Essays

The Time I Started a Fight in a New York Nightclub

I’d always thought that if I ever got in a physical brawl in New York City –and that is a huge “if” because during this time I was a risk-averse corporate lawyer who could barely stand up to other risk-averse corporate lawyers at work– it would be with a girl.

And that I’d be in the right.  Morally, I mean.  Physically, I had no illusions that I’d be down on the ground, trying to keep my tenderest orifices covered.

But, as it turned out, not only was I wrong, I was also probably in the wrong.

The Scene:

Late one night, in my fourth year of living in New York, I head over to The Annex, a club in the Lower East Side.  I am wearing four-inch heels, a miniature dress.  A jacket bereft of any devices of closure.  It is the middle of winter.

The nightclub, now closed, is a cramped, three floor affair.  Mahogany paneling and tin ceilings, you know the drill.  A dj spins on a stage on the main floor and, in the narrow rectangular space in front of him, a throng of sweaty twenty-somethings bob rhythmically up and down.

I’m dancing with my back against the stage, having, to be completely honest, a lacklustre time, though I’m not ready to admit this to myself yet.  Instead, between surreptitious glances at the crowd around me, I try to dance with greater… emphasis.  Look, of course we’ve all had those wondrous magical nights on the dance floor when we felt like we were in a music video of our lives, but as the hard-partying girlfriend of a friend once put it, “I don’t really like going out, most of the time it sucks, but one out of ten times, it’s awesome, and that’s why I keep doing it –because if I stay in, I’ll end up wondering if tonight is that one in ten night, and I’m missing out.”

I know, I know.  I’m really lame and even the girlfriends of my friends are lame.

Moving on, okay?

So I’m dancing and it’s crowded and there’s this one guy that’s standing in front of me, that I can see over the shoulder of my dance partner, and he’s maybe 5’10 with curly brown hair and this whiny, snobbish look all over his face.  It wasn’t an upper-crust, born with a silver spoon in the mouth kind of snobbery.  Rather, you could tell that he never had it easy with the whole self-esteem thing, always living in the shadow of more alpha males.  Pretty early on, he’d given up on competing with his handsome older brother for his father’s approval, and had resorted to his pushover mother’s affection as a compensation prize.  All the girlfriends he’s ever had were just like him, and they would eat poorly and unimaginatively, and he’d have sex with his socks on not because he was overtaken by passion, but more from a subconscious need to always be the one that gives less.  He works in a predominantly female office (further avoidance of having to compete with alpha males) and basks in the indiscriminate glow of attention that such offices bestow on the lone male colleague.  He struts, yes, between the printer and the coffee machine, but he never stands up straight.

That guy.

The Violence:

And he’s getting too close.  But not in a trying-to-dance-with-me way; he just isn’t respecting my space, you know?  And he’s bobbing up and down.  And that hair, the way it bobs up and down too.  And his stupid glasses reflecting light all over the place.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I just didn’t like his face.  That was all.

So here I am, the adverb for my dancing turning from emphatically into aggressively, into menacingly.  I’m not having a good time.  I’m not drunk enough, the music is not interesting enough, and I for shit sure am not lost in the kaleidoscope moment of my music video life.  I stop looking at anyone else and focus in on the four-eyed idiot in front of me, and although my displeasure is targeted at a very specific individual, my mind is dull and blunt.  There is no inner dialogue.  At one point, when Sir Beta Male leans ever so slightly forward towards me, I shove him.

He immediately shoves me back.  (I told you, he’s a hater!)

And then someone sees that he shoved a girl, and Sir Beta Male is toast.  We look at each other with surprise as the distance between us grows.  Turns out someone’s got a hold of him and he’s being pushed through the dance floor like a bulldozer.  He gets pinned against the wall of the Annex, a large alpha male hand around his scrawny throat, the crowd, finally enlivened, darting all over the place to get a good view without getting hurt.  And Sir Beta Male looks genuinely frightened, like the dastardly rat villain in a children’s novel who gets his comeuppance.  If it was quieter, I’m sure we could heard him squealing.

Since he doesn’t put up a fight, he’s quickly dropped to the ground.  The fight is over, clearly, but tell that to the three women he had come to the club with, because suddenly I am body-checked from behind by an angry white girl.  I turn around to look at my attacker.

She’s the kind of girl that walks around the city with an unpleasant pucker on her face, reads about all of the “hot” places in the city assiduously, goes to them with her friends (carbon copies of herself), treats the waitstaff snidely, jabs and cuts at her food passive aggressively, tips poorly, and leaves the restaurant with a dour expression, but then writes in her online dating profile, “I love food and I love tasting all that the city has to offer!”  And when she goes home to her Ohio suburb over Thanksgiving, she cannot shut her trap about how everything in New York is better, oh daddy, you have to come see the Whole Foods there, they have the best California rolls!  When she eats sushi, she always demands the low-sodium soy sauce, and looks accusingly around the room as if the world is plotting to bloat her.  She never orders the sea urchin.  She waxes at a cheap salon in the Upper East Side, and if she were open to her sensual self (she isn’t), she would admit that she rather enjoys the pain of removal.  Technically speaking, it is possible for her to be pretty, but an utter lack of joie de vivre prevents her from being warm, while a reflexive defensiveness precludes her from being cool –she is like a bad cup of tea, unpleasantly lukewarm.  She wasn’t the pretty sister.

So, she fucking body slams me!

I am shocked and confused, but nonetheless have the sense to push her back.  One unpleasant girl turns into three, and they are all going helter-skelter, ineffectively but very angrily punching and shoving me and anyone and everyone within reach.  But it seems that all of us are rather weak-bodied and though there is a lot of vitriolic movement, none of us manage to hurt anyone.  It’s like an ineffective posh pit.  And even though I am not a violent person (I swear!), I keep pushing back.  I decide that I severely dislike Sir Beta Male and the Lukewarm Girls –not because they are perpetual losers who go through life licking wounds imaginary and real, but because they are the type of losers that make the people around them feel bad.  They try to cover-up their closed-mindedness and middling intellect by living in a large city.  They are the mean scowlers on your morning commute, making the world a worse place than it has to be.

Or maybe, I just don’t like their faces.

Through the noise and confusion, I hear the whine of an emasculated male:

“I lost my glasses!”

Sir Beta Male is bent over on the dance floor, pathetically looking for his glasses.  Good lord.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m heartless and I’ll cut you, but I totally rely on my contact lenses and do not have the stomach to continue to brawl when there is a helpless blind person standing in the fray.  I stop shoving the Lukewarm Girls and join in the search for dickface’s glasses, and without thinking twice about it, use my Blackberry as a flashlight.  That was a mistake because the moment one of the angry white girls sees my PDA, she snorts, “Oh My God, a Blackberry!”

I am embarrassed at my oversight.  I can’t believe I showed my Blackberry.  This is like trying to be a gang leader in prison and then having your mom’s handwritten instructions for how to take your multi-vitamins read over the loudspeakers.

I am thankful that she did not say Blackberry any louder.  The whole club could’ve turned against me.  Not because I am the only white-collar worker there, but because most of us were, and most of us were at a place like The Annex trying to forget that fact.

In every fight, there is a winner and a loser.  Luckily, the giant bouncers, the judge and jury of the nightclub scene, rule in my favor, and roughly escort Sir Beta Male and the Lukewarm Girls out the club.  I imagine them shivering outside on the sidewalk, cursing me out even as their voices trembled in the cold, vowing of lawsuits and hired guns, and adding this event to their almanacs of personal defeat, yet another reason to keep being themselves.

Inside the club, the music is back on.  I feel the niggling ambivalence of one who has done something crummy to crummy people.  I smooth down my hair and my ridiculous miniature dress, and try to dance again.

——–

This article was first published in Zouch Magazine.

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Hot Girls Who’re Chill: Finding Friends on Craigslist

When I first moved to Manhattan, I did not know anyone in it. I mean, a few classmates who had also just graduated from law school and were starting jobs in the city, yes. But I didn’t have a crew, you know? A gang of girls with whom to go out on the town, or stay in and watch movies in cute pajamas. And even though I hadn’t seen the tv show “Sex and the City” yet, I instinctively knew that New York was a place best explored with a trusty street-smart group of good-looking women who can dance.

So, I went to the place that many people visit when they need a little company: Craigslist.

You can say that I was a little bit naive. I’d never used Craigslist before, but I saw that there was a category in the personals section called “Strictly Platonic.” Not just platonic, but strictly! My stringent standards for legitimacy were satisfied. I immediately hammered out an ad seeking a crew of female friends and submitted it to the site.

The title of my ad: “hot girls who’re chill (and wanna go clubbing) w4ww – 25”

I know.

I kept the ad pretty short, and I used the slightly dismissive, privileged, almost-bored tone of the kind of girl-about-town that I wanted to become, rather than my own clueless newbie voice. In the ad, I emphasized that I didn’t want any girls with drama, and ended it with something about, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to collectively turn down and laugh at scuzzy old men in nightclubs who offer to take us to St. Barts? As if, you know, that had ever happened to me.

Anyway, I got a bunch of responses, some of which I saved. To my surprise, the fake “alpha girl” positioning worked, and many girls wrote to me in that doughy, pleading manner of beta girls, and even voluntarily sent me pictures of themselves, asking me if they were “cute enough” to hang with me. Ha! If only these girls could have seen to whom they were sucking up!

Here are some examples of the responses I got:

1. The Robot

Hi there

I like your add.

I am looking to do dancing on the week end preferably Saturday. I want to have fun, go clubbing and preferably get a classy old guy with money. If that sounds good to you, let me know and we can organize stg.

Cheers

I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds like an email written by a robot from the future that had been programmed to become a prostitute robot, to service the needs of lonely male robots. Like, her algorithm correctly told her what to proclaim to satisfy my criteria. But she was not programmed well enough to be able to distinguish “ad” from“add” or to know when it is appropriate to use extreme abbreviations (“stg?”). Her CPU also did not know that female humans don’t usually say “cheers” to one another.

2. The Curious Parenthetical

Hey,

I saw your message on craigslist and I figure I drop you a line. I’m 25yr old STRAIGHT (but open minded) female looking to hang out with cool chicas. I get invited to parties all the time but I don’t like showing up alone or calling a guy to take me.

I’m single and looking to meet different peeps. I like clubs lounges sports bar or whatever.

I’m looking to go out tonight maybe to Justin’s for some drinks.

if your interested email me back.

Ciao

Every time I read this email, my eyebrows go up at the succession of “straight” in all-caps followed immediately by the parenthetical “but open minded”, and then I can’t even really pay attention to the rest of the letter because my brain keeps shouting, “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” on repeat. I mean, of course, I’m all for open-mindedness and tolerance, but is that what she’s talking about? Like is she telling me that she is very, very, certain that she is straight (not that I mentioned anything about sexual orientation in my ad) but quickly wanted to add that just because she is so vehemently straight, doesn’t mean that she’s homophobic. Or is she saying that she’s straight but maybe, if the circumstances at the club are right, we should tongue-kiss in the bathroom?

Also, the “ciao” did not fit with the rest of the word choices in her email at all. Can this be another imperfectly wired robot from the future?

3. The Cute Gay Boy

Hey what’s going on? I saw your ad and it sounded cool.. actually i’m a 26 year old cute gay boy, i go to all the swank lounges and parties and usually have no trouble getting in… I pretty much fit into any scene . It would be cool to have some hottie girls to chill and drink with, im really good at hooking girls up, and def good for a lot of laughs… hit me up

To be honest, I took this at face value. Do you see anything lurking within that’s questionable or inconsistent or odd? I mean, the only thing I can see here is that he’s all about what he can offer others, so he might be a little bit too nice?

4. The Secret Sharer

God, that sounds like me…hahahaha

And that, folks, is all that she wrote! Did you read it in a raspy whisper too?

5. The Kylie Look-alike

Me: 5’5, 115, dancers body, flat abs (4 pack:), boobs, butt, light brown hair, blue eyes, people always say I look like Kylie Minogue.

I think it’s funny that she wrote “boobs” and “butt” without any descriptors. Like, it should be common knowledge that the mere act of listing body parts is a statement on the awesomeness of those body parts.

Reading all these responses of people blindly vying for my approval just because I wrote in a bitchy tone made me feel kind of weird. I felt like I would disappoint them, Wizard of Oz style, if they knew that I wasn’t as shallow and exclusive as my Craigslist ad sounded. And that I was reading their “application” emails in a shared office in a staid law firm, not in the passenger seat of a red convertible zipping back and forth between the Hamptons and Nantucket. Also, they sounded kind of pathetic and sad and I didn’t really want to hang out with them, y’know?

Then, I got something completely different.

6. The Table-Turner

if you can turn our heads we’ll consider buying you ticket to san sebastian

fashion photographer, and his eeclectic group of A list cohorts, love the company of younger women

we are considered old perhaps by your standards, mids 40?s. but to us age is but a number. extreeemly creative and artistic, very intelligent, we know the best places to see and be seen.

now granted we hang out with models and actresses mostly all of the time, at places like the hudson hotel bar, the world bar at the trump world tower, the manderin oriental hotel MoBar, the AVA lounge, the four seasons hotel 57 57 bar. so next time your at any of those places, and you see older men, in imported suits sipping sambucca with really hot young women, that would probably be us.

but if you’re 5’9? and above, 120 lbs, or less, with a face that causes traffic to come to a halt, you might be halfway to san sebastian

DO YOU SEE WHAT HE DID THERE?? HE TURNED THE TABLES ON ME!

He correctly presumed that I would be getting a lot of responses from people hoping to be hot enough to hang out with me (heh), and he knew that the way to get a young woman’s attention was to flip the power dynamic around, and make her want to prove herself to you, to vie for your approval. So that is what he did. And it worked brilliantly.

He managed to use as many cliched phrases from “Sex and the City” as possible, and I, having never watched a single episode (in fact, for the longest time I thought the name of the show was “Sex in the City”), tender, young, innocent, simple, and stupid –-I absorbed all of this posturing with the fresh excitement, ardor, and marvel of a child brought to her first Easter Egg Hunt. Ladies and gentlemen, I believed every stinkin’, misspelled word.

Being naturally inclusive, I emailed everybody who wrote back to my Craigslist ad –yes, everybody– and suggested that we go out that very Friday night. For one shining moment, it really looked like I was about to successfully assemble a rag-tag team of loners to set out into the tumultuous high seas of New York night life, all orchestrated from the confines of my drab midtown office. What I did not know yet was that the attrition rate for group hang-outs in New York City is approximately 99%.

By Thursday afternoon, the group had dwindled down to consist of a self described “cute gay boy,” the Table Turner, and two women with AOL email addresses that described themselves as imprisoned but nonetheless ephemeral, delicate creatures. (Yet, aren’t we all, deep down, ButterfliesInACage6969!)

The Table Turner was the most chatty. He sent me a continuous volley of musings about his fabulous life:

myself and my friends are early 40?s, late 30s. professionals, CEO’s, doctors, retired pro athletes, news anchorpersons, models and actresses and the like. but when we hang out with younger women, we never get any complaints.

Less predictably:

im no rocket scientist but i am a nuclear engineer (how else do you think i could afford to hang out at the four seasons, and be a fashion photographer slash amatuer writer?)

and i can discuss anything from einsteins unfinished unified field theory to agent provacatuer.

now most of my friends are equally well versed, though i must admit, there experiences with women’s very fine lingerie (agent provacatuer) is more of a hands on nature LOL

Hold up, what? A nuclear engineer? The Table Turner might not know how to spell one of his three vocations, but he certainly knew how to solicit the, if we are to be honest, easy respect that a shiny-eyed young person who has just entered “the real world,” is ready to heap upon any authority figure with age spots. I was intrigued and delighted that a multi-talented genius was interested in hanging out with little old, trim my own bangs, can’t uncork a wine bottle without pushing numerous and sizable pieces of the eroding cork into the bottle, me.

So when the Table Turner asked me to tell him a little bit about myself, I jumped at the opportunity. And when he pretty much ignored the little bio that I had tried so hard to make sound wry, clever, endearingly cocksure, with just a hint of a geeky high school past undercurrent (basically, I tried to sound like Neil Patrick Harris), and asked if I could send a “pix” or two of myself to him, I didn’t see anything remotely suspicious about that request, and quickly sent along the most “grown-up” photograph of me that I had in my new camera phone. It pains me to share it with anyone but, here it is:

The picture I send to the Table Turner.

I know.

Anyway, by Friday night, when it looked like my electronic entourage was dwindling down into a leftover medley of people who didn’t know what they wanted to do, the Table Turner showed off his plans for the night:

im “allegedly” having dinner with 3 models from NJ, probably in Soho, then we’re off to the four seasons for after dinner drinks and polite conversation. some where along the way either a doctor friend of mine (head of surgery) or a very attractive straight japanese actor, or possibly even a retired professional athlete (if he flies in from LA) will meet up with us. (now if im lucky non of them will show up, and i will have to entertain all of them by myself, i say “let them compete” for my attention)

Holy! Color me impressed! I wanted to be friends with heads of surgery and attractive straight Japanese actors! And retired professional athletes freshly flown in from LA like some kind of delicious mango! I wanted to –and you can tell I was really clueless at this time– hang out with models from New Jersey! I took that paragraph in one breathless gulp, and excitedly scrolled down for more:

ok, let me make you an offer (that you cant refuse)

postpone your soiree my dear… (cuz no one knows exactly what they want to do anyway, and a man that doesnt have a plan for an attractive woman such as yourself is no man in my eyes) and you and i (sans the attractive models from NJ) will go to dinner in Soho…. then… the 2 of us…, head up to the Four Seasons Hotel 57-57 bar, or (and im dying to go to either) the manderin oriental hotel MoBar, or the World bar at the Trump world tower..lady’s choice of course… for polite conversation and cocktails (martini?) and my dear…if im too boring i’ll send for reinforcements, (i.e the aforementioned)

Do you see that slight of hand there, do you??! Because I didn’t. Like an idiot, I was completely fascinated by the world that the Table Turner allegedly inhabited, and I wanted to admire it from the inside, while its glittering stars spun around me like a disco ball, a world to which I, the gaping tourist, had somehow, through a recklessly-worded Craigslist ad, gained access.

Plans are made to meet at the Four Season’s bar, which is on the top floor of the hotel, on ritzy Fifth Avenue. 8 PM. In case you were wondering, by this time, I had completely abandoned any pretenses as being a queen bee / bitch / alpha female. I let my true, accommodating, self shine through, as if it was some sort of benevolent act, peppering my emails with “I’m completely flexible,” and other cringe-worthy, gaggingly agreeable, quips. Little did I know, at that early, early, hour of the long day’s journey into womanhood, that you’re not really suppose to do that; it’s boring.

Friday night, 7PM. I rush home to my brand new studio apartment, in whose fridge I keep documents, and in whose cupboards, t-shirts and sweaters. (The ice-skates go in the freezer, obviously.) I put on 4-inch knee high heels that a street photographer had once called “fuck me boots,” a black mini-skirt slightly longer than my heels, and some sort of fragment of black silk that bared one’s back and shoulders. And while it is very understandable to look at this wardrobe choice and think that my aim was to have romantic relations with the Table Turner, that wasn’t my intention at all.

Here’s what I hoped to happen: that I would sit down for a friendly chat with the Table Turner, who would realize that I was intelligent, wry, etc. (the Neil Patrick Personality Matrix), and then would invite his colorful assembly of beautiful genius friends and older, more experienced, women to join us, and at 2 AM, we would all glance at each other with sparkling eyes over the rim of our champagne flutes (we’re on a rooftop), and I would turn to the camera with one raised eyebrow and say, “Welcome to New York, cheers!” Bittersweet Symphony crescendos in the background, and the world fades to a rich, velvety, black.

Things didn’t exactly turn out as I had hoped.

I left the house wearing 4-inch black leather knee high boots and precious little else.

So, it’s 8 PM, and a taxi deposits me on Park Avenue and 57th Street. in front of this:

A smiling doorman smoothly revolves me into the hotel’s lushly decorated, empty, foyer. I am ferried, by a series of courteous nods from various hotel personnel, into the right elevator, and, finally, up to a majestic and vehemently impersonal lobby.

As the elevator doors close behind me, I catch the eye of an older, silver-haired gentleman some 20 metres directly in front of me. He is reclining on a set of black leather furniture with two younger women. The tactile softness of the gentleman –the waves in his hair, the wool of his suit jacket– contrast against the women he’s with, their angular jewelry and sharply-lined eyes. He looks like he could be a partner at my law firm, men whose nails are better manicured than mine, and after whom I totter in a constricting pencil skirt, balancing a boxful of documents in my arms, while they glide obliviously through glass doors ten steps ahead of me. He looks me over for a second, and smiles. A big, broad, unmistakable grin. It feels good to be appreciated (for what and by whom mattered less then) and, had I started drinking earlier in the evening, I might have let him beckon me towards him. Instead, walking past him and into the bar, intoxicated only by the nebulous tremors of youth, I simply returned his smile.

So, no. I did not get that the dude was with high-end escorts and the only reason he smiled at me was because he thought I was one too.

Anyway, I timidly enter the drinking area, or arena, given its monstrous size, of the Four Seaons Hotel. It is filled with round wooden banquet tables covered in heavy tablecloths, like a collection of chocolate cakes slathered in thick vanilla icing. Busy servers walk back and forth noiselessly between the tables and the bar, above which hangs a gigantic, glittering, yet somehow still conservative, chandelier.

A husky, middle-aged man in a black sports jacket, sitting alone, waves to me from a banquet table at the far corner of the room. As I weave towards him through the tables of people in the room, I notice that he doesn’t look so… friendly. I now know that he was just nervous. But at the time, I take the grimness of his expression personally, which makes me, more than ever, want to prove myself to this Craigslist stranger.

“Hi!” I squeal, falling into the chair beside him like a stuck pig. Another artifact of youth: I was always eager to reassure other people that I was harmless by acting like a total goofus.

“Hello.”

Now that I’m close enough, it hits me: dude is old. Not Richard Gere old or Paul Newman old. No, this isn’t a young man in an old man’s body, or an old man with a young man’s body. This is simply an old man in an old man’s body. His jacket is boxy and kinda cheap-looking, his hair uncouth, his teeth sepia-toned, and his pores stretched like dadist timepieces over the over-sunned desert that was his face. No, this guy is Jack Nicholson old.

“So…” one of us says to the tablecloth.

What was I doing here? How had I gotten myself here without pausing to tell somebody of my whereabouts tonight? Oh, right. No friends.

“Would you like a drink?”

“Sure.”

“What do you drink?”

In law school, when I first started to drink liquor, a classmate had introduced me to the cranberry vodka, which she argued was the perfect cocktail because it tastes sweet but reliably gets you drunk. So I’d been drinking cranberry vodkas for the last three years. But now that I was a lawyer in New York City, I figured that I should graduate to something less… colorful.

“A martini?”

“Gin or vodka?”

“Hm?”

“Gin or vodka in your martini, dear?”

“Vodka,” I say because I am not really sure I’ve ever had gin before.

“How would you like it?”

“Hm?”

“How would you like your vodka martini, dear?”

Reach into cultural reference library, volume 1986-2004, quickly scan through personal memory for clues. James Bond movies, something about shaking and not stirring, can I get away with saying that without sounding ridiculous? Did the Peach Pit serve drinks? What did Angela drink when she went out with Ricky and Rayanne? Mental review of paper placemats at Chinese restaurants with pictures of cocktails on them, maybe I should have ordered a grasshopper!

“Um… dirty?”

The Table Turner beckons a server to our table and orders two vodka martinis, dirty. The drinks can’t come fast enough, and when they are finally placed ceremoniously on the infinite thread-count tablecloth in front of me, I down mine like a champ. The Table Turner smiles at me for the first time that night, and orders another.

I will spare you the bio-emotional details of how it was that the vodka very quickly relieved me of my shyness, a process with which you are surely already familiar from personal experience. All you need to know is that, very quickly, the Table Turner and I settle on a steady rhythm of him talking at length about his accomplishments –his original career as a nuclear scientist for the U.S. government, his budding career in fashion photography, his son (who was my age, a fact that makes me feel proudly precocious), his first novel, a work in progress… you know the drill. (I didn’t.)

All the while, I slurp on an endless supply of twenty-two dollar martinis and eat vodka-soaked olives with my fingers, chewing around the core of each one as if they were small apples, and when I notice the tray of expensive mixed nuts (no peanuts here!) in front of me, I inhale those too, hungrily tossing them into my mouth as I say encouraging, affirmative things like, “Oh, really?” and, “That must have been difficult to do.”

There are certain people in this world who will unfailingly inform you, in your first conversation with them, of the geographic location in which they were raised. These people are from Texas or Brooklyn. Sure enough, after a couple of drinks, an unmistakable Brooklyn accent slips into the Table Turner’s speech, and after detailing his lifetime achievements, he points his thumb at his chest and says, proudly, apropos of nothing, “Brooklyn boy, born and raised,” as if it added a special dimension of awesomeness to him. It is true, though, that there was something that differentiated the Table Turner from the waxen figures at the other tables and from the silver-haired gentleman in the lobby. His skin wasn’t as milky.

Though definitely not as drunk as I’m getting, alcohol does loosen the Table Turner’s tongue somewhat, and he begins to speak in free verse. In one of the rare pauses in our “conversation,” he leans back in his chair, smiling with half-close eyes, and murmurs approvingly:

When you came in here…
everyone was looking at you
everyone stopped
just to
watch you
get to your seat.

It made me feel like a prized racehorse, which really isn’t that bad of a feeling, to be honest.

A few drinks later. “Look,” the Table Turner sweeps his arm across the room, at the groups of well-coiffed men and ladies-who-lunch socializing with each other at the other tables:

I got the best table in the room…
And my seat is
the Best Seat

Do you know why this is the Best Seat?
Because it’s in the corner
and I can see

Everyone
all at once
It’s the Power Seat.

Now the Table Turner is starting to fray a little at the edges. Like an overstuffed rag doll whose seams are coming loose. His face has taken on an unhealthy complexion and little beads of sweat line his forehead. His body lilts, like his speech, and his breath reeks of alcohol. He puts one big hand on the table in front of him to steady himself, and closes his eyes like he’s saying a prayer.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m ah… I’m okay. I had surgery this morning.”

“Like, this morning?”

“Yeah, so I’m pretty doped up right now…” he chuckles, emphasizing the word “doped” like it’s an edgy word that all the hip young people are saying these days.

“Wait, you had surgery today?”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I’m a tough guy.”

“What did you have surgery for?” It suddenly occurs to me that I have never seen the Table Turner stand up. For all I know, he could be a merman.

He pauses a bit, then sheepishly, “My teeth.”

“Oh. You had dental work done.”

“Yeah, it was pretty major dental work though. But I wanted to see you tonight. How could I disappoint a pretty lady?”

I don’t know if it’s because he called me “lady,” or if I’ve reached that level of drunk where, for a small window of time, you see everything with abject clarity, but suddenly I am head-slammed by the real power dynamic between the Table Turner and me.

There was nothing here for me to prove and no one to prove it to. The alleged “A-list cohort” of brain surgeons and models had been a classic “bait-and-switch” trick, and even if these friends did exist, I didn’t want to meet them anymore. I didn’t need anything from this man. Rather, it was the Table Turner who had come here, post-op and woozy, to prove himself. It was he who needed to convince me, the other people in the room, but mostly himself, that he was who he wanted to be. That he had the life that he wanted to lead, the multi-stranded, multi-colored, multi-faceted life that he took pains to illustrate for me, me! A mere stranger who had the naivete to try to look for friendship in the dark alleys of the internet.

I had nothing to lose to this man. It was the Table Turner who had everything to lose if I did not smile back at him, if I put down my drink and walked out, letting everyone in the room watch as I left him there, in his pathetic little corner, tucked away from social circles he could not join. A little tangent of a man who has spent a lifetime yearning to touch a well-clothed banquet table more than once. A Table Turner that spins yarns about himself to wide-eyed children before they realize that he’s full of shit.

My body, which had been directed towards the Table Turner, to better receive his every utterance, returns back to me. I cross my arms and sit upright in my seat: I collect myself. With a cool eye, I turn to look at him and this time, I don’t even see Jack Nicholson anymore, just a sick man propping himself up with both elbows on the table. Could anything be more pathetic?

As if on cue, bright red specks appear on the section of the tablecloth under his face, seeping into the expensive fabric, and growing, via capillary action, into fat crimson droplets. Fuck me, the old man’s nose is bleeding.

He grabs a handful of cocktail napkins and, holding them to his nose, excuses himself, mumbling that he’ll be right back.

Alone at the most powerful table in the house, I lean back in my chair and stretch my arms and legs. Looking around the room again at the dull gentlemen and ladies with hideous designer bags, I am no longer impressed. Details that had been invisible to me are suddenly palpable and I can see that the dapper servers and bartenders are not restrained, just strained. Tense and tired at seeing the same old scene play out in front of them every single night. I can see the ugliness lurking beneath the decor, the significance of the smile from the silver-haired man in the lobby, the crassness of the Table Turner’s self-aggrandizement, the torpid practicality, rather than the romance, of adjoining a hotel to a bar.

By the time the Table Turner shuffles out of the men’s bathroom with an even bigger wad of paper towels held up to his face, I am already waiting for the elevator to go down.

——–

This article was first published in Zouch Magazine.

FILED UNDER: Hot Girls Who're Chill | Permalink

The Peanut

My favourite part of the peanut is the red paper-like layer of skin that separates the shell from the kernel. There is a Chinese riddle whose answer is the peanut, whose question describes this layer as a wedding veil, a curtain over the naked curves of a luscious bride.

My aunt, when she was little, was introduced to the peanut by a neighbour and later excitedly told her mom that she had been given a wonderful kind of candy wrapped in wood.

In grade five sex ed. class we watched a video about sexual assault, which in its statutory form was completely foreign to me, though like everyone else I intuitively knew the perversities of human nature from the moment I was born; sex ed. was like that in general, learning the words to a song we already knew, a song we did not know was available to the rigid technicality of language. In the video a strange man flashes a child our age, who immediately reports the incident to an adult. My English-as-a-second-language ears hear this as: “He showed me his peanut!”

I chew this over carefully, watchful of the stifled giggles around me, sensing the uncomfortable silence of the teacher. It doesn’t take me very long to realize the absurdity, the utter impropriety, of what the man had done. Imagine: an adult who goes up to a kid he doesn’t know and, without a word of warning, holds out, yet does not offer, a peanut! Of all things! Thank goodness this kind of behaviour is against the law, thank goodness we are being educated about it.

My mom loves steamed peanuts. The shells become soft and wet, so that the red layer of skin becomes one with the nuts inside. You squeeze one end of the shell and two pink nuggets squish out from the other side, a bride eternally veiled but still luscious nonetheless. We eat them from a big bowl at the dinner table, the four of us hunched over like gamblers gloating over poker chips, old ladies shuffling mahjong tiles, scavengers rummaging for nuggets of oversight, accountants steadying the tilt of a balance sheet, bulimics unwrapping chocolate kisses.

My grandma told me that a handful of peanuts contain as many nutrients as an egg. In the summer that I lived with her, she would offer them to me sporadically in the same way she offered pieces of her past, glimpses into my grandmother as a mother, a daughter, a bride.

In college one night my friend and I wrung ourselves about the kitchen desperately wishing that we knew of a convenience store open at that hour, wanting to commit ourselves to junk food, write its initials beside ours, draw hearts around it all. Instead we dipped a spoon in peanut butter and jam, ‘making candy.’

Years later she blamed this act of depravity on me, laughing that it was my idea to make that awful, disgusting creation, joking that it should be against the law, warning me that it was to be our shameful secret, something to make us smile through the hard times, under the push of the weight of wedding veils, the gush and thrust of peanuts shown and offered but seldom given.

FILED UNDER: The Peanut | Permalink

I Had Him at Sixteen

A few months after I arrived in Winnipeg and started the second grade, I was told by my parents that I was going to be taken away from them for a few days to stay with a foreign family –and by foreign, they meant foreign to us– in other words, white.  They were very excited.

“A little foreign girl has invited you to stay at her house for a few days!”

“She’s never met a Chinese girl before!”

I was less so.  “Why do I have to go away for a few days?” I rightly ask.

My parents shrug.

Of course, there was a part of me that wanted to live the life of a little foreign girl for a few days, for investigative purposes.  Like most kids, I was embarrassed by all of the ways my family fell short of “normal.”  I wanted to keep secret, for instance, that we rented out one of our two bedrooms to a stream of single male Chinese graduate students, even though I liked many of them and even developed a wistful crush one of them –a tall and slim man named Lee who laughed like a boy. At night, in addition to fantasizing about being asked to join the A-team, avenging bullies, or marrying Lee in a bizarre plot twist, I would lie awake in my bed –which, along with my brother’s crib and my parents’ bed, all fit into one room– thinking about home improvement:  new curtains to replace the torn ones that came with our apartment, hiring a professional carpet cleaner, having my own bedroom, and most elusively –wallpaper, that fanciful western invention, like giftwrap, for houses.

Noticing the abject horror on my face, my dad exclaims heartily, with a patriotic gleam in his eyes, “Oh, come on now!  You’ll teach the Canadians about the glorious Chinese culture!” Not noticing that the expression of abject horror remained impervious on my face, he pats me happily on the shoulder and walks away.

I start to panic.  I could barely speak English and had developed a debilitating shyness after leaving China, how could I possibly teach anyone anything?

“I think they want to bring you to the little girl’s school,” my mom explains much too nonchalantly.

What?

“Her class is learning about China right now, and…”

What?

“I’ll pack a pair of chopsticks with you, so you can show them how we eat.”

What?

It was slowly dawning on me what I had become: another kid’s show-and-tell object. I knew all about show-and-tell. Every week we sit in a circle on the carpet and take turns showing off our new pogo-balls and non-violent action figures. Although I had a cornocopia of toys in Winnipeg, I never participated in showing and telling them for two reasons: one, they were all purchased from garage sales, a shameful secret that I had no moral qualms lying about if pressed, but at the same time did not want to voluntarily assume the risk of being found out; and two, they were all Transformers, which I knew would forever banish me from ever being invited to the popular girls’ birthday parties.

Didn’t my parents know that offering me up as a sacrificial ambassador for Chinese culture to an entire school of homogenous kids was the very anti thesis of my existential struggle to be as identical to everyone as possible?

“You’ll be okay,” my mom murmurs, as she smoothes down the jet-black fly-aways on my head.

The she packed my bag and sent me on my way.

And she was right, it was okay. I got there on a Friday afternoon. Katie was nice and turned out to be two years older, which made her automatically cool; I was hanging out with a fourth grader! Her parents welcomed me warmly into their home and set-up a bed for me in the spare bunk in Katie’s room. When they saw me looking at their daughter’s porcupine shaped pencil holder with interest, they bought one for me the next day –one of my few “new” possessions. The weekend went by quickly with no fights, no tears, and shockingly no homesickness.

Then came the big day. The day on which I would “teach them about the glorious Chinese culture.”

I sat in the back of the car holding a pair of chopsticks that my mother had wrapped in saran wrap for me and shoved in my hand before I climbed into Katie’s car on Friday, like a Japanese peasant woman shoving a small jade switchblade into her young daughter’s kimono as she is being led away to a geisha house, hissing, “Take this, use it to defend your honour!”

In addition, my mom also had the foresight to pack a small plastic baggie with unshelled peanuts, which I was holding in my other hand.

“Use the chopsticks to pick up these peanuts, they’ll have never seen anything like it,” she had said with glee.

“Aw Katie looooook!” Katie’s mom said as she got into the driver’s seat.

“Ying Ying’s brought her own snack!”

“Look mom, she eats them with chopsticks!”

They look at me with delight. I look back at them, each hand loaded with a plastic wrapped item, realizing that in our attempt to teach foreigners about Chinese culture, my parents and I had ended up spreading rumours about the curious snacking habits of our People. The misunderstanding, combined with the fact that this was possibly one of the first times I had ridden in a car, was nauseating.

I opened my mouth, and threw up.

On myself, on the car. Maybe even on Katie.

“Oh dear,” Katie’s mom says and turns the car around.

Half an hour later, we arrive at Katie’s school after driving past rows and rows of large houses and lush lawns.

I follow them inside with a certain forbodement that lasts only until I am fanfared into her homeroom like a celebrity. I had thought that I’d have to do something, perform Chinese culture, spread out my peanuts on a desk and pick them up with my eyes closed and humming the Chinese national anthem, something.

Instead, I stood in the eye of the storm doing nothing as everyone fussed around me, pointing out the projects on China that were hung up on the walls, the Chinese art that someone had found in Winnipeg’s limited Chinatown, tossing me lowballs like, “do you speak Chinese?” and shining their eyes prettily when I nodded yes.

A giant pot appeared, set on a small table. The teacher lifted the lid and a white scarf of steam rose up to reveal a massive amount of white rice.

“Rice!” everyone yelled around me in rowdy delight as they lined up for a small paper cup serving, eaten with a plastic spoon.

I held my cup of rice and looked at it with familiar distain, the way enemy cowboys from the same town look at each other when they come across each other at the annual horseshow in the city. My parents always try to get me to eat rice without drowning it in stirfry sauce, and no doubt would be impressed by the sight of twenty foreign kids happily gorging on plain white rice.

“Hey,” a boy beckoned to me in the courtyard during recess, while I was surrounded by a wreath of adoring, older, and popular girls, who were petting my head and exclaiming to each other, “Oh my god, feel her hair! It’s so smooth!!”

A little bit of this hair petting happened at my own school too, but I felt like at Katie’s school in the middle of a sea of big houses and plush lawns, I was possibly the first Chinese kid they’ve ever been close enough to touch.

I looked at the boy and immediately developed a crush on him. The beta males in his entourage stood behind him, wearing friendly faces that they were clearly unaccustomed to wearing when so close to a female entourage.

After developing a crush on him, I wondered if he was going to beat me up. Up until sixth grade, all my contact with boys were of the knuckles-to-body variety, mostly their knuckles, my body.

But this older boy was different. He had a question.

“Hey, what’s 1 plus 1?”

“Two,” I reply immediately. In my first Canadian math class, I had jerked my head up from the worksheet and looked around the room with a huge “you-got-me” grin, waiting for Mrs. Bainbridge to say, “Gotcha! Haha, I gave you guys math problems from the local daycare center!” When Mrs. Bainbridge did not say that, I then thought that the trick was more sinister, that perhaps the problems are much more difficult than they appeared. Although my dad taught me algebra when I was four, it was only after we moved abroad and were handicapped in every which way but math, that we began to believe, really believe, that I was good at math. Twenty years later, I realize that I am no mathematician, just a fan.

“Okay, what’s two plus two?” the older boy shot back.

“Four.”

“Four plus four?”

“Eight.” By now the girls have stopped petting my hair and everyone is silently watching the odd showdown before them.

A trace of a smile appears on the older boy’s lips. “Eight plus eight?”

“Sixteen.”

“Whoa!” he shouts with a genuine comraderie. His reaction revereberrates throughout the crowd that had gathered around us. Everyone is smiling with open mouths, the smile of the surprised.

Standing there, in the middle of beautiful, affluent, foreign, older kids, being their center of attention for a whole day and culminating into this climatic victory with a cute boy, wearing Katie’s nice, store-bought clothes because I had puked on my own, a small bag of peanuts and saran wrapped chopsticks hidden deep in my bag, basking in this unimaginable celebration of me-ness, I felt like a triumph of epic, fairy tale proportions.

For years I would gratuitously replay this scene, except instead of stopping at sixteen, I would go higher and higher, until I got to 4096, at least!

“How was it?” my mom asks as soon as she lets me go from a suffocating hug; despite the seeming cavalier way in which she sent me off a few days ago, she had missed me more than worried about if I had been a good ambassador or not.

“It was okay. I got this.” I rummage through my bag for the porcupine shaped pencil holder.

She smiles. “Did you teach them about China?”

I thought about the false impression regarding the peanuts that I had made and failed to correct due to my morbid shyness. I thought about being inside a house, rather than an apartment, for the first time in my life, about being driven to school for the first time in my life, about listening to Canadian students do presentations on my country, about talking to an older boy without getting suckerpunched. Finally, I had participated in a Show and Tell, though I was not the shower or teller, but the shown and told.

I smile back at her, “Yeah, I guess so.”

FILED UNDER: I Had Him at Sixteen | Permalink

The Ballad of Manhattan Man

This is not a story about the fancy Manhattan man, or the down-on-the-dumps man. Our subject is not a genius, an artist, nor a bad man. He is just a man who lives in Manhattan –The Manhattan Man.

The Manhattan man (“Man-man”) grew up a plane ride away from New York City. Fresh from graduation, he arrives still “in a relationship” with his college girlfriend, who can’t come to New York for practical, non-titillating reasons. He is better looking than she is. Or, perhaps, it’s she that is the prettier one. But in any case within their relationship is an attractiveness asymmetry borne out of the downy haired innocence of youth, much unlike the attractiveness asymmetries found in Manhattan, which are borne out of asymmetries in financial wealth.

Anyway, the Manhattan Man is pretty enough and in that first whirlpool month of living in Manhattan, he dutifully tells every girl who approacheth that he has a girlfriend back home. Upon hearing this, the girls’ smiles get even wider and they rest their lacquered hands on his forearm. He might as well have told them that he sleeps with a teddy bear. Manhattan girls are never threatened by non-Manhattan girls, and instantly assume, despite the Internet and everything, that Man-man’s college girlfriend is a woefully unsophisticated grandmother-in-training who buys her clothes from a Sears catalog. A hypothesis which doesn’t turn out to be true with nearly as much frequency as their other assumption: that unless college girlfriend moves to Manhattan soon, the relationship is doomed.

The Manhattan Man works in an office. He had a pretty standard, non-melodramatic childhood and therefore doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder or any other annoying major personality flaws. As a result, everyone at the office likes him and the creamy innocence he symbolizes, and soon he is playing two team sports after work and on the weekends. He has such a nice rosy flush when he’s running around!

Every night Man-man lies down on his bed with his laptop by his head, and talks to College Girlfriend via video chat. This is the development of the equilibrium of information exchange between them:

STAGE 1: They both have so much to tell each other!

STAGE 2: He still has a lot to tell her! But they are both sadly surprised when he asks her how her stuff is going, and try as she does, she can’t think of anything new since the last time they spoke.

STAGE 3: Now he’s lost interest in telling her about his stuff. The reporting is tiresome and he feels like a dork when he talks about going to a cool hidden bar –like a little boy or worse, a tourist. So now on the phone he sounds a little bit like a sullen teenager, and this makes College Girlfriend feel frustrated, helpless, like seeing something die in your hands.

After a few torturous months in Stage 3, they break-up. Although Man-man was the first to lose interest in the relationship, he felt so guilty about it that he resolved to spare College Girlfriend the trauma of being broken up with. Instead, he thoughtfully behaved in an increasingly aloof manner until she couldn’t stand it anymore and finally broke up with him over the telephone, cried her heart out immediately afterwards, and then, unexpectedly, again when she changed her relationship status on the Internet.

Man-man goes on a dating frenzy. Well, okay, more like a hook-up frenzy. He pulls a lot of girls because they can sense the newness on him, and they know that this is a special and short period of a young man’s life, before he becomes cynical and well-dressed like the rest of the men in the city. The scarcity of the resource ignites demand, and the Manhattan Man simply sits back and enjoys the ride. As if the city were a buffet and he the buffet king, he gallops through the well-trodden phases and fetishes of a young Manhattan Man:

  • Both branches of exoticism (girls that look All-American but have foreign accents, and girls that look exotic but have All-American accents);
  • Older women;
  • Models;
  • Girls who were born and bred in NYC and have intimidating fathers;
  • Girls who say they live in the Upper East Side but really it’s a six-floor walk-up in Spanish Harlem;
  • Girls who look like College Girlfriend;
  • Girls who look like his mom.

A few years of frolicking through his changing (I wouldn’t say evolving) proclivities, and now Man-man is in his mid-twenties and has developed a little bit of a bloat. It’s not that he’s fat. But he’s got a hard little watermelon belly on him now, and all the drinking and eating out has him retaining water like the Seven Sisters. Tufts of hair begin to grow in a spotty non-pattern on his fleshy back. Not only that, but all the grease in his diet has risen up to the tippity-top of each pore on his still child-like face, giving him a shiny sheen. His eyes are bloodshot. These days, if the angle isn’t right, and the lighting isn’t perfect, it’s really easy for him to look terrible in a picture –with his mouth stretched open and his eyes glazed over, his body limp and saggy, he looks like a giant fallopian tube. It is rumored that he has been going home with bridge-and-tunnel girls.

We have reached the nadir of Man-man’s existence (thus far).

Now let’s get out of it!

On a typical Saturday afternoon, the Manhattan Man lies on the couch playing Xbox360. It’s sunny outside and all the status updates on his wall are some variant of “my life is divine because I am on a rooftop near grilled meats” accompanied by fuzzy pictures of early twenty-somethings with Hipstermatic halos around their heads. But Man-man doesn’t have enough energy to be around other people today. Also, it’s his mom’s birthday and he should call her but he can’t muster up the energy to do that, either, so as punishment he’s making himself find all the collectibles in every “chapter” of Gears of War 2.

The punishment is a sort of solace.

One of his flip-flops fall from his foot to the ground, but it doesn’t make a sound because there is a gigantic pile of soft garbage (tissues, paper towels, used bath towels, some girl’s fake leather jacket) on the ground and the shoe simply falls into one of its dark crevices.

It is this final unmet expectation of sound that becomes Man-man’s last straw.

He sits up straight as a rod and yells, “Enough!” Kicks off his other flip-flop and throws it across the room. It falls on an open pizza box with leftover crusts in it. He marches over to the box, closes it up with his flip-flop still inside, and throws the whole thing into the garbage. He proceeds to throw most of his apartment into the garbage. Then he strips down to his boxers, examines himself in front of his roommate’s full length mirror, drops down and does as many push-ups as he can (seven… okay, five) and takes a cold shower.

From that day on, Man-man’s actions are much more deliberate. He hates, really hates, the man that he used to be. “I was a loser!,” he often berates himself. He joins a gym and goes regularly, using the work-out app in his iPhone to stress and strain his muscles for maximum gain. He dresses better, too, by noticing other men on the morning subway commute, the ones who wear delicate beards, masculine glasses, and subtly textured shirts. He establishes routines, like waking up at the same time on the weekdays, eating multiple meals a day, and calling his mom on Sunday nights.

The water weight comes off, the grease decreases and Man-man looks better than ever. Moreover, he doesn’t look better because he looks tender and innocent, like a newcomer to the city. Now he looks good as a New Yorker. He looks good in spite of the cynicism and self-consciousness that might be lurking beneath his well-tailored threads. And the world at this point does the funny thing it always does when a Man such as the Manhattan Man pulls himself together: it runs towards him with open arms, like a child actor in an airport reunion scene, and flings itself at him, gives him everything he has ever wanted, and then a whole fleet of things he didn’t even know were available to law-abiding civilians. Male authority figures give him warm brotherly slaps on the back, women fight over each other just to be in his line of vision, and work promotes him three positions upward in one dazzling leap.

Smiling and gracious with this second welcome from the city that never sleeps, Man-man reaches that point in a twenty-something’s life when one feels the first bittersweet pangs of one’s own mortality. This begets a desire to be connected to his roots, and Man-man sends an apologetic little “hey, what’s up!” to College Girlfriend, who by now is already engaged to a thirty-four-year-old school teacher.

She ignores him.

But back to this connecting to roots thing. Man-man enthusiastically renews and strengthens ties with his friends from college and high school who have also relocated to Manhattan. And through this miasma of nostalgia and shared team mascots, he meets his next girlfriend. Let’s call her, oh… The One. She’s never just a random girl that he just met one night. She’s a friend of a friend, or the sister of a buddy, a co-worker’s something or other. She’s connected, you know? And this connection makes Man-man feel solid, like there is a dignity and maturity in mutual acquaintances. Indeed, he believes that there is something sacred, almost holy, about a shared past. (In contrast, early 20’s Man-man had been all about meeting people he’s never seen, in places he’s never been.)

And with that slightly sanctimonious perspective, our Manhattan Man moves to Brooklyn to share an apartment with The One. They also share chores, corkscrews, and external hard drives. They even get a dog. With The One’s help, Man-man becomes his best dressed self yet. The One is the same age as Man-man and has had time to form her opinions and thoughts about the world. As a result, there are skirmishes, arguments, brawls even. Growing together pains, a romantic might say. It is during these formative years that Man-man learns, really learns about women. Not just the female body when it is primped and ready to dance, but also when it is in recline against a headboard at 11.30 PM at night, set aglow by the cool rays of a laptop playing “The Real Housewives of.” And he learns about the female body that changes with time, that, oh let’s just say it, that ages.

The One, too, also discovers, she feels too late, this little catch about being female, and calls out to Man-man, from the bathroom, that she thinks she’s getting age spots. “They’re sun freckles,” he says without getting up to see. She spits toothpaste foam into the sink and closes the door to look at her face some more. That night instead of watching reality TV in bed, she gallops through seven online discussion fora about female reproduction, and by the time she shuts her laptop in half to go to sleep, she has a five-year plan.

Okay, three. It’s a three year plan. There isn’t time for five years!

When The One clearly, though rather emotionally, brings up the issue of her inner timepiece, Man-man sees the image of himself in a vice –the kind that he used in shop class to hold onto pieces of wood and acrylic while he sanded down their hoary sides– he sees that vice and he sees its handles turn as the two metal plates push closer and closer together. It makes him feel trapped, airless, like a video game character who’s just ran out of life-meter points and is in the throes of death and a dark red stain spreads across the screen, the color of death.

He doesn’t want this. He’s only in his twenties, he has a good couple of years before he turns thirty. And in a town where the magazines and newspapers would call a 40-year-old man a “play boy,” in a town where 20-year-old girls did not even blink twice when approached by men who could be their grandfathers (as long as they dressed nice of course), in a world where Man-man’s bosses haven’t even settled down, he does not want to die just yet. He wants to stay out. Gin-soaked sunrises on the Williamsburg Bridge. Montecrisos between everyone’s teeth. Mystery and vice. He wants to have unlimited, unbridled possibilities. He wants his life to be on the first page of a choose-your-own adventure novel, before any choices have been made, before any story arcs have been eliminated. He wants it all.

And so, Man-man, regressing back to the time when he didn’t have the cajones to break up with College Girlfriend, once again tries to force The One to break up with him by acting like a jackass. It’s cruel to break up with a girl that wants to carry, give birth to, care for, and raise your seed, Man-man reasons to his friends. None of them remind him that maybe it is even more cruel to make a girl wait in vain. So that when she’s 42 and finally giving birth to her first child, she’s paying extra insurance because it’s considered a high-risk procedure at that age, and in addition to worrying about shedding baby weight, she also worries about dying. Anyway, that’s hyperbole. She’s not even 30.

Man-man goes on very long walks with the dog. He hangs out with his single buddies many nights of the week. He stops participating in vacation planning. He stops paying attention to her face. He reads his iPhone through the few meals they have together. He breaks every promise to get milk/juice/eggs on his way home. He has lunch with the new girl at his office, and enjoys the fact that she meets him downstairs at the lobby in heels. She never wears heels.

In this cruel and painstaking way, Man-man drives The One towards something else in her life, be it her job, or another man. Maybe another man at her job. Something that gives her attention or demands so much attention from her that it makes her feel wanted, important, dire. She becomes a more serious person as a whole, and it’s not hard to see where the frown lines would appear, when they do, that fateful day.

One night, one of them comes home to the other, and sobbingly confesses that they’d just kissed someone else. After the initial sting of betrayal, they both sigh with long-sought relief.

The relationship is over.

The Manhattan Man recovers from the break-up with incredible agility. He moves out of their shared apartment and, with all the money he saved on rent during his years with The One, is able to afford a swank bachelor pad in Tribeca, Manhattan.

The prodigal son returns!

The Manhattan Man plunges head first into the life of a white collar bachelor in the city. Since his last dip in the party pool, he has become bolder, more authoritative, and infinitely better at understanding the wants and wiles of women. They say that behind every successful man is a great woman, but did you also know that before every successful man is a long-term relationship?

Now pay attention as Manhattan Man makes one of the biggest discoveries a man in his position will ever make: younger women. Before, younger women were either illegally young, or overshadowed by their older compatriots, who were alluring to Man-man because they knew things that he didn’t know. Now that Man-man is older and wiser, he realizes that he can satisfy his need for depth separately from his need for women. He prefers younger women not just because they have smaller pores and firmer asses, but because older women reek of desperation. Well, enough of them did that he could no longer look at any of them without suspecting that they do. That niggling suspicion that they see him as a sperm bank, a necessary ingredient in their life dish. He doesn’t appreciate the objectification.

Also, women his age (late twenties, early thirties) have just stumbled upon and are still reeling and dealing with the fact that despite it being the 21st century and all, the world kind of still sucks for girls. And this reeling and dealing is, to Man-man and all bystanders, ugly, unpleasurable, and boring. In contrast, it is so much sweeter to sup from the fountains of more youthful paramours, whose realizations have only pitched them further forward on the positive slope towards imaginary roads.

Man-man wants to take one of these young fawns, these cocksure colts, these bold young bucks, and protect her from anything that might sully her glowing ignorance, her beautiful immaturity, her childish toes and stupid tiny tattoo. In this way, he hopes, he will keep her young forever. Maybe it is he that is the fountain of youth.

But Man-man is not having success in finding a young girl for keeps. He goes to the meatpacking district, he goes to fancy lounges, he goes to dingy hidden bars, he goes to mirrored hotel bars in the middle of a swimming pool lit up with neon lights. He is spending a lot of money buying pretty girls drinks and they are, yes, sparkling with the attention and returning his banter, and tilting their heads towards him when he says stupid clever filler shit to them. Sure, all that is happening. He has a ton of awesome profile pictures.

But nothing is sticking. These Princeton-educated girls with tawny colored eyes, these willowy creatures from the Czech republic who are not afraid to speak their minds. They aren’t sticking. It’s like Garfield sticking his paws into an aquarium of goldfish –for one shining moment he has a handful of lively colorful slivers in his paw, but in the next second they are all gone, slipping back to a swimming life. It dawns on him that he has mistaken the looks they give him as looks of kindness, when actually they are a kind of pity. These pretty young things know from the first introduction that they will be breaking his heart, ignoring his texts, moving on to collect experiences and compliments from new sources.

And just when Man-man is sadly nursing a drink by himself at the bar in Pegu Club, lookng around sullenly, feeling old and shitty and sorry, and thinking about texting The One, just to say hi, tell her that he finally saw that movie she had once hounded him to see, and that he had loved it. Just when his eyes were glistening with nostalgia for the wholesomeness of College Girlfriend, the way they held hands and walked on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach during Spring Break, and squinted at the sun in unison. Just when our Man-man was visited by these soothing images of loss, his phone vibrates one, two, three, and a buddy summons him to a house party in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn! He hasn’t been in that self-conscious backwater since he rode out of there in the middle seat of a moving truck, sitting between two sweating Bronx brothers who packed him up and moved him out of his apartment with The One lickety split. So fast that when she finally decided to come outside to say good-bye properly, for that last sad embrace, all she caught was the rumbling coarse purr of the moving truck as it rounded the corner towards the ugly Manhattan Bridge.

But it is only 10:30 PM and the Manhattan Man does not allow himself to go home before midnight on a weekend because, not that he has a biological clock or anything, but to do so makes him feel old and mortal. So, wearily, wearily, he slides off the bar stool, tucks his Centurion credit card into his wallet, and with 5 o’clock shadow, loosened tie, and one foot on the curb, he sticks his arm out for a cab. Oh Man-man, can you be any sexier! When he tells the driver that he wants to go all the way to Boreum Hill, the driver gives him a dirty look.

Anyway, the whole point of the party is that this is where Man-man meets Young Girl, who is the same age as the slippery future ex-wives he has been trying to net, but unlike them, she never goes clubbing, doesn’t really drink a lot, and already owns a cat. Don’t get me wrong –she’s cute. Sweet. Smart. She wears the uniform of her people: long straight hair, thick bangs, fast fashion with vintage aspirations –Forever 21, H&M, American Apparel. And underneath all the billowing floral suspender romper corduroy crap, solid T&A. She has a vivacious mother or Peter-Pan father –and whichever one it is often looks at her and wonders how they managed to raise such an even-keeled child.

Man-man and Young Girl hit it off immediately. He loves: her innocence, the number of things she has never done nor seen nor heard of, her slim wrists and milk moustaches, her excitement at simple pleasures, her shyness, her gaiety, the way she is so opinionated and indignant about the most obvious things, as if it was on her shoulders to promote equality, the environment, child nutrition. He loves seeing her struggle to make female friends, and her wobbly-kneed way of turning down potential suitors reminds him of a young Princess Di trying to dissuade photographers from snapping their cameras at her while she stood back-lit wearing an, unbeknownst to her, transparent skirt.

And there’s that word again: holy.

Yes there’s something holy about Young Girl, and it makes him feel holy too. With her, he feels both wonderfully young and wonderfully old. Her excitement towards life is contagious, and he finds himself standing in the front row of concerts again, swaying with his baby in his arms, listening to bands that his co-workers have never heard of. And when her excited recklessness causes her pain, he is always there to hold her and rock her and smooth down her long straight hair. Promise her that, if she’d lived as long as he has, she would realize how negligible her current setbacks really are. It’s during these moments that he would tell her what he knows. What he has seen and heard and felt and thought and concluded. He fills her with a carefully curated selection of his knowledge and experience, leaving out the ugly parts that might turn her into one of those grim women his age, make her ugly. He does this to protect her, and to also make them more compatible. To protect them. To make her stick.

He’s not manipulating her, okay? And accusations of condescension are laughably inappropriate –everyone knows that loving condescension is a major pillar of the most stable relationships.

I mean, look around at Man-man’s friends. Where only a few years ago his friends were leading interesting and vibrant lives and venturing in risky, inspiring endeavors, they are now not even good for a bit of decent conversation. Some of his friends from school are already divorced. And worse off are those stuck in bad marriages –zombified bowling pins who aren’t even allowed to pee in the shower, arguably the most innocent thing a man can do with his penis. Someone better stick a hand between their legs and catch their balls before they completely fall off.

If Man-man can circumvent that lukewarm bath of a life with its petty turbulences by meeting a woman while she is still young and moldable and telling her what to think and expect from the world so that she doesn’t get too disappointed and adversarial, then Man-man’s doing both Young Girl and himself a favor. And so, like the generations of Manhattan Men before him, Man-man makes one of the most important conclusions a man in his position could make: that men should be with younger women.

They get married. Why not? He’s figured out the Holy Grail of relationships already. What’s to be gained by putting it off? They move into a one-bedroom apartment in an age-appropriate neighborhood –neither too crazy nor too sedate. Even still, on his morning walks to the subway, he passes exactly four locations that remind him of of a more debaucherous, bygone era. An era that he genuinely does not miss (anymore) (finally).

Ahem, public announcement. Just so you know, one slight disadvantage of a wife that you treat like a pet is that you think you know everything that she is made of. After all, you raised her. She’s a known quantity. As domestic as apple pie. This condescending assumption is, of course, erroneous, but the Manhattan Man doesn’t know that yet.

At the office or on the street, Man-man meets a woman. She’s his age or older and mysterious, so mysterious! She’s self-made! She knows her way around a humidor! She has an authoritative but feminine strut! She’s so cosmopolitan, so New York! He admires her. He is intimidated by her. He doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s around her. The Manhattan Man has worked out an extensive list of pet peeves about women that he can’t stand, a list that he loves to go over with Young Girl, lecturing on and on about visible bra straps and insanely high heels. The Mystery Woman seems to possess all of these pet peeves but through the prism of his admiration for her, they only make her more seductive and alluring.

She doesn’t seem to need him. It’s he that seeks her approach.

He asks her to get coffee. She says yes, but just coffee, no time to sit. He feels like he just scored a touchdown. Waiting in line together, he catches her taking in his wedding ring, but misses the look of pity she gives him. He’s always missing those looks of pity!

They bump into each other a few more times, and to his delight become de facto coffee buddies. He loves: her shockingly cold fingers, the deliberateness of her details –the monogrammed jewellery and throaty laugh, the way she talks so easily and confidently about her work, like a man, really. The way she owns herself and has already travelled the world over twice: first as a romantic backpacker and once again as a first class passenger. The way she disagrees with him in such an agreeable, good-natured, but authoritative manner. The woman has lived! Screw compatibility, this is who he wants.

Just having these thoughts makes Man-man feel guilty. When he and Young Girl are cuddled on the couch watching a movie together and a character says that old refrain about men not being monogamous creatures, that the idea of a traditional marriage is against nature, he fears that his hand will tremble or his face will flinch and betray him to Young Girl. To deal with his guilt, he buys her gifts or gets fat or works out extra hard or suggests that they have a baby.

Meanwhile where he had once been scared and excited by his work, the Manhattan Man has been, for the last couple of years, fairly confident and bored about his job. In order to force himself to give a shit about maintaining good work product, he has become increasingly dependent on external feedback: positive reviews, promotions, and bonuses. When these external stimuli taper-off, as they eventually do for most workers, Man-man starts to feel worthless, ashamed, and bitter. He comes in to the office later and later everyday because he keeps missing his subway stop. One time he ends up at the end of the line at 205th street and instead of riding back to work, calls in sick and spends the rest of the day walking around the Bronx Zoo with his hands in his pockets. He begins to feel jealous of homeless people because “they’re free.” He also sometimes wishes that he were in jail; it would be a kind of relief.

A new nadir for the Manhattan Man!

To climb out of his predicament, Man-man decides to ask management for a raise. More specifically, he asks to join management. He’s been so well-liked, you know? All those intramural basketball championships and that skit at the Christmas party a few years back, everybody still remembers. A meeting is granted, Outlook calendars are updated, and on the big day, Man-man wears his lucky belt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Behind frosted glass doors, management wraps up the meeting with the following consolation: “Yes, I suppose you have been on a kind of plateau, but you have to admit… it’s a comfortable kind of plateau.”

That night, in the back of a cab on a gridlocked Avenue of the Americas, the Manhattan Man repeats these words to himself: a comfortable kind of plateau, a comfortable kind of plateau, a comfortable kind of plateau. When he had bawled in front of all the guests at his sixth birthday party because his Curious George cake wasn’t made out of ice cream, his dad had taken him to the next room and said, “Don’t be an ungrateful little brat. Do you know how many kids out there would love to have a Curious George birthday cake, but never will?”

Is he being an ungrateful little brat again? He has a comfortable plateau of a life –the compatible young wife, the downtown apartment, the well-paying job. Yet all he wants to do is to escape. To run along the level plane that is his life, faster and faster, until he gathers enough speed that he can burst out of it, like a phoenix rising from the glowing embers of his old life.

What kind of a man wants that?

Why does the life he painstakingly built for himself feel so stupid?

When his father was his age.

There were no video games for men back then.

Industries geared towards keeping boys from becoming men.

So much time in front of the TV!

He’s watched every season of that reality show where those girls live in a house.

Everyone is estranged from each other though.

All the guys are doing it. Playing video games and watching TV and married and having crushes and getting their balls pinched at work.

He’s never done a triathlon.

Or a black girl.

He has nothing to show for the last ten years!

Picking a major, getting a job in Manhattan, breaking up with College Girlfriend, meeting The One, moving to Brooklyn, finding Young Girl, moving back to Manhattan. What was all that about? And what the hell happens next?

A rapping on the window of his stalled taxi.

He can tell who it is by the sound of her bracelets jangling against each other.

Man-man peers up through the dirty window at his unexpected visitor, the midtown Manhattan skyline looming behind her like giant ghouls.

Ah, so this is what happens next.

He takes a deep breath, and opens the door.

—-
This story was originally published in two parts in Zouch Magazine (Part 1, Part 2).

FILED UNDER: The Ballad of Manhattan Man | Permalink

Aunt Jemima Nights

My first New York apartment was in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. Up to this day, it is the fanciest apartment in which I have ever lived. There was an airy lobby with large gilded mirrors and abstract paintings on the walls. There was a sharply dressed doorman to help revolve you inside should your arms be overladen with shopping bags full of designer purchases. There was a gym with new equipment and a large wooden patio with chaise lounges strewn about in a casual, upscale way.

Of course, it being Manhattan, my own apartment was a small 500 square feet studio. But it was a corner studio, the counters were marble, the fridge had a dark and sexy allure, and there was a window in my shower so that you could see the empire state building while you scrubbed.

Inside my first Manhattan studio apartment.

“Look at you… all grown up now,” a friend of mine muttered the first time he stepped into my airy lobby. I myself was also in disbelief about the whole thing. Did I really live there?

I remember the day I found it. I was about to begin my grown-up job of being a first year associate at a gigantic law firm in Times Square, and I had been forewarned that this meant I would be slaving away for long hours, day after day, no weekends. So I figured I would want to live close by –which, as it later turned out, was a rookie mistake because whoever lived closest to work was the weekend whipping boy while more savvy outer-borough co-workers couldn’t possibly trek “all the way” into the city. Instead of using a broker or going through online listings, I took the straight forward approach of walking around Times Square and looking for residential buildings that might have vacancies for me.

As it turned out, most buildings in Times Square were not residential buildings. The difficulty of my search was exacerbated by how tall the buildings were. Sandwiched between towering highrises, it was difficult to see what was beyond them. Finally, I spotted a gigantic red sign that said: RENT. It was huge! And the sign even had a border of twinkling lights illuminating it. I smiled gratefully –now there’s a smart leaser! Why couldn’t all residential buildings in New York follow suit?

It wasn’t until I got to the box office that I realized the sign was for Rent, the musical.

Eventually, I walked all the way over to Ninth Avenue and found the residential building that would turn out to be my future home.

But even though I had the apartment and the job, on the inside I felt like a child. When I walked to work in the mornings in my high-heeled stilettos (my first pair, bought by mom) and faux-leather briefcase (a toy briefcase I used to play dress-up with when I was five), I would grin devilishly to myself –it felt so much like playing house, I might as well have been wearing a mustache!

At work, I kept expecting someone to point a finger at me and say, “What’s that kid doing here? Shouldn’t she be in school?” I couldn’t believe that grown-ups were talking to me like I was a grown-up too. I couldn’t believe that a forty-year-old father of two wanted to discuss my findings on how far we could stretch the definition of what a “security” was. Stretch it, I barely knew it!

The huge disconnect between my mustached life and my adolescent insides manifest itself in my daily habits. Every night after work, I would walk through a desolate Times Square to get home. The sky would be lit a pale pink by all the neon marquee lights and the streets would be so empty you didn’t even have to look up to cross them. Tourists, as it turned out, went to bed earlier than lawyers.

Night after night, I’d always trudge along the same path, in order to hit three landmarks.

The first one was a large loading dock for daily newspapers. Men of diverse ethnicities would drive up in cargo vans full of empty newspaper dispensing machines, retrieve a tall stack of tightly bundled newsprint from the loading area, and attack it with gusto until it was divided up into manageable piles and neatly inserted into the dispensers. It was hard, outdoor, work and at first I felt chastened watching them –how dare I pity myself for working long hours in my comfortable office with my own secretary, when here were men grunting under the strain of physical discomfort! But eventually, after several more months of biglaw, I would walk past these independent contractors with their hands pink and raw from the cold, and feel nothing but envy. After all, they got to set their own hours, and all that fresh air!

My second stop along the way was a bakery –not a fancy one, just one that supplied bread to local restaurants. If it was around 4 or 5 AM, you’d be able to smell the delicious scent of baking brioches and buns. It was a heady, yeasty, smell and it made me happy. Often times, I would stop in and buy a brioche bun, fresh out of the oven for a dollar twenty-five. I’d scarf it down on my walk home, luxuriating in the warmth and comfort of fresh bread.

My third and last stop was the 24 hour deli across the street from my apartment. I’d head straight for the freezer in the back and get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The stock boy who worked there would come over to say hi mami, and one of us would lower our voice and say something uncouth about our bosses, and the other would nod in solidarity.

In my apartment, I might eat a little bit of the ice cream, but more often than not, I’d make myself Aunt Jemima pancakes. I always made sure to get the “just add water” kind, because I never had any milk or eggs or other foods in my fridge. I’d make them underdone, so that they were just a little bit slurry. Then I’d plate them nicely and bring them, along with a nice tall bottle of Aunt Jemima’s maple syrup, to bed. Once comfortably set up, I’d pop in a Family Guy dvd –I didn’t have cable and couldn’t receive any channels on my tv– and watch it on the tv set I bought at Costco with my parents in what seemed like another lifetime ago.

My favorite part of the Family Guy episodes were the dining room scenes. Not because they were funnier, but because seeing a family eat a nice normal sit down meal reminded me of home in a nice way.

One night, I tried to replace all of that childish comfort food stuff with alcohol. I bought my first bottle of wine (and a corkscrew) and could barely contain my excitement at starting what would sure to be a recklessly romantic, wanton, chapter of my life. But I couldn’t, ah, open the wine bottle. It took seven attempts, copious amounts of cursing, several earnest pep talks, and plenty of breaks to finally erode enough of the cork that I could sort of push it deep enough into the bottle that, when tipped, would finally yield a small, handicapped trickle of red, red, wine.

So there I’d be, lying on my stomach, eating raw pancake drowned in maple syrup, bonding with a cartoon family, in the middle of the night in my grown-up apartment, trying to push away the spectre of another day at the office. I’d fall asleep with my fork in hand and wake up to spilled syrup and the endless musical loop of the Family Guy dvd menu page.

Hell’s Kitchen indeed.

——

This article was originally published in Zouch Magazine.

FILED UNDER: Aunt Jemima Nights | Permalink

My Adventures with Mr. X

So in the middle of a very busy week at work, my mom calls.

“The Chinese director Zhou Sun is making a TV series in New York!” she shouts the moment I pick up.

As she excitedly rambles on and on, I can’t help but tune out for a bit… I’m not an asshole but I do act like one with my mom.

Suddenly, I realize she’s asking me a question.

“Are you ready to take down the phone number?”

“Huh? Whose number?” I grumble, toggling anxiously and uselessly through various Windows applications. Adobe. Excel. Outlook. Adobe. Excel.

“The guy in New York! Look, I already called him to give him a heads-up. He’s expecting your call. If you don’t call now, he’ll never remember who you are.”

“Alright alright. I gotta go!” I flip my phone closed in a huff and slink further into my chair. Dammit! What is this new thing that I have to do?

Thing is, my mom is a novelist who works with a major Chinese director to adapt her novels onto screens big and small. So, it’s not 100% odd that she called me about a Chinese director filming his TV show in New York. Just 80%. Later, I will find out that she didn’t even come about this information through her insider-status channels. In fact, a non-showbiz friend of hers had seen the phone number for the “guy in New York” on a Chinese cable channel commercial for god-knows-what.

Might as well get this over with, I grouse to myself, flipping my phone back open and jabbing at the appropriate numbers.

After two rings a male voice shouts at me from the other end.

“WAI, NIHAO!”

“Uh, hello? Um, I’m Lin’s daughter…” I stammer back in Chinese.

“Oh! Lin’s daughter! Yes yes. Okay, good. Why don’t you come meet me tomorrow. Yes yes. Do you have white friends? Bring them too! How tall are you? … Ha same as me, you’re tall for a girl! Also tomorrow night, you should come to a big party with me! It’ll be in Flushing. A banquet. Anyway, I’ll introduce you to the director tomorrow, after I meet you first heh heh. Did you know that I once put on a Chinese New Year celebration at Yale? Yes, yes too bad you already graduated. It was phenomenal. You’re a good kid, Ying Ying, I’ll see you tomorrow. Oh, and you can call me Mr. X.”

Yep, that actually happened.

I hang up the phone in a daze and recuperate via a few more clicks of mindless toggling.

The next day, Friday, after work, I take the train down to 23rd street and 6th. Mr. X had told me to meet him at that intersection and would not tell me a street number when I asked for one.

“Just look for the most handsome man in your vicinity,” he had joked (I think).

I get there and give him a call.

“WAI, NIHAO!” he shouts into the phone again. I am getting used to this.

“Uh, it’s Ying.”

“WHERE ARE YOU, YING?” he shouts back. He has the kind of speech pattern that causes him to gurgle his syllables. I picture him talking with a big smile as words overflow and slide out of his mouth like Alphabets cereal.

“I’m at 23rd and 6th,” I answer rather proudly.

“Oh good! I’m on 23rd, between 6th and 5th. I’m in a white van. Come find me!”

I start feeling a little bit like I’m participating in my own kidnap. Won’t mom be shocked, I think slyly, like Tom Sawyer the night he ran away from home.

I find the white van, a huge moby dick of a vehicle, closer to 5th. I go around to the passenger side, a small Chinese woman who looks like the woman that designed the Incredibles’ super hero costumes slides the door open and the driver, Mr. X, shouts me in.

Inside I am introduced to a tired looking man in the passenger side who doesn’t pay any attention to me beyond what bare manners necessitate, the Incredibles woman, who speaks in the exact reedy voice you’d expect her to have, and her friend, an old white man sitting beside her.

“How old do you think she is?” Mr. X says to the other people in the van, pointing at me excitedly.

Before anyone can answer, he bursts into giggles, “Doesn’t she look like a student? Just a student? So young!”

Mr. X starts to drive the five of us slowly around the block.

“What are you doing, my friend?” Ms. Incredibles asks worriedly.

“I have to keep moving, keep moving!” he cries back. Just like a shark, I noted.

“Oh, Mr. X, you need these… ” Ms. Incredibles rummages through her purse and pulls out a small box of Tic Tacs. “You’re an important man now, you need these.”

She dumps a few in his palm as he nods eagerly and self-importantly.

Eventually we end up back at our starting place, and Mr. X tries to park his huge Moby Dick in a tiny tiny space, with Ms. Incredibles murmuring, “Watch it, watch it, oh Mr. X, watch it!” beside me.

The parallel parking job takes an interminably long time, during which we manage to seriously anger an elderly couple in a Lexus, hold up a whole block-ful of Friday rush-hour traffic, and bump unceremoniously into the van in the spot behind us.

“Don’t worry! That’s one of ours!” Mr. X yells from the driver’s seat.

As soon as we’re parked, the impatient man in the passenger seat pops out of the van, followed by Mr. X. I sit in the van with Ms. Incredible and her white friend. We chat. She works at the Met as a tour guide. She’s here to be in a scene in the Chinese director’s TV show. She is old friends with Mr. X and had played his wife on Broadway (?).

Suddenly Mr. X’s chubby face appears through the driver’s side window. “Come out come out, come take a picture with the actors!”

We stumble out of the van obediently. I’m the first one out and I have no idea which of the half dozen Chinese people standing around are the actors until Mr. X shepherds me towards two of them.

Pictures are taken, with as many arrangements of people as you can think of. I’m pretty sure there were some pictures of just Ms. Incredible, Mr. X, and me.

Finally Ms. Incredible and her white friend are led inside a nearby building to shoot a scene. She gives me her card.

“Do you have one?” she asks.

“I forgot,” I answer sheepishly. I really have a hard time being one of those people who always have a fresh business card to give.

“You can’t go home just yet,” Mr. X says to me, anticipating my exit.

“You have to come with me to a party. A banquet. It’s a show. In Flushing,” he says as he removes odds and ends from his van, then adds other stuff back to his van. Everything he did and said was tinged with a kind of fervor.

“You have a part. In a skit. Just a small part. Two lines. It’d really help me out…” he looks at me expectantly.

I sigh. “How long is it?”

“Two minutes, two minutes! You can go as soon as you’re done your part, or you can stay for the whole thing up to you!” he shouts through an armful of white tuxedos in clear dry clean bags that he is stuffing into the back of Moby Dick.

There were of course a million reasons to say no to this venture, including every single case of felony kidnapping in the entire history of the world. On the other hand, a busy but unsatisfying week at work made me want to do something impulsive and rash for the weekend.

Fuck it, I think, I haven’t had an adventure in a while.

“Alright, let’s go,” I announce more to myself than to Mr. X.

We get in the van, pull out of the parking spot, and just as we’re about to cross 5th Avenue, Mr. X spots the director Zhou Sun on the sidewalk.

Mr. X turns to me with an exhilarated expression on his cherubic face.

“There’s the director! There’s the director!”

He stops the van in the middle of the street.

“Get out! Hurry, get out and take a picture!”

I don’t even know why, but I get caught up in the moment too, eyes widening, and tumble out of the van to stand shyly beside the Director.

“Where’s your camera!” Mr. X yells at me with utmost urgency.  I feel like I’m in one of those clichéd situations where an overbearing mother is trying to get her homely daughter to put on a tight sweater and make a move on the neighbor’s son.

I obediently scramble back into the van and return with my phone.

The Director, I’ve learned since the confusing conversation with my mom, is the real deal; in fact, two of his most recent movies both starred the acclaimed Chinese actress Gong Li.  So anyway, he smiles at me.  For the hell of it, I try to look at him With Meaning.

Mr. X is huffing and puffing around us excitedly like a little choo-choo train.

“This is Ying Ying! She looks like a kid but she’s a lawyer! A New York lawyer!” he shouts giddily at the Director.

“You, um, you’re a lawyer?” the Director whispers to me.  He seems just as shell-shocked by Mr. X as I am.

I nod sheepishly.

“In New York?”

I nod again.  A conspiratorial dynamic has taken shape between the Director and me.  It’s like we’re trying to be as quiet as Mr. X is loud.

“Alright alright, how do I do this!” Mr. X shouts, fumbling with my camera phone while the Director and I politely smile in his direction.  I rush over and show Mr. X how to take a picture with my phone.

“What kind of camera is this?” Mr. X grumbles, turning my phone over in his hand like it’s a mysterious talisman.

“Here, use mine,” the Director says quietly, pulling out a camera from the bosom of his flannel jacket.

“Stand closer together, closer, closer! C’mon, stand closer!” Mr. X screams happily at us as the Director and I become increasingly uncomfortable.

“Alright Mr. X, just take the picture will you?” the Director laughs.  I laugh, or pee my pants, I don’t know which, at this point I was nervous enough to do both.  Now that innumerable pictures have been taken of the Director and me, Mr. X re-focusses himself on our next order of business.

“Back in the van! We gotta get to the banquet by 7!” he yells.  I smile bye to the Director and scramble back into the van. It is 6.30 PM. On a Friday. We are in midtown Manhattan.  Yikes.

On the drive to Flushing, which takes about an hour, Mr. X hangs his phone like a pendant on a rope around his neck and answers each and every one of his calls, involving me as much as possible in every conversation.

Every call goes the same way. First, I am sent to climb to the back of the van to find an item of great import to the caller.  Then, about three minutes into each call, Mr. X starts looking around for cops and gets paranoid that he’s going to get a ticket for talking on a cell phone while driving.  At the height of his paranoia, he will remove his phone from its rope necklace, toss it at me in the passenger seat, and make me take the rest of the call, but not before yelling into the phone, “Here, speak to a lawyer!,” which greatly confuses not only me but the person on the other side of the call as well.

“Good kid, good kid. I’m gonna give you a job at my new company,” Mr. X promises as he watches me jot down some notes from a caller on the back of a receipt.

Finally, we park and walk towards the banquet hall. I hold a pair of white tuxedo pants for Mr. X as he shrugs into his white tuxedo jacket while we walk.

It occurs to me for the first time that I have no idea how to get home.  This is only my second time in Flushing and I have no idea where I am.

“Is there a subway around here?” I ask.

“Subway, hmm, yes, subway…” Mr. X murmurs absent-mindedly.

We finally stop walking as we approach a multi-storied Chinese restaurant.  I follow Mr. X up to the second floor, which was the size of a prison canteen and full of round banquet tables covered in thick, pink, tablecloths.

“Wait here,” Mr. X says to me and slips into the men’s bathroom to put on his white tuxedo pants.

I look around. There are Chinese people everywhere. Old ones, young ones. Mixed babies. An old school Italian dude with his Chinese wife, both silver-haired.

There are balloons and banners everywhere. They announce that I am at a Chinese New Year celebration for Chinese folks from Jiangsu Province. As a native Beijinger, I can’t help but feel a little uppity. This feeling of hoity-toity snobbery turns out to be rather short-lived, as you shall see soon enough.

At one end of the huge banquet hall is a slightly raised stage with microphone stands haphazardly arranged, like aloof birthday candles sticking out of a birthday cake. It appears that the Chinese New Year celebration for the people of Jiangsu will include an elaborate talent show.  What the hell am I doing here?, I ask myself nervously.

“Come here come here come here!” Mr. X rushes out of the bathroom with renewed energy and pulls me towards a table in the back of the room. Sitting at the table are: two middle-aged women, a younger girl, and most spectacular of all, an older Chinese gentleman with a long ponytail and a colorful beaded vest. He almost looked Native American –when was the last time you saw a Chinese man with a long ponytail and a vest? Yes, exactly.

I am shoved into a seat and introduced thusly: “This child is a lawyer!” I feel slightly freakish as the middle-aged women gasp and look closely at me for eye wrinkles.  The younger girl frowns at me suspiciously.

The gentleman in the vest seems to be Mr. X’s favorite too.

“This man here,” Mr. X declares with flourish, “is a teacher, and an award-winning, foremost of foremosts, magician,” Mr. X boasts, gesturing grandly towards the man in the vest, who nods with a smile that is just a little bit grim.

After making sure I’ve settled down in my seat, Mr. X flies away to socialize with people at the other tables, punctuating his loud and excited greetings with flecks of spittle.  He seems to be excellent friends with at least three people at each table,

I sit alone at the table, a little bit overwhelmed.  Even though the room is already full of people seated at their tables, there is no food being served.  I gather that the plan is to feed us after the talent show.  I  dabble in some small talk with the middle-aged ladies, which quickly turns to a one-sided interrogation:  Where did you go to school?  How old are you?  How long have you know Mr. X?

To which I truthfully respond, “A few hours.”

“Doesn’t he seem kind of sketchy?” the younger girl interjects. She tells me that she is the daughter of a famous Jiangsu opera singer, and that mother and daughter recently moved to New York so that the daughter could take acting lessons here.

“Hey,” the Magician beckons me towards the empty seat beside him, “come here for a second.”

I obediently sit as instructed.

“So, you’re going to be in our skit,” he nods.

I smile nervously.  I guess this is the favor Mr. X wanted me to help him with, when he pleaded for me to come to the banquet with him.

“Two very easy lines… hey Bianca, Bianca!” The Magician calls out to the young Chinese actress.  “What’s your last line?” he asks her.

“The entire country is doomed.”

“Ok, so after she says that, you run on stage, look around,” here the Magican pretends to look around frantically, “and say –Bianca, what’s his name again?  Oh, okay. So then you yell, ‘Peeeeterrrr!'”

I nod easily.

“Then, you jump into his arms and say, ‘Forgive me!'” the Magician continues.

Huh? What’s this about jumping into someone’s arms?, I wonder to myself.  I wondered where Mr. X had instructed him to sit; there were no strong young men at our table that looked like potential Peters.

Suddenly Mr. X returns to our table, looking even more flushed than before, with another Chinese girl beside him.  He makes a beeline for the Magician and me.

“Let’s go let’s go let’s go! We have to rehearse!” he yells anxiously and motions for us to follow him towards the stage. The Magician and I hurry after him, practically breaking into a trot, as we thread our way to a small closet by the side of the stage.

As we file into the closet at top speed, Mr. X closes the door behind us, accidentally trapping a small sequined girl inside with us. After we release her to her worried mother outside, Mr. X closes the door behind us again and stands facing me, arms outstretched.

“Wrap your legs around him when you jump into his arms,” the award-winning Magician instructs.

Only two hours ago, I was in midtown sitting at a desk reading a multi-pronged legal argument and now I was in Flushing, beyond the reaches of even the far-reaching 7 train, locked in a small closet with two of the most eccentric Chinese men I have ever met, getting straddling instructions.

“Jump where?”

I look at Mr. X, his legs and arms slightly bowed, beads of sweat on his smiling, eager, plastered-looking face. He’s not a slim guy by any means but he is shorter than me and I worry whether he can support my weight.

“Come child, we don’t have a lot of time,” the Magician says his low, hypnotic-Magician, voice.

I take a deep breath, take three little steps –all the running start the small closet would allow, and dutifully recite my first line of dialogue as I jump towards the ruddy Mr. X.

When the dust has settled, I open my eyes and note that my face is three inches away from Mr. X’s. I try not to look at his pores.

“Bend your knees so that your legs aren’t sticking out, it’ll make it easier on Mr. X,” the Magician coaches. I do as I’m told.

“Yes, yes that’s it! Good kid! Now, at this point, say the second line I taught you.”

I draw a blank.

“I’ve missed you so much?” I guess feebly.

The Magician’s face falls and Mr. X gives me a quizzical look, slightly buckling under my weight.

“No, no, no!” the Magician scolds. “You are suppose to say, ‘Will you ever forgive me?'”

“Will you ever forgive me?” I parrot, eager to get off Mr. X and stand on my own two feet. But instead of letting me go he excitedly creates additional dialogue.

“Will you call the cops on me ever again?” he asks me, contorting his face into a comically pitiful expression.

I am stumped.

“Then you say,” Mr. X changes his voice to a soft falsetto, “No, I’ll never report you to the police again! I miss you so much!”

I obediently repeat these words, trying to commit them to memory and to ignore the fact that I am still basically straddling a strange man in a small closet under the watchful tutelage of a Chinese magician in a vest.

“And then he carries you off the stage, and we’re done,” the Magician concludes.

I finally hop off Mr. X. The men wait for for me to smooth my skirt. On top of feeling weirded out about the absurd situation into which I’ve somehow inserted myself, I was also actually quite nervous about my upcoming performance. There were, after all, several hundred people out there expecting to be entertained.

“So… uh, when I walk on stage and cry ‘Peter!’, am I looking around for him, or have I already seen him?” I ask the men worriedly.

“No no no, it’s not ‘Peter,'” Mr. X chides me impatiently, totally ignoring my question. “It’s ‘Peterrrrrrrrr!'” Mr. X demonstrates, rolling the “r” at the end of the name the way a mainland Chinese person would for the “er” sounds in Chinese.

This correction adds to my stage-fright. The only English line I have, and I have to do it in a Chinese accent.

We shuttle back to our seats around our table, and waiters begin to place one dish after another before us. As we eat, a man goes on stage and identifies himself as the emcee of the talent show. Given that Mr. X had come to this event dressed in a white tuxedo, I had assumed that he was, in fact, the master of ceremonies for the evening. I decide to stop making assumptions for the rest of the night, as they will most likely all turn out to be just as erroneous.

“Do you know when we perform?” I ask Bianca the young Chinese actress.

“Nope, I don’t know anything,” she shrugs.

We watch as the Magician goes up first and pulls out a mechanical pigeon from his hat and lights things on fire. Next is a woman in a white prom dress who sings one song after another much too loudly, and for much too long, while her shy, modestly-dressed, young daughter hangs around by a corner of the stage looking miserable.

Every once in a while Mr. X reappears at our table with a new person by his side, whom he introduces to all of us, and then promptly abandons at our table as he runs away elsewhere. The person who as been so abruptly deposited by our side will either awkwardly makes up an excuse to leave us, or awkwardly sit down for a few minutes first before awkwardly making up an excuse to leave us.

At one point a man in his thirties comes up to Bianca and me. His face is soaking wet as if someone just used it to catch an afternoon’s worth of rain. He also looks… well, crazed.

“Are both you girls actresses for tonight’s show?” he asks excitedly.

Bianca and I nod coolly.

“Great! Great for you girls. What is your name? Where do you go to school? …Oh that’s fantastic!”

The man, who is wearing a white ill-fitted suit, will not leave us alone. He buzzes around us with his wet face, threatening to drip himself on us and/or our belongings at any minute.

Getting restless, I slowly pull a book out of my bag to read, hiding it on my lap. I have been trying to find a monologue and the book, called “Modern American Theatre Monologues for Women,” consists of about 30 monologues for women, as the title clearly indicates.

“Hey, what is that?” one of the two middle-aged women on my right chirps, eagle-eyed.

“Uh… this? It’s just a …book.”

Apparently, such an answer is enough to catch the interest of the woman’s friend beside her as well.

“Oh, what is it about?”

“This? Oh it’s like… ” and having no idea how to say monologue or any of the other necessary words necessary to describe the book accurately, I squirm uncomfortably under their intense gaze, wave my hands in the air, and mutter something about, “Different people, talking.”

“You know,” the more Stepford-looking of the two discloses to me with pride, “I get all my reading suggestions from other people.”

Next thing I know, the book is snatched out of my hands and the women whip out pens and and paper to carefully copy down the title of my monologue book.

“So what is it about?” they ask again.

“Uh… it’s a… lot of stories.”

“Where is the author’s name?” They say, scanning the front and back covers of the book over the tops of their eye-glasses.

“Uh… there are a lot of… authors.”

“Great, I’ll definitely pick it up at the bookstore.”

They pass the book back to me and I shove it back into my bag. Boy are they going to be disappointed when they try to read it!

Finally, after a group of boys finish their Kung Fu demonstration, we are summoned to on stage! We’re up! The three of us giggle to each other, Bianca, me, and a third girl who is a clarinetist at Columbia University.

We are ushered into the small closet where I had been instructed to straddle Mr. X a mere hour ago. We wait quietly while Mr. X and the Magician hurry about the stage, setting it up for our performance.

“How do you know Mr. X?” Bianca and I ask the Clarinetist.

She shrugs uncomfortably. “I called him about an ad for a room for rent and somehow… I’m here.”

Bianca and I nod with understanding.

“He keeps on promising me that he’s going to get me to play a duet with Bill Clinton, ” she continues skeptically.

“He keeps telling me something about a director,” I add.

It dawns on us that Mr. X has a certain modus operandi.

The girls shrug, I shrug. We all look into the mirror in the small closet and titter nervously. Eventually, Bianca, then the Clarinetist are summoned on stage. Since my part isn’t until the very end, I spend the majority of the skit in the small closet off-stage with my ear on the door, waiting for my cue from Bianca. Finally, I hear her say, “The whole country is doomed!”

I take a deep breath and run onto stage, yelling, “Peterrrrrrr!!!” as instructed. The whole time leading up to this moment, I’d been an anxious wreck. But by the time I run onto stage, straddle Mr. X, and tell him that I will never call the cops on him again, I have already resolved to be the clown that my role expected me to be. As Mr. X carries me off stage, I turn myself sideways to face the audience, and with a dumb grin on my face, I wave slowly and exaggeratedly at them. When in Rome, right? The crowd laughs appreciatively, I mug, and Mr. X toddles off stage happy as a clam.

It is only after I get off stage do I realize that, aside from my own lines, I had no idea what our skit had been about.

“Great work!” the Magician greets us backstage. He pats me on the back and gives me his business card, which folds in half and has instructions on the back on how to use it in a playing-card trick.

Bianca, the Clarinetist, and I run to our seats like released felons and throw on our jackets while Wet Face stands nearby, watching us and wringing his hands.

“You girls are done already? Where are you going? You’re leaving already? Will you get home alright? Can we take a picture?”

We more or less ignore Wet Face, grab our bags, and bid Mr. X goodbye in unison. To my surprise, he isn’t surprised to see us flee.

“Ahhhh! You’re going already? Oh, ok ok. Did you have fun girls? That was fun right, you got to have fun, had some great food, made some good friends, right?”

Mr. X turns to the Clarinetist, “Next time I’ll get Bill Clinton to do a duet with you, okay?”

We roll our eyes and laugh good-naturedly. “Byyyyyyeeee Mr. X!”

“Ok ok, bye girls! Bye bye you good girls! Be good!” As I scamper past Mr. X towards the stairwell, he says to me: “Ying Ying, call me tomorrow morning okay? We might need some reporters for Director Zhou Sun’s TV show. Do you have any white friends? Bring them bring them! Black friends too. Call me!!”

Mr. X’s voice sets in the distance like a bright light. Bianca helps me find the 7 train and as I ride it all the way to my apartment in Astoria, I wonder what will happen the next day.

Late that Friday night, Mr. X calls me and tells me that the shoot tomorrow is a go. I am to bring “white people.”  As many as possible.  We will play reporters in a scene of the Chinese TV series being shot by Director Zhou Sun.

So, I used to do extra work as a teenager to supplement my weekly allowance. I even had an agent who tried to cast me as a Thai prostitute.

“But don’t you want to meet Mark Walberg? Marky Mark?” she begged and begged, then put me on hold for an egregiously long period of time.

“Nah,” I said when she finally came back on the line, “I should probably go on a tour of the college I might attend.”

“Suit yourself,” she said pithily and hung up the phone.

Wishing to distract myself from the odious amount of work that had to be done that weekend, I decide to go.

At 1 PM, I meet Mark, a “white people” friend of mine who also got a kick out of the idea of being in a Chinese TV show, in Koreatown, at the Starbucks around 5th Avenue and 32nd st.

Mr. X, in typical fashion, had given me an intersection and no specific street numbers.  We approach a section of the street that has an unusually high number of Asians standing around –which, since we are in Koreatown, was probably a somewhat misguided approach.

After a couple minutes of standing around hoping we were in the right place, a boy gathers us and about ten other people into a semicircle. He introduces himself as “Tiger.”

“Did he say Tiger?” I whisper to Mark.

“Yep,” he nods, rubbing his hands excitedly. We can already feel that madcap will ensue.

Tiger gives us our assignment. The main character will come out of the revolving doors of the fancy high-rise building by which we will gather. He has just donated all of his sizable lottery winnings to a charity. Everyone is mad curious. We, as reporters, will swarm him and pepper him with questions. We will follow him in a ‘razzi swarm as he gets into his limo at the curb, at which point he will be driven away and we will stand in the street with open mouths and unanswered questions and a faint and quickly passing sense of mopery.  Pretty cool, right?  But here is the most awesome part: Since everything will be dubbed in Chinese in post-production, it doesn’t matter what we actually say. 

Well, it was the most awesome part to me.  No one else seemed to care one way or another.

Props are passed out. I get a small microphone with a wire coming out of it. I plug the wire into a buttonhole in my cardigan.

“Action!” someone yells in Chinese.

The revolving doors spin forth the main Chinese character and his caucasion lawyer. There is a shy pause among the extras, then madness!  No doubt imitating the “hungry press” scenes we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, we all rush up towards them, thrusting microphones and mini tape recorders and cameras at their faces.

A short woman to my left yells, “Why did you give your money away?”

The Chinese actor stops, grins at her, thinks, and answers her in heavily accented English.

My turn. “Excuse me, excuse me, but…”

The Chinese actor and the Caucasian lawyer turn to me, waiting patiently for my question.  Everyone is silent and still, waiting for my question.  For a second, the artifice of art slides away and it almost feels like this is actually happening for real.  We are reporters and the inquiring public wants to know!  I clear my throat dramatically.

“What is your favorite colour?” I yell.

Without missing a beat, the well-trained Chinese actor makes up an answer on the spot –I’m not even sure if he said real words, or if he just moved his mouth and made some sounds at me.  But nonetheless it seemed very believable.

I’m pretty proud of my ridiculous question until Mark one-ups me, “Mr. Yao, Mr. Yao,” he shouts, “What about the children?”

By now everyone is trying to be a comedian.

“Is it true that you are a homosexual?”

“What is your favorite restaurant?”

“What do you think of New York?”

All asked, of course, in super urgent tones. The actor playing Mr. Yao continues to grin, either shaking his head and murmuring, “No no no…” or nodding and laughing, “Yes, yes yes.”  I told you, he’s very good.

It’s fun and we do this scene a few more times with the camera at different places.

During one of the breaks, the Director comes over and stands about two feet from me.  Then he does that slow awkward pivot with which anyone who has ever been socially challenged is familiar, and, without ever looking me straight in the eye, begins to address me in such a quiet voice that at first I’m not even sure that he’s talking to me.

“Are you… are you the girl that I met yesterday?” he asks.

“Yes, yes I am!”  I can’t believe he remembers and recognizes me!  I try to tone down the look of unadulterated happiness on my face.

We nod and smile and Mark thoughtfully turns away to give the Director and I maximum opportunity to continue our shy exchange.

“So… you live here?” he asks.

“In New York? Yeah, yeah I do.”

You know how every once in a while you meet someone who is so down to earth that you can’t stand holding eye contact because you’re not used to how they look at you so steadily?  In this simple, studying kind of way?  Well, that’s what it was like with the Director.

Eventually I have to look elsewhere or devise something to say to break the down-to-earthiness a little bit.

“Um, how long are you going to be staying in New York?” I ask.

“Oh, we’re leaving on Monday. Have to go to [Chinese that I don’t understand.]”

We nod some more. I’m pretty happy but also just about to kill myself from all the realness.

I remember a thing Mr. X told me on our drive to Flushing the day before, about how a NYU girl he had introduced to the Director had totally inappropriately asked the Director to come give a talk at her school, inappropriate because she had bypassed Mr. X and asked the Director directly.

The Director was too polite to refuse but he was also too busy to go.  He felt bad and told Mr. X about the girl’s request.  Mr. X was mortified and declared the girl completely immature, waving his arms indignantly above the steering wheel as he relayed the story to me.

So it was with some hesitation that I asked my next question.

“Do you have a card?” I finally blurt out.  I feel bad for asking such a cheesy question to such a down-to-earth guy.

“No, I don’t,” the Director says apologetically.  He doesn’t even pat his pockets, which suggests that he probably never carries such things around.

“Do you have one?” he asks.

I shake my head no.  For some reason, it feels like our mutual not-business-card havingness has upgraded our relationship somewhat –like we just recognized each other as members of a small club.

“I can give you my number…” the Director offers.

Of course, I do not have a pen on me either.

“Mark, Mark!” I turn around and scream at the top of my lungs.  Standing half a foot from me, Mark kindly avails himself to me pawing through his jacket pockets for a pen.  After we locate a pen on his body, we realize that we don’t have any paper.

I look down and see a used paper plate with a thick smear of ketchup or blood on it.  Without thinking, I pick it up to use as paper.  Mark and the Director visibly recoil in disgust.  Embarrassed, I drop it back onto the ground and sheepishly accept a piece of receipt from Mark’s wallet.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I announce.

The Director opens his mouth to say his number, then interrupts himself and asks me in his shy way, “Do you know my name?”

I nod, touched at his humility.  Everyone on set is basically treating him like a god or successfuly warlord, and he’s still able to remain totally unassuming!

I write down the Director’s number, my hand trembling both from the breezy March weather and from barely concealed excitement.

A small and stupid girl interrupts us to ask the Director for his signature.  I shoot her a dirty look that she totally misses.  After I get the Director’s number, I find Mark and slap him around in sheer drunken exhilaration.  It has never been my modus operandi to obtain phone numbers of the male species, but now I know exactly how triumphant it feels to do so.

Because we are all decked in reporter gear and staring at the revolving doors in rabid anticipation, innocent passersby, especially tourists, think we are actually real reporters, and stop to wait with us to see who walks through the revolving doors.

One of the extras, a nerdy guy who said he was an investment banker, tells these mistaken passersby that we are waiting for the vice-president of Taiwan.  The gullible pedestrians start telling other curious pedestrians and soon a real mob of non-extras are also standing with us outside the revolving doors, cameras out and ready to snap pictures of the alleged vice-president of Taiwan.

“High five!” the nerdy investment banker shouts to his friend.

Finally, after we shoot our last scene, and it is announced that we’ve shot the last scene, everyone claps and woos a little and disperses.  For the whole shoot, Mr. X has been in turns: driving an equipment van around to avoid getting a parking ticket; preventing people from parking where we are shooting; running after a small toddler who for some reason seemed to be part of the crew but had no responsibilities other than to run around and look cute; and coming up to me every once in a while to advise me to “Get in front of the camera more, turn your face to the camera, maximum exposure!”

Mark and I wave bye to a pre-occupied Mr. X and are about to go grab some chow when, somehow, we end up in a Chinese photo barrage.  A Chinese Photo Barrage is what happens when a Chinese person whips out his or her camera with unbridled enthusiasm, thereby causing a chain reaction in which every Chinese person in the vicinity of the first person also whips out his/her camera with unbridled enthusiasm.  They then boss each other around happily until there is a picture of every combination of people possible.

Because Mark is white, he gets to be in every picture in a CPB.  So we end up staying there for at least another five solid minutes, sowing our wild oats into a multitude of online photo albums.  Finally, we slip away.  And even though we just stood shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of people with our arms intertwined like old friends, we know that we will never see any of those people again.

Good bye, Mr. X, good bye, Director Zhou Sun, good bye!

After a quick meal in Koreatown and parting ways with Mark, I stand on the corner of 32nd Street and Broadway with my  hands in my pockets, looking north towards the office where I will spend the rest of the weekend.  A sad, grey-carpeted sense of grimness and panic sets in as I think about the work ahead of me.  My fingers brush against a folded slip of paper in my pocket, and remembering what’s on it, I am glad to have such a cool little souvenir of my adventures with Mr. X.

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