“Could You Be With a Short Guy?”

napoleon
Napoleon on horseback. Painting by Alfred G. C. Comte d’Orsay

“Yeah,” I said.

I was talking to my cousin on the phone. She’d just come from a law school friend’s wedding in the Bay Area, an intimate affair up in the hills of Berkeley where, during cocktail hour, the bride had come up to her with a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye.

“There’s someone here I want to set you up with,” Ginny said, “He’s one of Harry’s best friends and my absolute favorite of all his friends.” Continue reading ““Could You Be With a Short Guy?””

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Grandma Learns Gmail, Writes Back Months Later

When I’d lived in New York for three months I did something I rarely do. I wrote an email in Chinese to my grandmother in Taiwan. This was November 2013. I kept it short, giving a brief overview of my studies, life in New York and POI. I paused a moment before clicking “send,” mostly because things were going well for me, a young woman who (at least on her Instagram) seemed to be having too much fun while dipping her toes into her first romance (here, POI rolls his eyes and shudders violently). By then, my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, had been widowed four years and was living alone.

My grandfather had passed away the summer before I graduated from Berkeley in 2010. Immediately following the funeral, my mother, anticipating a period of vast loneliness and depression for my grandmother, invited my grandmother to spend winter with us in California. Grandma said yes and traveled happily up and down the California coast and to Las Vegas as well, snapping close to a thousand photos with a shiny pink Canon my mother won at a casino. She celebrated Christmas and New Years with us before heading back to Taipei to start life in anew in her own apartment some twenty minutes away from the house she lived in for twenty years, at my grandfather’s side. 
When she returned, it seemed as though the good times – all good times – had come to an end. She felt an odd lump in her breast. The doctors confirmed it was cancer. A few months later, her best friend passed away from a ten-year battle with the same disease. And closely after that, a few of my grandfather’s friends, with whom she’d grown quite close, passed away as well. 
We worried about her, but she has always been resourceful, resilient. She married an eighty-year old man when she was thirty, after all. They were married for twenty years. Anyone who knows my grandpa will understand that it’s the woman who made it work. 
She ended up having one breast removed and through it all, made new friends both at the hospital and through a Tai Chi class she had taken up just a few weeks before she came to California. When she was recovering, the Tai Chi class began to consume much of her time. She worked up her strength and flexibility so that by the time I saw her next, she was transformed. She cut her hair short and stopped dying it. She adopted a primarily vegetarian diet and as a result, lost the weight she’d gained while being married to my grandfather, who could eat foie gras, butter and sugar by the kilo and not gain an ounce. She stopped wearing makeup but there was more color in her face. Her eyes and skin were brighter. She turned once again into a spritely woman, not young, but with a young spirit. 
She also got a Gmail account. 
I helped her set it up some time ago – I forget which year, which visit – but it was time to upgrade her from the cooling Hotmail. 
I showed her around the easy interface, feeling smugly “techie,” and told her to start telling her friends to email her there. She nodded, always thirsty for cutting edge technology but never quite mastering it. She took pages of notes from my “Gmail lecture” despite my counseling her to just play around with it. This was how she learned, or so she thought, but some people can study and study and not absorb a thing. 
Grandma was smart in other, more important ways. How to appease a hundred-year old man on a hourly basis for twenty years, for one. How to make a huge, disparate family love and rely on you, for another. How to make friends with old and young, Chinese-speaking or not. How to love and love, give and give, and expect very little if nothing in return. The list goes on. I know how to use Gmail but comparatively, my skills pale.  
In the end, I would wander into the kitchen and see her poring over her hotmail account, which she would leave unattended for months at a time. It was a treasure trove of spam. 
“I need to get through all these before I start using my gmail,” she would say. 
I wondered, “By when?”  
When I moved to New York, the promises I’d made to call my grandma fell away – it was hard enough to remember to call my own mother. But I thought about her from time to time, and wondered how she was getting on. I talked more regularly with my cousin Karen, who despite living in the same city, did not see grandma as often as I assumed. 
“She’s pretty busy,” my cousin said, “She’s got like a whole other life outside of us.” 
I’m not sure what compelled me to write to her that day in November – I guess it had been a while. I guess too, that I was continuing a faint tradition of sorts. My grandfather, her husband, had been a steady corresponder – until he was ninety-eight, he wrote letters on a daily basis. Sometimes with a fountain pen, sometimes with a Chinese calligraphy brush. Always in a shaky, but elegant hand. My brother and I wrote to him from time to time, more often when we were children and three weeks later, almost to the date of our last letter to him, there would be a reply in the mail, written on thin, nearly translucent paper. 
The date. 
Dear Howard and/or Betty
A brief message responding to our polite inquiries of how is your health? We accomplished such and such. We are looking forward to our next trip to Taipei… 
Love, Grand Pa. 
Always two words. Grand Pa. 
In any case, I clicked “send,” and my words, the gushing toned down, traveled electronically to my grandmother’s gmail inbox. 
I didn’t hear back from her and did not think anything of it. Had it been anyone else, I would have been irked. Thought them rude. A callous penpal. But it was grandma and I wondered if she was taking the time to digest my email or didn’t know what to say in reply. 
I should have known. 
A few days ago I opened my inbox and saw a message from her. The subject line said simply, “Reply,” in Chinese. 
Zhen (my Chinese name): 
I’m very sorry I’m replying to your message now. Half the year has gone by. 
My inbox has two to three thousand messages. Recently, I have started to go through them one by one, which is how I came across your message. 
I’m very happy you have a boyfriend now. Take the time to understand one another. Your cousin Larry is getting married next year. If you have time, come back for the wedding. 
I will go to America at the end of the year. When the time comes, I will see you. 
Grandma   

Thanks, Giving

On my flight home for Thanksgiving, I flew Southwest with a stopover in Denver. I sat next to a woman from Denver who had just spent the past month nursing her daughter back to health. The girl was in most ways, an independent woman. She had graduated from Tulane University, moved to New York to work for a luxury carpet company and had done well enough to move into her own $2400 a month studio in the Lower East Side. Her mother said these things proudly until she came to her daughter’s condition. Something about the girl’s heart. She had fainted the other day and cracked her head open on the sidewalk. She had a swift surgery and with the help of her mother, was now recuperating. The woman did not want to leave her daughter for Thanksgiving, but the girl assured her mother that she had several friends who were staying in the city and that she’d be well taken care of. She had, over the five years she’d been building a life in New York, formed a strong circle of girlfriends, most of whom were either from Tulane or from Colorado. 
“So aside from that,” the woman said, “My daughter is doing really well in the city.” 
I nodded, wondering how many yards of carpet the girl sold each year to cover the cost of living. 
“But,” the woman said, “She can’t seem to meet a man.” 
The girl had, upon first arriving in the city, gotten into a relationship that cooled almost as quickly as it had gotten serious. The boy turned out to be, in the mother’s words, “not a very nice man.” He had what are known as wandering eyes, and hands. And lips. It was not a good first year for the girl, but she bucked up, threw herself into her job, strengthened her female bonds and was soon living the life of an independent young woman in New York with a wealth of contacts, nights out, favorite wine bars and lounges she could confidently rattle off to out of town visitors, and a strong if slightly dull career path – she was selling carpets, after all. But after that first fizzled romance there were only a string of measly dates or worse, half-assed bar pickups and no follow through. 
“I don’t know what it is,” the woman said, shifting in her seat, “She’s a great girl. Smart, funny, athletic. And I’m not just saying that because I’m her mother. Her friends are all great too…but none of them seem able to meet anyone. It’s bizarre.” 
We talked about their hometown. The girl was apparently quite good at keeping in touch with her childhood friends from home, most of whom had opted to return to Denver after college and most of whom were married by now. A few of them even pregnant or with children. 
“New York is a little different, I know,” the woman said, “But goodness how could all of her friends in Denver have found men and she just doesn’t seem to be meeting anyone?” 
The girl’s friends now, when they spoke on the phone or got together over holidays, tried to convince her to move home. The girl refused. She loved the city and she was convinced that she would find someone. 
Would she consider online dating? 
“I suggested it,” the woman said, “But she’s against it. She thinks it’s unnatural. And I don’t think it’s the best way, but if she’s going out and being social and meeting people in person and it’s not working out…I just think, why not give online dating a try? But she’s so stubborn. She gets mad when I bring it up.” 
I thought about my own experiences with online dating, some good, some bad, none of which turned out to be anything. I though too about my present situation with POI, which came about because of mutual friends. 
“Yes,” the woman said, “I have asked if she has friends or coworkers who could set her up, but honestly, all her coworkers are – she lowered her voice – gay, and all her friends are single too. They don’t have two eligible single guys to mush together, amongst the five of them.” 
“Timing and keeping an open mind,” I said sagely, though in truth I had and have not the faintest clue.  
The woman nodded, “I know. I know, that’s what I tell her. I think she’s too picky, but at the same time, I want her to be picky.” 
The flight attendant came by with our diet cokes and waters. There was an hour left in the flight. I would spend it asking the woman about her own marriage to a man who built mansions in the nicer parts of Denver. They had met through friends. The man liked her immediately but the woman was not so sure. They lived close by however, and one day, after the man had left for a month long trip, she realized she missed him. When he returned they began to date in earnest and a year later they were married. He built his houses. She was a school teacher. They had two children, the eldest, a son, who was married last year to a woman he met online and the girl, Leah, who channeled Flannery O’ Conner just a few hours before the woman left for the airport, “A good man is hard to find.” 
“Shouldn’t be,” the woman said, “Especially in a city like New York.”  
“But it is,” I said.   
The view outside John Wayne Airport, Terminal C. 

My father, a good man, drove with my mother at his side to pick me up from the airport.

“Your father washed and changed your sheets,” my mother said, “He knew you would not want to sleep in old dusty sheets.” 
I smiled at my father’s reflection in the rearview mirror. 
“I bought you a new set of suitcases too,” he said, “They’re in the garage. Let me know if you like them.” 
I clapped my hands, “You are the best,” I said, “The very very best.” 
A month before, upon returning from London, I had complained to my father about how heavy my old suitcases were. He had gifted them to me when I graduated from high school and was bound for New York. They were a distinct deep maroon, recognizable on the luggage belt from far away, and I had stuffed them mercilessly for the past ten years, dragged them around the world with me. But they were bulky, heavy even when empty. In London, POI had carried the suitcase up and down the stairs of our bed and breakfast in Bath and in and out of taxicabs. 
“That shit is ridiculously heavy,” he said. And I nodded, dreading hauling the suitcase back up to my studio when I returned home. Whenever I did, without fail, my arms would always be sore for the entire next day. 
When I returned from London and called to tell my parents about the trip, I mentioned in passing that my arms were smarting. 
“What’s wrong,” my father asked, “Did you get hurt?” 
No no, I said, the suitcase was just too heavy. 
“Well, come home and we’ll go pick out some new ones.” 
But he’d gone ahead and done it for me. They were sleek silver Samsonites – a set of two: one large and one carry-on. Light as a feather and with four wheels on the bottom for vertical rolling. I would travel in style. My arms would be spared. 
At home I spun the suitcases around, then happily brought them to my room, where the bed was made and my room was left just as I had left it. My father stood in the doorway, his arms crossed. 
“Happy?” 
“Very,” I said. 
I guess I brought it with me (the rain, if you can’t see it). 

It rained on Thanksgiving day. Loving as my parents are, they had other plans for Thanksgiving dinner, and I found (or invited myself) to dinner at uncle Jimmy’s house. I picked my grandfather up at 6PM. He had not wanted to go, preferring (outwardly) to stay home alone. Thanksgiving was very close to his wife’s passing and was the first holiday he spent without her. But he came with me and was seated next to the youngest member of the family.

Grandpa, who is a fussy eater,  and baby Caden, who is not. 

My uncle Jimmy carved the turkey (from Lucille’s – a delicious deal if you’re not in the mood to make turkey).

Uncle Jimmy, the turkey, and his trademark grin. 

My grandfather had a shot of Jameson from a wine glass and began to giggle shortly afterwards. He was in a pleasant mood that night and I could tell he was glad to be there and not home alone.

“You talk too much, Betty,” is what he normally says. But on Thanksgiving, he simply said, “Cheers.” 
My uncle toasts his grandson. Good habits start early. 

The next morning, I woke to the sound of aerobic counting and found my mother, a family friend, Uncle Jimmy and my aunt exercising in the entryway. My aunt and uncle come over early at 7AM, as they’ve been doing ever since the summer, when my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Uncle Jimmy takes her and a family friend who also has Parkinson’s through a rigorous regimen of exercises. The point is to hold off on medications for as long as possible, and uncle Jimmy, who eats like a horse and drinks like a fish but is at his core a doctor of eastern medicine, drives an hour round trip every day to do this for his older sister before heading off to work or to teach more classes. My father makes breakfast for them afterward and that morning, he greeted me with a glass of freshly blended fruit smoothie.

“What fruits do you want in it?”

“Anything,” I said.

“I know just what you’ll like,” he said, and he was right.

When he learned my mother had Parkinson’s he watched her cry for a minute then told her calmly not to worry.

“I will put your shoes on for you when you are no longer able to,” he said.

My mother nodded, recalling that as a young woman she had dreamed about marrying a romantic man who would walk through the rain with her. My father hates the rain, but still, she had found that man.  

At the breakfast table, my aunt stirred her smoothie. “Your father is the nutritionist.”
“And uncle Jimmy is her trainer,” I said. 
My mother, her cheeks flushed and glowing, her forehead shiny with the faint sheen of sweat, smiled at the good men (and women) all around her. 
“A good man (like me) IS hard to find,” my father says. 

I took a walk on the road I always walk on. It had not yet started to snow in New York, but on that road it would not be strange to ask, “What is snow?”

A street near my street. 80 degrees that day. 

In the evening the entire family gathered at the Orange Hill Restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner after Thanksgiving. My brother and his wife were not there, but they were moving back from Shanghai and would join us for Christmas. We took many photos together, including the one below of the girl cousins and one male cousin-in-law, Lawrence, a new father to a baby girl. 

We looked at the photo and nodded to each other and to ourselves. Adults? Kidults? Whatever we were, we had turned out alright.

Cousins. And who is that stud? 

The next day, the family assembled again, though this time all in black. We found ourselves at the same cemetery and afterward, the same vegetarian restaurant as a little over a year ago, when my grandmother passed away. It was the funeral of a very peculiar man, my uncle Louis’s father who had smoked two packs a day until he turned ninety-six and simply decided to quit. He died quietly at 100, battling nothing really, but time.

Mr. Yang, Sr.: Laconic, stylish, (almost) everlasting. 

Later that evening, I reunited with my childhood friends in a childhood home for an annual leftover party, in which we simply show up and eat Grace’s leftovers. It is infinitely more scrumptious than I am able to make it sound. Smiling, Grace baked me a pecan pie.

She may be smiling, but she’s thinking, “The Chinese middle class can suck it.” 
Friends with pie. 

After dinner, we took turns holding her nephew, a child of improbable cuteness, and above his soft, fragrant head, talked about life and other things.

Modern Family 
One of us was working and considering buying a house. Two of us were in school, one for science, the other for art. The other made music on a daily basis, in a city whose tanned denizens said things like, “What is snow?” One of us was nearing the eighth year of her relationship and one of us was just stepping into her first. Two of us felt similar to the daughter of the woman I’d met on the plane. Bellies full, we moved to the couch and watched Jeopardy and then played charades, laughing like the kids we’d been in elementary school, where we all met. And now we had all returned to the same small town, nesting temporarily in our roots, looking up at budding branches. 
The End. 

Fat Cat Is Dead

On Sunday morning, my cousin Karen in Taiwan Whatsapped me a single line.

“Betty, Fat Cat is dead.” 
That was it. There were no emoticons or explanations, just a simple declarative sentence that conveyed a history that spanned some sixteen or seventeen years and a loss just short of devastating. The statement itself was something inevitable, but very hard to imagine. 
I typed back quickly, saying that I was sorry and that it would be okay because Fat Cat had had a good life. She didn’t respond. 
I thought back to a conversation we had on the sixth floor in my cousin’s room, probably around midnight some years ago.
“I will be very sad when Fat Cat passes away,” my cousin said, “I know it’s right around the corner.” 
At the time, Fat Cat was still fat, but not decrepit. He moved slowly if at all because he was lazy, and only sped up when one of my cousins walked into the kitchen, towards which he would suddenly charge, drawing upon the generous but seldom used reserves in his flabby belly. When I visited, which was often, Fat Cat followed me when I strolled into the kitchen, hours after my cousins had left for school or work.

“Meow,” it would say, and rub against my ankles, “Meow.”

In Cat-speak, this means, “I will love you for the next five seconds if you’ll take some canned cat food and put it in this here bowl.”

But I am not one to feed fat things, and so very rarely was Fat Cat ever nourished by me.

My cousins Karen and Larry, my aunt, and even, in a more removed, hands-off fashion, my uncle, had been very good to Fat Cat, a pale yellow and white tabby Larry had rescued many years ago when he was in high school. Fat Cat was such a hit amongst the members of that sixth floor nucleus that a few years later, Larry brought home a dark-furred stray that would aptly be named “Little Cat.”

With a master named Larry, one could hardly argue that his pets ought possess names with more flair.

Compared to Little Cat, Fat Cat was obviously much larger, less active, more blasé about life because he had a few years on Little Cat, was rescued first, had seen things Little Cat could only imagine. Little Cat was much scrappier than Fat Cat, who though born in the feline slums of Taipei, harbored an innate  and perplexing sense of entitlement. It was as though upon setting foot into the 6th floor apartment, he washed his paws of his past and developed almost instantly a taste for expensive canned foods. None of that pellet crap for him. Perhaps in a past life he had been the obese Queen of some weird tape worm tribe because Fat Cat definitely had something odd going on in the gut. He was never ever full and would have, had my cousins allowed it, eaten himself to death. A poster cat for the grossest sin of gluttony. But still, he had his moments.

I have a picture with Fat Cat when he wasn’t fat, and was just “Cat,” because he was the only one. I am about twelve or thirteen, wearing a worn-t-shirt and baggy athletic shorts and hair in a messy ponytail, strands framing my young, open face. During later summers, when I too was Fat, Fat Cat and I would pass each other in the cool hall of the 6th floor and I would think, turning to glare at his quivering haunches then down at my own, that “Fat Cat, you and I have both seen better days.”

But in the photograph, taken in the same summer of Fat Cat’s arrival, I am athletic, bright-eyed, an animal lover. I’m clutching Fat Cat close to my cheek, grinning at the camera while Fat Cat, in a slender and more awkward version of himself, looks unamused. His front legs are splayed out awkwardly and his legs are dangling uncomfortably above my crossed legs. His expression states quite plainly, “What the f***.” It was not his best photograph, but he needn’t have worried, for my cousin Karen made certain to photograph Fat Cat at least one thousand times a year, so that nearly his every non-movement is recorded for all eternity. Here is Fat Cat lounging on the chair. Here is Fat Cat lounging on the other chair. Here is Fat Cat sitting on Karen’s bed. On the other (my) bed. On Larry’s bed. Here is Fat Cat with Larry in college, who physically, is going the way of Fat Cat. Note the look of tenderness and adoration on Larry’s otherwise, at any other moment, dull and inexpressive face. If Larry loved any one thing more real than Star Trek, it was Fat Cat, upon whom he showered with slobbery, affectionate kisses that would make even his girlfriend cringe.

Here is Fat Cat in a mess of blankets because it is cold. On the floor, paws skyward, fleshy white belly undulating like a water bed because it is hot. Under the kitchen table, like a pervert. Peeking over the kitchen table, tiny pink tongue lashing out above the class, tasting about for my aunt’s broiled fish, which she inevitably, at meal times, will debone and put in a tidy little pile for him to lick up. Here he is looking up from the kitchen tiles, because he is expecting to be fed. And here, utterly full in gluttonous splendor, sunning himself on the balcony in the small woven basket he barely fits in but somehow still does, rolls of fur spilling over the basket’s edge.

Is he comfortable? Seems like it. Fat Cat Fat Cat Fat Cat. Click click click. And each year, he gets a little fatter, a little fatter, his eyes though, stay the same blank roundness. No questions, this cat. His hunger is literal. His philosophy is food. Sleep. Food. The occasional cockroach, killed with a sadistic remove, much to the delight of his cockroach fearing master, Larry. Click click. Fat. Cat. One need only to check my cousin’s Facebook or hack into her phone to realize not all cat ladies live in musty apartments and knit in their spare time.

But that is beside the point.

My own dismal track record with pets makes me an unlikely candidate to memorialize Fat Cat, even casually. On my watch, multiple generations of Russian Dwarf Hamsters, two chickens, a kitten who barely lived long enough to open its eyes, an insipid turtle, and a fish or two have perished. Most of these I buried or, as with the hamsters, when they became too numerous and their deaths too frequent, tossed in the trash with a simple prayer (I was always careful to wrap them in some sort of tissue or paper towel, but of course wearing rubbermaid gloves). The chickens were eaten by coyotes, the kitten dead before I came home from school. I found my mother sitting silently in the kitchen with the kitten still in her arms, her eyes rimmed with tears. She buried it the next day underneath an avocado tree on our back hill, and it seemed soon, the tree too was dead. If it did bear avocados they were usually small and withered and reminded me of the kitten itself.

These were technically my “pets” but in a way, they were never my pets. It was a polite label I assigned them because I did not understand what it meant, as a young child, what it meant to make something your pet. But can you blame me? Size matters. Just as I have trouble befriending people who are too short (midgets – oh I’m sorry, little people need not approach me) because I don’t like looking down so much, the little pets are hard to hold in high regard. Their needs, though quite real, seem small because they are small. I never cried when any of those animals died, only sighed and thought, “Again? Damnit where are the rubber gloves.”

But the larger animals that lived with my relatives and were, from the moment they arrived, treated like members of the family, I remember quite fondly, and it was from their interactions with these lucky animals that I learned what it means to be an honest-to-goodness pet owner. I should like to think the affection I saw doled out to these furry members of the family rubbed off on me too. At least, the lens through which they saw their pets, even if I only wanted ever to borrow their glasses for a minute. The warmth of their fur, the sound of their soft footsteps or their graceful movements bounding from chair to sofa to floor – those sounds and sights no less familiar to me than those my late grandfather made (indeed my grandfather spoke to me about as often as Fat Cat mewed to me).

Even before my cousins in Taiwan brought home Fat Cat, there had been Holly, my uncle Jimmy’s dog rescued some twenty years ago from the pound, a mix between a chow chow and something else, so that the violence of the chow was subdued and he had neither the lion’s mane nor any distinct attributes of the other breed and was simply, Holly. He had a tail that was shortened, so the length of his body ended abruptly in an adorable nub, and his coat was a dark, glossy ambery honey-wheat. If that is a color. Holly was just another member of the family and I said hello to him just as I did to my cousins, aunt and uncle each time I entered their house. Holly passed away while my cousin, the youngest in the family, was studying abroad in Beijing during her junior year of college, and her parents, wishing to spare her the pain, did not tell her until she moved back home and saw that Holly was gone. It was a strange feeling that day for me too, when I visited their house and realized a few minutes after walking in that Holly had not come bounding out the door to sniff around the door, making sure I was a member of the family and not some hood rat gangster from the neighboring city.

The sadness that comes is not overwhelming, but it is genuine. I’m never as close to the pets as their masters, but over the years I too, have become accustomed and on certain occasions, even fond, of their presence. It will be the same strangeness again, when I return to Taipei next year and am greeted only by Little Cat, who though more aesthetically pleasing (more cat-like, rather than walrus-like), has the odd, distasteful habit of pissing on dirty laundry and keeping quiet about it. I will, a perpetual student/unemployed person, wake up much later than my more productive, salary-earning cousins, my busy-body aunt and wander into the kitchen in search of breakfast. I will open the fridge and feel an unfamiliar chill about my ankles, hear only the sounds of the city entering late morning. No mews, no plaintive if feigned stares, no nips around my achilles tendon. Just me, alone in the kitchen, on the sixth floor, because Fat Cat is dead. 

Larry Has a Nightmare

It is common practice amongst members of the Ho family to take a long siesta after a heavy weekend lunch. Though to be specific, this applies only to those of us in Taiwan. I have, over the years, lost the ability to truly fall asleep at any other time except the night time. For me, napping is really just lying down and closing my eyes, wondering if there is something else I should or could be doing. There always is.

My aunt, uncle, and cousins have no such problem. Among the lucky few equipped with nervous systems immune to stimulants, they can guzzle cups of coffee and tea after any meal and then slide effortlessly into the world’s most delicious and enviable slumber. If, like me, you find yourself tired after a heavy meal but, like me, you find it hard to fall asleep, watching your relatives snore in blissful disregard for the living can be maddening. It is usually around this time – the sixth floor afternoon hush – that I find myself haunting the cool dark hallway, gliding from door to door like an embittered Sandman incapable of infiltrating dreams. Instead I sullenly stalk the halls, a glowering shadow.  
Behind door number one, I see my aunt’s pale white legs wrapped around a body pillow, chubby feet and round toes point towards my uncle’s straight-as-a-board figure. His expression is an enigma – I can’t decide if he is enjoying the nap or does it out of necessity, but in sleep he is all business, hands placed conservatively over his chest with a slight furrow over his brow. Important decisions being made. Next is Karen’s room, where when napping she refuses to stay on her side of the bed. Blankets are twisted around her limbs, hair wrapped around her neck, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so numb is she with sleep. And lastly, there is Larry.

Larry, the crown jewel, kept behind his invariably closed door, encased in the cool darkness required by a man for whom sleeping is sport. Other people sleep. Larry sleeps. Larry slips into a coma, just a few steps away from death. If sleeping were sprinting, Larry would be Usain Bolt. But even Bolt has his preferred racing conditions.  

There is a particular pillow (not too soft. Preferably, and I find this odd, Karen’s pillow); a certain kind of blanket (nothing too scratchy. It irritates his legs), and, contrary to what protective qualities his thick and constantly swollen eyelids might provide, a negligible amount of light (shades completely drawn, just the glowing sliver beneath the door, thanks). There is also room temperature, which he prefers to keep around 25 degrees Celcius, rendering anyone who shares a room with him to long bouts of shivering. But meet all these conditions and he is the world’s most peaceful sleeper. Open that door, second on the right, and be greeted by pitch blackness and instant calm. Hear only the faint, rhythmic purring of a man who has not only entered REM but surpassed it and found a womblike dreamscape you and I will know only twice: before birth and at death…which is also to say, we will never know it.  
When I first arrived in Taipei the AC unit in Larry’s room was broken, which meant he slept for three days on the floor of Karen’s bedroom atop a stack of two thin mattresses and a thick comforter. These conditions were wildly below Larry’s standards, and as a result he tossed and turned each night like a humpback whale who’d just learned that there was no more plankton left in the sea. Princess Larry, we called him during those nights, could not find a comfortable position upon the unforgiving ground, and rather than grin and bear it, he took us down with him, commencing a one-man cacophony of snores. He snored with such ferocity I woke many times during the night, thinking someone had driven a Harley right into the bedroom. 
Except it was just Larry. 
A few days later however, the unit was fixed and the Princess returned to his tower where all his conditions were met. Peace reigned and he slept once again like a lady. 
This afternoon however, it must have been something he ate. We had lunched at an old family haunt, a buffet my grandfather used to like taking us to so he could eat like a ninety-year old bird and tell the rest of us to gorge ourselves. Larry was the first to start and last to stop, and while I’m no doctor, I’m certain that much…content in one’s gastrointestinal tract does not make for restful slumber. 
I walked home in the rain to offset some of chocolate ice cream and by the time I came back, the house was, as expected, silent. They’d all gone to sleep and I thought I might try too, though it was fruitless as always. I began to read instead. An hour later, my aunt, uncle and Karen all rose from the dead and commenced their afternoon activities. Larry’s door stayed closed. The rain continued throughout the afternoon until the sun, despite never having made an official appearance, disappeared altogether and it was night. Finally, from Karen’s room where I sat reading a magazine, I heard Larry’s door open and his wide, hairy feet padding my way. The door swung open. I looked up from a model’s face to see Larry’s, which looked quite haggard. Puffy and splotchy. Despite his heavy slumbering, Larry never looks well-rested, but this afternoon his exhaustion was extreme, as though instead of sleeping he’d been, very quietly, wrestling with an ogre the whole time. 
“You’re finally up,” I said.
“I slept badly,” he said, stomping petulantly to the window and looking out. Did the ogre escape? 
“I’m very sorry,” I said, though I wasn’t. 
“I had a nightmare,” Larry said, then considered, “Nightmares.” 
“Nightmares?” 
“I had a nightmare about having a nightmare. And I couldn’t wake up.” 
I sat up, tossing my magazine aside. What could Larry, who aside from the world-sleeping championship also holds the title for most boring man alive, possibly have a nightmare about? And a nightmare within a nightmare. I was fascinated. 
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “In your nightmare, you were having a nightmare, and you couldn’t wake up.” 
He nodded sullenly, his lips in a princess pout. 
“In your dream you couldn’t wake up.” 
He nodded again. 
“A dream within a dream,” I mused, “That’s some “Inception” stuff right there.” 
Larry cracked a smile, “Yes, and the scariest thing was, once I woke up in my dream, I still couldn’t wake up. I was stuck. It was terrible.” 
“What did you dream about? In the nightmare you had within the nightmare.” 
Larry walked over to the window and looked out, then down, searching for something. He turned to me, his face grave, “Have you ever seen that movie, ‘Silent Hill?'” 
I wanted to shake my head; even his nightmares were lame, but I stopped myself. I empathized. I’d seen the preview for “Silent Hill” which is based on a terrifying videogame I’d played just once at my friend’s house and had decided not to put myself through that kind of stress. The movie wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. Looked too scary. But I never dream about scary movies. Yet for Larry it made sense. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was watching TV or playing video games or doing something else on his phone and laptop. His waking hours were spent in a different kind of coma; it followed that his dreams and nightmares take on the same digital tinge. 
I flipped my computer open and began to write.

“You’ve given me some great content,” I said. 

“Just like that?” Larry asked. 
“Just like that.”
He nodded thoughtfully, though his eyes were getting heavy again. 
“You’re really very good at that,” he said.  
I smiled and began to type, knowing I was nowhere near as good at writing as Larry was at sleeping, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. With that, he opened the door and left for my aunt’s now vacant bed.