water all over those secrets. I wanted to apologize to Sergei and make him understand that I knew who he was, so I tried to recall the Polish name of my high school journalism teacher, whose daughter Sergei had married. I forgot her name, but remembered it to be only three letters long. So I didn’t say anything, and I just left.

In the second dream, I was meeting Stephanie at an airport. Things occurred in real-time, i.e., it was Chicago on September 11, 2008. We were high. High on seeing each other, but also literally high on drugs. We held each other. I closed my eyes to kiss her and I was so dizzy but the feeling of her mouth on mine was so good. I tried desperately to open my eyes so that the dizziness might stop. I could not open them but I could feel her in my arms, so I knew she was there. When I finally forced my eyes open, it was 4 a.m. on September 12, 2008, and I was awake and alone in Chicago in a twin bed that smelled like curry. I had been dizzy because I had been in liminal sleep. Then I thought that I was a fool for waking myself from that dream.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

two recent notes from dad

dear all,

2168 miles from palo alto , will take high way I-80 all the way to chicago..
31 hours 3 day's drive.... terrible!!!
love you all,
very close to central station... big hub...

how're doing?
how is aimee doing ...


* * *

san jose post office clerk told me , her sister son's working at cansas, making $500,000 a year as a emergency room doctor,
her sister daughter's working making $200,000 a year as a lawyer,
and she is making $55,000 a year for USPS, and same amount pension for 30 years after she retired.
hey! in term of income, what a mistake to be a engineer..... mistake... bad!!!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


So I have not had Internet so I cannot post as often as I would like to about how I am passing time in my last week of unemployment. I put it all in my long-neglected journal, which is actually a much better way to write than this blog, I find.

Anyway BORING sorry. So the one thing I do want to blog about is my trip to Ikea yesterday. I spent a small fortune there. Okay, a large fortune. Okay, I spent almost a month's rent. Borrowed money, since I have zero income right now. On crap I don't need, and that I may never use, like six wineglasses. I have only one mouth and three hands, and I don't drink wine - why do I need six wineglasses? And a can opener which broke immediately. I rented a 15' van and drove twenty-five miles through the remnants of Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike, which had created a flood on the highway on the way to Schaumburg, IL. I am doing really great at being in places that are flooding this summer. I drove 45 mph in the far right lane while cars lined up behind me and then angrily swerved around me. I rented the van at 11 a.m. and I returned to my house at 8 p.m. I spent three hours driving and loading, which means I spent six hours in the store. I ate two meals there - lasagna sitting down for lunch, and a hot dog standing by my shopping cart for dinner - and stopped for a lingonberry soda with a Mormon boy, which I will tell you about in a minute. The decisions I made were poor (kitchen table is twice as large as the space I have for it, etc.) and worse (my apartment came with a dozen pillows leftover from the last tenant, yet I still bought three pillows) and just plain old incredibly boring. Ikea is my idea of hell because, as you may know, making decisions about consumer products is my least favorite activity in the world. It took three trips to the cash register to buy all my crap, and I injured myself both in the loading and unloading of my haul but also in the assembly, since I don't own a screwdriver and tried to assemble almost a thousand dollars of furniture with my bike multitool. I will spend a brazillion dollars on furniture but not $1.50 for a screwdriver. I got home at 8 and was up until 3 a.m. turning screws with that tool. The 32 screws of my EINA bedframe alone took 52 minutes to screw in, but I am a fool like that, and time and carpal tunnels are what I have plenty of.

I am a little disgusted with myself about how quickly I went from resolving to eat oatmeal with my single ice cream scoop and sleep on my camping pad on the ground and using my one cup for both drinking and bucket showers, to yuppifying my life top to bottom. I mean, almost everything I own now is in birch veneer. But who cares. This is the working world. I make a JSP-11 salary. That's the way it happens. I gave my $250 to Barack. I did what I could. I am really just furnishing my apartment with nice shit because Stephanie appreciates it more than I do, and I am hoping one day she will move here and enjoy it, since the guilt prevents me from doing so. She likes wine.

But what I wanted to write about was meeting this Mormon guy in the Ikea. So I have written a bit about how I have turned into the world's friendliest chatty person. I think this is how I am going to cope with my homesickness and loneliness. I feel more open to meeting strangers and allowing myself to have unexpected experiences than I ever have before. Anyway, this Mormon boy was trying out beds when I was trying out beds. We each tried out all of the beds. I couldn't tell the difference between them. "What is the difference between these beds?" he asked. I said, "That's EXACTLY what I was just thinking!" We chatted about the pine vs. birch bed slats. I asked if he had just moved to Chicago, but he said he lived in faraway, rural Gailsburg, IL and came to Chicago once a year to visit his adoptive brother's birth parents. He was surprised I was a lawyer and was doubly surprised that I was 27. Then I didn't say goodbye, because we were strangers chatting in a store, and I pushed my plus-size grocery cart to the third floor, to collect side tables.

About an hour later, the Mormon boy found me in the kitchen table section, test-tapping on birch veneer for strength, and said, "Hey! Do - coffee?" I scoffed, I really scoffed, and I said, "Who doesn't like coffee?" Turns out neither of us liked coffee and we got lingonberry sodas and sat in the Ikea restaurant on the third floor and chatted some more. It was not romantic at all. I think we were both bored and terrified by the fascist architecture of the Store From Which Escape Is Not Possible. He told me he was 23, a community college student taking his time to get through school, interested in studying art and engineering, helping a friend with a solar panel/hydrogen fuel project but had no business experience, a Mormon boy from Utah and one of ten siblings (I asked: they had a 15-seat van and never went to the movies). I said I was a lawyer only because I was sucking at the teat of career uncreativity, I liked New York and Chicago was not bad, and I hated making decisions.

His name was Gabriel. Gabriel wanted to move to Iowa. Why? I asked. "Because it's more conservative." I was interested in this. What do you mean? He said, "Well, I am really into owning guns." So then Gabriel told me all about his interest in guns. We were polite around this issue with each other. He prefaced by saying that he knew some people didn't feel the same way about guns and he didn't know how I felt but he believed gun ownership is an absolute right. I said, You know, I'm from California so I have a different relationship with guns than the rest of the country. He told me how he drove to Kentucky once for a militaria show. "The Show of Shows." I'd never heard about that. I said, I understand why some people like guns but for me it's a matter of where you live. In cities, people don't use guns the same way they do out in the country. He nodded, so there was detente. But I also said, I am for gun control but I am very interested in meeting people who can tell me about their interest in guns. He said in Iowa you are permitted to carry a concealed weapon, which you can't do in Illinois. I made a mental note never to visit Iowa. I told him how ridiculous I thought it was that after September 11 saw police officers with assault rifles on the D.C. subway. What was a cop going to do if a terrorist exploded a bomb - spray the subway car with semi-automatic fire? Gabriel agreed, and said, "You are supposed to kill someone with the smallest caliber weapon possible." I gave him my email because he said he didn't do the phone. If I am ever in Gailsburg maybe I'll drop you a line and you can teach me to shoot a gun! And if you are ever in Chicago, come stay in my extra bedroom.

I am feeling this way about people now because I am not scared about a nice, balding Mormon boy in non-ironic flannel being interested in guns. Gabriel and I probably don't vote the same way. I probably would not really get along with him if he tried to come to Chicago to visit me. But I don't care, because that is my life-mood right now. I feel open to this sort of thing. I'll let you know when this feeling changes.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

chicago, day 1

I've been in Chicago for 32 hours now. I'm staying with two friends of Carrie, Bridget and Raul, who so generously offered me their guest bedroom even though they didn't know me at all and I hardly know (and wish I knew better) Carrie. They're both community organizers who really enjoyed Sarah Palin's speech tonight. I bought a beautiful used bike, fucked up my knee again, searched for apartments but was demoralized by what I saw (today I nearly signed for a place where the floors were all tilted at a 15 degree angle, different directions in different rooms), spoke to C.H. who helped me figure out that I need to lower my real estate expectations and raise my rent expectations, and then this afternoon I found a fantastic two-bedroom in the Williamsburg/East Village of Chicago. I had almost signed the lease to another place two doors down when the landlord called the broker and said that his sister just got divorced (that very second) and needed to move into the apartment. I tore my checks up. Then the broker felt bad for me and I was able to leverage that bad feeling into a $100/month discount on the landlord's fancy other rental unit. There is a jaccuzi tub, washing machine and dryer inside the apartment, a MINI WINE REFRIGERATOR (!), two bedrooms, and exposed brick in the living room. Best of all there is a fingerprint-identifying deadbolt on the front door, meaning you slide your finger across the lock to get inside. Also, the last tenant moved out in a rush and left behind lots of useful things, like a toaster and coffee maker and trash cans and mirrors, as well as lots of useless things, like ten pairs of fancy size 8 high heels and Us Weeklies from last year (I'd read them all already. Like I need to read about Jennifer's relationship disaster...with VINCE VAUGHN...pshaw!). It's in a yuppie/trendy/hipster neighborhood, as measured by an 8 minute walk to the first Urban Outfitters, 11 minutes to American Apparel. You can hardly swing your yoga mat without hitting a tattooed young thing on a single speed bike!

What the hell am I going to do with all this space? That is where you come in! I have a whole extra bedroom! Please come visit me and stay for a month.

The people in Chicago have been very, very friendly. Maybe this is just because my trip to Ireland was a transformative experience and since the beginning of August I have been the grinning, chatty, TMI-revealing American I've always wanted to be, but it seems like people in Chicago are a lot more willing to chat it up with strangers than New Yorkers. Yesterday, I was biking back to Bridget's from the lake after buying the bike and I asked another biker for directions. He said, "I'm going that way!" and we biked together for 25 minutes chatting about the winter weather and his job in Wrigley Field. Tonight, I went to a free Andrew Bird concert in Millenium Park - which, holy shit, an amazing public space, and holy shit, what a talented musician! - and the old drunk woman next to me became my best friend and talked nonstop about how much I would love Chicago and how she would be up there with the kids dancing if she were young. And in between the biking and the concert there have been probably half a dozen little conversations with strangers. I kind of like it! It hasn't become oppressive yet.

So a few of you have written to express condolences for the emotional events described in the last blogpost. Thank you all so much. But I think what I have realized about myself is that I am a sensitive little bitch and whenever things are slightly rough for me, I plunge very quickly into despair. For example, before I chanced upon my amazing new apartment, I saw about five terrible apartments. They were all uniquely bad - 15 degree floor slants, ten feet away from constant rumble of elevated tracks, terrible locations on deserted streets, extremely expensive and in the dead financial center of town, extremely dirty and small, extremely pink-hued of wall, etc. - and I was worried that I would never find a place except way out in the bumfuck of nowhere, and I imagined my lonely life of working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and then taking the train 75 minutes to a 20 minute walk to a dark, small, rodent-infested box where the neighbors screamed hysterically and me being too scared to go outside instead watching one Netflix after another and feeling sad when I watched all three discs faster than the new ones could come and then reading Sugi's novel in bed (which would be just a used stained mattress laid on the dirty industrial carpeting) with plaster from the ceiling falling on my face from the vibrations of the lovers upstairs, and the -25 degrees with windchill blowing through the inch-wide gaps in the uninsulated wall jacking up my already $300/month heating bill. And then I somewhat seriously entertained the notion of just not showing up for my job and instead returning to Palo Alto, never working, and just mooching off my parents for the rest of my life. But then I reapplied myself to Craigslist and found a nice place in a nice neighborhood and saw a nice musician play nice music while sitting next to nice Bridget and making friends with her nice friends, and I really felt my breath being taken away by the warmish breeze off the big lake blowing under Frank Gehry's steel sheets and across all the heads of those young things rushing the stage to dance very badly when Andrew Bird played the one upbeat song of his repertoire. It was a nice night, and I feel embarrassed that I did not have the patience to wait out the one bad night and instead got temporarily depressed and demoralized.

Which is to say, the brutto winters in Chicago are apparently what makes the bella summers so great. Takes the bad to appreciate the good. I should not have been so hasty to declare my life a trainwreck either yesterday or the day I fought with my dad, and I am actually feeling rather okay. (I still feel pretty shitty about Stephanie's disappearance, but I have faith and hope and charity and a two-bedroom apartment that permits dogs should she ever decide she wants to try again.) Tomorrow I might be moody again, but this evening I bought two travel guides and a detailed street map of Chicagoland and a Time Out Chicago, and urban adventures seem to be a good cure for self-absorbed depression. We'll see!

Monday, September 01, 2008

the green grass of home

I'm leaving for Chicago in two days. The boxes (six total - shirts, pants, blankets, printer and tea kettle, books, short lengths of rope) and the bags (four total - duffel bag filled with pantsuits and gifts for host, backpacker filled with shampoo and tampons, small bag for laptop and documents, guitar case) have been packed. Three additional boxes have been set aside for storage in Palo Alto: journals, books, and - here's a thinly-veiled lamentation- sports equipment that require more than one person to use.

I've been back in Palo Alto for just over a week. Many emotional events occurred during this week, but it always seems gauche to blog about those, especially when the rest of my blogging friends seem to have surrendered their password-protected public personas to the requirement that judicial employees participate in neither partisan nor non-partisan political activities, refrain from smoking menthol cigarettes and wearing loud clothes, listen only to unsyncopated music at gentle volumes, and otherwise abstain from doing anything else that could embarrass the government, like blogging about emotional events. (Are all my blog friends clerks? Yes, turns out they are!) But I am not yet a judicial employee - this I know because I have not yet received my monthly CTA travel voucher - so you get to hear a little bit about what I have been doing.

My cousin Peter was married to a fine lady named Pradipta (my grandmother pronounces this "Gyp-car" but the new Hu prefers to go by Dip) last Saturday. Their invitations were printed on pulpy paper embedded with seeds that could be planted in the ground. Lots of Chinese and Bengali people converged on a seafood restaurant with a lovely view of Half Moon Bay and ate, under heat lamps, external hard-drive-sized ingots of filet mignon and whole lobsters that spilled their claws out over our plates. I had just returned from Ireland, and it was a chilly, foggy Pacific mid-morning, so I impressed upon my various aunts and underage cousins the importance of drinking Irish coffees by the half dozen. My sly grandma looked over at me and whispered that the Chinese portion of the family was taller and less bald than the Indian side of the family, but really we were both just thrilled to see Peter married to such a beautiful and brilliant girl. Dip (the doctor) and Peter (the video game designer) are spectacular, fun nerds interested in puzzles, games, fantasy, and posing in photos as their two pit bull mixes. They live on Treasure Island - arrgggh!!! Both sides of the family gave toasts, including my charmingly nervous cousin Stephen. The most salient facts about Stephen are that he is Peter's younger brother and that he got 1600 on his SATs. My uncle gave what I thought was an amazing speech about how he never dreamed that his Taiwan-born oldest son would be marrying an Indian-born oldest daughter in the land of the free. I cried, but the uncomprehending ESL portion of the crowd was not so moved. After the party dispersed, my parents and I walked a bit on the sand and watched a man wearing a Red Sox hat and Red Sox shirt throw balls into the ocean to be retrieved by his dog, a black lab wearing a Red Sox collar.

Later in the week, I finally got around to buying a camcorder to record my grandma's stories. When Stephanie visited in July, we all watched Wall-E together. It's two years running we've gone to see the charming Pixar movie of the summer. Afterward, we dropped my grandma off at her house and she told an impromptu story that lasted almost an hour, about how much she's always loved movies and (1) how, in Taipei, she used to sneak out after her five sons fell asleep to walk an hour to catch a late movie (e.g. "Roman Holiday") and eat an ice cream and walk back, (2) and how, in Shanghai after the occupation, she tore tickets in a theater to support herself and her three younger sisters and youngest brother and occasionally snuck into movies when she could. I resolved to record some of these stories then but didn't get around to doing so until Wednesday, when I bought a camcorder* and sat down with my grandma on two successive afternoons and recorded her. She has had a life of struggle, with my great-grandfather the opium addict and my grandfather the gambling addict. Livelihoods were lost on opium and mahjong. She moved to the countryside from Ningbo when it was being bombed (here's an interesting fact from Wikipedia: during WWII, the Japanese bombed Ningbo with fleas carrying the bubonic plague), then to Shanghai when my grandfather abandoned her after aforementioned oldest uncle was born, then to Keelung via cargo plane when the Communists reached Nanjing, then to Taipei when my uncles got older, then to lonely incomprehensible Palo Alto when she got too old to move around herself. This may be verging into Amy Tanland, but I realize in my ripe old age that the reason I so resented Amy Tan when I was a teen is that I was a self-loathing racist who was afraid to be identified with any type of genuine difference, even though I was all about the American, manufactured kind of difference - you know, teen angst, alternative music, hippie culture, and an inclination toward objectivism/narcissism. I thought Amy Tan's stories were treacly and feminine and, basically, not white enough. So, fuck that old me: my family's own Amy Tan stories were enough to bring my life to a standstill for two afternoons, and I don't care if I sound like a hack transcribing them here. I have five DVDs left to record, which I will do tomorrow afternoon when my grandma has promised to tell me happy stories (about weddings) rather than depressing stories about her narrowly-averted planned suicide.

*Note to Raj: Don't buy a mini-DVD camcorder. It was a mistake. The recording time is too short (30 mins) and the medium is too expensive ($6 per 30 minute disc), and because it is a finalized DVD the video files cannot be copied onto your hard drive.

So this is the part of the post when I start describing the trainwreck part of my week. Stephanie has disappeared. I don't know where she is. No emails, texts, phone calls, snail mails, blog comments, social networking site updates, Batman moon projectors, or any of the other many means of communication in the Information Age. She doesn't call, she doesn't write. Why did this happen? What does this mean for us? What do you want me to do, darling? I miss you; I love you; I want to hear you; why? There are questions, but there are no answers. There's not even bad news, only painful, startling, slowly unfolding radio silence.

As this is happening, or is not happening, I am reaching a state of panic about my life and my immediate future, and I am (again) not sleeping. I keep bolting upright in bed and rushing to my computer to investigate certain nagging questions. For example: How do I choose a neighborhood in Chicago, when I don't know any of the neighborhoods? Carrie has generously introduced me to her friend Bridget, who has very generously offered to put me up in Chicago for a few nights while I hunt for apartments: how do you buy presents for a host you know nothing about? (I ultimately bought a 4-pack of energy-efficient lightbulbs, a 2-pack of travel Scrabble and Connect Four, a mini watermelon, and a graphic novel.) Do I choose a small, overpriced studio close to work that costs too much money but offers a .8 mile walk to S. Dearborn St. and a 25-yard swimming pool because let's face it, it's not like I have friends in that city anyway so it's not like I need to have space to have people over; or do I live in the Bushwick of Chicago (in Chicago they say "mixed neighborhood" to mean that not everyone is white) and save my $400 a month for airfare to ATL to see a sensitive, brilliant, thrilling intellect who refuses to see me? How much faith can one put in Yelp? Should I bring my stuffed sasquatch? My 12-pack of inch-long colored pencils? Tampons? A lint remover? (Yes, yes, yes, yes, to the last four.) I feel feverish.

The life panic is not only about what to do when I get to that end, but also about how to wrap up things after a nervous summer on this end. One thing that has cushioned the trainwreck is that I have been spending lots of time with friends. Nikki and I attempted to hike Windy Hill in a 96 degree dry bake with our lesbidogs and nearly killed all four of us, and ended up just driving to buy smoothies with the AC on and windows down and then sitting in the shade next to the big field near my house and watching the dogs dig holes in the triple jump sandpit. Ruth, Olivia, Chilin and I spent six hours at Google a few days ago, enjoying a feast from the organic/vegan cafe and playing with the many, many toys all around the campus (massage chairs, Wii, free food everywhere, sleeping pods, yurts, treadmill where you can plug your laptop in and walk and work at the same time, mattress-sized beanbags, LEDs that people program to resemble blinking eyes, and a basket full of tangrams and magnetic structures and metal puzzles that frustrated us all night). I met up with Will and David the Mission for burritos and a pitcher of margaritas. David was decked out in a new turtleneck hoodie and tight black pants and looked like the perfect fob hipster, and when I get together with him, we usually end up talking about women in this sexist, fratty way that I try but usually fail to correct. I attempted to drive to the East Bay but found myself westbound on the Bay Bridge instead and took a 90-minute detour through Treasure Island (arrghhh!!!!) and 49ers traffic on my way to the Oakland Coliseum, a trip which should have been 37 miles and 50 minutes but actually took 2 hours and 45 minutes because I am a fucking idiot. Rose, Navneet, and Jonathans were patient, and even though the lousy bastards were losing 6-0 by the end of the second inning and the beer cost $8 and it was seven thousand degrees below zero, we still had a great time. I learned that Mr. Rose is just as fast-talking and funny as she is - how great is that?! Afterward, we drove to a place called Jaguar Karaoke and snuck in a very small bottle of rum and I sung my throat nodes off and we all appreciated Will's vocal range at the end of "I Will Always Love You" and then I took the BART to Berkeley to spend the night talking about far distant people with Bernie. When we woke up, Bernie laid out three bowls (blueberries, raw almonds, and figs) and a sack of high-fiber cereal for me and then talked to a far distant person for half an hour in Marathi (and she's KOREAN!!) while I clicked "refresh" five hundred times awaiting a life-altering email that never came. Aren't you ever convinced that something dramatic, like Falkor the luckdragon, will show up suddenly on your computer screen and change everything, even though you have no reason to anticipate that it actually will? Yes, me too. So not having found it, I stole $5 from Bernie and left. I spent Saturday in Carmel with my parents and a young cousin (whose name is Dongning, or East Ningbo, which I conceptualized as an American being named "New Brunswick") I didn't even I know I had, and then came home and at midnight walked two dogs with Laura V. talking about our former friend the irresponsible maniac (who said violent, racist things to "challenge political correctness," threw knives in kitchens, drove drunk with people lying in the bed of his pickup truck, accepted a handjob during "Fight Club" but stopped it before it made a mess of his calf-length ermine coat (I AM NOT EXAGGERATING)) who was now an Air Force officer with a pregnant wife - bombs and children in the hands of a still-irresponsible maniac. Then today, the Basque boy and the German-speaking kids from hostel in Clifden all joined Facebook and we had some friendly Wall-chats, and T. Luttenberger told me that she and her friend (who didn't even know that her name was that of Jordan's most famous sandstone World Heritage Site) found some nice boys in Dunfanaghy to be friends with. "La vita è bella," I wrote back. (I didn't know how to spell the Italian; I copied and pasted it from the wiki page about the movie.)

La vita è sometimes bella and è sometimes brutto but I guess put together that's what makes it bella. That was some uplift from the trainwreck. But here's where the trainwreck really starts! (It's 4 a.m., and I am too tired to care about the trainwreck!) I got back last night from walking around with Laura V. and my parents greeted me at the door with "I have very, very bad news. Sit down." I panicked but my parents refused to reveal the bad news until we were all seated. "Did someone get hurt?" I asked. Their faces were grim but betrayed nothing. My dad said when they got back from dropping off my cousin in San Francisco, there were two police officers waiting for them outside the house. I was sort of freaking the fuck out at this point.

Do you know what happened? My parents got a fine. A $100 fine. For a barking dog. For a barking dog. There is an ordinance in Palo Alto that prohibits a person from maintaining a dog that barks for any ten minutes within any given fifteen minute period. Boo barked for ten minutes within a given fifteen minute period, and my parents were slapped with a fine.

I almost laughed when I heard that the bad news was a fine because I was so relieved that nobody had died. My parents looked like they were about to cry or explode with anger. I tried to reassure them by saying, Hey, it's just a fine. It's not the end of the world. Nobody died. It's okay! But they interpreted this as me being selfish, cavalier with money, and not serious about their concerns. My dad exploded at me and said, You're so rich, $100 is nothing? You understand nothing! You think it's just money! I said No, I'm just relieved that nobody died. My dad angrily listed all the problems Boo has gotten us into whenever he has been in California (crazy people chasing me, embittered bitchy neighbors calling the police to enforce the long arm of the law when Boo barks, fines, snooty people telling my parents how they would have trained the damn dog) and then accused me of dumping my responsibility for Boo on them. I agreed with this, and I said, That is the problem, you're right, I should not have asked you to keep Boo for me while I am in Chicago, so I will take him, and I'll find an apartment close enough that I can keep him with me. And it seemed to me there was no point in arguing any further about a fine and a responsibility and my dad was already livid, so I said, I will pay the fine, and I will take Boo with me, and I stalked off.

Then the screaming really began. My dad screamed at me to come back. I was for some reason already sobbing at this point. Whenever I fight with my family, I sob uncontrollably. I have also been emotional recently - today I sat in my car in front of a shoe store and listened to "Killing in the Name Of" very loudly and cried, thinking, So true, so true - which is partially attributable to life changes, my ovaries, and the Olympics. Anyway, I said, No, let's take a five-minute break, I'm going to wash my face. He screamed. His voice cracked, he was screaming so loudly. He tore his glasses off his face and smashed them on the ground. And then he somewhat regretfully picked up the pieces and put them in the trash and continued screaming. I said, I'm done! We need to take a break! He said, Come back here! You always walk away. You're so selfish! You think you're always right! You think you always know better! Come back here! My mom said, No, you two, it's 2 a.m., please just stop and go to sleep, everyone is tired. She was ignored. I said, Whatever, and walked to the bathroom. He said, You have always had a selfish and terrible attitude! Since you were young, you said Whatever and walked away, and called me names and ignored me. You can be all nice to your friends but you hate your family! I said, You're 58! Look at you, screaming and throwing things like a baby! He said, Richard says you put me on the Internet playing piano just to make fun of me! You just laugh at me! You only love white people, you hate your family! He said, Your brother would never do this! Your brother would never walk away. I screamed back, Walk away? Richard left the fucking country to get away from you! You don't even know half of what Richard hides from you! (Sorry Rich, but at least I did not totally sell you out.) As I walked away, I said, Your mother was right about you. It was a terrible thing to say because my parents know I have been talking with my grandma but they don't know what she's said, and I know that my dad was sent away in his childhood and he has always felt abandoned and unloved by his parents because of it. I was sorry I had said it, but that is what happens when you're a selfish, stupid bitch. I sobbed into my vibrating toothbrush and face soap.

My dad continued to mutter and I continued to brush my teeth. I exited the bathroom and heard him shout, I have always hated homosexuals. You think I have tried to accept you, but in truth I have never accepted you, because I have always believed homosexuals are bad people. Immoral people. You walk away from your family because you are a homosexual. Look at me, I have had one partner in my life. Look at you, you have had so many. You even got married. I always had a bad feeling about homosexuals and I was very unhappy at your wedding.

I was so angry and crazed by this new line of attack I wasn't sure what I to do. At first I thought I ought to leave the house until my flight to Chicago, and I started stuffing clothes and contact lens solution and "The Sun Also Rises" (why?) into a bag. Maybe Ruth or grandma could host me, or I could just stay in Best Western. But my dad continued to yell things about how much he was disgusted by my life and the crazy ratcheted up even further and I grabbed my camcorder and held it to his face and said, Say again what you said. I want you to see this forever. I want you to remember forever what you said so that you will always remember the reason I will never talk to you again. He said, Oh yeah? You want me to say it again? Who gave you permission to record me? I said, I don't need your permission to record you. He said, Oh, you think you know everything because you're a lawyer. Go ahead, record me. I will say it again. I said, This was about a fine for a barking dog. Why are you talking about this? That set him off again. He said, IT'S NOT ONLY MONEY! You think it's only MONEY? The POLICE waited for TWO HOURS in front of our house! Then he repeated some things about homosexuals.

I threw up my hands and I said, Fine, that's the way it's going to be. I need to leave. I sat at my desk, crying, and wondering how to move all my shit and whether 2 a.m. was too late to call Ruth, who was probably at Richard's anyway. He said, You're going to close the door. You always close the door. I said, I am not going to slam the door, but I am going to close it very, very slowly, because I want you to think every long second that this door is being closed to you about the reason that it is being closed and that it is going to stay closed. And I closed the door very, very slowly. My dad starting looking sad. And before I closed the door all the way, he blurted out, I apologize. It was the first time I had ever heard him say that. Then he said, Partially. Then I said, What the fuck do you mean, apologize partially! He said, I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. But I still believe everything I said about homosexuals. I said, That's a fake apology, and it's bullshit. But I didn't close the door, and that was the beginning of the road to recovery.

It's always easier to write about the bad rather than the good and I am afraid I am going to fail at writing about the good. Because as terrible as it is to be dismantled by your father in a hysterical screaming match, it is an amazing thing when you can talk it out with him after the match is exhausted and come to a better understanding of each other, which is exactly what we did. It is now 5:30 a.m. a day later and I can hardly remember the things we talked about. Many cultural, Amy Tannish things, like 孝順 (which dictionaries translate as the meaningless "filial piety" but really describes the thoughtfulness, selflessness, respectfulness, humility, and care you should show the people you love (who should be, foremost, your parents)). My dad said, Today you should not have swam in the ocean knowing that your parents were standing on the beach unable to relax because they thought you would drown. (That's an example of how to 孝順 your parents.) I said, What does that have to do with homosexuality? My dad said he didn't know any other homosexuals besides me, and I said that he probably knew many homosexuals but they weren't willing to tell him they were gay because he was so judgmental, like how his first reaction to the news that I was going to visit D.B. was "AIDS," but that I understood that he was just judgmental because he had not had the opportunity to talk with out gay people. Vicious circle, I said. Turns out it is sort of a classic P-FLAGgy case of a parent worrying about a gay child's long-term life happiness/loneliness/childlessness, and instead of working to make society a better place for homos, lashing out at the inferiority of homos' long-term life happiness and praying for the child to change, which I am willing to understand, because at least his heart is in the right place. I explained to him how I felt surrounded by love (but your friends will get married and have kids and then ignore you, he said) and then I talked about Stephanie and Malcolm and Glenn and Chris and alternative caregiving structures and families and the rich diverse lives outside of the lonely nuclear households of the suburbs. There are all sorts of lives filled with love outside of this place, I said. My dad said he had no friends, only colleagues. I said, You had friends when I was younger. He said, Our kids brought us together. I said, It's not too late, why don't you put some chairs in your house and ask people to come over, and you can still talk about your kids? (There are no seats, only tupperware storage containers, inside my weird parents' weird house.) Then we talked about how immigrants are scared of the police. I said, You got scared when you saw the police standing outside because you don't feel like an American. Americans should not be scared of the police when they are only giving fines. I said it was just a fine because I wanted to reassure you it was okay, not because I thought it was trivial that you had to deal with the police. I told him that part of the reason I went to law school was so that my family did not have to be scared of the law and would feel as entitled as I did to live as American as I did, to the extent that I am freer to take risks than they are because I am less afraid of the consequences. I told him I would be a federal employee and exaggerated my job responsibilities to him (something about "determining the law") so that he would feel even more reassured. I said I had been trained to talk to people like neighbors and police and that I was sorry I was not there when the police were waiting for two hours outside of our house so that they did not have to feel scared. We talked about security, happiness, and depression, and the conclusions were that I must make a lot of money so that my parents can retire soon and that my dad needs to find something that makes him feel happy. My dad said, I still want to move to China to retire because I won't look different there. I said, Won't you be 外省人? He said, You've been to Shanghai. There is no 外省人. Everyone has a different accent and comes from everywhere and no one thinks twice of that. I said, Please retire to China.

I realized at the end of this that the overriding theme of the evening was my dad's feeling of insecurity. Only as I get older do I come to understand what "sacrifice" really means. I know this is all cliche, but please forgive me or stop reading. I have been very upset in the last few weeks, watching American coverage of the Olympics in Beijing. There were a few tropes that every American journalist (except for Roger Ebert, whom I love) seemed programmed to repeat: (1) China has no soul (the Olympics are perfectly executed but there is no spontaneity/wackiness and too much showmanship); (2) China is full of cheaters; (3) China hates Michael Phelps; (4) China is a corrupt nation that violates human rights and therefore does not deserve the Olympics (but somehow a country that imprisons more than 1% of its adult population (2.4 million people, about equal to the population of Tibet, serendipitiously) and causes 100,000 deaths in Iraq and delivers an election to a losing candidate by judicial edict and snaps thumbs-up photos next to tortured prisoners vies for Chicago 2016?); (5) China is shallow consumerism without political rights, and (6) Chinese people are not free like we are free. (I don't disagree with (4) or even (5), even though I think it's possible to condemn human rights abuses while appreciating the achievement of the Olympics and I am suspicious of the uniformity of American whining about China. I feel compelled to state here that I love America almost as much as C.H. and I cheered when Michael Phelps, that waterlogged dolt, triumphed over those boastful frogs.)

Tying it back to sacrifice...What I have been thinking about is (6) in particular, what it means to be free, because it seems like that freedom that we Americans are so proud to flaunt over those poor oppressed Chinese is exactly what my parents gave up when they came to America. We are concerned that the press is not free and there are political prisoners in China. But my parents are brought to tears when the police come to their little house in rich and educated Palo Alto to assess a $100 fine for a loud dog, and it seems to me that if they are so terrified of the power of the state, then they are not free to have those scofflaw American limit experiences that make Americans so free. They will never dare to drink beer on the front lawn, they will not dare to let a happy dog run loose on their property, they will most certainly never dare to protest anything or criticize anything or make use of that freedom of speech that makes us so much better than the Chinese. Molly and I were chatting today about this and she seemed surprised that my parents would want to retire to China. How is it possible that a person can feel more free moving to an unfree country? It is possible when a person looks like my parents do and feel afraid like they do, and when the country that person is in does such terrible things to its immigrants.


Boo, for his part, looked especially blue today. I think he knows he did wrong. Apparently, while we were gone last night, he barked like a crazy dog. The neighbors (ones that did not call the police) left a message on our machine saying, Your dog is barking like he is insane. Boo does not normally do this, as you may know. He is a very mild-mannered dog. I think he has been emotionally disturbed lately. I have had him for five years, and he's seen me move five times, so he knows what the rip of packing tape means. He doesn't trust when I hold out chicken jerky for him. Whenever I pet him, he lays down immediately and extends his body so that I can touch more of him, which is not something he usually does. I dressed his bite wound today (a beagle bitch and then the Carmel sand got to him). He let me do it, but he was forlorn. I was forlorn too, because I am leaving for Chicago without any prospect of bringing him out there in the next year.

"The Green Grass of Home" is a lovely ditty about a person who thinks he is back in his hometown, seeing familiar and comforting things like the old oak tree he used to play on, but then wakes and realizes it has been a dream, and that he is actually in prison and is about to be led to his execution. I chose this title for this blog post for the obvious reasons. I have a troublesome relationship with this place that I love so much. I am not much of a Joan Baez fan (even though she went to PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL!!!) because she has no soul, but she has a nice voice and she went to PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL!!! So here she is:

Thanks for reading this epic post. I'll take it down once I have sufficiently embarrassed myself and my family.