just one or two beers, that's all.

my three nephews and four nieces decided they wanted to meet at a bar. their choice of bar, however, baffled my cousin, aileen. "of all the news bars in quezon city, i don't know why they should choose that one," she said. "i used to go there in the 80's!" i met them outside of a bar called decades. the boys shook my hand and slapped my back, and the girls kissed me on the cheek. i wished then that we didn't have to be so formal.

we went inside and aileen bought us all beers, including my fourteen year old nephew, ram. "how old are you?" i asked him. "seventeen," he said. he didn't look seventeen, but i took his word for it. later, i asked my other nephew, j.r., how old he really was. "fourteen," he said. i looked at the little fourteen year old punk with a beer, and oh, how i envied him. why couldn't i have gotten to do these kinds of things at his age.

they were all riled up when we finally got to sit down. the club was practically empty, and i wondered if they were disappointed by this. "do you understand tagalog?" jam asked me from across the table. "what?" the music was so loud i couldn't hear. she repeated the question. "i understand!" i said. "a little or a lot?" she asked. "a lot!" i shouted back. they all cheered. "i love you, uncle!" darlene said, and she slapped me a high-five. i really loved these kids then.

jam switched seats with j.r. so that she could sit next to me. i wanted to ask if she knew that she could've been my sister, but i didn't. instead, i just asked, "have you been to the states yet?" "no," she said, "we don't have any money!" i nodded. "can you find us a mate there?" she asked. they all laughed. "what?" i asked. "find us a husband so that we can become citizens!" they were in hysterics. "and find one for her," she said, pointing to cessan, the chubby tomboy, "but a girl!" throughout the night, they continued poking fun at cessan, implying that she was a lesbian.

"how old are you?" i asked jam. "twenty four!" she said. "but i look younger, don't i?" i said yes. "i look like i'm fifteen, huh?" she said. i said yes. she laughed and thanked me. cessan interrupted. "hoy!" she said, and then, in tagalog, "he's your uncle!" jam stopped laughing and i felt bad that cessan had put her back in her place. i learned from cessan and jam who everyone was and what they did. j.r. stopped attending school because of financial troubles. jam finished nursing school, but couldn't yet receive her degree because she still had loans to pay. the same held true for love. darlene was in her first year of college, studying psychology. cessan dropped out, and only runs errands for her cousin. jam does aesthetician-like work, giving facials and such, while love works at robinson's plaza as a realtor.

out of curoiusity, i asked how much jam and love owed in school loans. i thought that we might've been able to bond over the ridiculous costs for higher education. "i owe about ten thousand pesos," love said, and then she told me jam owed about twenty. it's only a couple of hundred american dollars, and my mom told me later that she would pay it off for them. once their loans are paid, they can take what they call the boards, and if they pass, they can begin working as nurses.

the conversation changed to music. "what do you listen to?" they asked. i tried to think of bands they might've known, but nothing came to mind. i said explosions in the sky, and their faces went sour. "do you like linkin park?" darlene said. fucking linkin park. all the filipinos and mexicans know fucking linkin park. and i always give the same reponse: "yeah, i know who they are, but i don't really listen to them." "ahh," darlene said. "how about paramore?" her eyes went wide. "yeah!" i said, "i know paramore!" i imagined us sitting in a karaoke bar somewhere, singing "that's what you get."

i asked cessan what she did for fun. "drink," she said. "ahh, lasenga kana?" i said back, meaning, "oh, are you an alcoholic now?" i tried to use tagalog whenever i could. it seemed to make them happy. "no," she said, and she had a hurt look on her face. i smiled so that she would know i was kidding, but i was really afraid i offended her. "i only have one beer or two every now and then, that's all." "me too," i said in tagalog.

they asked me if i had seen twilight yet. why's everyone into this goddamn vampire movie? i just don't get it. i told them i hadn't yet, and they looked a little disappointed. jam asked me if i liked harry potter. i said i had seen all the movies. "i love harry potter!" she said. "i have seen all the movies, and i've read all the books, one through six." "there are seven, right?" "yes," she said. in tagalog, she told me that people look at her weird for reading, especially big, thick books like harry potter. "i don't have," she said, "i only rent them from the library."

a fight broke out in the street, and everyone watched for a little bit. "that is typical in the philippines," jam said. i asked them if they liked manny pacquiao. "no," jam said. "i liked him before, but now he is too mayabang (arrogant). do you agree?" i didn't really know, but i agreed with her anyway. "do you like to gamble?" they asked me. i told them no. they also asked if i liked to drink or smoke. i said drink every now and then. "oh, you are a good boy," the girls kept saying. it made me wonder if that's what all filipino men did: drink, smoke, gamble, and do it good with young filipinas. some role model i could've been here.

aileen finally showed up after having dropped off a friend. suddenly, all the kids went quiet. in this culture, any time an elder family member is around, the kids have to fall in line and be as respectful as possible. it made me a little sad, and i secretly wished that aileen had gone away some more, so that i could see how they really were. they were just sitting there, and they started to look bored. i suggested we go to a karaoke bar, and they all agreed. i felt like i could've asked anything of them, and they would've all gone along willingly.

we ended up singing at a karaoke bar called music 21 until about 3 o'clock in the morning. i was surprised that the girls knew all these old songs, like air supply and other seventies/eighties hits. "how do you know these songs?" i asked love. "you're all so young." "we love old songs," she said. i could only sing songs in english, and i felt bad, like i had betrayed them all or something.

i never meant to betray them. honestly, i didn't.
jam, who could've been my sister.

yesterday, my cousin jun-jun had a reunion party for my mom's side of the family. my cousins bobby, espie, and buchoy showed up with their kids. the kids are my nieces and nephews, and there were a lot of them. it was hard to keep up with who's who. most of the afternoon was taken up by me asking my mom, "who's that?" my mom tried to explain, but there were so many kids that i couldn't possibly figure it out. later, at the hotel, i had her list my cousins, my nephews, and my nieces. even she didn't know all their names.

the only two people i remembered well were jam and buchoy, and that's only because i really liked their names. jam is now twenty-four, a year younger than me, and she has finished nursing school, but she hasn't yet taken the boards, so therefore, she is currently working as a realtor. her father is bobby, who is my cousin, and her mother is a katulong i don't think jam has ever seen. at the dinner table, my tita ampy murmur something like, "she's an american girl."

i wasn't sure what tita ampy meant by that, so i asked. "siso (my uncle, my mom's brother) wanted your mom to adopt her." i was shocked. i looked at this thin, pretty filipina sitting at the far end of the table, not knowing up until that moment, that she could've been my sister. i imagined her sleeping in the room next to mine all those years, and the two of us going to st. ignatius together. but what immediately came to mind, for some strange reason, was a hypothetical argument we might have had once, one where i would've ruined everything by using the lowest blow possible. i would've screamed something like, "you're not even family!" i get a little carried away in my imagination sometimes.

how nice it would've been to have had a sister, though. someone who might've been able to get me out of my shell, save me from my teenage years of gloom and doom. how badly i needed salvation then. i wondered how she would've turned out, though, growing up in the united states. as i look at all filipinos here, both young and old, i'm always thinking about that. how would they be if they were americans? i'm aware that i want simple solutions. i want to believe that i would've been happier had i grown up in a community where people looked like me, ate the same foods i did, knew the language and customs of my culture. but i don't know, and there's no real way of knowing.

back at the hotel, i asked my mom if she would've adopted jam had she known that that's what uncle siso wanted. "of course," she said without hesitation, "i could've sent her to nursing school at sac state." i asked if it would be possible for me to hang out with jam, love, darling, and my other nieces and nephews. "yeah," my mom said, "why not?" so tonight, my nieces and nephews are going to take me out somewhere, to a club, a karaoke bar, or something. i felt a bit isolated at the family reunion, as i can't speak tagalog well, but i really need to know this side of the family. who they are and what they do.

last night, i went to the metro manila film festival with grace. ate paid for us to get in because she really wanted me to see kc concepcion in person. the truth is, i'm not into kc as much as i would have people believe. we saw a couple of stars walk down the red carpet. i didn't know who any of them were, so grace told me their names. kim choo and gary somebody or other. i didn't really pay much attention. we went inside, but the awards ceremony bored us, so we decided to check out the hotel instead.

there was a bar/lounge type place, and grace asked if i wanted to go in. i said yes. there was a crappy cover band in there called sensation, and they started out with "very superstitious." after the song ended, they asked how everyone was doing. the bar was nearly empty, except for patches of old people scattered here and there. no one said anything, and i felt really bad for the band. i screamed, "woooo!" they noticed me and said that they would take requests. i wrote down erasure's "a little respect" on a napkin, but they didn't play it.

right now, my parents are afraid to let me go to a bar with jam and my other nieces and nephews. they are afraid that something bad will happen to me because they don't know them very well. i hope they're wrong.
are you angry at the gays, father?

right now i'm blogging from my cousin jun-jun's house. a few minutes ago, they were trying to set up his playstation 3 so that he could get online. i wasn't any help at all. i regretted that i wasn't, and that i was unable to represent myself as a technologically savvy american. jun-jun's son, milo, is playing his psp. we played with the wii earlier. filiponos really love their modified wiis.

upon my request, grace and i watched a filipino movie last night at the greenbelt cinemas. it was a bad comedy called one night only. the poster for the movie looked cool, as it was just five snazzily dressed filipinas, and i assumed it would be a sex and the city type comedy. now, even though i can't really stand sex and the city, i was looking forward to watching a bunch of arte filipinas. the movie, as predicted, was crap. for some reason, the director really loved giving extreme closeups, and it became obvious early on in the film that none of the actors/actresses had ever taken an acting class.

lately, members of my family have been repeating a lot of jokes and stories that they find funny. for example, at dinner one night, grace asked uncle tim where we had lunch. "fuk yoo," he said. everyone laughed. he meant to say yuk foo. another thing is that my mom likes to point out signs on the back of buses and jeepneys that read: "how's my driving?" it's ridiculous, as everyone here is a crazy fucking driver. there's no need to stay in the lanes or stop when the light is red, or let anyone pass at all, ever. i'm surprised i haven't seen any pedestrians get hit yet, as everyone - young and old - crosses whenever he/she feels like it, even if it's dark, rainy, and on a busy freeway.

another story that i've been hearing a lot lately was when we were at the filming for wowowee. during the break, the three badings came out and did their best to entertain the audience. uncle tim must've had a look of disgust on his face because suddenly, one of the gays approached him. galit ka sa badings, tatay? translation: are you angry towards gays, father? uncle tim shook his head. asan ka galing? balikbayan ka yo? translation: where did you come from? are you going back to your country? uncle tim said yes, and that we were from sacramento. i was waiting for one of the gays to call me "pogi" (handsome), but it didn't happen. such arrogance on my part, huh?

this morning, i told my mom, "i hate to say it, but walang quenta nang united states." a filipino will say walang quenta when talking about something he doesn't really like, like a bad movie or food that isn't good. i was half-kidding, mostly because my mom always says she wants to go home to californa. but i was also aware that i was kind of serious about it. i know it's easy to say you love a country when you've just been spoiled in it for a week, but somehow, honestly, i feel a lot more comfortable and at ease here. it's probably just the good garlic crab that i ate last night talking, but i really like it here. and other than family and friends, i don't miss the united states at all.

what really is there to miss? i kept looking up at billboards here and thinking, what is this whole idea of a "melting pot?" it's bullshit. the united states is more like a lava lamp that's never been turned on. all the color sticks to the bottom. after all, how many filipino actors/politicians/game show hosts/models/singers can an average american name? i think most americans don't even know what a filipino is. a filipino will sometimes be referenced on a silly cartoon like family guy or the simpsons, like when one character says to another (who's obviously not a filipino), "what are you, a filipino, or something?"

and yeah, i'm just supposed to suck it up right? i'm just supposed to take it lying down. i'm supposed to force myself to feel like i belong in a crowd of predominantly white faces. but, for the first time, even though i'm the true foreigner here, i don't have to do that.

ate got four tickets to go see a live filming of the filipino game show, wowowee. it was pretty sweet. the show itself pretty much sucks, as it is the typical win this, try for that, but i had a good time. my dad, uncle tim, and i were front row and center, and i pretty much spent the entire three and a half hours taking pictures of the dancers. it was a lot like going to a strip club without the nudity and without the fees. any cheap, straight male who's really into fit filipinas would be in heaven.

the show is filmed at the abs-cbn studio in queson city, and how ate managed to get tickets for the christmas eve show, i'll never know. "how'd she do it?" i asked my dad. "she's got connections," he replied. the fact of the matter is, ate pretty much rules manila. i think that i could do pretty much anything i want here, as long as we're related. uncle rebel and uncle tim arrived at the studio late, and they were almost denied entrance. ate was pretty pissed at them. they got stuck in traffic, though, and traffic is quite a bitch here.

the show runs three hours, and during the commercial breaks, three badings (gays) try to entertain the audience. it's pretty cool that there were openly gay gays there, but it's kind of messed up that none of them get any air time. during one commercial break, i went to the bathroom and was late coming back for filming. i had to wait backstage, or "on standby" as they called it. i took pictures of the girls as they ran by, and one of them stopped to pose for us paparazzi for quite a bit. she even egged us on at one point, to keep taking shots. if i were uncle tim, i would've said, "i don't like arrogant models."

the show seemed pretty fake for the most part. they gave money randomly to really downtrodden looking filipinos. a lady in a wheelchair got a bunch of giveaways. most people given air time said that their profession was "katulong" (maid). children cried and talked about how hard their lives were. now, i know that there's honest-to-god unbelievable poverty here, and things are fucked up beyond measure, but there was something very peculiar about putting it on air and then playing sad piano music to accompany their whimpers. it was as though they were saying, look at their grief, it's quite entertaining.

willie, the show's host, was wearing his standard getup: polo shirt and faded jeans. he also has glasses and looks like a typical filipino uncle. how he managed to make millions of dollars and surround himself with the philippines' hottest looking girls will forever remain a mystery to me. he is currently on the cover of yes magazine, which he advertised constantly during the show. the girls also advertised coca-cola while doing a dance, and some other products that i was unfamiliar with as well.

after the show, my mom and everyone we know said they saw me and my dad on tv. she said that i was always looking at the monitors and that i was always taking pictures. i didn't know what else i was supposed to be doing during those three hours.
no, but still.

in accordance with my "say yes to everything" policy, i allowed ate to bring me to an upscale hair salon called emphasis which was next to the powerplant mall in rockwell. days before, she kept insisting that i get highlights in my hair. "byron really liked his highlights," she kept telling me. "do you want highlights, too?" even though i really didn't want to, i said yes anyway, afraid that i might disappoint her and everything - the free meals, the hotel, the rides everywhere - would come to an abrupt halt. so, i went in.

the stylist (he insisted to my uncle tim once that he "was not a barber, but a stylist") had an assistant who put some white crap all over my head. i assumed it was some sort of dye. when he finished, he brought this black machine over to warm up my head. it looked futuristic, like darth vader's helmet had exploded. it warmed my head, and he gave me an issue of gq and vanity fair to read. i flipped through the pages and stopped when i saw some boobs. i guess europe's gq shows boobs.

then, the fat assistant took me to get shampooed. he took a long time shampooing my hair and putting some more white crap on the tips. i really had no idea what he was doing. "what color are you getting?" grace asked me. "i don't know," i said. "he didn't ask you?" "no." both the stylist and the assistant didn't say much to me once they realized i couldn't speak tagalog. they both seemed gay, so i trusted their abilities, and i just let them go about their business. i did start to worry, though, when the woman's shampoo/rinse finished long before mine.

when everything was done, my hair had brown streaks, and lourd, the stylist, showed me how to "style" it. "always start in the back," he said. then he mussed up my hair a bit and patted it down. "it's like a fro-hawk," he said, then added, "all done!" i thanked him and got the hell out of there. when asked if i liked it, i said that i did. in reality, though, i looked and felt like an asshole. after all, on the ride over, i saw kids, some naked, some barefoot, playing in the dirty and polluted streets. and my aunt was paying to have my hair colored. just what exactly are we doing here?

the streets of manila are much crazier than i remember. there are no real lanes, as all cars weave in and out as they please. my uncle rebel, and tony, our occasional driver, seem to just go whenever they get a chance, and they pray that no one will hit them. they drive with one hand on the wheel, one hand on the horn. and everyone seems to be okay with it. also, there is no speed limit, no seatbelts, no rules at all. even though there are traffic cops, the cops don't do shit. in the few days i've been here, i've seen many a car bust through a red light. and i'm not talking about a light that's just turned red. i'm talking about lights that have been red for a long ass time. cops just keep on keeping on. apparently, on the rare occasion they find someone violating "the law," they pull them over, but they don't write a ticket. instead, they extend their hand and expect pesos in return.

that's how things are here. if we're not in our air conditioned hotel, we're in an air conditioned car. if we're not eating at a fancy restaurant, we're walking around an upscale mall. i'm not complaining. it's all free, and it's better than being snowed in at my studio apartment in columbia city. it is late december and eighty-five degrees here. filipinos are friendly. everywhere i go, it's "hello, sir" and "good evening, sir" and "thank you, sir." i asked grace how much department store clerks make, as there are loads of them everywhere. she said about $200 a month, and it's only contractual. so most only work for six months. no benefits, no insurance, obviously.

i want to help them all. i'd like to stop stuffing myself silly with delicious foods, stop blasting the ac, stop making pilgrimages to malls (there are actually chapels in every mall), and instead hand pesos out, do something to make these people's lives better. there's a bathroom attendant in every bathroom, and there are a lot of bathrooms. there are elevator attendants, people who greet you at the door, security guards galore, everybody working silly work for nothing. there are two guards who guard the statue of jose rizal twenty-four hours a day. what the hell is that. everybody's got drivers, and everybody's got maids. even poor people have maids.

"it's not right," my mom said. "would you rather they be starving and homeless?" my dad asked. "no, but still," my mom said. my mom doesn't know the answer, and i sure as hell don't know the answer. but haven't we been at "no, but still..." for long enough?
getting naked with my dad and uncles.

saturday, my first day in the philippines, ate took my parents, my two uncles, and me to some random japanese looking building. i thought that my dad and uncles were going to play at the casino while my mom and ate got a massage. we went up to the fifth floor, and a filipino boy in sandals and a robe asked us to remove our shoes. we did that. he then led ate and my mom away, and then he led us men into another room where there were a bunch of lockers. i was given a key, number 20.

i had no idea what was going on. "put your stuff in your locker," my dad told me. i did as i was told. suddenly, my uncles and my dad started stripping. "what's going on?" i asked. "we're going to the pool" my dad said, "you have to remove your clothes." i stripped down to my boxers. my dad asked my uncle, who, at this point, had already gotten naked, "salawal den?" (underwear too?), and my uncle said yes. "now we can see how big you are," my uncle said. i could've sat it out. i could've said, no thank you, but on the flight to manila, i decided i would try to say yes to everything. so, i stripped.

one would think that the staff would have given us full-sized towels to help us men cover our junk, but no. instead, we were given small hand towels to hide our penises. i trailed behind my dad and uncles, their hairy asses exposed at the part where the towels' ends couldn't reach. my dad and i went to the steaming hot pool, while my uncles went into the sauna. it actually felt pretty good, especially after the thirteen hour flight.

after our soak, i took a shower. then i saw a sign that read, please shower before you use the pool. oops. i went into the sauna for a little bit, just because i had never been in one before. it was a little too much for me to handle. "it's like a sauna in here," i said to myself, quoting seinfeld. when i finished up, i went into another room, and i discovered where they kept the full-length towels. i wrapped myself up. the shirtless filipino boy in sandals came over and handed me a black and white kimono. it was good to be dressed again.

"massage is next," my dad said. we walked over to a counter where a filipino lady asked us, "dry or oil?" in tagalog. my dad asked me. "dry," i said, but i quickly changed my mind. "no, wait! oil." the woman told me to choose from a bunch of different oils, all located in small blue bottles. if i were alone, i probably would've chosen "sensuality." but because my dad was standing there, i chose the next best thing: "muscle relaxant." my dad asked me to choose for him. one of us should get sensuality, i thought. but that would've been weird. i chose "relaxing" for him, though i wish i had chosen "cheerful."

the massage was pretty rough. the woman covered my face, so i could never tell what the hell was going on. i got ticklish every time she ran her hands up my hamstrings, and i kicked a little bit when she'd run her fingernails over the soles of my feet. she also cracked every conceivable bone in my body, including toes, fingers, back, and neck. it felt good, but it also kind of hurt. she also did this weird thing where she covered my face with the white towel and really dug into the areas around my nose and mouth. it hurt quite a bit, but strangely, i couldn't tell her to stop.

when we were done, my uncle tim took me up to the sixth floor. "there's a lounge up there with drinks," he told me. "alright," i said. we went upstairs, and i used the bathroom to make sure i didn't need a tourniquet for my face. when i came back, a mango smoothie was already waiting for me. we sat in some lounge with a terrific view that overlooked the city. i turned to my dad and said, "this is amazing." he just looked at me and laughed, as though he were saying, yeah, how did we ever get so lucky?

shortly afterward, my mom and my uncle rebel joined us. my uncle rebel turned to me and said, "this is the life, huh?" i nodded.
countdown to manila.

why is cnn always on at every airport? did cnn buy all these hdtvs and have them strategically placed at every lounge, every terminal? do people at the airport really think that travelers want to hear about all the crap going down in all these different countries? what are they thinking? show an episode of weeds or something. show music videos. no one wants to look at anderson fucking cooper anymore! or larry king. jesus.

i'm hanging out in the mabuhay lounge. the bathroom has a black urinal and black stall. it's a single occupany bathroom, and i expected it to be fancier. they didn't have soft charmin toilet paper like i expected. there was a can of pledge by the sink rather than fresh flowers or roses, like i'd find at a fancy thai restaurant's bathroom in seattle. the food tasted like it had been sitting out, too. the eggrolls were soggy and the sandwiches a bit stale. i wish we had gotten to san fran earlier so that we could've gone to ppq or godzilla sushi. my uncle tim must not like me right now, i'm a prima donna.

the nice thing about the mabuhay lounge is that there is wireless internet available. i don't understand why free wireless can't be available at every airport. it would save the customer service people a lot of time. "my flight's been delayed. what's the new departure time?" "i don't know, we have internet. look it up."

everyone in the mabuhay lounge is filipino. there are young people and old. if my aunt wasn't the right-hand woman of the president of philippine airlines, my parents, my uncle and i would all be sitting at a regular terminal. with no free wireless internet. i had to take advantage and blog.

my aunt called me up a little while ago to ask me if i wanted to attend a party where kc concepcion is going to be. i think she's joking, but i told her i would like to go. kc concepcion is a filipina actress and singer. i really haven't seen her movies or heard her music - i'm sure it's all great - but a few months ago, i wrote a song about her anyway, and my aunt liked it. ever since then, she thinks that i am obsessed with kc concepcion. in truth, i would love to meet a filipino celebrity, just to say that i have. i asked my dad if we could get on a game show called wowowee. "we can try," he said.

we have a lot of boxes we're bringing to manila. people over there always want practical things like spam, diapers, toiler paper, and corned beef. so, we are bringing boxes and boxes with us. "just looking at those boxes wears me out," rich said. he drove us to the airport, and we listened to sufjan stevens' christmas carols. san francisco was all lit up with lights. the sfo international terminal had giant snowflake lights shining on the front of it.

our flight will leave in about an hour and a half. i am looking forward to going now that i am older and will remember things better. father leigh once made us read an essay, and he called it a "double exposure" essay. it was called double exposure because it was a guy writing about a place he visited when he was young and then when he was old.

maybe i will write a double exposure essay, too.
check delays.

when i got to sea-tac tuesday night, the check-in lady said, "there's a slight delay. your plane will now be taking off at 12:45 a.m., and you should be in sacramento by 2 p.m." i thought she was kidding. she had a serious look on her face, and i was waiting for the punchline. "just kidding!" but, no. she was serious. what could i do? meagan had just driven away. i figured i could wait three more hours for my flight.

i got to waiting. as it turned out, my plane was coming from chicago, and chicago was getting a nasty snowstorm. i sat around and tried to get on the internet, but sea-tac doesn't provide wireless internet. i had the option of signing on through at&t wireless, but for $7.99, and it would only last for twenty-four hours. there was no way i was gonna pay that. i tried to read my book of short stories, karma, a book jaspreet lent me, but i was worried about the delay that i couldn't focus on it.

a man started to scream. he was saying something loudly and in a different language. everyone was watching him, waiting for him to pull out a gun or something. instead, he continued his screams, then he got face-down on the floor, as though he had passed out. some bystanders came up to him, asking him if he was alright. he wouldn't move. it was like a scene from that radiohead video for "just." what the hell was he doing? suddenly, he got up on his knees, raised his arms in the air, and started bowing down, as though he were praying. none of the travelers, i'm sure, enjoyed this bit at all.

two white guys i sat next to were talking about the incident in progress. "what the fuck is he doing?" "i don't know, he's probably drunk." "he's crazy is what he is." when the cops arrived, one of the white men remarked, "it took the cops fifteen minutes to show up." the cops appeared to be talking to the man, and at this point, a clerk announced that my flight would not leave until 2 a.m. now. it wasn't a grand announcement, either. it was kind of a hush-hush thing, and i had to go up to the counter to ask for verification. "did i hear right? that we're leaving at 2.m. now?" "yes," she said, "your new e.t.a. will be about 4:30. sorry for the inconvenience."

yes, a major inconvenience, and yet, southwest still didn't offer me a voucher or discount or anything. "we have some light refreshments for you behind the counter at b-10," they kept saying. "some cokes and some crackers." i thought of a line from the first season of the wire: "motherfucker tried to pimp me out with a candy bar." while i decided i could wait another three hours for my flight, five was just too much. i called up john to come get me.

on wednesday morning, my flight was delayed again, but this time, only for an hour. what the fuck, i thought. this isn't denver. we don't get blizzards. get me to the airport, get me on a plane. hurry, hurry, hurry, before i go insane. i talked to a black man waiting in line to board with me. "did i hear that you were supposed to go out last night?" i asked. "no," he said, "i was supposed to go out tonight, but my car was covered in snow this morning, and i thought, 'i'd better get out of here before i get stuck.'" he lives in everett, and his daughter lives in sac. i would've made conversation, but we both hung back. a little redheaded boy ran crazy, as though he were possessed with a.d.d.

when i got to sac, i went christmas shopping with byron. i tried to find the nerf vulcan for my cousin, but all the stores were sold out. "it's a popular toy," the girl clerk from target told me. no shit. i'm twenty-five and i want it. i decided i'd just get gifts from the philippines and bring them back. i'm hoping to find manny pacquiao and kc concepcion shirts for people. maybe little jeepney toys and men in barrels. i don't know what's cracking these days on the other side of the world. but i'm going to see jun-jun, aileen, jo-jo, jam, uncle ramon - all these people who i have not seen in thirteen years.

been a long time, cousin.
thanks, uncle tim.

my dad has returned and/or stated his dislike for every gift i've ever given him. last year, i got him an orange vest because he said he wanted a vest. "not that kind of vest, though." i saved him the trouble and returned it for him. one year, he asked for a supremes cd. i got him a greatest hits disc. "it's not the right one," he said. i told this to my cousin. "how could it not be the 'right one?'" he asked, incredulous. "it's a greatest hits!" one year, i went out on a limb and got him william faulkner's the sound and the fury for his birthday. i honestly don't know what i was thinking.

christmas eve used to be our big family tradition, until my grandparents died and all my aunts and uncles stopped pretending that they liked each other. but when lolo and lola were living, my dad's side of the family would meet at their house, and they'd have everything set up: decorated tree with a moat of presents, fire in the fireplace, tons of food on the table, a christmas cartoon or movie on the tv, and christmas music on the stereo. of all the traditions, why couldn't we have kept this one going?

there always seems to be beef or drama in my dad's side of the family. somebody, no matter what, is always pissed at somebody else this time of year. whether it was ate being rude to one of her sisters, or one of my aunts feeling like she wasn't loved as much by my grandma, or two brothers arguing about selling a car, it was almost always guaranteed that someone would end up crying on christmas. we kids stayed out of it. for us, it really was all about the presents.

we had two plastic chairs, a red one and a blue one. these were tiny, cheap chairs from albertson's or lucky's, and two kids, youngest to oldest, would sit in them and open at the same time. depending on who had just been born, i'd either open with byron or claire. after every gift, we were promptly reminded to say thank you. "thanks, uncle tim." and any time someone opened something, whether it was socks or something actually cool, everyone in the room felt compelled to say, "wowww." when the kid opened his last gift, he had to go around the room and hug everyone.

the katulongs ("helpers") would open their gifts last. it was kind of messed up, but we wouldn't stick around for that. after all, we had nerf guns to shoot, music to listen to, and micromachine garage complexes to assemble. the katulongs would usually get money or clothes, so it was never interesting. for the longest time, too, uncle tim would get us gift certificates to mervyn's. "why does he keep getting us mervyn's gift certificates?" i asked my mom. "he probably has a membership," she said.

after presents and exhausting the toys, it would be time for dinner, the sequel. that's when we would hit up food again, followed by desert again. lola would make potato salad with beets so that it would turn pink. my mom would make the layered cake, which was vanilla wafers, chocolate pudding, cream cheese, whipped cream, nuts, and cherries. claire would make mashed potatoes, and my aunt would make a bean and cheese casserole and then later, artichoke dip. the katulongs would sometimes make palabok or fried chicken. there was always plenty to eat.

at midnight, the adults would toast their champagne and everyone had to hug everyone else and say, "merry christmas." we'd stick around a little bit after that, but eventually, it would be time to go home. my parents and i had this tradition of opening the gifts we got for each other on christmas morning. one year, i realized that my cousins, all of whom had divorced parents, didn't get this christmas morning experience. it kind of sucked, and i felt guilty.

christmas day was always depressing as hell, and then the day after christmas was even worse. i have to wait another 364 days, i'd tell myself. on christmas day, we'd go visit my mom's side of the family, but since my cousins on that side were older, i never really knew how to act around them. i'd usually end up sitting on my aunt's nice couch, and i'd feign interest in whatever football game was on. when i'd visit my other aunts and uncles, it was more of the same. everyone would just be sitting on the couch, watching tv or a movie, and eating warmed up leftovers. there really was nothing to do on christmas day. whenever someone brought up that maybe we should hold our tradition on christmas eve, the idea would be immediately rejected.

one year, my cousin darwin spent the night at our house on christmas eve. "hide all your money," my mom warned me. i locked up my christmas money in my treasure chest. darwin, my oldest cousin on my dad's side, had the reputation for being a thief, a liar, and a druggie. he seemed like a normal guy whenever i talked to him, though, so i wasn't too worried. when my parents and i opened our gifts that christmas morning, darwin came out of his room, and watched us from the hallway. i felt bad. no one even knew that he was going to show up that year, so he didn't get a single present. my parents gave him some money, and in a few days, he was gone.

i used to always look forward to christmas. my mom even tells me that "christmas" was my first word. i'd look at christmas lights and yell "christmas!" i wish that i could find that kind of spirit and enthusiasm again, for something, anything.
did the clock stop working?

i went to turn in a reimbursement request, but the business woman wasn't there, so i left it at her desk. as i turned to go, the woman in the cubicle next to hers said, "did the clock stop working?" i had no idea what she was talking about. was it a riddle? "what's that?" "when we were proctoring last thursday, the clocks stopped. did it stop in yours, too?" "no, i don't think so," i said. she had a soothing voice, the kind of voice that belongs on npr. "don came down and said the clocks stopped working, so the students got four extra minutes. and we didn't want to turn on our cell phones to check the time because it would be distracting." i didn't know why she was telling me any of this, but i was intrigued. her hypnotic voice could very easily put me to sleep.

"oh. that's weird," i said. "well, our test was only an hour." "our test was shorter, too," she said. i felt like i had to say something else. i couldn't just leave her hanging after telling me so much detail about something so trivial. "are you still proctoring this week?" "yeah," she said, "until thursday." "cool." i was expecting an are you? but i got nothing. "what's your name?" "natasha," she said softly. "tasha?" why would i guess that? who's named tasha? "no, natasha," she said. "oh." i said my name and extended my hand. "i know," she said, "i see you everywhere." what are you, my guardian angel?

what a strange thing to tell me. but i'm glad she did. otherwise, this day would've ended up just like all the others.
caution: icy roads ahead.

yesterday, i went down an icy road, s. angeline st., and i spun around in meagan's car. as i went over the last speed bump, i knew i was going too fast, and i panicked when i couldn't stop. a california kid driving in the snow in someone else's car is never a good idea. as i slid down the road in the paseo, i saw oncoming traffic perpendicular to me, and i thought for certain i was going to cause a huge accident. i did the only thing i could do: i pulled up the emergency brake, slammed my fist down on the horn, and i tried to steer myself into the nearby field. it would've been smarter to try and get to the curb on the right, but for some reason, i pulled the steering wheel left. it could've been bad.

later, as i approached the ramp that goes from beacon hill into georgetown, i saw a car at a complete stop. i wondered at first if he was having car trouble, but then i realized he was inching his way down the ramp. so, that's how you're supposed to do it. i took his cue, and inched downward myself. i was lucky he was there. i might not have put two and two together, or else i might have just not recognized that the ramp was also covered in ice. the cars behind me inched forward, too. together, we made our slow descent.

in moments like those, it's hard to accept that all you can do is brace yourself and hope for the best.
i'm very late.

the gig was a lot easier last night. it was an only hour test, and i could've ducked out early, but i'm a nice guy, so i stuck around and did some stapling. two students showed up late, around 7:10, and only had twenty minutes to complete the exam. "i'm very late" the boy said. i handed him a test and went back to my book. a girl followed shortly after him. "i'm really late!" she said, visibly worried. "what do i do?" i had no idea. "i don't know," i said, "just start the test, and we'll figure it out afterward." she did as i said.

when the tests were over, it took me a half an hour to put them in numeric order. when the two tardy students turned in their exams, i saw that they had written little notes on the cover. the boy's was very direct, while the girl's was more along the lines of, please have mercy on my soul. the boy wrote something like, "thought the test was at 7:30. i have no excuses, so there ya go." the girl wrote something like, "i apologize for being late." it was interesting to see how each person reacted.

i was tempted to help them beat the system. after all, it took me a half hour to finish putting shit in order. technically, they could've had the full hour to finish. the exams are taken on computers, but when a student's computer gets fucked up, they're allowed a blue book. i wanted to say, just take a blue book, and i'll look the other way. the exam was called professional responsibility. the irony was not lost upon me. the two students were usually involved with our events, and i wanted to give them a break. but because they're smart, they stopped on time, and didn't try to beat the system. i don't know, maybe that means they're not smart.

whatever the case, when i returned to the exams office, they were already in there, pleading their case to the coordinator. the coordinator is a cool guy, and he felt for them, too, so he gave them each a blue book and said, "you have thirty minutes. can you get it done in that time?" they said yes. minutes later, the boy returned, saying, "i'm not gonna do it. i already said i was late on the computer." he handed back his blue book. we gave the girl about forty-five minutes.

during their stressful dillema, i could only think about what the hell they were doing and/or thinking, showing up late for the most important hour of the semester. i would think that if i were a student, i'd be waiting around all day for this thing, constantly checking emails, instant messaging classmates, to see if anything had changed. the only valid excuse for being late for something that important would have to be something scandalous, like once-in-a-life-time miracle sex. sorry i'm late, professor. i was having miracle sex. it's once in a lifetime, so it won't happen again. literally.

i hung out in the exams office afterward with the coordinator. he filled me in about the previous director for my office, who apparently was a big, lying beast. "people were afraid of her," he said. "anyone who worked for her ended up quitting and moving really far away." he told me that he wanted to get out of here, that he didn't want to work for the law school forever. that always seems to be the case. for once in my life, i'd just like to meet someone who says, i love this, i love it here. i could do it forever. but that's never the case.

he's got two kids and he goes fishing sometimes. "if you'd ever like to go, i'd be more than happy to take you." i thanked him for the offer. it seems that people are always 'more than happy' to include me in something. why can't they just be happy to do it? he used to play the saxophone, he wants to be a fireman. he took the fireman test, and he's number 58 on the list. stupid lists. "i really thought i was gonna be out of here last year," he said, "but it didn't quite work out that way."

he went into this long thing about needing to make his mark in the world, leaving something behind, and he's convinced himself that being a fireman would fulfill that need. i nodded in agreement, and i wished he'd just be a fireman already. when i finished stapling, i asked if he needed anything else done. "no, that was it," he said. i got out of there and started walking. as i walked through the sidewalks full of muddied leaves, i thought again about how i am wandering aimlessly, or that maybe i was on some set path, even if my instincts told me no. i thought about how people without plans end up on lists, not doing what they want. the curse of constantly needing to be there rather than here.

a small woman walked past me and made an odd sound, almost non-human, like a small whimper or woof. it was enough to bring me back.
rip out page twenty-five.

last night kind of sucked. tuesday night was alright. i had another proctor with me, and we only had about twenty students. last night, i had forty fools, and i was all alone. so, five minutes before start time, the exam coordinator busts through the door. "you passed them out yet?" "no," i said. "perfect," he said, "follow me." he motioned for me to grab the box of tests and leave the classroom, then he made an announcement. "we're going to be a little late starting the test, but however much time we take, we'll add it on to the end."

outside the classroom, i asked what was wrong. "there are answers in the test," he said. goddamnit, i thought. who the hell cares. just throw them out. "we have to rip out page twenty-five." i failed to see the point. just leave it in, and don't count them. i voiced my opinion. "why can't we just leave them in?" he shrugged. "i don't know," he said, "it's what the professor wants." well, the professor shouldn't have fucked up. we sat there, and we ripped out each page twenty-five in the stack of tests.

i went back into the classroom and distributed the exams. we were still on time. as the thin red line moved past the twelve, i made a weak announcement. "well, it's 6:30, you can go ahead and begin." it feels weird being in that position, telling people what they can do and when. it's even weirder when, during the test, students will come up to me and ask to use the bathroom. "of course," i always say. jesus, what am i to them? some kind of nazi schoolteacher?

but i guess that's the mentality here. once, the work study girl was running late for class. "maybe i'll just not go," she said, defeated. "why?" i asked. "the professor always gets upset at students who come in late, and he gives them a hard time." she was visibly panicked, and i was glad i wasn't her. eventually, she mustered enough courage to show up tardy. "what the hell was that?" i asked monika. "apparently, she has a professor that likes to make an example out of late students." "that's terrible," i said. "yeah," she said, "she was so worried she was thinking about not even showing up to class. what kind of message does that send to students?" i turned to emily to get her input. "what an asshole," she said.

"what's the rule on cell phones?" an older black student asked me. "is it okay if i go outside? i just wanna see if my wife called." do whatever the hell you want, man. "sure," i said. another woman, well into her forties, possibly fifties, asked if she could go outside and have a snack. have a whole meal, i don't give a shit. "no problem." what's the incentive for enforcing rules? the whole place could be a big cheating shitshow, and i wouldn't mind. i'd sit back, relax, and still collect the overtime at the end of the month.

they were quiet and well-behaved, little docile thinkers in debt. a typical pose is someone reading with his hand on his forehead, a look of warranted worry. after all, it's over ten thousand dollars a semester riding on one little three-hour exam. what an ordeal. what a terrible thing to put someone through.
unless you have a wealthy spouse.

i went to admissions to see what i needed to do to get a nursing degree. you'd think it'd be easy, right? i went here after all. i graduated with honors. it should be just as simple as letting me back into school, as though i had just switched majors. not so. apparently, i'm the first employee at the school who has thought about entering into the undergraduate nursing program. there's a couple of roadblocks. one, almost all undergraduate courses are taught during the day, and almost all masters courses are taught at night. supposedly, they do this for "space" issues.

so, what it comes down to is this: if i want to keep my job at the school and get a nursing degree for free, it would take me about five or six years to finish. this is because i have no prerequisites. during my four years as an undergrad, i took all english courses, and for what? i can read more critically now. i had a wild card up my sleeve. "what if i wanted to do the m.i.t. program?" "that'll be quicker," the admission adviser, linda, told me. "but you'd have to quit your job. you'd begin doing student teaching right away." i must've looked disappointed because then she said, "but it's only a year program. if you can manage to live off loans for a year, you're set." she laughed. "or unless you've got a rich spouse!"

i didn't find it very funny at all. this is serious business, linda. gm and ford went before congress to seek a bailout for billions of dollars, and congress granted it to them. where's the bailout for english majors? "why do you want to pursue nursing?" she asked me. "well, i majored in creative writing, but now i'm kind of facing reality." "right," she said, "well, it's tough to get any jobs without a masters degree." you're an admissions advisor, right? tell me something i don't already know. better yet, reverse time to about six years ago, and tell me that.

"well, i got my masters while i was an employee here, and let me tell you, it took me about six years to finish. i was so relieved when i finally finished." wonderful. you have kids, a dog, too, maybe? "you're in a peculiar position, though," she said. "we can't admit you into the bsn program without the prerequisites, but we figured out a way to re-admit you as a pre-major. once you finish your prerequisites as a pre-major, you can just switch your major to nursing." it didn't sound that complicated, but it felt like she wanted it to be complicated.

linda said she sat down with the dean of the college of nursing, that they were willing to re-admit me as a pre-major. "but don't tell anyone," she said. "the school of science and engineering doesn't want to become the dumping ground for people who want to get their pre-requisities in. usually, we advise students to finish those up at a community college." she kept trying to convince me to take the pre-requisites at a community college as well. "you can get it done faster. it's cheap, too."

she's probably right. but then, what's the point of offering a tuition remission for employees? i'm beginning to think that my school doesn't really want me to be an empowered leader for a just and humane world.
basic real estate.

i did my first fourteen-hour shift at the school yesterday. i signed up to proctor finals, since i would receive time and a half for any overtime. i reasoned that since i would not be paid for two days due to a lack of vacation time, i might as well sign up for the extra cash. lisa was the first to convince me. "it's so easy," she said, "all you have to do is sit there." the weird thing is, i'm forced to think about how i spent a year struggling to find work, and how there are a lot of unemployed people right now, so i feel compelled to take every chance i get to make an extra buck. if i could sling, then i'd be slingin'.

i got a salad from the sidebar after work. i didn't have much time. i could've gone to subway, but since my apartment is located above a subway, it reeks of subway. if i eat a subway sandwich, also known as a "yum rocket," i just might puke. the sidebar is kind of shitty, but under time constraints, i had no other choice. i could've been less lazy the night before and packed myself a lunch and dinner, but no, i was lazy. i settled for a $5 caesar salad. it wasn't very good, but it did the trick.

i don't like to eat anywhere in the building. i don't know why, but i don't. i could eat at the tables by the sidebar where all the students eat, but i'm not a student, so it would feel weird. i could eat in the staff lounge if i wanted to, but it'd be weird. it'd be a lot of, "so, are you keeping busy these days?" and you can never say no. you have to tell the other person what you've been doing in your department, no matter how boring it is. "i'm compiling post-graduate fellowships because we're looking to implement our own by the end of the year." words like that just leave a bad taste in your mouth.

i ate my caesar salad, and then i went to c-3, where i was supposed to check in to proctor exams. i turned back, though, realizing that caesar salad sauce would make my breath horrible, and i grabbed an altoid. our office keeps a steady supply of altoids because students meet with representatives from law firms, and halitosis, apparently, is a real deal-breaker. so, i popped a mint and went on my way. c-3 was an absolute disaster. there were boxes and papers scattered this way and that. i hadn't seen such a mess since visiting the red cross headquarters post-katrina.

jamie, the exams coordinator, greeted me. "have we ever officially met?" she asked. "i don't think so." we told each other our names. she said that my proctor partner, denise, was already in the classroom because she wanted to get set up right away. i immediately imagined my partner as a slightly overweight woman with power issues. it filled me with a sense of dread. jamie told me some other things, and then said to go next door. as it turned out, denise wasn't overweight, and she didn't engage in power trips. in fact, she was the opposite - waify and unsure about what exactly she was doing.

she told me she was in the college of education, getting her msa or mda or something like that. she said that she had proctored before, but it was a year ago, and she had forgotten everything. "we'll learn together," she said. i'm not gonna learn shit, i thought. i'm gonna do my job and get paid $20 an hour to read kitchen by banana yoshimoto. and yes, her name's really banana. a student came down the steps to ask if we had any earplugs. "i don't know," i said, "i'll check next door." the exam office didn't have earplugs. "you can tell him to check with the library or the bookstore," jamie said. "right," i said.

i read the instructions aloud and then the test started. as i looked the test over myself, i felt really bad for them. i thought about that scene from saved by the bell where rod belding goes, "man, this looks hard," and then he says, "everybody do what i do," and then he holds the paper up in the air, tears it up, and goes, "woo-hoo!" but this mattered. this was a basic real estate exam. the first question started out with bob the buyer and sue the seller and then, somehow, of course, shit got all messed up. the elevated vocabulary and the way certain sentences were phrased was enough to make me unable to follow the story. i couldn't even begin to think about what the answer might be.

at this point, i looked up at all the anxious faces with their blue books, laptops, and scantrons. why would anyone want to be here, doing this, answering hypothetical questions? some people must like it, though. it's like riddles to them. that's what my geometry teacher said about theorems. "think of it as like solving a puzzle, or a detective story." guess what, mr. morton? i fucking hate puzzles and detective stories are shit. i got a c in geometry.

looking the exam over, though, i realized what a crock of shit a liberal arts education truly is. i wouldn't be able to just write about myself, my life experiences, or my relationship with god to get out of this one. i've been out of the game so long that i've forgotten how this world, or at least parts of it, does actually rely on, and function according to some code, some elitist jargon. i belong to the group of unskilled whiners. i can write, but i can't stop the bank from foreclosing on your house. i can play some guitar chords, but i won't know what to do when your heart and liver fails. the bottom line is, even with my education and experience, i wouldn't be able to save anyone.

i hope that it's not about money, status, titles, or upward mobility. i hope that those who like solving puzzles and reading detective stories are constantly keeping watch.
target acquired.

maybe it was the dope talking, but john had a pretty good point. we had been running up and down destroyed landscapes and bombed-out buildings, killing each other. we did whatever we could to completely decimate the other person: throw grenades and flash grenades, fire shotguns, fire automatics, aim for the head. kill! kill! kill! deeply entrenched in the game, "in the zone" so to speak, it was hard to tell how much time had passed. could've been twenty minutes, could've been a couple of hours. however much time had passed, it somehow became clear what we were doing.

"isn't this just ridiculous?" he said. i zoomed in with my scope. "what?" i asked, firing off some shots. "that this is fun? that someone thought up that we should just kill each other and make it into a game?" i laughed. it was obvious, but it took him voicing this obvious truth to put things into perspective. "i mean," he began, "someone thought up that this was fun and entertaining. we're like, blowing each other up and running for our lives." i laughed harder. here we were, two guys in our twenties, playing call of duty 4. "it is pretty fucked up," i said.

"i mean, why would anyone volunteer for this?" he said. "you don't get paid. you constantly put yourself in danger. you don't even get benefits. why would anyone want to be in the army?" i briefly thought about bringing up the point that some poor kids don't have any other choice, but i don't think it's true. if money's the issue, it'd probably be more efficient working retail, or even selling dope, than it would be killing people in a foreign land. if it's about valor or courage or any of those bullshit values, i'd say no. facing reality is, in itself, a courageous act.

"we're such teenagers," he said. "at least we're not playing this at your parents house," i said. he laughed. "yeah man, don't make a mess! my mom's gonna be soo pissed!" "what are we missing?" i asked. "we need some mad magazines," he said. "nah, man. big gulps!" "yeah, that's right." "no. i know what we're missing. what every eighteen year old guy has at some point. maxim." "yeah. maxim. and fhm." "and stuff" we said, at the same time. "shit's so stupid."

the target demographic, 16 - 35. like at 35, a man's going to get tired of his x-box, realize that he's wasted half his life looking at half-nude models in glossy magazines. these strange companies have sold us, and continue to sell us, boobs and guns, bazooka asses. sex and violence. i kept hearing about it, and concerned parents and right-wingers continue to preach about it, so it's natural for everyone to wave them off.

but when you really think about it, when you transition from boy to man and become courageous enough to face reality, you begin to wonder: does any of this make any sense at all?
three cups of tea.

i met with my first ever book club for the first time last night. i always told myself that the amount of learning i got as an english major could've been acquired just as well had i joined a book club, so i guess that i was curious to see whether or not this belief held true. i also joined because socialization (even if it's forced) is supposed to be good for us. somehow, i was able to convince myself that we're not supposed to lead isolated lives, holed up in our studio apartments all weekend, watching downloaded police dramas on our laptops. so when jaspreet, the other work study girl, asked me to join her book club a month ago, i said yes. amazingly, i didn't back out.

i got into her car and met her friend, victoria, who was riding shotgun. we talked about her work. she interns at the mayor's office in the film and music department, or something like that. when a company wants to film something in seattle, they have to go through that department. i had no idea. we picked up a guy named guy in belltown, and he had a lisp or an accent, or both, and later in the night, i got the feeling he was mildly irritated when i asked him to repeat so many things.

victoria talked about how she had become tired of living alone. "i just want someone to talk to in the morning," she said. "you have your cat, though," jaspreet said. "i know, but it just gets sad, talking to my cat," she said. "i don't want to become the crazy cat lady." i had visions of my ex-roommate from americorps, glenn, getting up in the morning, whistling classical music, or else humming, and farting to his heart's content. i was really happy to be living alone. guy gave jaspreet directions. "stay to the left if you want an adventure, right if you don't." when jaspreet got into the right lane, he shouted, "no! i want an adventure!"

i couldn't help but think that i had been summoned to join this book group because i had been pegged as some sort of social outcast, or if i reeked of my inability to make friends. with the self-proclaimed future crazy cat lady in front of me, and the wild adventurer to my left, i could only guess what my role was. the asian kid who's always down about everything. is that how she saw me? whatever the case, i was glad that our carpool was such an odd group. who wants to meet "ordinary" people?

when we got to shoreline, jaspreet said, "it looks so suburbia here." "i thought you said, 'decemberia.'" "decemberia?" "yeah," i agreed, "i thought you said, 'decemberia,' too." "at least it's not like real suburbia," victoria said. "there aren't gated communities or anything." when we finally arrived, i saw how nice our host's house was. it had a low ceiling, and it looked new but had an old feel. there was a fire in the hearth and the living room was, for lack of a better word, cozy. it seemed to be the sort of house built specifically to host book club meetings. they kept their house pretty empty, too, so that there was no trace of what camilla and her housemates listened to, watched, or even read. there was a game of risk, some magazines, and that was about it.

three girls showed up shortly after we arrived: ashley, emily, and becky. they looked like recent college graduates. i hung back and didn't say much. everyone got tea or coffee, and i drank water. before our official meeting, our host served dal, lamb, rice, and naan, a real indian feast. i wasn't that hungry, so i took some naan and a small bowl of dal. "what's dal?" i asked jaspreet. "it's like lentils," she said. "come on, don't act like you don't know indian food."

we started talking about the book. for those of you who haven't read it, three cups of tea is about this american named greg mortenson who built schools in remote regions of pakistan and afghanistan. in the beginning of our conversation, i didn't say a whole lot. the conversation turned interesting, though, when someone brought up the hate mail mortenson received post-9/11. i had to speak up. "at that part, i had to question why he was so intent on building schools abroad when there's definitely a great need here." emily spoke next, saying that in america, everyone has access to a good education and has the ability to succeed. "it's easier here," she kept saying. our host, an older white woman, agreed.

"i'm a little hesitant to agree," guy said. "i grew up in a small idaho town, and i saw these kids who grew up on a poor indian reservation. you know, if their parents are alcoholics, they're already setting out in life on the wrong foot." i backed him up. "i think that with no child left behind, and all these other things going on, kids just keep getting moved up, but they're still not learning anything. i worked with a lot of high schoolers who were basically illiterate." camilla said that even though our education system is flawed, it's still easier for kids to get an education here than, say, pakistan.

i wasn't quite sure what we were arguing about at that point. i brought up how my dad hadn't graduated high school, and when he came over here in the seventies, he felt like he couldn't continue his education. i was being inarticulate, and i regretted that i was sharing information about myself so suddenly to a group of strangers. "i mean, if that person doesn't feel like he belongs to a particular group, or that once he's reached a certain age, he can't really work to improve himself." emily sympathetically intervened. "there's definitely embarassment that factors in." i nodded.

looking back at this moment, i had to think about what got me so riled up. i think it's the fact that i've only heard white people say things like, "america is still a great country," and "you can work hard to get what you want in this country," and "anyone can get a good education." my former americorps teammate, marisa, once said during a group meeting that even though this country has its problems, it's still the best country to live in. for who? she may be right, but still, how someone possibly say that, knowing our country's history? how can someone say that to the unemployed, the uninsured, the homeless, the addicted?

i've heard again and again that if you just work hard, you can achieve anything. in this country, it's possible. i really take offense to that statement because i look at what it implies. it implies that the poor, the uneducated, the homeless and starving didn't work hard enough. that someone like my dad didn't want "it" badly enough. it blames those who fell short of the american dream for not living up to their part.

on the car ride home, we talked about this some more. guy said, "look at obama. it's great that the black man became president, but think about how many millions of black men will never be the president." "or black kids who can't even possibly dream about becoming the president," jaspreet said. "the american dream is a good story," victoria said. "yeah," i agreed, and then i quoted something i once read: "because you have to be asleep to believe in it."

because i lived the farthest away, i was the first one dropped off, and i was a little sad to leave my odd carpool behind. but there will be more books, more discussions, arguments, and always, the ironic opportunity to discuss privilege.
dear publisher.

dear publisher,

where's my book deal? i mean, it's all bullshit, right? it's just about luck and who you know, obviously. it's not about talent, or how hard you work, how often you write, or any of that shit. because look, stuff white people like got made into a book. even that fucking lolcatz has a book. where's my share? i mean, christ, i'm not a great writer, but i'm confident enough to say i'm probably slightly more entertaining than maria shriver's just who will you be? every piece of trash i rummage through on shelves in bookstores becomes another slap in the face.

so, this is it. i'm making my demands here and now. i decide what entries go in, and since i'll face too many copyright issues printing the images i googled, i'll want artists i choose to hand-draw new images. i'll want enough money to pay off my student loans and the loans of everyone i know. yeah, that's right. it's gonna be a couple mill, you feel me? i'll want all the books printed on recycled paper bought from a local paper company, and i don't want a single person making a cent off me. yeah, that's right. you pay me a couple mill, you print my books, you distribute them, and you don't get shit in return. it's called volunteer work, pro bono. if idealistic twenty-two year olds right out of college can do it, multi-billion dollar publishing companies can, too.

i'll want to do an international book tour, too. so all them white folks can gather up in a church or a place like city hall and i can read and they can all go, "mmm-hmm." and then afterward, they can ask me questions like i was some exotic foreigner, or better yet, the second coming. i'd be humble, but i'd also be thinking, "i got you now, suckas." i'll invite people i used to know to these readings, and i'll praise them or tell them off, however which way it went down once upon a time.

so, come on. make me a book. i'll write all goddamn day if i have to.
oh no, we'll have to listen to christmas carols.

the school provided a holiday breakfast for all staff and faculty this morning. lisa showed up to tell emily about it, then invited me as an afterthought. we had to wait for the i.t. woman because the i.t. woman told lisa about it. when we were ready to go, lisa said, "let me go across the hall and get my jacket." emily said, "it's not that far." lisa said, "yeah, but it's cold outside." i agreed with lisa. "i didn't say it wasn't cold," emily said, "i just said it wasn't far." "still, you'll want a jacket," i said. "are you gonna wear a jacket?" lisa asked emily. "no," emily said. "well, if you don't wear one, i won't wear one, either." the four of us left for the cafeteria, paper plates in our hands, the two girls jacketless.

a long line of people were waiting outside the student center, ready to fill their plates with their free holiday meal. for a moment, i was paranoid i would see faculty and have to talk to them, tell them what i'm doing now. there's nothing more boring than telling an old english professor that i work for the school. i filled my plate with fruit, eggs, and a muffin. i wanted bacon, but bacon was on the other side, and the other side was crowded. it probably would've been worth it, though, for a piece of burnt bacon. no sausages. what kind of a holiday breakfast doesn't have sausages?

a woman was playing the piano and singing. "oh no," lisa said, "we're gonna have to listen to christmas carols." the i.t. woman turned to me, and said in her best english, "i can't even hear her." it was awfully noisy, and i wondered if the woman knew how futile it was to play the piano and sing. outside the center, the small i.t. clique was eating breakfast under the cafeteria stairs. this group seems more at ease, like they're certain nothing at the school could function without them. and the truth of it is, we'd all go home if they didn't do their jobs. they are the cool kids, the stoners and hippies in high school, then later, the hipster liberal arts majors who smoked outside the dorm buildings and classrooms.

on our way back to the office, lisa turned to me and said, "it must be nice and warm in that jacket, huh?" "yeah," i said, "it is."
what do you do with your time.

my boss gave me an informal evaluation today. i hate evaluations. they're bullshit. i know it, the person above me knows it. because no one can ever be honest in an evaluation. one of her questions was, "do you feel fulfilled by the work you're doing?" she meant well, but she knew the answer, and i knew the answer, so what'd she ask it for? that's the problem with work and the idea of job security. it just turns us into a bunch of lowdown yes-men liars. and i'm a terrible liar. i wanted to say, "no, of course i'm not satisifed by the actual work. i'm satisifed that i'm overpaid for what i'm doing, and i'm satisfied that no one gives me shit for slacking all day, but the actual work - responding to emails, punching shit into a spreadsheet, writing about things i don't give two shits about - nah, miss. none of that shit satisfies. none at all.

so, what does a terrible liar do to get himself out of it? i did what my gut told me to: be honest, but evade the question. i went into how i was used to "hands-on" type of stuff, you know, "being in the trenches," so they say. thing of it is, the trenches were too hot for me, so i had to quit. yeah, that's me. an empowered leader for a just and humane world who sold out early because shit got too hot. i told her about the shitty teaching gig, and then i immediately regretted it because as soon as the words left my mouth, i was ultimately declaring that i had lied on my resume, lied my way through the job application. an omission is a lie. so, why not just come clean already with everything, right? well, the truth is, i'm a crook. i like getting paid for doing nothing.

somehow, our talk turned into a discussion about how i actually am interested in law, even though i don't plan on ever going to law school. now i'm going to some meeting off-site tomorrow for two hours. how do i get myself into these things? i'm a weak fool. i tell everyone yes when i mean no. i say i'll do something, even though i don't really want to. is this just part of being human, or does it only apply to indecisive, socially awkward, scatterbrained mofos like myself? i want to be held accountable for things, but i don't want the blame when it doesn't turn out right. i want to do humanitarian work, but i want to get paid for it. i want to do grown up things, but i don't want the stress that comes with it.

the last time i had a thorough evaluation was when i worked at the red cross. the national director flew in from d.c. just to talk to us seven. made us feel real special. she sat me down in an interview room and asked me, how'd my year go? how'd i like the mid-year training? and blah blah blah bullshit. of course, i smiled through it all and i couldn't be honest. what was the point? a year had passed and i had accomplished nothing. might as well just take the education award and leave in peace, right? take the money, and don't make a scene. i could've told her i spent all day doing jack shit, changing the layouts on my myspace page, entering the name of every cd i owned (yes, sadly, i fucking did this) into a spreadsheet.

i came close, too, real close to spilling everything. she asked me, "what percent would you say you spend doing direct service?" "about thirty percent," i said. she looked up from her clipboard, eyes wide, shocked as fuck. "what do you do with the rest of your time?" oh shit. she didn't like that. better change my answer. "wait, by 'direct service' - does that include answering emails, going to meetings and stuff?" "yes." "oh, well then it's like 60 - 70 percent." quite a jump, but she bought it. fucking nonprofits. they'll buy anything.

i've been reading three cups of tea for this book club that i'm going to meet with on sunday. the main character is a real adventurer. he grabs life by the horns and doesn't screw around. he doesn't have to pretend like he's doing anything - he actually works and travels. he doesn't have to answer to anybody except his wife, and he doesn't have to make up stories about how he wastes away his nine to five. he builds schools in remote regions in the middle east, and he isn't afraid of getting killed.

i used to fear death, but now i fear it to a mildly lesser degree. because somewhere in the recesses of my mind, i know that the real tragedy is a life misspent.
five things you're good at.

i was filling out a self-evaluation form, and it asked me to list five things i'm good at. i racked my brain, but couldn't quite think of anything. i thought i was good at remembering episodes of saved by the bell and replaying them in my head to pass the time. i was also good at playing that racehorse game at circus circus. these were the few skills and talents i could think of. i could play guitar, but i wouldn't say i was "good" at it. besides, they might make me play. writing, i guess, but then i wouldn't have any proof except for my blog, and i didn't feel like putting that in the spotlight.

what am i good at? what's anyone good at? there are generic things one could list, like being a "good listener," or a "thoughtful person." but i'd like real skills and i don't know why. i blame die hard for this. who didn't want the skills john mcclane had? i want presence of mind, to know that should the time ever come that i'd have to tie a firehose around my waist, jump off an exploding rooftop and kick through a glass window to reach safety, i could. sure, it's all just imaginary hollywood stunts, but i believe that someone with the proper skills and training could pull it off.

i'd even like to do simpler things like make soap or put a storage shelf together. only problem is, i don't have any know-how. i can't do any hands-on work that would produce any real, tangible results. this is where my beef with ready made and other d.i.y. magazines and books comes into play. they make it look so easy, like one could just find a bunch of two-liter coke bottles and turn them into a majestic palace. they make people believe that they could turn old telephone wires into a trampoline. funny how i've become so cynical that stunts in an 80's action flick are more attainable than anything a d.i.y. magazine has to offer.

their intentions are good, though. they want people to not be so wasteful. they want people to empower themselves by learning how to "fix shit up," and recycle, reduce, reuse. they provide advertising for "green" companies who sell "organic" products. all of it just feels kind of ridiculous to me, though. mostly because everyone in those types of magazines are young, fashionable hipsters with fancy apartments in brooklyn, and they have wonderful jobs as "creative designers." i suppose these people exist, but i've yet to meet one. i just don't know. it all seems like phony baloney bullshit to me. how do so many people in their 20's live such fabulous lives? everyone my age is poor and miserable as shit. even if we are recycling.

i did something wrong, i guess. i didn't work hard enough to achieve the american dream. i'm still not working hard enough.
in a blink, they take it away.

i watched this documentary called sentenced home. it follows the story of three cambodian-americans who were deported after they had already served time for the crimes they'd committed. the dudes were from white center, a poor area near seattle. these three guys came to america as refugee children under pol pot's reign, and they never became citizens. because congress passed a law in 1996, the u.s. now reserves the right to deport anyone without u.s. citizenship who has committed a felony. the fucked up thing of it is, these guys didn't know they were going to get deported, or that they were on "borrowed time."

so basically, the way it works is, people are brought over to the u.s. when they're really young, and their parents don't know anything about the importance of citizenship and all that crap. who the hell cares, right? some time passes, and because the neighborhood is rough (still better than the third world), they find a group of tough kids to hang with. it goes from stealing to a little bit of drugs, and then pretty soon it's armed robbery. and then a certain "degree" of something or other, something perfectly intangible, somehow transforms that kid's misdemeanor into a felony.

then he serves his time. guy does two years out of a seven year sentence. that's fair, right? don't do the crime if you can't do the time. so, that guy gets released after two years. he's like, shit, it's good to be free. he meets a girl; they fall in love. he gets a job; they get married; they buy a house. then there's a kid, and then another kid. things are cool until, all of a sudden, somewhere down the road, i.c.e. says, "nuh uh. you're coming with us." so, he gets locked up in a detention center indefinitely. "what am i doing here?" he says, "i already served my time!" the man with the baton answers, "you're a threat to homeland security."

after twenty days at the detention center, the non-citizen is released. someone decides he isn't a threat after all. a few months later, i.c.e. fucks with him again. they've decided he is a threat after all. they give him a week's notice that he's going to be deported. "when do i have to leave?" he says. "monday," the cold voice answers. "monday? but it's monday today!" that's a week for you. monday to monday in the only country you've ever known, the only language you've ever spoken, the only people you've ever touched. "but i've got a house, a job, kids!" "well, all that's gone now. you should've thought about all that when you were seventeen and you robbed that clerk at gunpoint."

dude gets deported and because his native country was pressured post-9/11 to accept deportees, that's where he goes. he's sentenced back to the country his parents fled just decades ago. he went from a decent house in the states to a shaky wooden shack with no electricity, no running water, no source of income. and for what? he didn't fill out a citizenship application. it's crazy. the parent flees, family in tow, seeking a new life with better opportunities in a prosperous land. the same prosperous land which exiles her child years later, condemning him to the third-world.

a part that stuck out for me was when one deportee's sister said, "it would've been better had they deported him immediately, when he committed his crime. why wait eight years later when he's got a family and a house?" really, what are they getting out of this?