On Rejection and (Blind) Confidence

Working from home.

A little over an hour ago, I received an email from the young blonde recruiter who interviewed me over the phone on Wednesday. Continue reading “On Rejection and (Blind) Confidence”

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.” 

Calling Home from a London Pub

In London, this past week, I visited POI for a second time. On my second night there – perhaps it was my third, I can’t remember – it occurred to me I ought to call my parents. We were on the second floor of a pub in Soho when the thought occurred and I told POI that I’d be back. He handed me his work phone, saying the signal was better, and I took it downstairs, past the bar which was, at 10PM, packed with tall, well-dressed British men. In the States I would have assumed they’d all just come from work, but it was a Saturday night and they seemed to just be dressed that way, regardless. It had been overly warm in the pub and I did not bring my coat with me, finding the cool air outside refreshing. I wondered what I would say to my parents as I dialed. My father picked up, as my mother was teaching her Saturday morning Chinese classes.

“How is it?” my father asked.

“Good,” I said, “We’re out with his friends right now. I just thought I’d say hello. I haven’t called in a while.”

“Well, we’re doing fine too,” he said, and then did the thing he always did when I asked about their weekend plans, which was list all their upcoming dinner engagements. It was going to be a busy weekend for them as well. He listed the usual suspects and the usual restaurants. Same old same old, he said, though I knew he looked forward to it.

POI and I were headed to Cambridge the next morning, and I told my father as much.

“Ah,” he said, “Well. Didn’t you want to study there at some point?”

I laughed. It was typical that he would remember something like this. Every elite school I had ever even just vaguely remarked about wanting to study at, he remembered: Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Brown, “Yeah, and I still do…just not sure what.”

“Oh please, please,” he said jokingly, “One degree at a time. Finish the one you’re working on now.”

“I know,” I said. A group of young, drunk teenagers walked by, some stumbling more than others. They laughed loudly just as they were walking by.

“Are you at a party?” my father asked.

“Outside a bar,” I said, “We’re heading over to karaoke soon.”

“They karaoke over there in England?” he said, “You went all the way to England to karaoke?”

“More or less.”

Other photos from that night are expectedly blurry.

On the curb next to me, three young Chinese people stood staring at their smart-phones, trying to make Karaoke plans of their own. They heard me speaking Chinese and took turns stealing glances in my direction. I smiled. Had they called their parents yet? I wondered what they were studying.

“Well,” my father said, “Enjoy yourself, I suppose.”

“I know, I will,” I looked up to the steamed windows of the second floor, where POI and his friends,- three Asian Americans and two Italians chemistry students – stood chatting around tall pints. I told my father goodbye and to not miss me too much.

“And you try to miss us a little more,” he said, “But thanks for calling.”

“No problem.”

“Oh,” something occurred to him.

“Hm?”

“Write something,” he said.

“What?”

“Write something,” he said, “About your time there. About Cambridge or London or England or whatever it is you’re going to do. And share it with me. I should like to know even though I still think the words on that website of yours are too damned small.”

I nodded slowly, taking in the scene before me on the street on a corner in Soho square, thinking about the people upstairs, all of whom I’d just met. I thought too about the songs I was about to sing in a small, dark room. Inside the pub, one of POI’s best friends in London was buying shots of tequila at the bar. Somewhere down the road, friends of friends were making their way out of the Tube to meet us. More shots waited at another bar. Poorly performed covers of Miley Cyrus. U2 and Taylor Swift and Backstreet Boys. Rent.

I would write, I told him.

We hung up and I went back inside, running into POI’s friend at the bar. He handed me two shot glasses and a small plate of lime wedges.

“Can you handle all that?” he said, “One of them is yours.”

I nodded, and carefully ascended the narrow stairs, spilling just a single drop of Jose Cuervo on my left hand. I was aware that I wouldn’t write anything that night. Or the night after. I wouldn’t write anything for the next two weeks.