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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

Springtime Troubles

When people ask me what my favorite season is, they should really ask me what my least favorite season is, which is spring.  It’s messy and confusing, with the conflict between the cool temperatures and the warm sun making my hands cold but my head hot, and all the dirt that settles and accumulates into the city throughout the winter is finally liberated by the springtime breezes, which always ends up in my eyeballs.  Plus, I have bad allergies, and the dirt and the pollen that fly about always, without a doubt, find their way through my airways which leave me in a season-long state of discomfort.  But the worst part of spring is what happens in my apartment.

The walls and floors are porous, so I’ve gotten used to hearing my neighbors sneeze and cough, do their dishes, and practice their guitar, but it’s also porous enough for their smells to end up in my tiny studio apartment.  With the heat on in the winter, and the AC on in the summer, I don’t get these odors, but last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of someone grilling steaks and this morning to the smell of wet dog.

I don’t really care what other people do in their own homes, but when I can smell what they do, then they involve me.  This is unfortunate when you live next door to the most evil person on the planet.  She knows how much all this bothers me, so she’s been invading her odors with her evil powers where every piece of fabric that I own smells like her dog.  I swear that she uses her sorcery to absorb all the odors from everyone’s apartment and siphon them off into my stuffy little studio.  Sometimes it’s a guessing game, like, oh, what is that? is that… menthol? now what is she putting up against my closet??  that smells like.. mothballs!  The worst is when she, with her evil powers, spreads the smell of urine right where I’m sitting on my couch.  A few years back, I thought it was me.  But then, I was like, I haven’t changed my hygiene habits- I still bathe everyday.  When I realized what she was doing it really grossed me out.  Now every time I get a nasty whiff of her dog, I feel like I’m on the verge of getting pink eye.

It’s supposed to get up to 90 degrees this weekend, and I can’t wait to blast that AC so I can finally inhale without getting any gritty particles in my nose or a whiff of any disease inducing odors.

Summer can’t come soon enough.

 

Dogs And The City

I love animals, I really do, so that’s why I feel so badly for these poor creatures who are forced to live in such tiny cramped boxes, also known as New York City apartments.  I wouldn’t call myself a card-carrying member of PETA or anything, but it seems inhumane to have them live in a place that goes against their natural instincts.

Dogs should always be jumping around and running free, rolling around in the grass with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging out.  Dogs in New York, however, waddle along obediently on a leash and only have sidewalks and trash bags to sniff on.  Their tails limp, their fur matted, their eyes clouded and crusty, they always look like they’re about to keel over.

It seems that dog owners get more out of the relationship than their pets do.  In fact, according to a recently published article in the New York Times titled “New York Burial Plots Will Now Allow Four-Legged Companions,” domesticated animals are now allowed to be buried with their owners. They can now be united and decompose together forever in a cemetery plot.  I’m sure that’s what the dog wanted all along.

I was sitting on a crowded subway the other night, when I noticed that the tan canvas tote bag that was right in front of my face had a furry nose sticking out of it.  It belonged to a lady that had it slung over her shoulder, as if it were an ordinary purse.  The nose belonged to a dachshund, and it was sitting in the bag very still, with its nose pulsating as if desperately trying to breathe.  The owner may be considered an animal lover to some, but I felt so badly for this poor dog who was forced to sit in this lady’s bag, suspended in mid-air, constrained to be perfectly still on a crowded subway car.  It was like a type of urban animal torture.  I imagined slashing the straps of the tote bag to release it from its misery and screaming “You’re free, doggie!  You’re free!”

Recently, my church held a service called “The Blessing of the Animals” as part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis.  It was where everybody could bring their pets in to church to have them blessed by the rector.  On a typical Sunday, it’s quiet and barely half full.  On this particular Sunday, the service was completely packed.  It was standing room only, and I had to stand at the back by the entrance next to a lady and her rabbit.  I’ve never even seen these people before.  It’s as if they sprouted out of nowhere.  They were more concerned about the salvation of their pets than they were of themselves.  Or maybe they were just taking advantage of the fact that they were allowed to bring their fury critters inside a building without being scolded for it.

You think New Yorkers are tough?  Just observe them with their pooches, and their tough New York exterior just melts away.  I’ve never seen so much PDA in church before- the hugging, the kissing, the abundant ardent phrases they whispered into their receivers’ floppy ears.  They slung their poodles over their shoulders and patted their backs soothingly like a baby.  They dressed up their terriers in pink satin with matching booties and pearls.  They snapped selfies with their pets to post on Instagram.  They could go deep into conversation with their pets than they can to another human being.

I wonder if these dogs ever have a chance to realize how different their lives would be if they had a different owner.  How their fates were determined by whether a guy from Scranton picked them up from the litter box instead of the lady from the Upper West Side. Scranton:  Spacious backyard with trees and your own little door to go in and out of the house as you please.  Upper West Side:  Where you have to hold it until your owner comes back to let you out, or if you’re really lucky, the dog walker to come pick you up, so you can go pee on a slab of concrete.

I’ve noticed that the dogs in New York always perk up their ears and wiggle their tail whenever a stranger passes them by on the street.  It makes them look so optimistic and hopeful for something.  They’re probably wishing that the stranger is from Scranton and will take them away from this godforsaken place.

Oysters Rockefeller

Whenever my parents come to visit, all they want to do is eat sushi.  It’s not that I hate sushi, but by the third day of eating sushi, it gets a little tiresome.  I ask them if they want to try any other cuisines, like Russian, or Spanish tapas, or Turkish.  Nope, they always stick with sushi, except maybe for lunch they will go to a non-trendy ramen shop in Midtown.  I’m not talking about those hip new ramen joints where foodies stand in line for an hour- I would never stand in line for an hour for ramen, by the way, heck, I wouldn’t even stand in line for any amount of time for ramen.  It’s just ramen, for Pete’s sake.  But I digress.

There is one non-sushi place they will try, however, and that’s The Oyster Bar in Grand Central.  Do not ask me why.  It’s still seafood, but this restaurant has seen better days.  It’s a remnant of Old New York, but my parents aren’t very nostalgic for Old New York, at least, not that I know of.  In fact, the Oyster Bar has a lot of Japanese tourists, for some reason.  Thank God for the Japanese tourists, right?  How can Americana survive without them, I mean, Elvis would definitely be dead without their fascination of him.  So, yes, I grew up here in America, in Buffalo, where you can’t get more Americana than that. It might seem weird now looking back on my childhood as an Asian girl wanting to be Olivia Newton-John and Judy Garland, but that’s a different story to tell for another time.  I grew up watching old black and white movies, and I remember seeing one from the 1930’s where a sophisticated debutante orders oysters Rockefeller.  I recently went back to the Oyster Bar, late one night coming back from work, and saw that it was on the menu. I quickly ordered it, having no idea what it is- do you know what it is? Well, first, it’s broiled, then second, it’s served on a half shell that’s stuffed with this creamy sauce and spinach, and somewhere within that goop, there’s supposed to be an oyster. I knew there was an oyster in the morsel that I put in my mouth because I could feel the grittiness of the sand between my teeth. I was picturing myself when ordering this dish of turning cosmopolitan, but if this is how the sophisticated and the wealthy ate back then, then- blech!

And yes, this is the same Oyster Bar that was featured in the TV show Mad Men, but that’s not how the Oyster Bar looks like now. It’s dingy and dimly lit, but clean. It looks like it hasn’t seen a remodel in decades, but some see the charm in that. Its vaulted tiled ceilings provide for loud echoes that amplify the noise to make it sound busier than it is. The torn vinyl seats at the counter make me feel like Walter Matthau will come up out of nowhere and sit right next to me. Most of the restaurant is not filled with Roger Sterlings in three-piece suits, but it’s rather a mix of domestic and foreign tourists in their fanny packs, and some commuters. There are still the Connecticut blue bloods that are grabbing a drink and a couple of oysters before they catch their train back home to Greenwich or wherever, and catching up with their second cousin once removed or their sister-in-law’s Godfather before they leave for Europe for the summer.

But thank God for the Oyster Bar, because it is still a nostalgic place which allows me to go back in time to visit the Old New York, but it also means that I don’t have to eat sushi for six days straight when my parents are in town.