Monday, November 29, 2004

Putting the Minivan Before the Family

As JP and I were stuck in holiday traffic on the northbound 405 yesterday I began to observe the many other similarly situated people in their vehicles. There were quite a few minivans filled with impatient families returning from the fun-filled four-day weekend. The sight of the minivans naturally reminded me of a date I had a few years back - once again courtesy of online matchmaking.

Chris was a 32 year-old engineer who enjoyed playing guitar, bowling on Sunday mornings and kite surfing. He was the spitting image of a young Mel Gibson, only shorter. Yes, I know Mel is not known for his stature, and yes, Chris was shorter. Note that this was back when I was 29 and in 'scramble-for-a-man mode' so I was willing to overlook a couple of inches here or there. On our first date we met downtown for midafternoon oven-baked pizza at Caprizio's. Conversation went well, he was seemingly normal and fun despite the fact that he was an engineer. Still, I should have known from his profile - wherein he selected a 'house in the suburbs' as his dream home that our souls would never be joined. But he was so darn cute and I was 29...

It was the weekend before Christmas and after pizza he agreed to help me pick out a Christmas tree. He offered to deliver it to my house in his minivan. I thanked him but informed him that I had a truck. After the tree was delivered and set up we decided we may as well continue the date into dinner and catch a great jazz band that was playing at a local restaurant. I was thinking how great and easy the date was going. Maybe this guy's only problem was that he was vertically challenged. I could live with that. But why was he still single?

Go back to the second sentence of the last paragraph for Clue #1 - he had a minivan.

I inquired at dinner about the minivan. Why would a single guy like him have a minivan? The answer was simple and quite logical...He had a life plan. According to his life plan, he was to have a career and be married by age 30, first child at 32, family trips to Hawaii, retirement at 55, bingo at the rec center on Tuesdays. etc. It was even on a chart on his computer. So the previous year, when he needed a new car he figured he would buy the minivan in preparation for parenthood. The thing was that he didn't even have a girlfriend who would carry his progeny that would eventually ride in the carseat that I am certain was in his garage back home.

The planning didn't end at the minivan. Chris had also had the foresight to purchase a new tract home in a good school district in the suburbs. He did not decorate the home because he was certain his future wife would take care of that and he would need to wait to see if the room should be pink or blue. He was stuck living according to a plan, even though the key components of the plan had not yet arrived.

Needless to say, I did not fit into Chris' plan nor he in my non-plan. I did run into him about a year ago at the post office. He still had the minivan. I asked him if things were back on track. Not quite yet, but he was working on it. Me too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Modern Day Anthropology

Have you ever been in a situation in which you are with a friend and other people join the conversation, and your friend says some totally inappropriate and blatantly culturally insensitive remark like, "I thought all Mexicans were named Juan", or "Why can't you straighten your hair?" or "Don't all YOUR people do that?" or even better, "I'm not racist, I have a black friend."

The first reaction I have is to grasp wildly in the air trying to catch the words before they make it from my friend's mouth to the ears of the listener. I never quite recapture them so I end up turning beet red, embarassed for my friend, who happens to be completely oblivious to the fact that he or she has just offended someone. This is followed by a moment of awkward silence, daggers from the eyes of the politically correct police, and wide-eyed looks of 'are you serious?' And then someone changes the subject before the offender knows how stupid they are and the cycle is set to begin again. Later, people ask me what was wrong with my friend. I usually answer that she's led a sheltered life or is socially stunted.

So today I nearly fell out of my chair when I found the site Black People Love Us. It is a brilliant look at the hypocrisy and subtle racism/extreme ignorance that plagues our "melting pot" these days.

To think that people actually think Black People Love Us is a real site designed by a racist couple astonishes me. Check the letters section of the site to see just how offended some folks are. Hilarious. It just goes to show how ignorant people on both sides of the fence are. Kudos to the creators for causing such a ruckus.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

He's Heavy and He's My Brother

Of course, I made my big decision about striking out on my own after first choosing an IPA over a stout. And wouldn't you know it...Murphy is upset because 1. I am Irish, 2. I didn't have a Murphy's Irish Stout, and 3. My life has been too easy for the past year. Of course, I am talking about Murphy's Law.

I thought I had satisfied Murphy two years ago when he took my longish-term boyfriend and one of my best friends from my life within two weeks of eachother. The first left of his own volition, the second died suddenly. Two months after that Murphy sat next to me for three days and helped me to fail the bar exam. I know, boo hoo for me, or as Chief Dorsey in the Navy would have so eloquently put it - "My heart pumps piss for you, babe, now get back to work." I thought I had exorcised the demon.

So here I was yesterday, after having made arrangements for my cute little office, designing the sign on the window - trying to choose between Law Offices of KC, or KC Attorney at Law, or the ever-ambitious KC and Associates, all the while gleefully plotting my escape from servitude. I had just finished the dreaded conversation with the boss man about my leaving at the end of the year. I was happy, thinking life is good, it may be tight financially to start but it will all work out. Then the phone rings. You should never answer the phone when you are happy and in a state of personal balance, feeling on the edge of your next great accomplishment. Nothing good can come of it.

"Yes, this is KC."
"Do you know GC?"
"Yes, he's my brother."
"Do you know how to get ahold of him? I have the number 555-1234 and it's disconnected."
"Who is this? What is this about?"
"This is ZT, his house is in foreclosure and I have the second on it and he is now delinquent on the second."

Then the huge sucking sound the world makes for only you to hear as you feel the life being drained from you.

"How far behind is he?"
"Four months on the first, plus he defaulted on the second which triggers immediate payout or I foreclose too."
"How much does he owe you?"
"Roughly $19,000."
"And the bank?"
"I think he's about $12-15,000 behind. So he needs about $30-34,000 by January 5 or he loses the house."

Silly me, I went to law school for my $30,000. Sister-brother resentment building. He always had the better toys too. Parents always overcompensating. Thinking back to how my parents gave him an "advance on his inheritance" of about $80k to get into the stupid house less than two years ago because "he isn't as self-sufficient as you." Damn myself for not getting stoned and surfing for the past 34 years. Why be responsible? Why should I work when he has never had to? Screw him!!!

"Don't worry ZT. Let me talk to him and I'll take care of it no matter what."

I stewed all day. Wavering between - 'let the bastard hit rock bottom' and 'this will kill my parents so I'd better do something'. In the end I am a sucker and the latter won out. I went to his house last night, figured out a resolution that is essentially me bailing him out and me being in charge of selling the house and distributing the more than $250k in equity (it is southern California) he stands to lose if I don't bail him out. Of course, I'll put it where he can't touch it except in small increments - to get back at him for putting M80's in my Barbie dolls and blowing their heads off. Who's in charge now GI Joe?

So here I sit, Power of Attorney signed, older brother berated, loan sharks at bay, my own mortgage company already tabulating how much they'll give me against my own house, trying to figure out how I'll manage two mortgage payments (I still have to pay mine), and contemplating starting a new business on my own. Heading out at this moment doesn't sound too smart. I start to talk myself out of it. Worry about worst case scenarios. Another dream thwarted. Boo hoo...Chief Dorsey's sage words ringing in my ears...

Then I decided, screw Murphy, time to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Back of the Bus

I had lunch with my friend T today. T is a vivacious 30-something, originally from Mexico, now working in the horrific California mortgage industry in southern California. T has five kids and is married to a white guy. No matter how open-minded folks pretend to be, you just can't escape the cultural differences between a woman who grew up in Mexico and a WASP from the upper-middle class. This, of course, makes for interesting lunch rants during which we discuss the idiosyncracies of our very different cultures.

The lunch discussion today was about bus travel in Mexico. T wants to take the family to Mexico to visit her family. Flying seven people would cost an arm and a leg so T decided to check into tour buses. Some of you may be thinking, a Mexican tour bus, no way! Well, that is exactly what T's husband said when she proposed the idea. He has the common belief that the bus would be filled with peasants in straw hats and houarachi sandals, the top of the bus laden with chicken coops and livestock. The good news is that T and her husband compromised and decided piling everyone into the family SUV and driving the 28 hours themselves would be the best answer. Sounds excruciating to me, especially with five kids aged 2 to 17. The conversation reminded me of my own travels in the less-than-luxurious buses of a developing country...

Back in my days in China I did quite a bit of traveling throughout the region. Of course, I was living off a small stipend from the university and the local infrastructure was severely lacking so I often found myself on communist-run tour buses. I'm talking about the kind you'd ride as a kid - with low-backed bench seats, no facilities, no seatbelts, no shocks, no overhead compartment. There is nothing like a good old-fashioned kidney-jarring jaunt through the backroads of China with a guy in a Mao suit at the helm.

In a country with so many people, you can guess that the buses are generally packed to capacity. In the city buses it is always "butts-to-nuts" as they say in the military - standing room only, people pressed against eachother like sardines. of course, I was too young and dumb to know better so during my first month or two there I decided to take the bus to a "resort" on a lake that was about eight hours from my home. I went to the bus station, figured out which bus headed that general direction, bought my ticket (paid twice what the locals would, but 80 cents still wasn't bad), and hopped on the bus. When I got on the bus I was surprised no one was in the back two rows. I thought I had scored big time. I hustled to the back of the bus and claimed a prime window seat in the back. The bus filled and still no one went back that far. I figured they were scared of me, which happened more than you would think during my travels as many people in the coutnryside had never seen a person with fair features. I thought nothing of it as the bus choked to a start and began to roll and I settled into my own prime seat for the long journey.

Everything was fine for the first hour or two. Then a man stood up and headed back toward me. I figured he needed more room and wanted one of the prime seats. I was even a bit pleased that a local would find the courage to approach this foreign heathen. He made his way down the aisle and I smiled my biggest smile at him. He stared at me quizzically. then bent down and flipped the floor board in the aisle up on a hinge so it leaned toward the front of the bus. This revealed the axle and road below. He looked directly at me for a minute and I turned to look out the window as if this behavior were normal. He proceeded to lower his pants, pull out his willy and urinate through the open floorboard space. I tried to look away but was in awe. He finished his business, shook off, put the board down, and went back to his seat. Thus began the procession of passengers to the bus bathroom, of which I had a full view. I sunk into my seat and realized it was going to be a much longer journey than I had ever imagined. Add to that the fact that the bus never stopped and there was no way I was going to bare my white assets to the bus passengers and you can imagine how miserable the trip was.

Needless to say I have never since secured the back seat in a bus in any country.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Survival of the Fittest

My cat Puffy was not meant to live.

I should have known better when the momma cat, knowing her kitten should be sacrificed, kept removing her from the litter and putting her on top of my parents' barn. Puffy just screamed and wailed all night up there so my mother would take her down and put her back with the litter. The momma cat would promptly take her right back up. It was a battle of wills between the two mothers until I came for a visit. I saw the cute little ball of fur and immediately commandeered an eye dropper and some warm milk. With that Miss Puff was saved and Darwin's theory was thwarted.

Within hours of bringing her home I realized that little Puff had some serious gastrointenstinal issues in the form of excessive diarrhea, or, as we call it in our family - 'oil poop'. Off we went to the veterinarian for some meds. Puff was to take the meds twice a day or the well would flow again. Simple enough, right?

The problem is that Puff was and is the cutest little ball of black and white fur around. Soon after the visit to the vet, I had her out in the front yard while I was pulling weeds. Puffy must have roamed out onto the bridge over the seasonal creek in my yard. The rotten little kids from down the street must have seen my little creature and snatched her. When I realized she was missing I went to the scoundrels' houses to inquire of her whereabouts and was shooed away by the conniving or oblivious parents. I couldn't believe they had taken my kitty and the parents were covering for the little rascals so I devised a plan to ensure the return of Puff.

I went home and made up fliers on my computer. These weren't just any fliers. No, I used the scare tactics of any concerned parent - I described Miss Puff and then wrote in capital, bold letters THIS CAT HAS A DISEASE THAT IS COMMUNICABLE TO HUMANS. YOU WILL KNOW IT WITHIN HOURS AS SHE WILL HAVE DIARRHEA EVERYWHERE. I placed the fliers in the mailboxes of all the kids on the block the next morning before I went to work. Sure enough, as soon as I drove into the garage the following day I heard a sound on the other side of the fence, saw the ball of fur drop, and then heard the distinct screams of my little Puff. I found her in a pile of leaves, covered in her own excrement but happy to see me. That night after Puff was cleaned up I imagined the family that took her, feigning stomach problems and scared to have gotten the disease. Serves them right.

Then again, it wasn't until later that I realized that Puffy's mother was probably right to try to get rid of her because she is, after all, defective. Of course, we would never do that as humans, right? We would rather provide treatment and therapy and allow the miserable, defective little creature live a somewhat abnormal and sheltered life consisting of chasing the same spot on the wood floors for six years.

Originally I thought Puff was a Down's or dwarf cat. She did get over the oil poop problem but she never really grew, except her paws, tail and head, which are huge. She can't fully formulate a "meow", it's more like a "muh" and a "mwa" in a horrific cat-in-heat tone. Add to that her blank stare - her pupils always see dilated and she just looks like she never knows what's going on. Of course, the icing on the cake is her gait. Her back end does not work in conjunction with her front end. Her front legs work fine but her back legs do their own thing so at times the back is moving faster than the front producing a crab-like walk wherein the back legs occasionally overtake the front and Puffy spins.

The veterinarian loves my little marvel of defectiveness. The vet once did a free MRI on Puff as scientific research. She found that Puff has a crooked spine and an underdeveloped cerebellum but htat Puffy was not suffering and seemed quite happy.

My friends love her too. I once had a dinner party during which Puffy scampered across the floor and attempted to go up the stairs toward the bedroom. My friend spit his wine in laughter and exclaimed, "That cat just fell UP the stairs!" Other just come by to sit and marvel as Puffy stumbles around and jumps at the sight of her own shadow.

I guess in the end, when I look at Puffy I am glad I played god that day and selfishly saved the little ball of fur.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Mrs. Sanders

About a month ago I finally figured out why Survivor still hasn't chosen me as a contestant...I forgot that I used up my 15 minutes of fame in China 10 years ago.

Last month I was in a deposition in LA. My client was being deposed and she didn't speak English so the defendants had to hire a Mandarin interpreter. This makes the whole process twice as long and especially annoying when you understand everything in both languages and sometimes catch the interpreter making mistakes due to regional variations in the language. The interpreter was a nice guy, Mormon who did his mission in China and picked up the language, and a wife, there. It had to be funny for the actual Chinese people present to watch two white people argue over the meaning of the words "lao bai".

Anyhow, it was an all-day affair and at the lunch break the interpreter approached me and said I looked very familiar and asked if we had worked together before. There aren't many Caucasian folks who a.) speak Mandarin and b.) work in the legal field so I knew I would have remembered him and I didn't. Besides, people often think they recognize me and I am fairly certain they don't. So I said he must be confusing me with someone else. At the next break he again tried to place me but couldn't. I could tell he was certain he'd seen me before but I honestly couldn't place him. Then, after the deposition we were in the elevator and he blurts out "You're the girl from Meiguo Tza Chi!"

That translates to "American Fried Chicken". Yes, it is true, I once did a television commercial for a small restaurant chain in southern China - American Fried Chicken (AFC). The translator had apparantly seen me on TV in China touting the tastiness of the American-style fare offered at the restaurant. I felt a combination of flattery - that I still am recognizable from when I was 22 - and embarassment - that I am known as the Chinese fried chicken girl. The translator then told me he'd not only seen me on TV but also on billboards as recently as three years ago.

I was lured into my acting career by promises of jack cheese and Guinness beer. AFC was owned by a sly Vietnamese man aptly named Charlie (I don't think he got it) who had been to the U.S., fallen in love with the colonel's special recipe, and decided southern China was ripe for it's own chain of fried chicken restaurants.

I found AFC while on one of my infamous bicycle rides through Nanning. Oddly enough, the restaurant had a giant Bob's Big Boy statue holding a platter of burgers in front. I couldn't resist exploring the place so I immediately parked my bike and went in. I ordered a burger and fries. They were horrible but it was the closest thing to home cooking I had eaten in months. I started going to AFC regularly and taught them how to cook more "American-style". Charlie and I became friends and he even offered to marry me in exchange for a whopping $20,000 a year for two years. I declined but probably would have said yes if he had promised to open a cheese factory for me...

You see, along with introducing the Hokey Pokey to China, I believe I also introduced the grilled cheese sandwich when Charlie got a brick of Jack Cheese in from Australia. The grilled cheese sandwich is one of the most overlooked culinary delights and I immediately commandeered the cheese and fried up a sandwich. It was pure heaven and I was in ecstasy the moment I had my first crunchy-melty bite.

Charlie, ever the capitalist, saw the effect the cheese had on me and decided mine was the look he wanted for his upcoming advertising campaign. In exchange for a young, blond, genuine American girl writhing at the thought of AFC and saying things like "AFC is soooo good" and "mmmmm..." while eating various dishes, I would receive all the AFC food I could eat and two cases of Guinness beer in the cans that stay fresh. At 22 and in another land it seemed like a great deal to me.

Fast forward 10 years and I had pretty much forgotten about the commercial. I certainly never would have guessed I'd be recognized while at a meeting on the 39th Floor of a high-rise in Los Angeles. Then again, 10 years ago I never would have guessed I'd be in a high-rise in Los Angeles remembering the simple days of grilled cheese and Guinness. You can probably guess what I'll be having for dinner tonight.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Things to do before you're 32

On the eve of my 32nd birthday I am reminded once again of my infamous internet dating days and one 32 year-old I will never forget...Nate.

I met Nate through American Singles a few years ago. He was a local out-of-work history teacher working at Best Buy until he could get something more permanent. Age 32, he lived in a small apartment with his pet cat that he had taught to play fetch. He had some confidence issues but seemed like a nice enough guy. We somehow came up as matches through the internet, probably due to our mutual interest in surf kayaking. We e-mailed back and forth a few times, exchanged photos and phone calls and decided to meet one Saturday at his parents' beach house for a day of surf kayaking. They had a house right on Feria Beach, which is perfect for surf kayaking. Kayaking is really a perfect first date because you are both having fun, you are in swimsuits, the adrenaline is rushing, and you can't help but laugh at eachother when you wipe out. After kayaking to the point of exhaustion we had a soda up at the house with his dad and were hanging out on the deck talking when his brother and some other friends showed up. The date was going well enough and it seemed like a nice, normal group so when they invited me to stay for a BBQ I couldn't say no.

As the day turned to night, Nate was filling up on liquid courage and started getting boisterous to the point of annoyance so I decided it was probably time for me to head home. I liked his friends and family but felt something was a bit off with him and was not impressed at his ability to guzzle beer and pee off the deck. As I was leaving, Nate walked me to my truck and proclaimed he had something important that he HAD to tell me. I advised him that there really was nothing he had to tell me on a first date, especially while under the influence. He was adamant and I knew something big was coming I just didn't know what. Then he blurted it out...

"I just lost my virginity a few months ago and have never really dated and blah, blah, blah..." I blocked out the rest of his sentence. My mind was reeling as I contemplated those first five words. Why would he tell me that? How on earth could he live 32 years without having tried it? What the heck was I supposed to say in return? I said the first thing that came to mind..."Why did you wait so long?"

"I just never got around to it."

Huh? What? Did I hear that right? Are you not a normal man? Or woman? Or human? No religious reasons, no saving oneself, you can't just say you never got around to it. You never get around to seeing Paris in the spring, to seeing the pyramids, to cleaning the garage. Sex is not something you just never get around to doing, is it?

In honor of Nate and any other similarly situated 30-something single souls out there, I have compiled a list of Things To Do Before You're 32 that will surely enhance you're personal life, especially for those chronically single men still sleeping on futons and living off of cereal, milk and vodka:

1. Have sex with someone other than yourself.
2. Live alone for a year.
3. Learn to cook three good meals from scratch.
4. Spend money on a really good bed and some top of the line sheets.
5. Find at least three friends you'll have for life.
6. Get something that's broken and fix it - a car, furniture, toaster.
7. Get a passport and go somewhere you'll have to use it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Got Tail?

"How did I end up here?"

That was the question in my mind when I experienced one of those moments during which you step outside yourself and see where you are and what you are doing and you are just plain amazed at the thought of your own existence at that very moment. I think it is in this moment that a person realizes one of two things: 1. They have just made a huge mistake, are screwed, and need to get out of the situation, or 2. They are living life, loving the absurdity of it, and never want to leave that moment.

The latter was the case for me on Friday as I found myself in dank, underground, aquamarine theatre, the smell of popcorn wafting through the air, senior citizens and children fidgeting in their hardwood bench seats, me sitting next to a college friend I hadn't seen in 11 years, cheesy Disneylandesque People Mover music playing in the background, all of us staring at a huge white curtain pocked with holes and tears waiting for the Weeki Wachee Mermaids', 2:30 performance of The Little Mermaid.

At first glance, I thought the whole setup was cheesy and so rundown that it couldn't possibly stay in business much longer. A Californian, through and through, I felt some sense of superiority and disdain mixed with pity for the place. I marveled at the fact that people still paid to come into this 1940's roadside attraction when Disneyworld and Busch Gardens are each an hour away. But then I watched as the audience began to arrive for the show. Little girls in the audience began peering through the holes in the battered curtain, seeing them as windows rather than flaws - eyes wide, faces pressed to the glass, hoping to be the first to spy the mermaids in action. As the tattered curtain rose, the audience was lit by the refraction of sunlight filtered through the pure water in the spring that was before us. Bubbles rose in front of the glass and as they cleared a school of beautiful women with fishtails, hair billowing with the current of the spring, bodies moving in synch, appeared to float from the source of the spring. A voice boomed from the speakers in the theatre as the mermaids mouthed the words to a story of one mermaid's quest for love. As the mermaids performed, real turtles and schools of fish joined in as extras, floating by as the mermaids danced and sang. All the while the audience remained captivated and amused. The show itself, The Little Mermaid, had it all - the beautiful heroine, the handsome prince, the wicked water witch, and the wise turtle friend. It was truly an underwater musical the likes of which Broadway will never know but one that every theater fan should see. We adults sat in our straight-backed seats leaning forward, laughing together, applauding the feats of water aerobics and synchronization, strangers brought together by the pleasantly absurd yet amazingly enchanting scene before us.

When the curtain fell I looked around and saw that everyone in the audience was smiling and I realized that even in our modern age there is something undeniably tantalizing to everyone, children and adults alike, about being in the presence of something real, yet fantastic. For those 30 minutes everyone was six or seven again, remembering dreams and how our imaginations once ran free.

Then the loudspeaker came on and a voice reminded us to pick up our own trash in the theatre otherwise the same ethereal mermaids would appear as regular young women tasked with having to pick up our garbage. With that announcement we were reminded that this rare roadside oddity, a throw-back to the days before Disney, cable television and video games, was on its last legs and struggling to compete in a world in which fantasy and imagination are more cyber than natural. The handful of mermaids, so skilled at underwater performance, were also the maintenance crew and young women who had to earn a living.

This in mind, I weighed the pros and cons of mermaid life: Who wouldn't give up a cubicle for a tail? A morning commute on traffic-congested freeways for a swim through the currents of a natural spring? Like every little girl who peered through the holes in the worn out curtain waiting for the show to start, I too want to be a mermaid when I grow up and stay in that moment in which I wonder how I got there forever.