hold up your palm.


i met up with my aunt in san francisco. originally, i was just going to check out an apartment with the hope of leaving sacramento for good. i found this apartment on craigslist, and the title of the posting was: "a screamin' deal." and at $410, yes, it most certainly was a screamin' deal. so, i drove to san francisco all by myself and found the victorian house on broderick, just off of geary. i called lina, the girl who was supposed to be home, but she didn't answer. i called the main contact, joel. he answered.

this is joel.
hey joel, it's james.
hey james.
umm, i'm at your front door, but lina isn't answering her phone.
hmm. she must be asleep. let me i.m. her.
okay.
she isn't responding. she's probably asleep.
well, i can come back later. it's no big deal.
are you sure? is it a drive for you, or are you in the area?
i'll be in the area.
okay, cool. i get off work at 6, and i'm usually home by 6:30.
alright, i'm just going to hang out with some friends in the area.
okay, why don't we shoot for 7?
sounds good.
all right.
see you then.
see ya.

any other person, a person with a life, or even a loosely structured schedule would have been peeved. this exchange happened at roughly 11:00 a.m., and i was expected to reschedule our meeting for another eight hours. but whatever. i really didn't mind. these days, i have nothing but time. i called up my aunt, since she wanted to grab lunch. little did i know, she wanted more than lunch. she wanted to eat every four hours, which is exactly what we did.

12:00 - sushi boat (i ordered a 4 piece rock n' roll sushi and a chicken teriyaki meal)
4:00 - boudin (i ordered a veggie sandwich and wild berry juice squeeze)
8:00 - ppq (a gay man named june ordered a dungeness crab marinated in butter garlic sauce with garlic vietnamese noodles for us)

by 8:00. i obviously was no longer hungry. but since my aunt insisted on treating me to a zagat rated vietnamese restaurant, how could i refuse? and once i sucked up the butter garlic sauce through the poor crab's broken leg, i couldn't stop. i stuffed myself full of that defenseless yet succulent crab. and then the fried banana with mango ice cream came for desert. i said i couldn't possibly eat anymore, but my aunt said, "it's coming, whether you like it or not." i ate that, too.

during our first meal, i figured i should make an effort to understand this woman we in the filipino clan referred to as "ate," (pronounced: ah-teh) or basically, the eldest and most respected aunt. all i really knew about this woman is that she was highly superstitious. she made everyone in the family jump over a small fire after my grandma died, and she made my dad cut down our big shade tree in the front yard. these mystics in manila temples tell her what to do, and she obeys. apparently, my dad visited a mystic when he was in manila only a few months ago. he asked the wise sage (or, from another perspective, a con artist) about his son. yes, he asked about me. according to ate, this is what he wanted to know:

should my son go back to school?
no.
should my son work?
yes.

conclusion: filipino mystics could give a fuck about grad school. afterward, as the story goes, my dad turned to ate, and said in a dejected and concerned manner, "but he really wants to continue his education." ate replied, "well, what do you want me to do? change her answer?" i feel that by recounting this little tidbit, ate was passively trying to tell me what to do with my life. in fact, she had total control of me for just about my entire day in san francisco, from noon until 9:00 p.m. i wondered about her daughter, my cousin grace. what would it be like to live under her control for 28 years?

the night before, my dad learned that i was going to visit ate in san francisco. he told me that i should spend the night in her hotel. knowing ate, there would only be one bed, and possibly a pull-out couch. no, thank you. i told him that i had a job interview in the morning, anyway, but that i was actually considering blowing it off. he didn't seem too concerned about the interview. still, he stood in the kitchen doorway, and i thought that maybe, for once, we were going to have a serious conversation about my future.

you're going to san francisco tomorrow?
yeah, i'm checking out an apartment.
are you going to visit ate?
yeah, probably.
you can stay with ate, you know.
yeah, but i have a state interview tomorrow.
what time's the interview?
10:00 a.m.
you could still leave early in the morning, and make it to the interview.
yeah, but i don't want to. well, actually, i was thinking about not going anyway. i've already been turned down for three office assistant positions, so i doubt they're going to hire me for a staff services analyst position. it's more responsibility, and i don't really have the experience for it.
(at this moment, he pauses. and then he says something which makes me almost hate him.)
if you stayed with ate, it would really help a lot. she's all alone at the hotel.

yes, my dad isn't concerned that his son feels inadequate, unable to handle a simple bullshit state job. he isn't too worried that his son can't figure out how to live his life, or make friends, or even leave the house just for a little while. he just wants his son to be a guard dog for his aunt while she's in the city. i know this isn't what he implied, but it's certainly the way i took it. and it was the pathetic little pleading way he asked me, too. it reminded me of my roommate from college, anthony, when he asked for a really big favor in the most humble way possible. he pleaded, "do you mind if i stay up and finish typing my seven page essay? it's due tomorrow. i know you have class at 7:00 a.m., but please, i haven't even started yet, and it's worth like twenty percent of my grade. i swear, this will be the last time." of course, it never was the last time. but i was a push-over, so i let him do it.

but now i am older, more disillusioned, more bitter, and thus unwilling to put up with bullshit favors. so, no, i won't be anyone's fucking watchdog.

i asked ate why she lived at the ramada hotel in south san francisco for four years. she said that she used to have an apartment in san bruno, and she would come home at 2 in the morning almost every night. once, on her way to her apartment, two or three black men approached her and grabbed her by the collar. luckily, she said, a policeman was nearby, and he scared the assailants off. even though these men didn't do any physical damage to her, their actions left her with a constant need for security. thus, she has a daughter who hasn't left her side in twenty eight years.

knowing this, i knew it was going to be a mistake to show her "a screamin' deal." i expected the living room to be littered with boxes of porno tapes and pabst blue ribbon cans. my room was going to be a cramped closet with cardboard covering the window. i didn't want to take her there. i already knew what would happen. and even though it wasn't as bad as i expected, she still hated it. she was ready to go after a minute of looking around. "let's go, jim," she said. she practically pushed me out the door. she wasn't ready for a dirty, dingy, san francisco punk rock lifestyle. maybe i wasn't, either.

did you like it? i didn't like it there. and i don't trust those people.
it seemed okay.
no, you don't want to live there.
yeah, but that's what i kind of expected for the price.
yes, the price is good, but it's a terrible place.
yeah, it was kind of dirty.
you can find something better than that. let me ask my friend roweena.

throughout the day, ate had been calling and texting this friend, roweena, who worked for philippine airlines (pal). she described me to roweena by saying, he graduated from where? seattle university. and studied what? english. and his work experience is mostly what? education, i guess. roweena was excited, since they were looking for a marketing assistant to work underneath a "fifty year-old womanizer" (ate's words, not mine). ate described me as a "good boy" who is looking for "nothing too menial." she said this in tagalog. then, she told me that she could just say the word, and i would have the job, but she didn't want to do it this way. she wanted me to earn a job on my own merit. according to her, my education and experience should speak for itself.

what would your starting wage be?
it would depend on what i was doing.
well, whatever it is your typical line of work would be. like with computers.
i don't know. i guess if i had an entry-level temp job, i'd start out at 12 or 13 dollars an hour?

this was certainly a disconcerting exchange. i had forgotten that my aunt had not been out of work, and thus never had to look for a job in over forty years. she thought that she could just say i went to seattle university and that was enough information to land me a good-paying job with benefits. this certainly was my line of thinking when i was an undergraduate. when you're in college, no one really tells you, "hey! major in something useful if you want financial security when you're done here!" ate didn't go to college. she started working for philippine airlines when she was eighteen, and hasn't stopped since.

are you going to retire?
i think about it sometimes. but i want to keep working.
why?
when you don't work, you become slower. you could develop alzheimer's.
is your job stressful?
always. i take some of this (she pulled out a brown bag of tea from shanghai). it's better than valium, better than a tranquilizer. i don't like to take drugs, so i just drink this tea. it's not habit-forming, and it knocks me out.
i think i'd like to try some of that tea.

throughout the day, we had many different conversations regarding the themes of work, family, and superstition. we both agreed that talking to my younger cousin, sam, is like talking to an eighty year old man. we both agreed that the war in iraq should be over with, but that neither mccain or obama have what it takes to get things done around here. we agreed that my parents "need air," and should travel more, get out of the house, etc. during these moments, i would think, wow, so this is who my aunt truly is. she thinks about things i do. and then, this thought would abruptly come to an end by one of her superstitions.

you have two moles there.
yeah.
that's good where they are.
why?
that means you're on the right track.
oh.
you know, according to numbers, mccain's twenty-five years of good luck are about to end, and obama's are just about to begin. i think i'll have to vote for obama because of that, even though i don't want to.
hmm.
yes, it's all in the numbers and science. i'll send it to you. it's interesting.
okay.

another time, at the ppq restaurant, she said, "hold up your hand." i did as she told me. i think she was trying to read my palm without telling me she was reading my palm. she just looked at it a little while, but she said nothing. her face was neutral.

i wondered if it was a good or bad sign.

1 comment:

byron said...

Sounds like you had a pretty cool time with Ate. Sorry I flaked out on going this morning, I just really didn't want to spend the day having ate talk about all that mystical stuff.