My First Date Ever Was a Disaster

This is Part 3 of 3. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

“So you can get the next one?” my father sputtered. Later, I’d gone home and told him how the date had gone. Continue reading “My First Date Ever Was a Disaster”

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My Awful Online Dating Profile

Do I look familiar? It’s because I use the same photo on LinkedIn.

In light of my two recent blog posts on my first date ever (part 3 coming next week), I revisited my old OkCupid profile, screenshot above. I thought I would cringe at my self summary, but the only thing I found cringe-worthy was my profile name: TimexMe? So lame. But lame name aside, I’d probably still describe myself this way.” If Tom is cringing, it’s a good thing we didn’t meet online.  Continue reading “My Awful Online Dating Profile”

The Reality of My First Date Ever

This is Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 here.

I arrived early and found parking not too far away from Class 302, located in a strip mall that could appropriately be considered to “cater to Asians.” More specifically, to Chinese people. A small corner joint, Class 302 sat between a 99 Ranch Market – the United States’ leading Chinese grocer now dying a slow death at the hands of Korean grocer H Mart – and another small Chinese restaurant that specialized in Cantonese-style barbecue. In an hour or so, the parking lot would become a sea of black, grey and silver Camry’s, Accords, Civics, and Odysseys. An Altima here, a Corolla there. My Prius here. At night the bad, ne’er do well rich kids would come out to smoke and karaoke in their Bimmers, Benzes and Lexuses.

As Steve and I had arranged for an earlier dinner, the café- I couldn’t really bring myself to call it a restaurant – was quite empty and, it seemed to me, rather dim, as though the proprietor didn’t think enough patrons were present to warrant turning on all the lights. I felt like I was making a quick food pit stop before getting groceries with my parents instead of going on my first date ever. My first thought was, Thank God I did not wear heels. That would have been dumb. My second thought was, I could be barefoot and I’d still be overdressed.

Befitting its name, Class 302 was done up to look like an old fashioned Taiwanese classroom, with a chalkboard menu, wooden tables and low chairs that together were meant to look like student desk sets. Two high school-aged girls wearing fake Taiwanese school uniforms chatted quietly behind the cash register. There was no hostess. One of them waved for me to sit wherever, so I took a seat, which I found rather low, next to the window so I could see when Steve was walking up.

My third thought was, “This fool is late.” (So there was a time in my life when I bothered to show up five minutes early for dates. Thanks to OkCupid, I got over that real fast, unfortunately for Tom.)

I waited a few minutes more, wondering if I should order a drink first – there was no alcohol on the menu, which was fine since at the time I still didn’t really drink on dates but everything else was too sugary.

I had just put in my order for water when a stocky Asian guy around my age walked past the window. He wore a neon multi-colored zip up hoodie that looked like he’d gotten it from Active, a shop that specialized in skater and surf clothes, and jeans that were ripped at the heels from being dragged. He wore blinding white Etnies,which made me suspect the hoodie was from Active and also, that he might think these were his “nice” shoes. But where in the world was there an Active – whose target clientele seemed to me the sun-kissed blonde boys of my hometown – in Rowland Heights which was 50 percent Chinese? I was lost deep in thought, trying to think of the surrounding malls which would carry an Active store when the guy came to the side of the window, faced the parking lot with a searching look, took out his phone and called….me.

“Hello?”

“Betty? It’s Steve. Are you here?”

“I’m inside,” I said, my voice deeper than I intended. I hadn’t yet adjusted it. I tapped on the window and Asian Skater Dude/My First Date turned, gave me a dull look of recognition and headed inside.

Et voilà! Now, in the dim interior of Class 302 he stood before me in all his odd, colorful skater-dude, much beefier and with a slight muffin-top un-glory. My fifth thought materialized as though it were being written by an invisible, deadpan hand on one of the chalkboards behind him:

“Well, this is a disappointment.”

While a handful of disappointing future dates awaited me, I already felt those future guys could thank Steve for setting the bar real low. Right away I saw that he was guilty of posting photos at least six months old and many beers ago and hot dogs ago. Now up close he seemed not so much “stocky” as puffy…as though he’d spent the week floating in the river. Well, perhaps that’s a bit harsh. But the lanky fellow I had first glimpsed online was nowhere to be seen. 5’10 and lanky is very different from 5’10 and puffy. 5’10 and puffy as a guy means you look 5’8. Also, he now wore glasses, a mild surprise given that not one of the four or five photos he’d posted online showed he owned such. Which is not to say I discriminate against people who don’t have perfect vision – but c’mon. At least comb your damn hair. Steve looked as though he’d just rolled out of bed.

He gave me an awkward one-warmed hug, and, perhaps I could have done a better job hiding my disappointment said, “I’m late.”

“Traffic?” I said, figuring coming from Alhambra was worse than coming from Orange County, since these northern freeways were older.

“No, I’m staying with my mom this week so I’m like right down the street.” Oh god he did just roll right out of bed.

I raised an eyebrow. Okay…so you made me drive to you. I didn’t have to have tons of dating experience to know that this was not a gentlemanly thing to do.

“Yeah,” he said, as though I was nodding along in agreement, “My apartment is a lot further from my work so I just stay with my mom during the week. She cooks and stuff. I’m trying to find a new job anyway and interviewing around here. I hate my job.”

He chuckled. I tuned out. I don’t remember the meat of the conversation after that, just that I sat there with a bland, friendly smile and nodded. Asked the occasional question. But I remember my body language: legs and arms crossed, leaning away from him.

We ordered four things – a stinky tofu which wasn’t quite stinky enough – and some stir fried spinach and maybe one of those minced pork things, but it wasn’t a a ton of food. I didn’t know what the protocol was. Should I just nod and say, “Anything’s fine with me?” Or should I take charge and wave the pre-teen servers over with the same kind of authority my dad did in Chinese restaurants? “Okay fool, this is enough food for a mini-me. Can we double everything?” It didn’t matter because I nodded “Yeah that sounds great,” and he ordered and the dishes arrived with lightning speed as they do in what are essentially Chinese fast food restaurants. The whole time I thought, “This is like eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei. Except I’d much rather be eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei.”

I took the “I don’t eat much” route which afflicts millions of girls on first dates everywhere, and ate a bit of everything.

“You don’t eat much,” he said.

“You don’t order much,” I thought.

I must have looked like I was having an alright time though -mistake number two – because Steve didn’t want the date to end.

“Well, that didn’t take very long,” he said, when the plates were empty.

I thought about my dad’s warning and glanced down at my watch. We’d sat for exactly twenty minutes. Ate for about ten.

“You wanna walk around 99 Ranch after this?”

All the expressions of incredulity I had been practicing my whole life should have been used at that point, but instead I thought since it was my first date ever, might as well make a story out of it.

“Sure,” I said, wondering if I needed to go home after this and practice not looking so warm and inviting and kind.

One of the “school girls” brought the check – cash only. Without even pausing to think whom she should place it in front, she set it firmly down on my side, at my arm, clear across the table from Steve. As though for emphasis, she gave me a gracious smile and said thank you.

“That’s odd,” I thought. I looked at it. I looked at Steve. Steve looked at me.

It dawned on me. That moment when you realize the young server thought I was Steve’s older sister. Or aunt. Or [insert older more mature matriarchal figure here]. There was about as much chemistry in the air between as an English classroom. Also, I was dressed about twenty years older than Steve’s middle-school Billabong outfit.

I moved my arm to pick up the tab. Very very very slowly, like a slug going backwards, Steve reached for it.

“I’ll get it,” he said.

“Um…” I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I offer to split it? I didn’t see the number but it couldn’t have been very much since we ordered four small plates and no drinks, two of which cost $2.50. The thought of splitting a check that was less than $20 on a date seemed ludicrous to me. I wasn’t high maintenance but I also wasn’t no maintenance and I hoped to God Steve wasn’t both slovenly and a cheap. But I wouldn’t have been surprised. He was already a lazy, tardy dumb ass who didn’t know how to make a good first impression.

I got that dates cost money and it all adds up, but the guy had already made me drive thirty minutes for a 20-minute takeout meal. He would have made a better impression if he brought it as takeout to a ghetto park and called it a picnic.

“Seriously let me get this one,” he said, as my hand was still on the bill. As though in a trance, I handed it to him. He took out a velcro wallet – velcro! – and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill – the only Jackson in a billfold full of Lincolns and Washintons and putting it down on the tray, pushed it towards the edge of the table.

“I get this one,” he said, smiling as though he’d paid off my student loans, “So you can get the next one.”

To be continued…

Job Hunting Is Kind of Like Dating

Working from home.

A lot of people ask me, ‘How did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13 and jump right into the music industry?’ It’s because I knew I could never feel the kind of rejection that I felt in middle school. Because in the music industry, if they’re gonna say no to you, at least they’re gonna be polite about it.         

                                                                                                             -Taylor Swift

Continue reading “Job Hunting Is Kind of Like Dating”

The Sunday Seven: Valentine’s Day Edition

Taken earlier this year in Taipei. Photo Credit: Steph

As much as I complain about the internet being a time suck, it can also be hugely thought-provoking. But as it’s impossible to get to it all, some of my most treasured links (is it weird that I “treasure” links?) come to me from thoughtful friends – much better than bots! I always think “Thank God So-and-So found this.”  Continue reading “The Sunday Seven: Valentine’s Day Edition”

You and I: A Story about Defining the Relationship

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“Oh, no, I’m not saying she isn’t a nut — she is — but I’ve noticed before that sometimes someone like that behaves quite ordinarily with everybody, manages everything, you’d never think she was a nut, but there’s just one person, with that person, she’s out of control. It makes you wonder.”
― Doris Lessing, The Good Terrorist

Continue reading “You and I: A Story about Defining the Relationship”

Meeting the Parents, Part 1

By this time next week, my parents will have been in New York for one day. They are coming to visit me en route to Canada, where they’ll rendezvous with their retired friends to take in Canada’s fall foliage.

“It’s a good time of year,” I said, when they first proposed the dates, “It won’t be too cold, and there might be a hint of fall colors. And it’s about time you guys met Tom.”

My father grunted, “I don’t need to meet him. I’ve seen his picture.”

“Betty’s right,” my mother said. I could picture her smiling into the receiver. “It’s about time we visited her in New York and met Mr. Tom.”

—-

The last time my mom came to New York was ten years ago, to help me move into NYU. I was eighteen and in New York for the second time ever. My brother and cousin Karen came with and the week before school started, we rented an old but clean two bedroom apartment near Greenwich Village. We bought breakfast foods from the nearby Morton Williams, made toast and fried eggs in the mornings and walked around the city, doing the requisite touristy things – we went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw the Statue of Liberty, took a photo or two in Times Square.

They accompanied me on multiple trips to the first two (or was it three) story Bed Bath and Beyond I’d ever been to, and made sure I had all the necessary dorm room items – scratchy sheets, a too-warm duvet, laundry basket, plastic storage bins, a desk lamp. There was also a shitty, three-cup rice cooker that always produced something closer to congee regardless of how much water I put in. For dinners, because there was no such thing as Yelp! and as I was coming from suburbia and emerging from an age where The Cheesecake Factory was a good restaurant, we ate at restaurants that have surely since been shuttered. There was however one Chinese restaurant we wandered into one evening, and which I continued to frequent after my mom, brother and Karen left. It was called Wok n’ Roll. A quick Yelp! search tells me there are many Chinese restaurants in and around New York with the same name, but the one I, and my roommate too, after I’d taken her there one evening, returned to time and again in Greenwich Village no longer exists. It helped me through some hard times, but the abundance of grease, sugar and MSG in the delicious orange chicken – no doubt it made the hard times harder.

That first week in New York, I ignored the lineup of orientation and welcome activities NYU held for incoming freshman, telling myself my family was in town and my time would be better spent hanging with them. I could, and would make new friends later. This is only partially true.

What happened when they, my familiar cocoon left, is that I cried on the corner of Washington Square Park for a good ten minutes as their taxi drove off. I could see my cousin Karen turning around to look at me from the rearview mirror until my tears blurred her face. They turned left and out of sight. I was alone in New York City.

A few months later, after a tear-ridden telephone conversation with my parents about feeling depressed and directionless, my mother bought a plane ticket and booked a hotel room. She would come to New York, she said, and take me home. Unbeknownst to me, my brother told my mother to calm down. He’d come to New York alone and bring me home. He called me one chilly December evening, as I was trudging home from another mind-numbing astronomy class, and asked what I wanted for dinner. He was at JFK, and would be in Manhattan within an hour.

I screamed, then said I could eat whatever. I was very fat then.

“Steak,” he said, because he always wants steak, “Let’s get a good steak.”

I forget where we ate that night, but I remember smiling across the table from my brother, feeling less anxious and happier than I’d been in a long while. I called my mother that night and told her I was coming home, that I was done with New York. For a while.

“Good,” she said, so was she. For a while.

——
A few days ago my mother called to ask if I needed anything from home.

I was sitting with Tom in his room, deliberating what to read before bed.

“Nope,” I said, thinking about all the unread books I had at home, “I’ve got everything I need right here.”

“Good,” she said.

“I’ve been thinking about your visit though,” I said, “Is there anything in particular you and dad want to see?”

“No, not really.”

“No like…scenic spot you guys really want to see?”

“No museums. And I doubt your dad will want to sit through any shows.”

I smiled. My father’s last trip to New York was some fifteen, twenty years ago, when he’d come with a friend cum business partner, Uncle Xia, and Uncle Xia’s sister. They had had a few steak dinners and attended a concert at Lincoln Center, where both my father and Uncle Xia fell asleep, snoring. Some minutes later an usher tapped my father on the shoulder, politely asking them to leave.

My father was sitting next to my mother, who had me on speakerphone. “I want to see Columbia,” he called out, “And that one park in the middle.”

“Bah. Central Park. It’s called Central Park.”

“I just want to see you and your little apartment,” my mother said, “And I want to meet Mr. Tom!”

“I know,” I cast a sideways glance at Tom, knowing he was anxious about meeting them.

“I’m going to get my hair cut tomorrow,” my mother said brightly, “I don’t want Tom to think, ‘My goodness Betty’s mom is a slob!'”

I laughed, “He wouldn’t think that. And besides, at least you have hair to cut.”

Tom heard my mother’s loud laugh and gave me a look. He hears his name enough amidst flurries of Mandarin to know he is often the topic of conversation.

“Don’t poke fun at him,” my mother said.

“He can handle it.”

We discussed the weather (“I don’t know. It might be cold. It might be really cold. It might not be cold at all. It might rain every day. It might be sunny.”) then said good night and hung up. I turned to Tom.

“Did you hear my mom laugh?”

“I did,” he said, putting down his Kindle.

“She said she was going to get her hair cut for you, because she didn’t want you to think she was a slob.”

He chuckled.

“I told her at least she has hair to cut.”

He rolled his eyes, “Har har.”

“They’re very excited to meet you.”

He groaned, suddenly looking very tired. “It’s going to be awful.”

I shook my head, patted his arm. There, there. I knew my parents and I knew Tom. I knew it would be anything but. 

Bon Mot II

A few days later in California, I sat with my parents in the waiting room of the Hoag Center for Movement Disorders, waiting for my mother’s quarterly check-up. An obese woman walked by, her pumpkin-shaped butt undulating underneath a faded mumu.
My father, himself with an insatiable sweet tooth and a belly like a yoga-ball, raised his eyebrows, made a face. I was reminded of POI’s conditions. 
“POI says I can gain ten pounds,” I said in Chinese, though wondered if my phrasing was correct. 
It was not. My father lurched to attention and waved his hand at me, a wild urgency in his eyes. 
“No!” he said much too loudly for a quiet hospital waiting room, “Don’t fall into his trap!” 
I laughed, wondering if he feared POI was a chubby chaser. For the past ten years, since I was sixteen and gained thirty pounds when I joined the badminton team my sophomore year of high school, my father has been not-so-subtly hinting that I ought to lose at least twenty pounds. 
“At least,” he always emphasized, “At least.” 
After college, I lost ten and tried in the way I try to do most things (not very hard) to lose ten more. But certain pants stayed very tight and… in the back of my closet. 
But my father continued to stress room for improvement. 
“Don’t eat that,” he would say, if he found me helping myself to coffee ice cream, “It’s all fat.” 
Or, if I got another bowl of rice at dinner, would tsk tsk and say, “Ten pounds? What happened to losing ten pounds? Don’t you want to?” 
But my father is a conflicted man. He is strong and sturdily built, an athletic man even now, with that rotund abdomen. He sees the same in me and cannot help but take pride in my similar albeit more feminine build (minus the gut) – my wide knees and broad, square shoulders (my mother, though far from petite, has soft, weak legs and sloped, almost pointless shoulders) and my rather strong neck, which, when I showed up to the first day of a college seminar wearing a Cal crew neck sweatshirt, prompted the professor to ask, “And what sport do you play for us?” – all these are genetic gifts from my father. 
My father also likes to eat. No, he loves to eat. As much as he wanted me to lose ten pounds, he wanted more to eat with me and for me to eat. He cuts fruit at all hours of the day, including right before bedtime, unaware that fruit is fiber and sugar water, as capable of causing weight gain as ice cream. And because the Chinese savory crackers he likes to eat are “vegetable flavored,” he thinks they are healthy and thus perfectly fine if downed twenty at a time. But he is most conflicted when he tries to stop me from eating something. 
“Don’t eat the ice cream,” he’ll say, then see that I’ve already scooped it into a bowl. He will reach for another bowl, “Well, give me a scoop then. Or two.” 
Or, seeing that I’m already up at the rice cooker, hand me his bowl, “I could use some more rice too, I guess. But you really shouldn’t eat so much rice.” 
But then he will put more of whatever dishes we are having into my bowl as well, because he’s my father and that’s what fathers do. 
——
“Listen to me.”
My father sat up, the image of the fat woman still waddling in his mind. I turned around and saw that she was still in his line of sight, inching down the long waiting room. 
“You do not need to gain ten pounds,” he said, “You need to lose ten pounds.” 
I wanted to tell him that he had misunderstood, that POI had meant that there was a ten pound maximum, but my father’s tone said he was not to be interrupted.
“You lose ten pounds,” my father continued, “And Tom will come running.”

I nodded that I understood but he wasn’t finished.

“Not just your Tom, all the Toms…”

He paused to grin before his final, genius point,

“And Jerry too.”