Monday, October 08, 2007

Me and Lily Shee

My freshman year of college I was given an assignment to interview people on their views of welfare recipients. I didn't have any solid friends yet, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I was sitting at a table near some vending machines, and I see the pretty Asian girl from my Calculus class. We smile at each other, and I introduce myself. Then I ask her if she minded if I interviewed her for this class. She took on a serious/comic face and said, 'Uh, o-kay', in this mock dramatic tone which I was to learn was her trademark during the course of our friendship. I asked my question. 'How do you feel about people who are on welfare?' 'Oh', she answered. This time there was no acting. Her face showed a genuine look of consternation. 'They're lazy'. Her answer took me off guard and I laughed. 'Really?' I asked, giving her a chance to recant. 'Yes', she continued, 'They can get a job at McDonald's. When I was in high school, I worked all the time'. I don't know why I wanted to change her opinion. Maybe she was right. Every single one was lazy and there was no circumstance where someone could legitimately be accepting government assistance. I guess that's what triggered my defense reflex. There was such a finality about her stance. As I came to know Lily more as a friend, it was clear that all of her opinions, from men's behaviors to visiting relatives from China were either good or bad, there was never any ambiguity in her world. I found it hilarious. One time we were at the mall shopping for a dress for her to wear to her sister's wedding. 'Do you have family coming from China?' I was curious. 'Yes', she looked glum. 'Aren't you excited?' 'No. I hate my relatives. They're disgusting'. Whoa! That was so harsh. I laughed in amusement. 'Why are they disgusting?' I couldn't resist. 'They pick their nose in public. They're always embarrassing me'. Well, that was that. One day we were lounging about my apartment discussing her views on men. She had a boyfriend. An American named Bill who took her to nice restaurants and bought or made her expensive jewelry. Bill would always get mad at her because she preferred the cheap, trendy jewelry from those little jewelry kiosks at the mall. Again she surprised me with her views when she told me that she is expected to look beautiful all the time, and that if she doesn't look young and beautiful, no man will marry her. She completely believed that these two attributes were the only ones necessary for such a union. I sometimes felt like I was watching some 19th century soap opera when listening to her. I realized then that life had been hard for Lily. She said her parents always called her ugly. I met her parents. They lived in a little apartment in an all Chinese neighborhood in Queens. Her father bought this big bag of fried chicken wings on the street, we went back to their place and all sat around eating them. No one talked. Later Lily had to go to the Chinese bank to take care of some family business. Her father drove us to the bus station to return to school. The road was very bumpy and rough, and I kept bouncing out of my seat. He said something to Lily in Cantonese. She looked flatly at me and translated, 'You will lose your virginity on this ride'. I cracked up, and her father smiled at me. Over the summer I found myself with lots of idle time. Lily and I spent hours lazing around, braiding our hair and being vain. She had this other side which would come out on these such days. It was completely different than the stoic, judgmental Lily. This other side was pensive and innocent. She would talk about dreams she'd had of butterflies and reincarnation, floating through time like a candle. I didn't really know what she was talking about, I just knew that this was the only time she seemed really happy and content. I guess it was like her fantasy world. And then she met Seamus. Seamus, whose real name is Steve, looked so Irish I had to call him Seamus. We met one Winter night at Bacchus. Bacchus was the only bar in New Paltz that I felt comfortable in. It had a long wooden bar, hardwood floors and a pool table. They had over twenty beers on tap, which to me spoke of their respect for all tastes. So I was sitting there at the bar, in the midst of believing that my date had stood me up, and there was Seamus, sitting next to me. He had a wool hat on pulled down to his eyebrows like he was hiding from the world. He looked a bit abandoned himself, and as the hour approached 45 minutes from the time my date was supposed to have arrived, I felt this woolen-hatted man would be a good audience for my anguish. 'Did your date stand you up too?' I asked him. 'No. I'm here with my friend. Some guy stood you up?' He asked incredulously. 'I would never do that to you! Do you want me to call him and yell at him?' he offered. I felt better already, now that I had an ally. 'No thanks, it's fine. It's just snowing out, and I never would have driven all this way in the snow, and it's just so rude'. Seamus invited me to play pool with him and his friend. I did, and their company was greatly appreciated. We ended up going out on one date, and I decided I wasn't attracted to him. So I fixed him up with my friend Kerri, who really liked him, but there were no sparks on his end. A few months went by. Lily and I went to Bacchus one night and Seamus was there. We hung out and played pool. Lily and Seamus spoke a little. On our drive home, Lily seemed to have fallen in love with Seamus. She revealed that she has never been physically attracted to any man (not even Bill, her current boyfriend) but she felt a huge attraction to Seamus. Somehow, the attraction for Seamus became contagious, because suddenly I too had a huge crush on him! We spent the next few days discussing our mutual crushes, and since Lily and I were such good friends, we didn't seem to mind that there was only one of him but two of us. I guess we didn't think anything would materialize from this anyway. Of course we were wrong. I'm not sure exactly what happened between Lily and Seamus- I sense it never really left the fantasy stage. But something I said to Lily ended our friendship. I don't even remember what it was. Something about a lack of trust, and her being deeply insulted. She had actually already moved to California at this point, far away from me, Seamus, and the nose-picking relatives. But that was it. She couldn't be friends with someone who didn't trust her. That's the only time a man has come between any of my friendships. I'd like to find Lily again. It's been about seven years. Knowing her, she probably hasn't forgiven me yet.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Runners on the Loose

The night in question had finally arrived and of course, my desire to follow through and join Myriam for an after work Friday night drink was non-existent. Maybe it was the guilt factor- since I was cozily unemployed, I hadn't earned the right to partake in this famous American pastime of decompressing from a stressful work week. Gone were the days of inane emails from a supervisor questioning why I was two minutes late returning from break the previous day. No longer did I have to suffer through the bullying customer threatening to call his lawyer if I didn't remove the bogus charges for the phone call on his bill made to his daughter's cell phone; as he never calls her cell phone. Oh, OK, I guess someone broke into his house and called his daughter from his home. That could happen. In fact, since my joining the ranks of the happily unemployed, my only stress in the past 3 months came in the form of a hamstring injury- brought on by an overzealous attempt to complete a third track workout for the week. So I guess guilt played a role in my trying to get out of going out. Myriam is a very persuasive co-conspirator, and after shooting down the last of my feeble excuses ('But Myriam- I'm unemployed, I can't afford to go out!' 'Oh, I'll treat you to the first drink. Knowing you, that will be twice as much as you'll finish anyway', she ribbed). I finally caved. It sounded like a healthy thing to do, meeting up with a group of runners.The bar was a handsome new one in downtown Middletown, not yet tarnished by the typical boisterous crowds of the area nightlife. It was nice to see a lot of familiar faces from track and local races. Next thing you know, Myriam is whipping out her cell phone camera and delegating photographers and posers. This of course is the most frightening moment of the evening, because you never know when an unflattering photo of yourself will show up in a future newsletter or on the Sullivan Striders website. One day I was innocently viewing online photos from some recent race, and much to my shock was a photo of myself and Myriam's nephew with his arm around me! Luckily, it was a cute picture, and I didn't have a crazed, jealous boyfriend at the time, but still.. A girl could use a little warning. So next Rene, Myriam's husband, comes in. I'm very happy to see him. Rene has a thousand great stories about all the different countries he's lived in. We got onto the subject of animals speaking in Spanish. (Not sure how we got there, as I had mentioned that I was working as a literacy volunteer, and my student is definitely human, but the wine was strong..) So he was telling me his friend had a talkative parrot who would repeat everything his master said. Whenever a guest would pass the cage, the bird would scream, 'MARICON!' at him. About this time, many of the other runners started to leave. I don't know if it was the foreign cursing or maybe when you work for a living you just need more sleep- luckily this malady didn't effect all of us. So Myriam thought it was time for us to move to a different locale. Those Geminis always need new stimuli. So off we went. The new bar featured a live band, free buffet, and a really delicious Pinot Grigio. Ha, look Myriam, I'm no longer a lightweight! Somehow the subject of singles meeting other singles in the running community came up. Someone mentioned it would be a good idea if in addition to displaying your age group on your race number, your marital status should also be available. Then the women reflected for a moment on the near non-existent pool of single men in the area, and someone said, 'I guess it wouldn't make a difference', and we all burst out laughing. We spent the next few minutes brainstorming for other valuable information along these lines to be included on bib numbers. How about if a guy's a good kisser? 'Oh yeah', someone said, 'I'd like to know that up front'. Apparently, this woman had kissed a few clueless frogs. Something about a dead, frozen, open mouth. I don't know, it didn't sound very appealing to me either, but I didn't want to depress the woman any more, she sounded fairly traumatized from the experience. So the general consensus was in favor of this new category of info to be taken for upcoming races. The only problem was, who in their right mind, when filling out a race application is going to answer 'no' when asked 'are you a good kisser'? So we decided we may need to discuss this more at the upcoming Sullivan Striders meeting. Those meetings are overdue for some livelier topics, anyway. Just then Rene, not having brought up the subject of 'the great match of me and his nephew' in over a year, thought that now would be an excellent time to do so. 'You know Tamar, I recently had dinner with Jesus. He told me that when he met you, he's never had this feeling about anyone before, but he said he could really see himself having a son with you'. Now that's quite a loaded statement to feed to a woman who would one day like to have children, not to mention she was on her second glass of wine. 'Well Rene, that's really nice', I said, 'But I feel a little suspicious about the sincerity of this story, since you once mentioned to me that Jesus could really use a green card'. Rene explained this conflict by means of reinforcing why a green card would be so valuable to Jesus. Huh? Let me get back to my girls. The girls had that glassy-eyed look of 'if I have any more excitement tonight I'm liable to poke an eye out'. Myriam, Marie and I all walked to our cars. Myriam pulled out her cell phone so we could laugh at the photos again. There was one of the three of us where we were all smiling, but Marie was standing about a mile away from us, like at the last second she agreed to appear in it. We parted laughing and happy, despite the baked avocados served in the free buffet. Sometimes you really do get what you pay for, but the evening as a whole was priceless.