Wednesday, August 25, 2010

september 25, 2009

From an email I wrote last fall:

I've been lonesome in the past day because C's been gone. Ordinarily traveling alone is okay for me, but the contrast between yesterday's traveling circus and today's lonely wandering was hard to handle. I did a tour of the Sydney Opera House, took a ferry to the zoo, where I mostly darted from shady spot to shady spot trying to avoid sun exposure and occasionally lifting a camera to capture kangaroos scratching their balls, and then took myself out to a sushi bar where dishes passed by on a conveyor belt and your stacked up plates next to your messy sauce dish remind you of your own gluttony and profligacy. I had this moment when I realized why some people turn to substance abuse, because for about five minutes I was feeding wasabi into my mouth one pea at a time, and waiting for the tears to well up, because it was a good way to distract myself from feeling self-conscious about eating alone next to all these couples. I felt especially pathetic listening to this conversation next to me, which I wrote down on my memo pad:

Girl 1: To-dye was the worst dye eever.
Girl 2: Would you loike a beeskit? Oh a glass a wine?
Girl 1: Noi, you knoi I can't drink that. I'm on a diet. Vodka shots, though. Noi calories een that.
Girl 2: Really?
Girl 1: Oi yah, I knew a gull who'd drink three glasses of champagne and a boddle of wadda for lunch.
Girl 2: What is with these people I knoi?

I stuffed myself and then left, and walked past an arcade where only Asian people were throwing away money on giant claw games where you try to pick up giant stuffed dolls. I watched for half an hour and then spent $5 trying to win a digital camera to replace C's lost camera. There were colored lights and Asian bodies everywhere, all the elements of a Wong Kar-Wai movie, except that the lonely dreamy protagonist is not nearly as good-looking as Tony Leung, and nobody would pay $12 to see this movie. I think I've just about reached my limit for traveling like this, and for wandering around generally. I used to want to live in another country for at least a year or two, but I think the window for that has passed. My daydreams now take me to an office where I can sit and educate myself with either my work or my Google procrastination jags. I guess it's sort of stupid that when I'm stuck in a job I don't feel great about, all I want to do is travel, but when I'm traveling all I want is stable domesticity. I think I should just find a job I like.

. . .

I just sat down to read and reread your email and write you a response, but I thought I should first listen to the Queen song you referenced just to get my head in the right mood for the email composition. But I searched and searched, and could not find the mp3 that must have been lost in my transition between computers, and instead got my hopes built up by an Earth, Wind & Fire track by the same name (“You and I”) – imagine my disappointment upon hearing the bleating brass of mid-70s funk instead of Freddie’s beautiful voice! – and then settled for playing my go-to John Fahey album of jangling guitar instrumentals to drown out the noise coming from the pack of American, Australian and (judging by the accent) Singaporean or Hong Kong kids who have taken up all the acoustic space in this giant hostel. “What’s fellatio?????” an American girl just screamed. “Drink!!!” the chorus responded. I don’t resent these kids having fun like I used to when I was about the appropriate age to be shouting “What’s fellatio??????” (though let’s just be honest, we all wonder the same from time to time; and also it’s not like I’ve really matured past the point of being an idiot in public), but I just wish they’d enclose their heads in scuba submersible helmets and talk to each other with helmet-to-helmet intercoms instead of trilling in the open air like magpies. Did you know, one of the Australian Rules Football teams is call the Magpies, nicknamed the Pies, and I had to ask Aimee what a 148-point font newspaper headline that read “LARGE PIES POSTER FREE” meant? (It was a centerfold promo photo for the team.) Who cares? I’m very happy that you like that song. I don’t think it’s on any of their best-of compilations, but I wanted to include it because I think it’s one of the finest Queen recordings. It shows off the texture of Freddie’s voice so nicely; listening to this song is the closest I get in waking life to realizing my dreams of flying. I also like how in “Another One Bites the Dust,” his voice is straining so much at the top of his range that after many of the lines he makes a whimpering or deflating sound. It first appears at 1:09; the highest note he has been recorded signing (highest not sung with head voice) is the (I think) D he hits at “ripple” on 1:20. Montserrat Caballe, the Spanish soprano who recorded “Barcelona,” the official song of the 1992 Olympic Games, with Freddie just months before his death, said that what distinguished Queen from other rock bands was that Queen was about selling the voice, not a gimmick or a performance or anything else. I will stop talking about Queen now.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

third job part two

Another of my temp jobs during the summer of 1999 was answering phones for three days at the corporate offices of Washington Mutual in a warehouse somewhere in the sepulchral, pedestrian-free industrial zones of the Peninsula. I wore knee-length board shorts to work and sat at a desk just behind the glass doors, which permitted glare to reflect off the windshields of the cars in the parking lot directly into my eyes.

There was one skill to master - transferring calls to the number requested - but the three- or four-button sequence one had to finger into the phone was very difficult to remember, and I misdirected approximately 25% of the calls I received. Some callers were disenchanted Washington Mutual customers who must have simply looked in the phone book and dialed in desperation, seeking customer service from the source, but the corporate offices had no traffic in untangling personal banking snarls, and I was left to listen to their grousing. One person berated me for a banking error, and I could only whisper (so as not to disturb the prarie dogs hibernating in their homasote bunkers), "Sir, I am just a temp receptionist . . . sir, I am just a temp receptionist," until the person cursed me and hung up.

I don't remember driving to the site, or where I got my lunch, or what the bathroom looked like, or whether I watched the clock and sped away gleefully at 5 p.m. What I remember is that the receptionist desk had a computer, and I spent all of my time, except for the 5-10 minutes per hour when my attention had to be turned to the phones, drafting what accidentally became flirtatious emails with my first girlfriend's then-girlfriend, Y.

They began innocently enough. She was unemployed and nursing a laptop all day, I was underemployed and facing a screen all day, so we wrote to entertain each other. I told her about the callers who cursed me out, she wrote to me about a fantasy of hopping trains. The flirtation was accidental because I didn't intend it, and I felt powerless to change the tone once I recognized that it had changed, and I recognized it all at once, and at once when I recognized it, the blood drained from my face.

I was in the habit then of writing terribly purple prose - I say that in the same way that water says it was once in the habit of being wet - and reading the epic, erotic hysteria of the homosexuals Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. This came to bear on the game-changing sentence I wrote that I didn't know how to take back.

We had been discussing what a bore was the labor of life, the foolish preoccupations of un-extraordinary people, the difficulty in convincing our rationalist girlfriends that love was not a pie but a bottomless bucket of supernatural confetti to be grasped by the handful and thrown into the air to float like dandruff on to the shoulders of passersby - I'm just guessing now, who knows what pairs of eighteen year-old idiots talk about, let alone those where at least one in the pampered pair had not had to give a moment's thought to actual struggle, or deprivation, or suffering.

So in the context of this, in an email full of outlandish enjambments and italicizations, without such conformist conventions as capital letters, I wrote something like this: "we fight and we fight and we fight / but sometimes i just want to shake you and say i love you i love you i love you."

Even paraphrasing it here gives me the mysterious but strong desire to flood the seat of my pants with urine. It is so bad. I wish that like the photos of me with my late 1990s pineapple hairdo and baby dyke outfits (prominently featuring boys' AYSO jerseys), which can be so casually swept into the furnace, the evidence of my bad diction could be so easily erased, but the memory, the painful memory, persists.

And not only was this writing bad, it was unclear. For I thought the object of the sentence was obvious: I was referring to (1) my girlfriend, with whom I had spent the summer long-distance fighting, or (2) the generic second person, standing in for the world, which we all know from song needs love, sweet love, the only thing there is just too little of, preferably in the form of my verbal diarrhea.

Imagine my horror, then, when Y returned my email with something like, "i've been hoping you'd say it, but i love you too."

This was a mistake. A horrible, stupid mistake. I had no intention of declaring my love for my ex-girlfriend's then-girlfriend, but she believed I had, and I did not know how to undo what I had done. To correct her error would embarrass her, to cease communications would upset her, and I was so afraid of conflict, even momentary conflict in the service of long-term clarity, that I did nothing; I continued the email volley, knowing that what had seemed like amusement to me seemed like ardor to her. I briefly convinced myself it felt like ardor for me, too, but in reality I just liked the attention. I am not proud of this.

It all ended soon enough, when my ex-girlfriend X discovered these emails and called me out, rightly, for interloping. I was too spineless to simply admit fault, apologize, and get myself far the fuck away from their relationship. Instead I offered tears and excuses . . . I may even have claimed to have been suffering from the after-effects of recreational drug use. Ugh, self, weak.

The longer version of this story doesn't really end until the summer of 2000, or 2005. Actually I'm not sure these things have clean endings. Things were weird with me and X for a while, then we fell out of touch for a few years, but I feel very fondly about her now and see her once every few months. X is engaged to a strong woman; they want to start a family soon. Things were weird with me and Y for a while, then she lived with me and my then-girlfriend in the extra bedroom for a few months, then we fell out of touch for a few years, but I feel very fondly about her now and see her once every few years. She lives in the rural southwest and keeps baskets of homegrown carrots in the bed of her truck. X and Y aren't in contact much, so far as I can tell.

There wasn't much left of the summer after my three days of work at Washington Mutual. At the end of August, I packed my bags and flew back to Boston. X and Y drove down the street and moved into their new dorm, ready to start their sophomore years together. Labor Day passed without event. We forgot all about the heartaches we caused each other in the summertime, and replaced them with new heartaches, unrelated to the old, for the autumn.

Monday, August 23, 2010

bag of bread

I started P90X two weeks ago. P90X is a series of hourlong workout DVDs with the somewhat humiliating tagline "Go from regular to RIPPED in 90 days!" It operates on the principle of "muscle confusion," meaning . . . you read your delts pro se briefs, and they get shredded? I don't know. I started it up because I needed a fitness goal for motivation after the marathon. Now all sorts of exotic muscles on my bread bag of a body are constantly sore.

I don't know how much of a change I'm expecting in my physical fitness, but the program has already given me some life and career revelations - e.g. I've been doing the same workout (one foot in front of the other x 10,000) for eight years, and I thought it was enough but trying something different for even two weeks has shown me how much room I have for improvement; I'm actually capable of changing if I let myself be taught by other people, etc. - but that is a story for a different post. What I wanted to write about is a collateral effect of doing these workouts every morning: I am on a regular sleep schedule. Those who know me will know how groundbreaking this is. I've struggled with insomnia and chemical soporifics for years, and I always thought my preferred schedule was 3 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. For two weeks, I've voluntarily woken around 7:30 a.m. and I feel actually sleepy at 11:30 p.m, instead of just stir-crazy and wired and ready for another three hours of staring at glowing squares. Doesn't sound like much of a change, but it's really making me feel optimistic. Not to sell you on P90X, of course, but just to give myself a pat on the ripped lats.

Another collateral effect of exhausting myself every day is that I've been having very vivid, often unpleasant dreams. For example, a few nights back I dreamt that I was spectator to a school shooting. I escaped, but only narrowly, after witnessing florets of other people's blood misting the air. I found a way out by climbing the school's mesh window protectors like a climbing Koopa Troopa, up and down, zig zag, leaping gaps. After I dropped to the ground, police directed me and the other escapees to army crawl the entire six-mile loop of Central Park. JS had been with me inside the school, and I thought she had gotten out, but by the time we crawled to 8th Avenue and 110th Street, she had become a clear plastic bag filled with baguette ends. I understood instinctively that JS had transformed into a bag of bread, so I spoke to her morsels, even though she did not respond. I crawled on, holding her in my hands like an M-16, telling her we were going to be fine.

This is the second time I have dreamt of JS becoming an inanimate, uncommunicative object. What does it mean, P90X?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

the smartest guy in the world

Dad came home last night spilling over with mirth. He came in from the garage and immediately told me a story as I ate daikon cakes at the kitchen table, speaking in that excited way he has, mostly Chinese with ornamental English words.

"See this watch?" he said. I looked at his watch.

"Twenty years old. Your mom bought it for me twenty years ago. A few years ago the knob broke, so I used superglue to put it back on. But I reassembled the watch too soon, and superglued the knob in place and superglued the back to the face. So I couldn't set my watch for the longest time. It was set to the right time, but every year, during daylight savings, it was an hour behind. I've been using this watch as my spring and summer watch only. The rest of the year, who knows what time it is?

"The battery finally ran out a few days ago, so I couldn't even use it as my summer watch. Yesterday, I went to Walgreens to buy nail polish remover. I Googled how to remove superglue, and everybody said acetone, which is nail polish remover."

I asked him how he could use acetone to remove superglue on the interior of the watch. He said, "I soaked the whole thing in acetone!"

"But I still couldn't open the back. I took the watch to a repairman, a very nice guy, bald, Jewish, no hair. I told him that I couldn't open the back and he said, 'Shush. Leave that to me. It's my job to open watches.' Ahahaha! "It's my job"! It is! And he used a special tool to open the back without a problem. The superglue was gone, the watch opened up.

"The repairman said the watch needed a battery, which he would install for $30. Then it needed a new knob, which he could do for $35. Sixty-five dollars! This piece of shit watch cost $5! So I said, 'Wait, I need to think about this.' So he said, 'Fine,' and started putting the back of the watch back onto the face.

"I said, 'Wait! Leave the back off!' I couldn't open it myself, you know, I needed his tools. I needed to think. So I thought about it. I went back to Walgreens. A watch battery. Do you know how much that is? Five dollars. I got a replacement battery.

"But then there's still the problem of the knob that doesn't turn, but . . . "

Here he almost shook with laughter and anticipation. "But I figured it out! I figured out how I can set my watch even with a broken knob! Guess how!"

I said, "You buy a knob and replace it yourself?"

"No!" he said. "Guess again!"

I said, "You just rotate the face 30 degrees clockwise to line up the numbers with daylight savings time?"

"WRONG! Here's how you do it: the watch is stopped at 10:31. I WAIT until 10:31 tonight to put the battery in, and the time is set! For daylight savings, I take the battery out, WAIT an hour, and put it back in!! Ahahahaha!!"

Then he walked gleefully away from me, without awaiting my reply, saying in sing-song, "I am the smartest guy in the world!!" He went to their bedroom and set the bedside alarm, to remind himself that he had to put the watch battery in at 10:31 p.m.

Mom came in after this, shaking her head, saying, "Your dad really likes to save money."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

see you room

I taught B. how to use T9 on her cell phone. A recent message from her:
i used predictive text on my phone in india and was amazed that indian people knew this all along, too. why didn't anybody TELL of???? he i had only known...thanks for lighting the world for of!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have discovered, in retelling the story of how a crazy man rushed at me on the street in New York and took a swing at my head, that my audience falls into two camps.

One camp expresses the appropriate level of horror and concern. "Oh my God!" they have said.

The other camp does the same, but then suggests fight techniques. "I would've just knocked him out," B. said. "It would've been instinct, and I would have popped him in the face." Dad asked, "Why didn't you put an elbow into his stomach?" Then he pantomimed the counterstrike I should have done, throwing his hips into the movement. Another person said I should have called the cops, or barring that, I should have enlisted another passerby to brawl with him until he was subdued.

I usually love my loved ones equally, but in this instance, I must admit, I love those of you who have rehearsed combat tactics more. Ka-POW!

money tree

The microwave died this weekend so Mom and Dad spent all of Saturday and part of Sunday looking for a new one. They bought one on Saturday that Dad decided was ugly (because it was black), so they returned this for another one. This one was appropriately colored (white), but it turned out to be slightly too big for the microwave spot in the cabinets, and far too powerful for our weak electrical system. On Sunday morning, Dad perused the circulars in the paper and found a $29 deal for a microwave, white-bodied with a mesh-dappled black door.

We traveled to Target together, and they beelined for the kitchenware while I hovered by the jewelry bank trying to find a suitable replacement for my broken watch strap. It took only three minutes for them to locate the box they wanted, but it took another 45 minutes to escape the store, since we all kept wandering off to different departments, me like a proper lesbian to men's accessories and sporting goods, to look for money clips, resistance bands and push-up handles, Dad to hardware, Mom to the candy aisle to buy Hershey's Nuggets to hand out to customers.

Afterward, we drove to Home Depot to return the too-powerful microwave, and I went to Sports Authority, where another 45 minutes of perusing led me to drop $170 on a pull-up bar, push-up handles, and an impulse purchase of inline skates. I had just read that New York Times article about material goods failing to bring their purchasers happiness except where those objects were sporting goods, so I felt justified, though unhappy, ultimately, with the $170-shaped hole in my wallet. Dad wanted to buy a fleece to replace his beloved Fisherman's Wharf fleece that had finally popped its zipper, and he chose a gray one, made Mom stand in line to buy it, and then pulled her out of the line as she reached the cashier because he thought he had found a better one, this one beige, but upon trying both on in front of a mirror, and proclaiming that each one was better than the other, he settled on the gray one that Mom had originally brought up to the register. She bought it, but Dad shook his head, saying, "You could have bought two microwaves for the cost of this jacket." Later in the day, they drove up to San Francisco so my Dad could find a new version of the Fisherman's Wharf fleece.

Dad installed the microwave in the evening. As I ate my dinner, he leaned on the counter to admire his new friend. "I love this microwave!" he said. "It only cost $29!" He gazed wistfully upon it, as a parent might look upon a high-achieving child, except that I, his actual, non-microwave child, was sitting only five feet from his microwave-child and I was not getting the same fawning adoration bestowed upon my black and white nemesis. I suggested he name the thing, and immediately he said, in Chinese, "Little White! No, Little Black!" He thought for a moment about things that were both black and white, then said, "PANDA!" He said this in English, pronouncing it "Ponda!", and cackling with self-satisfaction. I suggested "Sunbeam," since that was the name printed on the front, and he said, "Sunbeam." And repeated it, in Chinese, then nodded his head, like it was settled.

Mom said they paid $500 for their first microwave, a million years ago, in the Santa Clara house, and they were so proud to finally own one because Dad had a good job with a semiconductor testhouse and the microwave meant they were making it. Later that night, Mom gave me branches of what she called a "money tree." She put a bunch in a dry vase for my room. We went into the backyard and she showed me how she grew it, and how you have to rub the seed pods off the leaves to make them translucent, ghost white, very pretty. She said the cursed gardener had thought it was weeds and had mown her crop down.

Monday, August 16, 2010

november-december 2008

Finding old journals randomly scattered in Gmail account.

Sunday, November 23, 2008, 1:43am

There are a few things I want to write about. First, my “date” with Patrick James Thomas Connolly* [*not really his name]. I was not sure if it was a date, and probably would not have thought it was one except that when two heterosexual-seeming people of opposite genders meet for a movie together, it is usually considered a date. Even if one of those two is gay and 28 and the other is straight and 50. I’m so tired I don’t even want to go into it right now. How we met. We chatted at Kafka on the Shore. He pretended to recognize me. He told me I had a nice voice. I was easily flattered. He then wrote to say he was on the nominating committee for the Screen Actors Guild awards, and he was going to see Spike Lee’s latest film the following week. I love movies, especially free movies, so I said yes. I met him at the movie theater wearing my sweaty balaclava, and then we sat next to each other for half an hour and had boring small talk: “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and I probed him about acting. He tended to go on too long without anything interesting to say. I asked him about SAG and he gave me a longwinded and uninteresting history of the three major actors’ unions. It would be more appropriate for me to go on a date with his 23 year-old son. He told daddish jokes about that son, who had been in boot camp for the FBI, and who was also named Patrick James Thomas Connolly, jokes like “This is D.A.D. Patrick Connolly calling for P.F.C. Patrick Connolly, Jr.,” which I laughed uproariously at. I don’t want to have sex with him or touch him, but I am so desperate and lonely and horny right now that I’m afraid I’ve drastically lowered my standards for human contact. I kept telling myself that it was not a date, and that I was merely expanding my social horizons by making older friends. But we did some friendly hand-on-the-shoulder touching and I felt uneasy with the intimacy. What am I doing, prolonging small talk? I feel like sort of betrayed myself. I overenthusiastically suggested that we see another movie together – because I feel excited about watching more movies, as part of some special SAG nominating committee thing – and I hope he didn’t interpret it as an invitation to touch my vagina. I feel weak to be approaching this friendship with such a utilitarian frame of mind. Let’s be honest: if he didn’t have these movies, if he couldn’t tell me about the acting business, then would I be interested in being his friend? No.

Today I weatherproofed the house but bought the wrong materials. The foam I bought was both too wide and too thick. I bought Gorilla Glue to glue the broken handle of a mug back together, but while the glue was setting, I broke the handle off another mug. Yes, it happened just that way. There was a bomb threat at the Division blue line station. I couldn’t believe it. There were police vans and police tape everywhere. I ate a slice of pizza sitting alone in Pizza Metro, watching Italian men jeer at Juventus soccer club on TV and Mexican men preparing an acre of chicken breasts for roasting. Then I spent most of the day indoors, avoiding people. I guess I will read some briefs now.

I can’t even remember who you are.

Friday, December 5, 2008, midnight

Have mostly been writing on the blog but it’s nice that my Internet is not working for a change so I can write in my journal. Thirteen degrees out tonight, real feel two degrees. Ouch.

Heidi convinced me to go out to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings tonight at the Old Vic, which is right off the Red Line stop. She had free tickets from some Ticketmaster promotion, so I agreed to go. Before we headed up, we went to Jimmy John’s for BLT for me and veggie sandwich for her dinner. I really like Heidi. She’s down to earth and funny. She likes to abbreviate words or add articles before them to make them sound folksier. Facebook is “the Facebook,” and “by the way” is not just “BTW” but “bee tee dubs.” It can be charming. We got to the Vic earlier than anyone else, met up with Heidi’s friend Christie, and ran into Heidi’s former college classmate Fathia (Favia?) and her sister Lupa – or something – both had exotic pollsyllabic names that I was unable to make my tongue pronounce. They were both very nice, especially Fathia, the younger sister, more hyper and six inches taller than her older sister, the U of Chicago English lit doctoral student (soon to be dropout! I congratulated her). It was nice to make small talk. We chatted about their impending move to Buffalo. They were rabid Bills fans and Fathia said “FUCK YOU!” when I said “Go Niners!” The 49ers beat the Bills this weekend, apparently. They laughed at the oreo cookie shaped and sized cell phone dangly I bought Heidi (and Nilofer) back from California.

Then it got to be close to seven and the music started, and we all pressed close to the stage. We in fact got right up to the stage in the end. There was a scare where two skinny hipster hos (they looked like they were from Williamsburg, and given that the band was from Brooklyn and one of the ladies appeared to be the drummer’s gf, it’s a possibility that they were actually from Williamsburg!) elbowed us out of the way. One actually kicked me the second time she stole the spot, but eventually we jawed them aside. Anyway, we had phenomenal places to stand. The opening act had a name I didn’t catch, but they said that their album name was “Make The Road By Walking,” which for any public interest lawyer who knows Brooklyn is a very unfortunate name. But I guess that there is not much overlap between public interest lawyers from Brooklyn and white soul music fans? There were an all instrumental act – trumpet, tenor sax, hollow body Gibson, bass, drummer, and percussionist mostly on tambourines and congas, and sometimes a flautist – and they were tight. It’s fun to watch soul live, because the syncopation makes the performance of the music a feat rather than a bore. I forget after watching inert rock musicians that there is much more to performance than just lifelessly and expressionlessly striking your strings with a plectrum.

After the instrumentalists performed for a while, a singer, Charles Bradley, came out to sing a few numbers. He was amazing. He had a puffed out perm like James Brown and looked to be in his late fifties or mid-sixties. The first time he came out, he was wearing jeans cinched with a big belt buckle, a white collared shirt, a denim vest, and an ebony bead choker with an ivory bust of Nefertiti hanging from it. When he came out at the end of the evening, he was wearing a gold lame track suit! He sang with a grimace and fell shaking to his knees and once attempted a jump into the splits. He screeched and cried, and crossed his heart several times and clasped his hands in prayer, looking to the mezzanine level.

Then Sharon Jones came on. She’s probably in her late forties or mid-fifties. She came out wearing a tube minidress and stood directly in front of our spot in the middle of the stage and I looked straight up at her face and tried to avoid the view of her upper thighs that she offered us. She pranced all around the stage. She shouted directions to her band (“Take it down!”) and they were instantly responsive. She was dynamic and obviously in the moment, saying things like, “Now wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, I’m feeling not right, I got some tension, I need to strut. Watch me strut, I’m gonna strut!” and she’d put the mic in the stand and strut halfway across the stage. I can’t describe how engaged she was. This may have been the best show I’ve seen in my life. The best performance!

She kept pulling men on stage to dance with her to dramatize her songs – one about kicking a man who could not keep an erection out of her life was especially funny – and clearly the people who went knew what they were getting into. One young man staked out front row center right at 7pm, an hour before the concert. He was dressed like in the “New Day” video and he was pudgy around the middle and he danced badly. Actually, most people danced badly. One urban DJ-dressed young man — colorful Nike high-tops, baseball cap with a flat brim, baggy hoodie - danced like he was trying to stomp cockroaches. An older gentleman got so swept up with the naked sensuality of the soul performances that he all but rubbed his nipples on stage. Four flavorless gals danced like Jennifer Annistons on stage - afraid to take their hands out of “snap” position, too stiff in the hips, guitar face — in their matching long Gap cardigans. During one amazing part of the show, Fathia and an Asian woman and a three-hundred pound, six-foot-five transwoman wearing a black beehive and a flapper minidress covered in tassles were called on stage. The transwoman whipped around and got sweat on everything, and danced with huge motions and moued at the audience. I was happy to note that no one seemed aghast, just delighted. All the singers made mention of Obama, or change, and Silk Johnson, an amazingly lewd soul singer in his 70s or 80s came out wearing an Obama beanie. He also clutched the mic between his legs and asked us, “How many times you wanna watch me do my thing? Twenty-one?” and then he thrust his pelvis twenty-one times to twenty-one hits from the band.

If P. had not lowered the boom today (in a long email detailing how we were coming in too late!), then I would have gone to the follow up show at the Cubby Bear instead of cabbing it home with Heidi, but I have to be in chambers at 8:29 a.m. tomorrow, and I’d better start getting responsible. I’m going to take an Ambien tonight — the first one in over a week. I’m proud of my restraint!

Sunday, December 07, 2008, 2:53 a.m.

Even though P. lowered the boom on Thursday by telling us we had to start coming in at 8:30 a.m., I am still on the 5 a.m. until (GASP) 2 p.m. sleep schedule. Maybe it’s just because I spoke to Harry last night for two hours. It was probably the nicest conversation we’ve had. I feel a little looser and more comfortable with him, so I ventured to making some jokes. We laughed a little, which is better than not laughing at all. I said, “Tell me about all of your life.” He said, “Well, at work this week, I was very busy.” And I said, “No, tell me everything that’s happened to you in 37 years.” He said, “Well, that will take another 37 years! And when I get to the end you’ll probably have forgotten the beginning, so I’ll have to tell it to you again!” We laughed. Embedded in this conversation was also a suggestion of longevity, and maybe a suggestion that it would be nice to tell each other long stories over years. Which is an absurd thing to say, which is why I thought it would be irresponsible to continue corresponding with Harry for any length of time — the impossible promise-turned-threat of futurity — but which is where I find myself leaning toward now. What happens when you turn two aging lonely single people toward one another? They do stupid things, like correspond between Regensburg Germany and Chicago Illinois, as if there is anything but heartaching and bellyaching to had in the future. What I do like about trying to maintain a relationship — typing the word gives me pause, but I guess there’s no better substitute — with a German man is that all the cultural cues that I would have for an American man or woman are absent. If someone says to you, “I went to Brown, I grew up in Seataucket, Long Island, and I like Death Cab for Cutie,” then you can probably guess a lot about their background, their social mobility, their income potential, their interests, their politics, etc. But when someone says to you, “I went to Fachhochschule Muenchen and graduated in 1995 and live in Regensberg Germany and work as a civil engineer managing the import and export of hazardous wastes [which Harry calls “dangerous rubbish”],” then you can’t judge them as quickly. Which pares away a lot of my bullshit, I find. The prestige hunger just cannot be satisfied, so I just have to make do with what I know: he’s sensitive and caring, he’s smart enough to speak several languages fluently and hold a conversation, he lives alone in a small city and sings in an all-English choir on Sundays, etc. I think about that last factoid often, because it says good things to me. A thirty-seven year-old single man opts to sing with a local choir on Sundays—many bachelors his age would not choose to do so. Anyway, it’s interesting to think about. Probably this is just me projecting my loneliness onto anyone who will pay attention. I have a hard time distinguishing my desperate need for companionship from a genuine connection with another person. As I have said, my standards are low. But is that cruel, and is Harry not just someone who meets only a low standard? You get the point.

So I woke late. And futzed around the house. And I thought I might not leave the house at all today. I bought a guitar off Craigslist. The nice young man drove to my house and I tested out the guitar. The pickup was not working, so I got it only for $160. I told him if the pickup didn’t work for a silly reason, like the batteries were dead or something, then I would mail him a check for the extra $20. He just seemed so nice and so dismayed about the setbacks with the guitar that there was no reason not to reassure him. I may just send him the check anyway, so that he feels better about humanity.

Bridget called around 7 p.m. to invite me to a party. I was so delighted and relieved when she called, because I was feeling so lonely and ready to Ambien myself until the next morning. I was talking to Nikki at the time, which was a nice thing to do, and which made me feel a little better about myself. It's great how talking on the phone works so well to cure the crushing loneliness. There’s so many ways to stay in touch now. It’s so easy to opt into them. But it was extra nice when Bridget called and said there were two parties. She and Raul picked me up at 9 p.m. in their little red Bug and we drove to the first party, an auction for a local magazine called “AREA Chicago.” AREA stands for “Art/Education/E something/Activism,” which should tell any observer what kind of politics it has. The party was in some detached coach house that was basically an empty raw loftish space inside, with plywood holding things up, holes in the ceiling, stands made of gallon plastic bottles strung together. The people attending the party were young, cool without being hipster, activisty, and smart. It reminded me of the kind of thing that Laura and I did when we first got together, like we were at Charas or an anarchist gathering or something, and I was really happy to be there, even though reading through some of their literature made me feel like a capitalist imposter. You know, because woodblock prints saying things like “You don’t have to do evil to survive” with pictures of big hands pushing down the little guy no longer really appeal to me, though they once did, and they seemed to appeal to the people there. But Bridget and Raul are very down to earth, so I felt safe and unjudged in their presence. Weirdly enough, my downstairs neighbors were there! We had a pleasant chat and I met Laurie. It felt like a moment of connection because I know something about them now —they are activisty hippies and maybe we can get along. There was a grey cat with white socks darting around between people’s legs.

About twenty services/goods/offerings were auctioned off. Bridget and I spent $60 for a linoleum block cutting lesson (so I can make aforementioned holding-the-little-guy-down prints). I was prepared to bid up to $200 for dinner with Bill Ayers, but the winning bid was $450, and I was just not going to spend almost a month’s rent for dinner with that old not-terrorist dude. B and R were hilarious in their bid to win the two hour videography offering (for their wedding). They were engaged in an intense bid-off with another person, and each time they were outbid, Raul would look very serious and say, “Bridget, no. Bridget, no. Bridget . . .” and then something would possess him and he would scream out a higher number. “Bridget, no. Bridget . . . ONE HUNDRED!!!!” I think he was trying in earnest not to continue bidding but was too stirred by the competition to stop himself from putting out the highest figure. It was hilarious to watch. I didn’t really talk to anyone else, except one woman who looked in my face and said, “Karen?” (to which I said, “My name isn’t Karen, but you can call me that”) but it was nice enough to see all these intelligent young people here in Chicago. I was wondering where they were. That’s not supposed to be mean. I just meant that I haven’t been looking the right places for my kind of scene.

Then Bridget and Raul drove us up to Damen and Cortland, to a bar called Lottie’s that I initially wanted to leave as soon as I saw. It was packed with Trixie/Chads. I whispered to Raul as soon as we got in that there were only white people at the bar. He said that meant that people would think we were the ones serving drinks, but that we should just take their money and run. Bear in mind it got down to 8 degrees tonight so I was surprised that people went out at all. But when we wormed our way down to the end of the bar where Bridget’s friend was having her birthday party, it became slightly more tolerable. Again, there were some nice, well-educated youngsters there that made me feel like Chicago might actually have the kind of active and interesting life forms that I prefer. That makes me sound like HAL, but that’s sometimes just how I feel when I’m lonesome here. I got roped into a long, one-sided conversation with a man who had just finished up his dissertation in history — studying alternative social movements in Germany between 1880 and 1970 — who talked at length about his studies. He didn’t speak loudly enough, so I couldn’t tell which side he fell on — democratic institutions prevent or give rise to fascism — and then he paused, expecting a response, and I couldn’t decide which position he had taken so I didn’t say anything at all, and then he said, “Oh, did I talk too much about a boring subject?” which is what grad students say when they realize you’re too stupid to comprehend their scintillating research, so I was a little annoyed. He also later said, “The Holy Roman Empire was one of the thirteen signatories to the Treaty of Westphalia — that, you know, is the founding document of international relations, and it began a new world ordered on agreements between nation-states —” while staring me down. He said it just like that, with the “you know”s and the m-dashes. I wanted to shake him and say, “I KNOW WHAT THE TREATY OF WESTPHALIA IS YOU FUCKER I TOOK A CLASS ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT HA-HA-HARVARD SO FUCK YOU,” but I didn’t, because I am polite and pleasant. So I guess I didn’t really like that guy, but at the time I was talking to him, his style of being extremely condescending and dull was so familiar that I didn’t even notice how irritating he was until I just started typing now. Man do I dislike that grad student way of being. But he was friendly. He asked me how my job was, and I had almost nothing to say. I mean, what do you say? It’s challenging, I like it, I read the law, and so I am doing something infinitely more practical and meaningful than what you are doing, you twat, so shut up, and stop asking me questions like you care, because you don’t actually care about what I do, and I’m not going to tell you about the Gehring instruction or the elements of a settlement agreement contract under Illinois law or a Markman hearing. You know? You don’t care, and I don’t care to tell you. That’s a nice thing about my job. It just exists, and there’s nothing really to say about it.

Oops, this inadvertently became a gloat about the superiority of my profession over the life of the mind, but that is just my insecurity talking, that’s not what the evening was like. We spent maybe 2.5 hours in the bar. I spent most of it talking to Raul about sports. Raul is hilarious. He loves watching sports for the gossip, the human interest stories. I was really happy I came out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

horses are my life

Time to reorder checks. Bank of America lets you add a personalization for a few bucks extra. You can choose from these phrases in the "Animals Expressions" category:
  1. Dog's Best Friend
  2. My Dog is 100% Mutt
  3. My Cat Understands Me
  4. I'm Crazy 'bout Cats
  5. Horse Owners are Going Places
  6. Ask Me About My Dog
  7. Proud Purebred Mutt Owner
  8. Cats Don't Have to Beg
  9. I Have Cool Cats
  10. It's a Dog Thing
  11. Sit. Stay. It's a Dog's Life.
  12. Certified Cat Lover
  13. Cats are Purrrrfect
  14. Dogs Are My Life
  15. Cats Are My Life
  16. Horses Are My Life

Thursday, August 12, 2010

hold me closer subway dancer

A young man got on the 4 train this morning at Wall Street. He was Latino, small, not unattractive but feminine in the face, wearing mid-calf length olive cargo shorts, Nike skate shoes, a blueberry-colored t-shirt with angel wings screened on the back and front, a "Bahamas" keychain clipped to a belt loop, a gold bracelet, a high school class ring ("LOWELL" in red letters), curly hair, two days of beard, oversized mirror sunglasses, and bright blue buds in his ears. I couldn't hear what he was listening to but he loved it - he was mouthing the words expressionistically, and dancing around with those shades on in that way that on days I'm feeling less generous makes me wonder whether a person is actually being moved by the music or by some idea of how a person being moved by music should move - but anyway, today was not one of those days, and I did not doubt this boy on the 4 train.

Around Park Place he pulled out a tablet notebook and started tapping on the screen even as he kept on dancing. I caught glimpses of it: first he was fiddling with his music library, then he opened an invitation to a "Nu Phi Delta Beta Alpha Class BBQ for Kids that Has Cancer," and finally settled on a draft of a letter that he was apparently sending to potential donors for the charity event. It was communicative but probably could have suffered a little editing. I read the letter as best I could, and learned his name, his community college, his enterprise, his morning's work.

I didn't feel bad looking, because what kind of expectation of privacy do you have when you're conducting your business conspicuously in the middle of a train car? The girl sitting next to me probably didn't expect that I would read along as she typed "Dont forget u said u would ask ur friend about fixing the Blackberry screen" on a fuschia phone that flipped open like a butterfly knife, or something, and the woman sitting across from me probably did not need me to scrutinize her soft body and straightened hair, but snoops being who they are, I snooped, and I felt oddly happy this morning doing so. Sometimes you look around on the subway and want to heave - why do those dodging lights make people look so drawn?! - but sometimes you look around and see a fool dancing and you catch his eye and the corners of both of your mouths lift up for a split second before you walk in opposite directions at 42nd Street.

Usually its right in moments of gooey sentimentality that the city takes a hatpin to the thin balloon that is my heart. . . all it would take would be the slightest body check en route to the turnstile, a splash of shitwater from a truck tire, a Midwestern family holding hands moving abreast in slow motion down Fifth Avenue, the gasp of disgust ("Oh!") from the next stall over when you involuntarily discharge fragrant gasses, etc. (Hypotheticals, people.) But that didn't happen today. Instead, Conway Twitty came on my headphones and instructed me about authenticity:

So you came from New York city and you want to see the sights
You've heard all about those cowboys and those crazy Texas nights
I see you've got your eye on something leaning on the bar
But the toughest ride he's ever had was in his foreign car

So don't call him a cowboy until you've seen him ride
Cause a Stetson hat and those fancy boots don't tell ya what's inside
No, and if he ain't good in the saddle Lord you won't be satisfied
So don't call him a cowboy until you've seen him ride

He's the Hollywood idea of the wild and wooly west
In his French designer blue jeans and his custom tailored vest
You think he's the real thing but I think you oughta know
He can't even make it through a one night rodeo
This is a mean-spirited song, but I chose the corollary meaning, not the direct one; not that one should judge people as phonies, but that one should withhold judgment because it's hard to tell what a person is really like from his appearance. Books having interchangeable slip-on covers, etc., stuff you all already know but that sounds new to me when Conway Twitty tells me so. Then New Order came on, followed by "Another One Bites the Dust," and I thought, "Yes, yes, c'est moi! I do walk wearily down the street!" while bouncing up to my visitor's office to start my work day.

All to say that I am in a good mood today, and I attribute that to love, in friendships and partnerships, which I appreciate not enough when I have it and mourn too keenly when I self-sabotage it, except in those rare moments I am awake to it, and the people on the subway begin to seem beautiful.

Never mind me, I am only a menopausal old cow lowing in the pasture. Here is Conway Twitty (nsfw, some PG-13 rated photos on this Youtube clip):

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

banana in the mirror

While rummaging through the desk in my temporary visitor's office in New York for jumbo clips, I found a great piece of marketing for a legal jobs placement agency. It's a handheld mirror. Text printed along the edge reads: "Are you happy?" Then the phone number for the agency.

new york, new york

Yesterday at dusk I was walking up Allen Street, distracted by my phone, thinking about a friend, when I saw a man walking quickly toward me. He looked deranged; he was cursing loudly; his face was twisted up into a knot of hatred. I ignored this and returned to texting.

Then the man rushed me and swung a haymaker at my head. Like, a punch. A flailing wide-armed punch aimed for my right temple. Then, despite waiting for 29 years for somebody to throw a punch at me so I would have the opportunity to try out the elbow strike to the throat defense I have often daydreamed about, I was unwilling to engage in a deathmatch with an insane person, so I ducked the punch. It whistled over my head and I kept walking. The crazy man did not follow up, and we went our separate ways.

Can you tell I'm freakishly proud of my reflexes???

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

letter to X.


Thanks so much for thinking of writing to me. The question is not too personal at all. I'm happy to share my experiences if they can help you in any way. It sounds like a really tough situation for your brother but I'm sure one HUGE thing that helps him is knowing that he has a sister who cares so much about him that she would solicit friends for advice on how to support him.

I don't know what's going on with your brother. Is he out to your parents/to you/his friends? Does he live near home? Does he otherwise have a good relationship with your parents? Is he the kind of person who has always tried to be the good son, studying what your parents want, first chair violin in the youth orchestra, etc.? Are your parents very Christian or religiously dogmatic? Does your brother have a partner or other gay friends, especially gay Asian friends? Do his friends really care about him or are they just people to have fun with? The answers to these questions can help you understand where he is.

What I can do is tell you a little bit about my own experience. As you've seen, the [Bananarchist] family generally can be good-humored and liberal. I don't mean liberal in political orientation, I just mean that we're more accepting of life paths other than the become-an-engineer-marry-a-Chinese-doctor-and-immediately-have-kids track. That has made it much easier for me to be comfortable with my identity, not only because it means my parents are slightly more accepting than most (though still very disapproving, we'll get to that later) but also because I didn't get drilled from an early age that I had to be traditional. So turning out to be gay didn't derail my life plans or make me hate myself.

Maybe that was the American part of my upbringing, feeling confident in myself even though/because I was different. Up until I was about 28, I didn't struggle with the idea of being gay. I didn't feel depressed. I admitted to myself that I was bisexual (at the least) a few months before I turned sixteen; to me it seemed like a relief to finally pin down why I was so oddly fascinated with Kristi Yamaguchi during the 1992 Winter Olympics, despite that awful Captain Morgan blouse she wore during her long program. I started dating a girl soon thereafter, and then came out to all of my friends (and the school, in a newspaper article). I had a great community in high school comprising other gay friends and really understanding straight friends, and my brother; nobody shunned me or made me feel that being gay was at all a bad thing. Actually, I did tell one teacher, who turned out to be as reactionary in spirit as she was skeletal in body, which only made me disrespect her instead of making me feel any worse about myself. And that's where I think I just got lucky...if my parents had inculcated more of a hatred for gay people in me, or if I had felt obliged to follow a traditional path, I might not have had the strength to shrug off other people's judgment and reaction because I might have felt ashamed of myself. As it were, coming out only made me feel braver and cooler than I already thought myself to be.

(When I was 28, my girlfriend at the time broke up with me, and it sort of threw me into a spin to realize I was single for the first time since I was 15, and I could try dating men. I still think I'm pretty much a homo, but just the fact that I was given the opportunity to set myself up for new relationship was enough to make me question whether I could just marry a nice dull boy, or a Bavarian sociopath, and go down the traditional path that I never thought I wanted. At this point, this is mostly irrelevant.)

I came out to my parents the week before I left for college. I had already been dating girls for two years by then, and surely they suspected from my two very close "best friends" that something was weird about me? Still they didn't take the news well at all - I remember almost nothing except lots of crying at the kitchen table and their anger. Maybe their disgust, too. But one good thing about traditional Chinese parents, at least in my experience, is that unlike western parents, Chinese parents have an expectation of lifelong caregiving, so they don't just kick their kids out of their house and never talk to them again. But what Chinese parents do is nitpick, nag, sigh, tell you over and over again that you're ruining your future by following your selfish desires rather than submitting to a sacrifice that is more rational, that they are ashamed of you and they can't tell other parents about you, that you'll regret your mistakes, that Jason Chen is doing better than you even though ten years ago you scored 40 points higher than him on the SAT and everyone thought you were going to win at Life. I mean, my parents wage this emotional warfare on me not only for being gay, but for choosing to study a social science in college rather than engineering, for going camping, for coming home after midnight, for failing to shower...basically anything with an unknown outcome. Not to say that being gay is the same as choosing to be an English rather than biochem major, but it's a difference in degree, and I've found that my parents reacted similarly (though on a much bigger scale) to my being gay as to anything else they've disapproved of.

After the initial shock of my coming out wore off, I went away to college and my parents didn't have to think about my future for a few years. I made friends with liberal, hippie, activist people who didn't seem to give a second thought to my being gay, and from then on I surrounded myself with the kind of people who would support me (or at least judge me for the right reasons), and I made my life on the East Coast. I told my parents about my girlfriends but they never had to meet them. After college my relationships got more serious, and they met my partners. Two of them actually came to Thanksgiving, as just "friends," but as Peter likes to say, "Our parents weren't born yesterday." I wonder what Grandma thinks of this; she still asks me how Stephanie is doing. My parents were nice to my girlfriends and we did family trips to Napa etc. together. They seemed to like my partners and appreciate that I had companionship in my life. My girlfriend comes to visit and I go to New York every other month, and my parents are extremely welcoming to her when she comes, to the point where they instruct me not to fuck it up. At this point, I think they are just desperate to see me partnered and want to maximize my chance at that, even if it means being really nice to a girlfriend rather than being really nice to a boyfriend.

But once in a while, my parents' anxieties and resentments surface. Like I'll tell my mom that I'm going to hang out with a friend she knows is gay, and she'll say, "Watch out for AIDS"; simple, hurtful ignorance like that. Then my dad once every two years or so goes completely apeshit and tells me 1) I'm a selfish brat and 2) a slut because it's all about sex and any two animals can have sex so why should I choose sex over family/tradition/normalcy and 3) he's never been okay with me being gay because he's Catholic and it's a sin and 4) any other thing he can think of that is mean and angry. Usually we'll spend 2-3 hours screaming at each other, threatening to never speak again, and eventually tensions calm and it becomes clear that it's not my dad's disgust/hatred that actually motivates him. What scares him is 1) that I'll be alone and I won't have kids, and every parent just wants grandbabies to smother, 2) that he can't face other Chinese parents because they don't have homos for kids, and 3) that I'll be disadvantaged and treated badly because of other people's prejudices. When I see it this way, I can sort out the hateful words from his legitimate concerns for me, then I don't feel so personally crushed when he lashes out.

But the negativity is only once in a while. In fact, my being gay comes up explicitly only once in a while, with my family or with other people. (Although being gay comes up implicitly ALL THE TIME, at least in my thoughts, because it's shaped my worldview such that I sometimes skip the entire 94.9 to 96.5 range in the FM dial for fear of chancing upon that unpleasant Alan Jackson song "Cornbread and Chicken," because i don't want to be reminded of homophobia in twang form; then again, I do this with my ethnic identity too and avoid doing things like watching "The Hangover.") But day to day, since I've been living at home since November, the issue is not whether I am gay but whether I have walked the dog, whether I will be home for dinner, whether I will sit with them for a little while and watch TV, whether my girlfriend and I are fighting or doing well that day, whether I should invest my earnings in a particular way, etc. If they're being mean, it's about whether I'm a failure, not whether I am a gay failure. I think it's really easy for a person who is thinking of coming out or who has recently come out to his parents to have tunnel vision: because you focus so much on how you're going to make that initial revelation, everything becomes about being gay. Parents can have this reaction too. So in the few weeks, months, or even years around the initial revelation, the gay kid and his parents freak the f* out and feel like their worlds have been upended. The parents have to deal with all their hopes and dreams suddenly shattered, blah blah's hard for me to have sympathy for this, since I think those hopes and dreams are oppressive and insulting to individualism (like, what does your kid want, not what do you want for your kid?), but still I understand parents who aren't expecting to deal with this can feel like they've been struck by lightning.

But once that initial craziness fades away, it becomes more livable, more humane. I like where I am with my parents now, even though it's not where I want to end up. We can love each other and they can remember that I'm a very good daughter even if I like Jane instead of John Wong, Esq. (Maybe it helps that my girlfriend went to Yale and is also a lawyer $$$). Eventually, if I have kids, then my parents and I have to evolve to a new relationship. Maybe then I'll need to come out to the rest of the family. But we'll all get there, or they'll just resent me and nag me and whisper about me until we all be it, that's the lot of being a Chinese kid. When I came out to my parents, I was only seventeen, and I wanted everything, immediately. I wanted my parents to wave a rainbow flag and declare they they would always support and love me, and I wanted us all to drown in tears of happiness. But it didn't happen that way for me. My parents probably wanted me to stop dressing so crappy and study something useful and make money and stop living so far away and stand up straight and marry Gilbert, the portly programmer whose cubicle is next to my dad's, everything, immediately, but it didn't happen that way for them, either. Understanding is a gradual process, and that's hard to accept or remember sometimes.

I hope this helps in some way. I'm really sorry to hear that your brother is depressed and struggling with his sexuality. If he is anything like his sister, he is warm and loving and has lots and lots to offer the world, and he deserves to be happy. I think the best thing you can do is tell him you love him unconditionally and will support him, and that you'll help with your parents. I have a couple of Asian friends whose siblings are gay, and they have been in unique positions to talk sense to their shocked parents, so maybe their experiences are more relevant than mine. One friend's older brother is gay - a really creative, bright man - but when he was 17 or so he ran away for a week and lived with a much older man. His story ends with a Harvard degree and home ownership before 30 (thank Confucius!!) but you can imagine how freaked out his parents were in that week. I can pass on contact info if you'd like.

I just read back through your initial message and I realized that you asked specifically about what kind of pain your brother might be going through. Hrm, I feel like I didn't really respond to that. This email focuses more on dealing with parents, less about negative reactions from friends, other family members, employers, and hardly touches at all on a much pricklier issue - whether your brother is ashamed of himself. I guess the best thing is ask your brother lots of open-ended questions, let him know you don't judge him and you want to be his ear, and maybe he'll feel comfortable enough to tell you.

A friend of mine is in the midst of starting a website that has resources for Asian parents with gay kids. The website ( is still a work in progress, but she put up a very powerful (although pessimistic) letter that her dad wrote to her after she came out to him. Her dad came to America when he was young, so his English is very good. I feel like this letter gives insight into a Chinese mind in a language that we second-generation illiterates can understand. Even though her dad seems to be rejecting her rather than accepting her in this letter, it might be a good read for you and your brother just to anticipate what could be coming:

Whew. I hope some of this helps you and your bro. Feel free to forward this message to him, or to give him my email address. Tell him that life is too precious to be sad about something as wonderful as discovering who you love. Why is being gay something to be depressed about? It's not like he's a...fobby chain-smoking Korean hipster asshole or something else, something to be truly ashamed of - oh God wait, he's not a fobby chain-smoking Korean hipster asshole, is he?!?! THAT'S something to be worried about.