Two Guys Standing and Talking In The Subway

He had shades on.  His friend had a heavy five o’clock shadow.  You put their faces together and it would create this weird checkerboard pattern, they were so white.

Shades guy had on a pair of relaxed fit jeans and a wrinkly navy blue tee.  Shadow guy had an equally wrinkly pair of lime green khaki shorts with a light pink polo, collar turned up, of course.  Shades guy had the six pack of Coronas while Shadow guy had the bag of Tostitos.

I’m sure they were off to a meaningful night.

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Never A Trendsetter

I remember my first day of kindergarten when my Japanese stepmother brought me to school.  The gym teacher, Miss Baker, told her that I was wearing the wrong shoes.  They were slip-ons with Japanese cartoon characters on them.  “She needs to wear sneakers with shoelaces,” she gently pointed to my small sockless feet.  My mother, bent over to look at my feet to politely observe what Miss Baker was pointing to, nodded her head and made a mental note of it, making sure to tell my father, who held the purse strings.

After we got approval from my father, we went to Kmart where we went to the sneaker bin in which my mother had me try on several different sizes.  They were made of stiff fake leather, but they at least had laces on them.  They were bright white with a big red logo on the side which read Pro with a tiny man in a running stance underneath it.  We went to the cashier and plopped them down on the counter to pay for them.

The next day, as I wore my brand new sneakers, I looked around at my classmates’ feet and was immediately embarrassed.  They had fancier shoes like Nikes and Adidas and Converse.  I went back home and begged my mom for some Nikes, but she said no.  I knew that I would never be like everybody else at school, never wearing the right labels like Levi’s or Lacoste or Polo.  For me, it was always Kmart or Sears.  Oh, how my parents loved Sears!

It wasn’t until high school when I was given a $200 clothing allowance for the new school year in which I could spend on anything I wanted that I finally got my first pair of Nikes.  We went to an actual athletic shoe store where a salesperson measured my shoe size with one of those shoe measuring devices and brought out a pair and laced them up right in front of me to try on.  They were white in nylon with a soft pink suede swoosh logo.  I was so happy.  We took them to the counter in the Nike logoed box where the sneakers were wrapped and stuffed in tissue.  We weren’t in Kmart anymore.

That was, ahem, a few decades ago, and by the time I went to college, Doc Martens and leather oxfords were the way to go.  It was also around the time when Nike was getting bad press for using child labor to make their shoes in their overseas factories, so being the socially conscious college student that I was, I joined the boycott of Nike and made it a point to not buy their sneakers.  Fast forward a couple more decades, and sneakers, or, athletic shoes as they are now called, are back in and Nike is all the rage again.  I bought a pair yesterday, a black pair that I can run in, but also wear as street shoes, and as I put them on today, I couldn’t help but admire how good they looked with my skinny jeans.

I have never been a trendsetter, and I got to this trend of an old classic a little late as usual, but at least it was a nice trip down memory lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When?

When does all the anxiety and dread disappear and

You are able to walk out with your head held high

Heart Swollen With Boldness and Fearlessness

 

When you have spoken your truth

Ill-Fitted Suit

I never realized how varied a man’s torso could be.  No wonder they need their suits tailored, even in this ready-to-wear age.

I’m on the subway, and two men in matching suits have their backs to me, the one on the right has wide shoulders and a narrow waist which makes his blazer stretched out on top and baggy and loose on the bottom.  They are talking about the wine-tasting event they are going to and their plans for later.  It sounds like they reserved a room at a hotel downtown somewhere.

The F train is one of the crappiest train lines in the subway system but its riders are the most polished hipsters with their perfectly coiffed hair and fitted vests reading the latest version of the New Yorker.  The matching suits guys get off at the West 4th St. Stop- the hub of  the West Village- home to NYU (although people would argue that NYU has taken over all of Downtown) and their academics, ultra chic intellectuals and artists.

I’m on my way to Prospect Park South- five minutes farther down the F line from Park Slope, the West Village of Brooklyn- for those that have been priced out of Park Slope or arrived too late, the urban sophisticates have spread down to there.  It’s a neatly kept neighborhood, but its buildings are not as architecturally appealing as those marvelous and well-known brownstones of Park Slope.  People are wealthy, but it isn’t filled with the same intensity, at least not at the outset.  Yes, maybe they are as obnoxious as Manhattan, but they have less opportunity to show it off.  I am the same, however.  I am small and quiet.  People always ask me if I’m okay.  Seriously, why do people always ask me if I’m okay?  No, I’m not okay, but it’s none of their business, and it’s not like they would care anyway.  I think I am going through an existential crisis right now, but I’m just in denial about it.

 

George

George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016, and my first reaction was, “Oh, well, another pop music icon from the ’80’s died.”  But I was surprised to realize when they were replaying all his hit songs that I knew every single lyric from all his songs.  I soon realized how great his singing talent was, and how great his songs were, and enough time had passed to realize how great, as tacky as they were, ’80’s pop music was.  I took it for granted that there was always great music blaring from the radio or from MTV, but those days are long gone.  Now, there are a LOT of bad singers out there, and they all sound the same and use the same music track behind their bad singing that I don’t even bother turning the radio on anymore.

No, I wasn’t a huge George Michael fan back then, because he was, to me, as a twelve year-old, a bit much.  Now, middle aged, I can ingest his lyrics and the topics of his songs a lot better.  I wish we can go back to putting the blinders back on and just enjoy the songs with virgin ears and ignorantly sing along to the heavy lyrics that a lot of these pop songs had.  Now, with all the hidden meanings of all these songs revealed, the fun of listening to them has disappeared.

Now, we’re just stuck with listening to all these crappy songs with crappy lyrics sung by crappy singers.

RIP GM.

Thanksgiving with Todd

Thanksgiving break was coming up, and it was too close to finals to bother making the trip back home to Upstate New York. I didn’t feel like driving through the blizzard-like conditions I would inevitably have to plow through as soon as I hit Cleveland. Terms like snow squall, wind chill factor, and lake effect had become uncommon terms ever since I moved to Central Ohio, so I decided to accept Todd’s invitation for Thanksgiving dinner up at his parents’ house near the lake.  When I accepted his offer, he was so thrilled that for three straight weeks he couldn’t stop talking about what seemed like the most exciting thing that was ever going to happen him.  “A real TRADITIONAL Thanksgiving dinner!  It’s going to be amazing!” he beamed, telling everyone in between classes.  I think I was the first Asian he had ever met.  Sometimes I would catch him staring at me while we were in class, and he would blurt things out, like, “My wife has never eaten Chinese food.  Ever.”  Why he decided to tell me this since I was Korean, I don’t know.  Why I should expect this ol’ country boy to know the difference between two distinctly different cultures is probably the real question.

“You see,” Todd’s eyes lighting up, arms flying in the air to accentuate his point, “in my house, we have a huge turkey, with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and yams, and…”  I pretended to be fascinated and not have an inkling of what Thanksgiving was about.  I felt it was the least I could do.  His mom was going to be feeding me, after all.

Todd treated me like a foreigner, even though he knew where I was from.  The strange thing is, a lot of his political philosophies and his emphasis on hokey traditions were completely alien to me.  I never grew up with any sort of political ideology.  “You see,” Todd would say, as if to enlighten me, “in America, we don’t need government intrusion into our lives.  For instance, if I were to build my own house, I don’t need a government inspector to come and inspect it. It’s my individual right to build it however way I want.  Why should the government tell me how to build my own house?”

“Maybe to make sure it doesn’t fall apart while you were living in it?” I asked innocently.  What he was saying made absolutely no sense.  He wouldn’t say anything back.  He would just give me one of his piercing stares.  He told me about how his wife’s parents unexpectedly had a third child when their other children were well into their teens.  Then they had a fourth child to make sure that the third child wouldn’t grow up lonely.  He told me this story at least five times.  “Because that’s what having a family is all about,” he would always say at the end.

Todd was the preppiest kid in our class.  He looked like he came straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad.  He had the perfect smile with the perfect blue eyes and the perfect haircut that was perfectly parted to the side.  His only facial flaw was his freckled nose that hooked to the side.  He described it as a deviated septum.  People like him would never describe it as a crooked nose.  He came from an idyllic small town in an idyllic country house with the idyllic country family.  Todd would often refer to his family with an amount of pride that I’ve never seen anyone have before.  I grew up in a larger town, a more modern suburban development, and we never took that kind of pride in our families or in the way we celebrate the holidays.  His intensity in domestic trivialities seemed very suffocating and somewhat creepy.

When I finally met his parents, I wasn’t all that impressed. Todd talked them up so much, I was expecting Martha Stewart and Co., but they just seemed like a regular ordinary family.

The week after we got back from break, Todd couldn’t stop talking about my visit to our classmates.  He looked at me as if I had the privilege of meeting his family and we now had a special bond that would last forever.  He couldn’t stop asking me questions about what I thought of his family.  I felt like I had to tell him something to flatter him, so I told him that it was kind of funny how excited his twin brother got for his new espresso machine.

“I know!  He kept offering to make an espresso for me and I don’t even like coffee!” Todd cackled.  It was a really loud and exaggerated cackle.

Actually, his twin was a really nice guy.  I drove him back to campus after dinner that night and during the three hour drive, he told me how his marriage was falling apart.  I thought that was kind of strange that he was telling me all the details of his marriage since we just met, but I appreciated how open and honest he was with me.  I really didn’t worry about him finding another wife.  Men like him always do.

Richard

I’m on the corner of 53rd and Park, and I can see Richard crossing the street.  He is of average height with wavy chestnut hair which is neatly parted to the side.  His temples are graying, but this only frames his face to give him a distinguished look.  He lives alone in a small one bedroom, but with a spacious kitchen, in one of those pre-war buildings by the UN.  He is not home the majority of the time to feel the loneliness of living alone since he spends most of his waking hours at the office.

Richard has been divorced for eight years now, and although he has enjoyed throwing his weekly dinner parties for his art society friends, he still manages to escape to Montclair, New Jersey to play golf at his country club.  His ex-wife kept the 5-bedroom Colonial and the Mercedes, and he even agreed to letting her keep the cat.  He decided to keep his membership at the club so he could keep in touch with the friends that he had known throughout his time in Montclair, an intimate community where people could relax around each other and trust enough in each other to share intimate secrets.  In New York, he always feels like he has to keep his guard up, even with his closest acquaintances.  He was not an avid golfer, but he liked to come out to the quiet to escape the craziness of Midtown.  Sure, the conveniences of having his dry cleaning and his dinners delivered were great, but his apartment was not home like his house in Montclair used to be for all those years.  Those were the happiest years of his life, sprinkled with a few sad years.  The saddest years coming towards the end of his marriage.

Richard never speaks above a whisper.  The doormen more than half the time just pretend to understand what he says to them.  I am somehow able to understand most of what he says, even when he speaks with his face turned away and down to the floor.  We run into each other when we are waiting for the elevator or getting our mail.  The conversations are mostly limited to the weather and the contents of the junk mail we receive that day.

It was all a misunderstanding last Saturday, and although I know it was a misunderstanding, I can’t act like I know it was a misunderstanding now because it would just make the matter even worse.  Rob, the daytime doorman, told me what had happened.  Ethel has a way of being a troublemaker.  She is retired and lives by herself and is friendless.  Her daughter moved as far away as she could to California and never comes to visit, even when she was sick in the hospital with pneumonia.  Ethel’s the type that if you prick her, she will stab you in your most vulnerable spot over and over again until you regret it for the rest of your life.  She never forgets a snub and she will never let you forget it either. So last Saturday, she was coming back from walking her toy poodle when she noticed a huge bouquet of roses sitting on the front desk in the lobby.

“Who are the roses for?” Ethel asked in an inappropriately domineering way.

“Oh, they’re for 724.”

“For Richard?  He’s divorced.  He shouldn’t be getting flowers.  Are you sure?” She spoke as if she had the lone authority over flower deliveries.

“That’s what the envelope says,” Rob muttered. He didn’t feel like he needed to explain the flowers to her.  Ethel wanted to continue the inquisition, but Rob left the desk to open the door for Mrs. Bradford.  Mrs. Bradford just recently suffered a stroke and needed help with her walker as she exited the building.  While Rob was getting the door for Mrs. Bradford, Ethel went and opened the envelope.  She just couldn’t help herself.  The card was blank.  Ethel then quickly wrote:  For you.  From 818.

This was payback for when I caught her, completely unintentionally, stealing Carol’s newspaper.  Ethel always gets angry whenever she gets caught doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing.  So when Richard received the bouquet, he was perplexed.  He didn’t even know who lived in 818.  He asked Rob about the flowers, and he had no explanation for him.  By the time he realized what had happened, Rob felt too embarrassed to let Richard know.

Richard went to look up at the mailboxes to see who lived in 818.  He saw my name and asked Rob, who told him that it was me.

The next time he saw me, he smiled and shined his pearly whites and gave me a wink.  “Thanks for the flowers.  I never knew you felt that way about me.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, confused.  I never saw this side of him before.

Richard’s face reddened.  “Oh, did you want to keep it a secret?”

“Oh, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.  I never sent you any flowers.  In fact, I don’t even know your name.”

“Well, who else lives in 818, then?”

“Um, just me?” I replied sheepishly.  I was terribly embarrassed for him.

Richard’s eyebrows furrowed, “Is this some cruel practical joke?  What did I ever do to you?  I smile and say ‘hi’ and make small talk with you, and this is the thanks I get for being nice to you?!”

“I-I don’t know what to say.  I had nothing to do with this.  I really didn’t!” I didn’t know how to explain because I really didn’t have an explanation.

Richard angrily opened the door to the stairwell and took the seven flights of stairs up instead of waiting for the elevator with me.  He now missed living in Montclair more than ever.