The Liar’s Club

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Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club is easily the best memoir I have read thus far.  Initially, I thought her style read very similar to Tobias Wolfe’s This Boy’s Life and then come to find out ,Wolfe helped her edit the book.  Regardless, Karr carved out her own style and truly original voice in this book.  I approached this book different from the other books I have read.  Instead of highlighting and dog-earring excerpts that exhibited brilliant examples of writing (if I did that here, the book would have been painted bright yellow and filled with folded pages galore), I decided to read the book without interruption and let the impact of Karr’s writing dictate my critical response.  What impression did the story leave?  How did Karr’s writing make me thirst for more? Why couldn’t I put this book down once I started to read it?  I believe the key to the success of this book is Karr’s writing is less like writing than it is conversational.  I feel like she is telling the story rather then remembering it.  There is no judgment or moral implication nor does Karr strive for any.  It’s straightforward and un-complicated.  The language is tremendously simple yet ingenious.

Karr is also a published poet and her poetic style is evident in her writing.  Unlike Larry Woiwode’s What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (whose book I thought was brilliant), her style of writing is more fluid and informal.  I especially love her use of parenthesis to inject her insight or clarification in the middle of a paragraph.  This technique made me feel as if she was whispering a secret.  It established a wonderful intimacy and made me trust her.  Using the parenthesis allowed her to warp time and add relevant information from the past, the present or the future.  She managed to weave different stories together without making the reader feel dizzy or lost.  She could be talking about her mother and then jump to her father’s reaction and then springboard to her sister’s response without losing continuity.   Her success was the fact that all the stories were related and helped support Karr’s main idea.  The main story was like a trunk of a tree and the side stories were like the branches.  It all connected together seamlessly.  Karr’s approach was systematic.  She would write about her memory of an event and then supplemented that memory with different family member’s reaction.

I think the times when I enjoyed the book the most were when she would write about her sister’s reactions to her follies and fumbles.  She could have easily just wrote about the events and described it in her own voice but instead she cleverly chose to allow her sister’s, Lecia, comments to describe the lightheartedness or seriousness of the subject.  There were several times where Karr would write – If Lecia was writing this or Lecia states – that I found myself relishing these tidbits of outsider knowledge because it peppered what Karr was writing.

Karr wr0te the book mainly through the perspective of a younger Karr.  She later fast-forwarded the perspective to an older self towards the end of the book when she dealt with her father’s death.  Karr’s younger self is a strong character in the book.  This book is definitely character driven, even though there were many events that take center stage.   She carries her child perspective even when she writes about being molested as an eight year old.  This was probably the most powerful story in the book.  I literally almost skipped this part because the way she describes the molestation put me in the reference of a small child.  It was almost more than I could bear.  Her honesty and objectivity of this story was truly astounding.  She didn’t break away from her character and didn’t add any social commentary.  She wrote about it in the same way she wrote about horseback riding or shooting a gun.  And that’s what made this story that much more powerful. Karr’s succinct and direct approach is truly inspirational.  There was no hint of remorse or condemnation one would expect in her story telling.  The reader is left with the magnitude of the situation without any forceful diatribe from Karr.  I was left speechless and in awe.

For the longest time, I looked at David Sedaris’ writings as a model for how I would like to write but after reading this book, I have found a new inspiration.  Her similes and analogies made me say wow and that was great out loud so many times I sounded like a broken record.  Reading Karr’s writing, I understand the powerful impact of well thought-out images or similes.  Consistency with an image is crucial.  I know that Karr’s experience as a poet helped her writing, but the fact that she knew when to reign in superfluous analogies, I believe is her strength.  She wrote in simple terms but cleverly constructed so that the reader wasn’t jumping from a simple image to an ornate one.  She wrote every detail with crisp everyday language.  And to spice things up, she would insert local colloquialism that added humor and originality to the story.

August 27, 2009  Leave a comment

News Of A Kidnapping

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In a New York Times review in 1997 critic Michiko Kakutani wrote, News of a Kidnapping not only provides a fascinating anatomy of one episode in the biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for more than 20 years,’ but also offers the reader new insights into the surreal history of Mr. Garcia Marquez’s native country. Indeed, the reader is reminded by this book that the magical realism employed by Mr. Garcia Marquez and other Latin American novelists is in part a narrative strategy for grappling with a social reality so hallucinatory, so irrational that it defies ordinary naturalistic description. How does this nonfiction account display Marquez’s skill at this narrative strategy?

OK, initially when I read this question and came upon the word magical realism, the first images that appeared in my mind were characters from The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings.  In short, fantasy writing.  I can’t help but to associate the word magic with a mystical and fantastical universe.  Not the E.T. kind but like a yellow brick road kind.  Elves, sprites, wood nymphs and witches inhabit this land and good and evil battle ferociously to the end.  But then I thought, Marquez surely couldn’t be writing about fantastical viagra online for women characters when the subject of his book is mainly about the Colombian (I hate when people spell this with a u) drug world.  But in a way, he does.  GGM (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) does manage to inject bit of magic in the harrowing stories of the victims as well as the perpetrators.  I found that the parts of the book I like the most (and I actually did like this book) were the parts where my jaw dropped and my head shook in disbelief at the fantastical accounts captured by GGM.  Even Kakutani noted in her review the absurdity but nonetheless realistic portrayal of Escobar by his fellow countrymen – “kept a zoo with giraffes and hippos brought over from Africa, and where the entrance displayed, as if it were a national monument, the small plane used to export the first shipment of cocaine.”  You’re kidding me.

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But I think in the case of this book, I don’t think it should be characterized as magical realism but magical journalism.  GGM has been quoted saying his most important problem has been to destroy the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.  This book does read like a journal article packed full of details.  No one can say GGM didn’t do his research.  Some may say he included every little bit of detail he could find in this book.  But I have to say; I did read this book in a couple of sittings.  Yes, at times, I had to refresh my memory as to all the characters but I was fascinated about the mindset and rationale that kept the victims alive and their spirits up.  And that was in large part due to their religious as well as their spiritual beliefs.

Magical realism takes fantastical elements and weaves them into a story with deadpan seriousness.  In the book, GGM describes how the victims and relatives of the victims have hallucinations and prophetic dreams.  How they are sometimes bathed in supernatural light.  How they pray to the Virgin Mary for protection.  And death-bringing butterflies.  As fantastical these beliefs may be, they are everyday occurrences for the characters in this book.  I don’t know if it’s because the culture lends itself to accept these unnatural occurrences as normal but GGM surely depicts them as so.  If these elements were lacking in the book, I doubt that I would like the book as much.  I also loved how GGM would contrast the gravity of the situation with a thought or an undercurrent so ridiculous it seemed that it was an invention of his imagination rather than a truthful account.  For instance, when Pacho Santos was kidnapped, the abductors were racing through the streets not only for security sake but also to try and catch the soccer game that was airing on T.V.  And the fact that Beatriz and Maruja were thrown parties on the day of their escape as if they were actual guest instead of captives.  Could you imagine this happening in the US?

And finally, how could we overlook the fact that it took a priest with supernatural abilities to convince Escobar to surrender.  He was a priest who was considered a saint and had the supernatural ability to talk with the waters and control their movement.  C’mon talk to the waters?  And finally, my favorite paragraph in the book, Don’t worry about me, my boy, he shouted to Villamizar, I control the waters.  A clap of thunder rumbled across the vast countryside, and the skies opened in a biblical downpour.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

August 27, 2009  Leave a comment

Catfish and Mandala

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Catfish and Mandala, a memoir by Andrew Pham, details the journey of a Vietnamese American struggling to reconcile his Vietnamese heritage with his American ideologies.  Born in Saigon in 1967, Pham was raised in a moderately affluent household by Vietnamese standards.  His parents are educated, notably his father who is fluent in French and English.  Pham is the oldest son, the second of five children.  With middle class standing, his parents manage to secure some financial stability.  After the war, his family lost everything.  In 1977, he and his family narrowly fled Vietnam.  Pham was only viagra online no prescription buy viagra in us ten.  In his memoir, he voyages back to Vietnam in an attempt to rediscover his Vietnamese identity and more importantly, to harmonize his American identity with his Vietnamese past.

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Virtually destitute, Pham’s emotional return to Vietnam is not typical of a viet kieu, a Vietnamese living abroad. Where as most viet kieu travel back to Vietnam laden with gifts and cash, Pham is empty-pocketed with barely enough money to sustain him.  In addition, his choice to travel through Vietnam by bicycle absolutely stuns his relatives. He battles crippling dysentery, numbing fatigue and debilitating hunger during his trek from Saigon to Hanoi. Traversing the varied terrains of Vietnam on his bicycle, Pham visits his childhood haunts. Each visit triggers a torrent of emotions. Pham discovers most of his childhood stamping grounds have been relinquished to squalor or urban development.  While the topography tests his physical endurance, it is the natives who test his spirit and resolve. Pham encounters distant relatives, devious tour guides, street urchins and ominous ruffians.  Each encounter takes an emotional toll.  In this journey of self-discovery and renewal, Pham comes to terms with his past, his identity and most importantly, his place in this world.

Pham’s descriptive details are awe-inspiring.  He describes each scene like an artist painting with vivid colors.  The images jump off the pages and the reader is immersed in a culture steeped with tradition, contradictions, irony and admiration.  This is not a typical travel memoir describing beautiful sunsets and charming resorts. Pham’s memoir is intimate, raw and honest. In his story telling, he is not biased towards Vietnam nor is he prejudicial towards America.  His unique perspective as a Vietnamese American allows him to view Vietnamese culture as an insider as well as an outsider.  He understands the language, the customs and the mindset of the Vietnamese people. On the other hand, his American upbringing allows him to disengage and contrasts Vietnamese values with his American ones.  It is this dichotomy that makes his story so engaging.

Pham writes with such clarity he transforms the reader from a passive observer to an active traveling companion.  The reader experiences Pham’s every emotion, struggle and accomplishment.  The key to this connection is that the reader trust Pham’s account.  His description of the Vietnamese people and culture surpasses his memory and familial recollections.  His rich details of the history and topography of each city he visits are proof of his diligent research.  His inclusion of local points of interest personalizes each place making each one memorable and enduring to the reader.  This book is more than a travelogue; it’s an intimate diary of discovery.

In his memoir, Vietnam is portrayed through Pham’s eyes. Uncensored and unobstructed, there are times when this view is abrasive and unsettling.  However, it is important he includes this seedier side of Vietnam.  If Pham’s homecoming only consists of embracing family reunions then this book loses its refreshing honesty.  It is this honesty that draws the reader in.  The reader is engrossed in Pham’s day-to-day trials and tribulations.  Pham makes the reader squirm in reaction to his swallowing a snake’s heart then makes the reader cheer when he stands up to local bullies and con artists.  The fact his stories evoke an emotional response from his readers is a trademark of a skilled writer.

Pham’s choice to travel on bicycle speaks of his unconventionality.  It is poignant he chooses a mode of travel that is inherently difficult.  His physical struggle parallels his emotional one.  When his physical perseverance is taxed to the limit, his emotional tenacity concurrently wanes.  Whether on purpose or happenstance, Pham chooses the most common mode of travel in Vietnam but the least utilized in America to retrace his heritage.  As an American, the assumption would be that he travels by vehicle or have professional guides help him.  Instead, Pham’s solo two-wheeled journey connects him on a grass roots level to a country he is longing to belong.  The story would lose its appeal if Pham had been chauffeured to the origins of his childhood memories.

Pham weaves stories of his family throughout his memoir, notable the story of his older sister, Chi. The conflict of reconciling one’s culture with one’s identity is profoundly illustrated with his sister’s own turmoil.  Being the first-born and a female, his sister’s life commences as a disappointment to her father.  It was not until she had a sex change did she receive some acknowledgement from her father.  However, acknowledgement is not the same as acceptance.  Alienated and depressed, Chi commits suicide.  Her family later dubs her suicide as an accident.  She started her life feeling like an accident and ended her life as one.  Chi’s struggle of acceptance and belonging is the same undercurrent that motivates Pham’s journey back to Vietnam.

The charm of this book lies in the vivid details.  Pham’s story telling is succinct but in that brevity he packs in a tremendous amount of information. The reader trusts Pham’s authority on Vietnamese culture.  He writes in a confident and assured voice.  His writing is universal in that readers unfamiliar with Vietnamese culture can still understand and follow the story’s progression.  While Asian, especially Vietnamese, readers can relate and compare Pham’s experiences with their own.

August 27, 2009  1 Comment

Balance

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Balance.  I think now more than ever, it’s something more and more people are trying to find.  Whether it’s balancing something complex as your life or something simple as your checkbook, we would all like to find that harmonious, tranquil equilibrium.  It’s comforting, safe and if you are spatially oriented, symmetrical.  In my life, it’s a constant struggle.  If I were to define it, balance for me is being able to swirl in different directions but still find myself grounded in one spot.  Whirling dervishes come into mind.

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It seems the more I try to find balance, the more unbalanced I become.  The matchbook or wad of paper can never exactly right that wobbly table.  I shift things around but I forget I need to add to both sides of the equation.  Here’s one my underlying problems, instead of taking away, I add.  A vertical slash turns a minus into a plus and I wonder why my life has become so over-burdened.

I know of only one person who has come close to achieving any sort of balance.  My mother.  She doesn’t think about it, doesn’t meditate over it and doesn’t analyze it.  Her yin/yang confirms pretty well along the symbolic S-curve.

The best example is how she balances her spiritual and secular values.  First, let me paint a picture of my mom.  She’s a short, spritely seventy three year old Vietnamese woman with a long mane of black hair absent of any grey or white strands.  She loves home remedies for anything that ails her.  She’s fiercely independent and deeply religious.  Everyday, she goes to the morning service at the Catholic Church down the street.  She cites her limited access to a church as the main reason why she refuses to visit any of my brothers and sisters.  The other day I was kidding with her and told her that air conditioning had just been installed in Hell.  The look she gave me made me wonder if I would have been better off as one of the first born smote by the hand of God.

After coming home from church, my mother immediately turns on the TV and continues her devotion by watching mass on television.  Then she follows that up with praying the full rosary with nuns on the same channel.

But she’s not the strict churchmarm she purports to be.

Just when you think she’s going to continue on this religious track, she switches channels.  The monotonous murmurs of Hail Mary’s give way to a crescendo chant of Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!  Jerry Springer blooms into view and my mother is enthralled,  her eyes never leave the screen.  Even though she doesn’t understand much of the show, she knows the key words: baby daddy, redneck, slut, etc.  And of course, the fights.  She loves to watch pfizer viagra no prescription the fights.  She doesn’t care if they are staged or online order prescription viagra if they are actors.  She laughs and sometimes she clasped her hands – those same hands that piously hold her rosary – to her mouth to suppress a loud snicker.

When I ask her how she can watch the show, she shrugs and without much thought replies, I like to watch the people.  That’s not healthy I tell her.  But she ignores me and continues to watch two women claw at each other.   One, if not both, of the two women’s breast, inevitably pops out.  She cackles in enjoyment.

Perhaps she likes to watch the people she is praying for.  Perhaps she feels sorry for them.  Perhaps she revels in the fact that she is not one of them.  Perhaps I’m over-analyzing.

But then I realize it comes back to balance.  As I mentioned, my mother doesn’t delve into the metaphysical definition of balance.  If watching Jerry Springer after mass brings her happiness, why question it.  Doesn’t drama-deprived balance out drama-filled?

I don’t quite understand my mother, but I’ll have to admit maybe she’s got something.   Things do have a way of naturally balancing out if we just let them.  I’ve been programmed to believe that balance is something mystical, ephemeral, and elusive.  What if I just don’t try so hard?  After all, even a three-legged table can stand up on its own.  It’s something worth thinking about.  Meanwhile, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry pipes through the house and I can’t help but to chant along.

August 18, 2009  Leave a comment

Caught Red-Handed

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During the week, viagra tablets I pretty much stick to the same morning routine.  My alarm goes off at eight, I hit the snooze button and steal ten more minutes of sleep.  The alarm rings again and I hit the snooze again but this time I get up and turn on the shower.  I hop back into bed and doze off for a couple of minutes (all I need is a flat surface and I can sleep peacefully even if it is just a couple of minutes).  I wake up again for the third time and plunge into the shower.  It takes little time for me to get ready, thirty minutes tops.  The only variable in this routine is my dog, Chance.  He’s what I describe as a giant miniature pinscher or a mini Doberman.  Sometimes he sleeps through the whole ritual, other times he is worst than static cling and there are times he just observes me as if collecting data for research.

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Once dressed, I usually head to the kitchen to make coffee and fix Chance’s morning meal.  While the coffee is brewing, I usually take the opportunity to walk him.  So goes my routine, day in and day out.  Except for the other day.

Everything went according to schedule.  The coffee was percolating while I grabbed the leash to walk Chance.  He does this bit every time I go to walk him where he jumps up and down as if tethered to a bungee cord.  I hooked the leash to his collar and we proceeded outside.

Chance is a pretty well-behaved dog.  I see other dog owners and can’t help but to compare my dog’s behavior to theirs.  Some dogs literally drag their owners around even when the owner has two hands on the leash.  While others have to be coaxed and cooed into walking.  I guess I’m lucky – Chance usually takes advantage of the full length of the leash but rarely ever presses any further.  Our walks consist of a loop around the condo complex and the nearby strip mall.

The strip mall bordering my complex comprises of an Italian restaurant, a veterinarian hospital, a theater and of course, the obligatory Vietnamese nail salon.  This one aptly named Saigon Nails.

During our walks, Chance, true to his breed, has to scent mark over all the other scents left by other dogs.  When he encounters one, he abruptly stops as viagra for women online if he stepped into a puddle of super glue.  He digs his nose down deep taking in full sniffs of an odor pungent to canines but oblivious to humans.  His nose does some sort of chemical analysis and he’ll take several seconds to decide whether to scent mark over the existing scent.  It’s a pretty involved process.  Sometimes I allow him to go through the whole routine, other times I rush him along.

When he’s not scent marking, he’s busy retrieving miscellaneous items back to me.  It’s usually mundane stuff like branches, plastic bags, paper cups, etc.  Sometimes, he brings back items that are a little more unconventional such as condoms or dead iguanas.  But those items are few and far in between.  So much so that I rarely think about what he brings back to me.  That is until the other day.

We were almost done with our walk, rounding the turn at the end of the strip mall that would begin our loop back home.  Chance, in his usual fashion, rummaged around underneath the bushes.  He had found a large clear, plastic package and was bringing it back to me.  It looked like the tuff plastic casing that houses knives and scissors.  In this case, the mold of the item was shaped more like a flashlight.

Drop it,” I ordered.

He stared at me, cropped tail wagging like an overworked windshield wiper.

I moved towards him to take the package out of his mouth.  Thinking it was a game, he started to dart around.  The more I reached for him, the more nimble he became.  Out of the corner of my eyes, I see one of my neighbors approaching with his two dogs.  His dogs, seeing what looks like play , quicken their pace towards me.

I managed to grab the edge of the plastic casing and a short tug of war ensued. Chance kept wriggling the case back and forth so that I couldn’t make out the cardboard description still sandwiched inside.  Finally, I was able to extricate the package out of his mouth.  What looked like a flashlight casing turned out to be something completely different.  It was my fault for not inspecting the casing more closely.  What I had mistaken for the outline of a flashlight turned out to be an outline of a ten-inch dildo.  Somebody had thrown in the bushes the package for a Realistic, Life-Size, Genuine Cast of Gage Weston 10 Dick. With the added bonus of a sturdy suction cup.  Imagine the look on my face as I realized what had been in my dog’s mouth.  This gives new meaning to chew toy.

Where the hell did this come from?  I immediately knew my answer : across the street is a store called the Fetish Factory.  Known for its provocative inventory, this apparatus, the length of a small child’s arm, no doubt had shared the same shelf space with others of its own kind or as the old adage goes, of the same mold.

What got to me was not the fact that the package was thrown away haphazardly but the fact that it was opened and the content removed.  Anyone who has ever tried to open one of these hard, plastic packages can attest to their durability and almost impossible way to open them without a sharp edge.  This package, in my hands, had a fine, straight cut at the top as if cut by an Exacto knife.  Someone had come prepared.  Someone needed to use this device right away.  My mind began to wonder: what emergency, other than the obvious, could arise that would force someone to open a dildo case and use the enclosed dildo outside of the privacy of his/her home?  Perhaps there was a gas break in the line and the dimensions of the pipe exactly fit the diameter of the dildo.  Perhaps there was a fire and the trapped victims needed something to prop the window open while they rescued the helpless children.  Or perhaps a dagger-wielding thug came in and the only comparable weapon to defend him/herself was this dildo.  Regardless of the reason, I was stuck with this package while my neighbor was closing in on me and as if on cue, other neighbors were driving by honking their horns and waving at me as they passed.  I came to the conclusion that God did have a wonderful, warped sense of humor after all.

I felt like the guy who got caught in the bathroom that was stunk up by a previous occupant when another guy walks in and gives me that look as if I was the culprit.  You want to defend yourself but doing so only makes you look guiltier.  My choices were limited.  If I threw the package away, the neighbor would see me and no doubt investigate what I threw away.  I could try to hide the package, but it was too large to stuff in my pocket or underneath my shirt.  So I decided to do the only thing I knew how to do – play it cool.

My neighbor approached me with his two dogs leading the way.  I greeted him casually, luckily his hands were occupied with the dog leashes so I didn’t have to proffer a handshake.  I tried to nonchalantly hide the package behind me but as luck was not on my side, Chance, seizing the occasion to further humiliate me, jumped up and grabbed the package out of my hand.  The other dogs, of course, thinking it was a game, began to lunge for the package as well.  And as this comedy of errors progressed, Chance ran over to my neighbor with the package in his mouth.

My neighbor, being neighborly, reached down to grab the item from Chance’s mouth.  I could only smile as the last bit of my dignity sunk into the gaping hole I felt I was pitched into.  Chance offered little resistance as my neighbor took the item away.  I saw the look of shock when he realized what the package was.  He tried to disguise the shock with a nervous smile as he handed the package back to me.  I noticed how he casually wiped his hand on the back of his jeans.

Well, have a nice day,” he said.

You too,” I replied too cheerfully.

He turns and walks in the opposite direction.  Although I can’t see it, I know he has turned several times to look back at me.  I can feel his stare burrow in the back of my head.  I can only imagine what he is thinking, 10 inches huh?

I quickly walk back to my condo.  Chance bounces along indifferent to the embarrassment he has caused me.  I ditch the package in the first trashcan I come across.  I started to laugh.  What was I so scared of?  Who cares if my neighbor thinks I have a propensity for 10 dildos.  It could have been worse – a plastic fist, a double-headed dildo or declawed gerbils.  I bent down and petted Chance.  He struts proudly.  I began to hum an old Bonnie Rait ditty  – Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.  And I think how appropriate.

July 22, 2009  1 Comment

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July 20, 2009  1 Comment

Something old, something new…

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As I pull into my condo complex, I see my neighbor washing his car.  He’s a young guy in his twenties with a beautiful red Lexus.  My Mazda usually snarls at his car every time we pass.  He has dragged out the shared community hose and began soaking the car.  Occasionally, I see him whip the hose like a lion tamer when he needs to pull it out a little further.  He does a good job and when he’s done, the car gleams like bright red nail polish.  In contrast, my car, parked a few spaces away, looks dull, faded and neglected like an abandoned child.  And that got me thinking how we take care of things when they are new but as soon as they grow old or become a little battered, we stop caring or care less.  Our attachment fades away, our excitement contained, the newness somehow losing its shine.

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I remember when I first got my car.  How everything was so new, the excitement would send goose bumps down my arms.  It was like meeting a celebrity you admire for the first time.

In the beginning, I took extreme care of my car – parking far away from other cars, laying plastic down on the mats, shooing away any birds that got dangerously close.  If I had yellow emergency cones, I would have partitioned out a safe zone around my car.

And of course, the washes.  My car couldn’t go a week, if not a couple of days, without a thorough scrubbing.  I enjoyed the compliments as well as how good my car looked, how it was so shiny, how the car suited me.

And then things began to change.  I began to park closer to other cars, I stopped replacing the plastic on the mats and birds didn’t seem to be as big a threat.  When my car was dinged for the first time, I was beside myself.  I rushed it over to the body shop with the frantic impatience of a parent with an injured child.  But after the second and third time, generic viagra uk it became old hat and I let the scratches canadian meds viagra melt into the frame of the car.  I turned a blind eye and rationalized that nothing can stay new forever.

But the fact of the matter was that I was becoming lazy, taking my car for granted, shelving it, the first-time dog owner making excuses to not walking the dog.

As you might have deduced, this pattern is not isolated to my car.  Music, clothes, furniture, gadgets and of course, relationships have all fallen by the wayside.  In the beginning, I get excited about the prospect of something new, something fresh – that new car smell.  But then the music gets overplayed, the clothes begin to fray, the furniture sat in too much, the gadget not so gadgety and the relationship turns slightly stale and I begin to wonder whether it’s worthwhile to keep these things.

And like an addict, I find myself looking for the next fix.  It’s easier to get something new than to hold onto something used if not abused.  New furniture, new car, new relationships.  I don’t want to invest in the time as evident in my horrible track record.  It’s not something I am proud of.  Shiny, new things look impressive but how much value do they have?  There’s a reason why antiques are so sought after, why they are such keepers.

So I’m looking at my car and comparing it to my neighbor’s clean, shiny car.  A runway model parked next to a housefrau.  But there’s something familiar with my car, something endearing.  It’s not so bad.  Then I remember that I have a couple of torn-up, faded, stretched-out t-shirts (and yes I admit, several pairs of underwear) that I refused to give up.  A smile sneaks on my face – I do know the value of sentiment, of comfort, of familiarity.  It’s a good feeling.

I start walking towards my neighbor.  Good job, I tell him.  Feel like washing another? He looks at me and then looks at my car.  Nope, he says flatly, but I can help though.  I look at him and think that’s what neighbors are for.  Especially ones with shiny, new cars.

July 8, 2009  Leave a comment

Tossing the Salad and Pearl Necklaces

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I have got to be the most clueless person alive.  I just found out that tossing the salad means something other than flipping Mesclun and Radicchio greens.  When did a simple culinary phrase become slang for something that would get a NC-17 rating?  For those who are clueless like me, a quick search on UrbanDictionary.com will make you reconsider saying tossing the salad again.

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How did this topic come up or should I say rear its ugly head?  A co-worker approached me and asked me if she could talk to me.   She steered me into an office with another co-worker and leaned in close.  Thinking this was a serious matter, I was ready to extend a comforting hug or go into my It’s not that bad speech.  With a hushed voice reserved for libraries and theater performances, she asked me in a very serious tone if I knew what tossing the salad meant.  Taken back, I was disappointed that she wasn’t tapping into my reservoir of thirty plus years of accrued wisdom with a more life changing question.  So I answered rather haughtily that tossing the salad meant throwing up.  The confused look she gave me was the same I’ve seen on viagra buy online the faces of viewers while watching Sarah Palin give unrehearsed answers to reporters.  It doesn’t mean that, she replied.  Once again, I answered that tossing the salad did indeed mean puking.  She shook her head in disagreement.  No, it’s something sexual, she insisted.   Sexual?  Yes, she affirmed.  She thought for sure I would know what tossing the salad meant.

This is where I digress.  There are two ways I can take that statement.  The first is flattering that she would consider me hip, cool and current on all the new sayings.  The second is that she thinks I’m a sex freak bordering on satyriasis (the male form of nymphomania).  Sadly, I disappointed her on both fronts.

The other co-worker, who was listening to the conversation, did a quick Google search and read the definition out loud.  Not believing her, I read the definition myself.  Tossing the salad didn’t mean the expulsion of a foreign substance but did involve the licking of a certain orifice.

I felt so stupid.  Unconvinced that I wasn’t alone in my ignorance, I did a quick survey with other co-workers.  One by one, each co-worker made me feel that much more out of touch as they hashed out their interpretation of the phrase.  But when the Jehovah Witness knew what tossing the salad meant, I knew I was done for.

The common thread that tied everyone together was the fact that they all have known the meaning for quite some time.  When I asked them how they knew, they all shrugged their shoulders and said casually, It’s just common knowledge.

So I’m wondering where I misplaced the memo detailing all the current sexual innuendos, out-nuendos, under-nuendos, and any other -nuendos.  When tossing the salad no longer involves the use of tongs (or maybe it still does).  I’m scared that I’ll say hello to a co-worker and it will mean I like to see you naked.

And just as I am feeling like a pubescent boy learning about sex, an evil co-worker stops by and asks me if I have even given anyone a pearl necklace.  By the tone of his voice and the smirk on his face, I know a pearl necklace means something more than a cluster of shiny, iridescent spheres.

July 6, 2009  2 Comments

Man in the Mirror

Michael+Jackson

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My earliest memory of Michael Jackson dates back to when I was eleven and had just started middle school.  His song Billie Jean just reached number one.  One of my friends, Ricky, was a huge Michael Jackson fan.  He wore a red Member’s Only jacket and the obligatory one hand glove that looked more like an oven mitt than a glove.  Ricky was a short, pudgy, white kid with greasy brown hair and a clumsy gait.  He had watched the Bille Jean video so many times, he memorized the dance sequences.  Not believing him, one of my teachers made him perform the routine in front of the class.  The transformation was instantaneous.  The short, awkward kid bloomed into this smooth, fluid dancer who moonwalked, twirled and balanced on his toes with such dexterity, it was as if Michael Jackson was truly channeling through.  It reminded me of crippled believers walking again with a touch of a preacher’s hand.   I enjoyed watching him as much Ricky enjoyed performing.  For a couple minutes, Ricky stepped into a mega star’s penny loafers and became someone bigger than life and we, his classmates, were able to look past his pale features and avocado shaped body and cheered him on.

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In all honesty, I was indifferent to Michael Jackson.  I liked some of his songs but didn’t go out of my way to listen to them.  I saw his Thriller video by accident one night at Sears while my father was shopping for tools.  The tool department was next to the electronics department and someone had turned the dial (I know changing a TV station with a dial is a foreign concept to some but we did it as kids) on the TV floor model to a burgeoning MTV channel.  Several people were huddled around the set and I was curious to see what they cialis online australia were watching.  When I shuffled in between them, Jackson’s zombie face filled the screen.  Back then, I spooked really easily so I wasn’t thrilled with the video.  His yellow cat eyes and Vincent Price’s haunting voice made a lasting impression on me.  I remember the people around me kept commenting how the video was so cool.  From then on, whenever someone would ask what I thought of the Thriller video, I would say it was really cool.  I always got an agreeing nod in return.

The last time I thought about Michael Jackson was several years ago when I was driving to the gym.  I had the radio on but the music was more like white noise than actual songs.  Jackson’s Man in the Mirror came on and for some reason, the first couple of chords lifted me out of my trance.  The combination of the lyrics with the vulnerability of Jackson’s voice pierced the layers of my sometimes callous heart and I began to cry.  Not just a couple of stray tears but full-blown sobbing.  I felt like such an idiot sitting in my car crying like a kid losing his first pet.   I have only cried as vehemently twice in my life: my grandmother and uncle’s deaths.  I don’t know why that song moved me.  Sometimes when we keep our emotions so tightly bottled up, the slightest pressure can send the cork ricocheting like a champagne top with the pent up emotions bubbling out of control.

I am saddened by Jackson’s departure and I’m sure there are fans (my childhood friend, Ricky, no doubt) that will greatly mourn his passing.  Perhaps, he has found the peace that had eluded him when he was alive.  Yes, he was eccentric, flamboyant and downright bizarre but his influence cannot be ignored.  From Madonna to Justin Timberlake, he has inspired many artists.  In all honesty, I was moved more at the passing of Princess Diana but that doesn’t mean that Jackson’s death pales in comparison.  His legacy, like hers, will continue to live on.

July 1, 2009  4 Comments

Mother

b2

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My mother has come down to visit me for a couple of months to escape the frigid cold of Tennessee.  Her constant complaining to my brothers and sisters has done the trick.  It started with her being too cold.

It’s too cold here.  I’m so cold, my old soul is frozen, she proclaimed.

Lost in translation, it’s much more dramatic in Vietnamese.  My brothers and sisters nipped that complaint by buying her enough clothes to make an Eskimo sweat.

When that failed to produce a first class ticket to Florida, she pulled out another card from her deck of emotional manipulation: Nostalgia.  Not just regular nostalgia, but Asian Homeland Nostalgia.

Remember when we were in Vietnam and used to go the beach.  Remember how much fun we had.

Then came the obligatory sigh and slumping of the shoulders.

Growing up in Vietnam, your grandfather would take me to the beach.  Florida has beaches like Vietnam.

In response, my family gave her prints of the beaches in Vietnam and a picture of my grandfather.

Frustrated, she pulled out her trump card: Asian Mother Guilt.

Asian mothers have the ability to change kernels of guilt into full-blown stalks of blame and penitence.  When Asian mothers are in this mode, it’s best to lay supine on the floor and act dead.  Hold your breath for as long as you can and stay still because if she detects you survived the initial blow of guilt, she will go after the jugular.

You were a difficult birth.  Your father was away and I had to walk to the hospital…bleeding. I was too far along and had to deliver you right away without anesthesia.

I breastfed you until you were six.

I piggybacked you to school while you screamed in my ear.

I cleaned toilets and scrubbed floors so you could go to college.

And then the clincher…

I’m so glad I did all that.  If I should die tomorrow then at least you will generic viagra usa know that I loved you and that there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.

It’s enough that these words cut your heart in half but the wailing and the streams of tears make for a complete soap opera.  So now she is here with me in Fort Lauderdale.  Her broad smile stretches across her face when the warm Atlantic breeze tousles her charcoal black hair.  She seems happy but this happiness is as short lived as a compliment from your boss.  This is my mother after-all.

June 26, 2009  2 Comments

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