Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I grew up near an arcade called Circus Circus.  It was sort of like Chuck E. Cheese, and it definitely wasn’t anything like or associated with the Las Vegas casino that shares it’s name.  It was the childhood place I loved going to right after the school year got out.  For some reason, they would give us free tokens when we’d show them our report cards.  I’m not sure if the token allotment was based on grades or if everyone got the same amount no matter what, I just remember being super excited that we were getting free tokens .  My eldest sister would take me to Circus Circus whenever she was in town.  She’d play old school games like Centipede and Galaga while I’d play Street Fighter II repeatedly even though I never seemed to get much better at it.  I’d occasionally play games for tickets, but I typically preferred the video games.

When my family moved to San Diego, there was no immediate Circus Circus equivalent.  Chuck E. Cheese was a poor substitute and Dave and Busters didn’t exist yet.  After a few years, something came to fill the void, and that something was the nickel arcade, where you pay a flat admission fee, and then all the games cost different variations of nickels.  They built one down the street from my high school and surprisingly, I never played hooky to go there.  Sometime when I was in college, they closed that nickel arcade down.  I wasn’t particularly bummed that it did for a couple of reasons.  One, there was another one not too much farther from my parents’ house, and two, it seemed that arcades weren’t as alluring to me as they were in my childhood.

Now that my sisters have kids, the nickel arcade has become a place I frequent once again.  It’s a great place for the kids to expend some of their energy and it’s relatively cheap to kill a couple of hours.  I only play a handful of games while I take the kids out, so I don’t experience the arcade in the same way that I once did.  I’m usually holding onto tickets or getting more nickels, opposed to frantically pressing buttons trying to beat the level boss.  In other words, now I’m the adult.

Shortly after Christmas, I was in charge of taking my nieces and nephews out to the nickel arcade so my sisters could have some bonding time.  I paid for admission, gave the kids each a bag of nickels and they went on their way.  I parked myself in front of the Deal or No Deal arcade machine because it had a seat, and decided to give the game a play.  Shortly after my game had ended, my nephew Jordan informed me that he was out of nickels and that he needed more.  I went to the counter to get a five dollar bag, and then walked over to where he and the others were so I could divide the nickels out evenly.  To my surprise, there was another kid, and obviously not one related to me.  He was advising my other nephew in the middle of a game, and I immediately grew suspicious.

I didn’t ask him his age but I’d guess he was in middle school.  He definitely wasn’t bullying the younger kids (the nephews) or trying to make nice with my nieces, so I decided to leave the kid be, since he wasn’t doing anything to warrant any action on my part.  In fact, moments after I showed up, he handed my nephew a huge handful of tickets saying that he didn’t need them.  Not only was this kid not causing trouble, but he was actually being generous, and with not a single ulterior motive.

He was helping my nieces and nephews with one of the ticket games.  In the game, if you land on the bonus, you need to to hit the button to line up a flashing light with the jackpot.  It does this three times, and each time, the flashing light goes around the circle faster than the last.  This is when the kid would step in, and he helped win the jackpot on more than a few occasions.  It was an amazing sight to see, and it was even better to see the excitement from my nephews.  He stuck around and helped for the entire hour or so that we were there, rarely leaving to do anything on his own.

We started to turn in our tickets about 10 minutes before closing so my nieces and nephews could decide on prizes.  Once the prizes were redeemed, we started to walk towards the door.  He stopped us, pulled out even more tickets from his pockets and told us “you guys can have them, I don’t need these”, and once again we were floored by his generosity.  While I’m pretty sure that part of the reason that he was so generous was because his ride wasn’t going to pick him up until closing time, I’d like to think that he was a saint with some special gaming powers, but not like the one in that terrible Fred Savage movie.  Not only did he make my nieces and nephews happy, but he also brought back to me the sort of awe that I once had when I was a kid and I went to the arcades.

 

There’s an interesting dynamic between my four older sisters and me.  It’s not just because I’m the only boy sibling, it’s because of the huge age gap between us.  All my sisters are roughly a year to two years apart, and then I came along 8 years after that.  When I was a kid, my sisters were quick to point out that the large gap indicated that I was an “accident”, but since I was a boy, I countered that I was the best “accident” to ever happen to our family.  My parents wholeheartedly agree with me to the chagrin of my sisters.  To be fair, my sisters have been more than kind to me throughout my entire existence, but it doesn’t seem to make the dynamic any less weird.  When I was a kid, my sisters were dating, and I kind of unknowingly became a pawn in the game of chess between my sisters and their suitors.

Obviously, when you date someone, you want to make a good impression on their family, so it would make sense that at some point, these guys would want me to approve of them.  Since I was literally just a little kid, I find it odd that I’d been taken out quite a few times (I have lots of sisters, it’s not that they dated a lot of guys).  My sisters weren’t going to take any feedback I had about the guys seriously.

“Was he nice to you?”

“Yes.”

“What’d you guys do?”

“He bought me ice cream.”

“Do you like him?”

“Sure.”

Unless a guy punched me in the face, I was probably always going to say I had fun and the guy was nice, so I doubt that it was my sisters’ idea that I needed to be wined and dined, at least not with these not-so-serious boyfriends.  The serious boyfriends, I could understand.  Perhaps they thought I was some sort of guard dog that could smell shadiness.  There’s Something About Mary hadn’t come out yet, so I don’t think they viewed me that way, but I never asked.  I think their money would be better spent on my other sisters (closer in age, more likely to have an opinion) than a boy who doesn’t even understand how babies are made, but that was their choice, and I definitely reaped the benefits of it.

I particularly remember one prospective suitor, not because our time was particularly interesting, but because he wasn’t actually dating my sister, he was just interested in her.  He went to our church, so it wasn’t like a stranger wanted to take me out.  He took me to the mall, he bought me some frozen yogurt, and then he bought a bouquet of roses for my sister.  There might’ve been more to the day, but that’s all I remember.  My sister never actually dated the guy, which is kind of sad.  I know she had valid reasons, and I’ve never questioned her judgement (she’s happily married now).  He wasn’t a loser, he was just kind of a dork, who happened to like my sister A LOT.  Even I picked up on that.

As kind of weird as it was in retrospect, I give that guy credit for trying to score points with my sister with the gesture of taking me out.  His intentions were clear, he executed his plan, but unfortunately, he just came up a short of his goal in the end.  I don’t know what he ended up doing with his life, I hope that he ended up with a life that he was happy with and that he doesn’t live with any regrets about my sister (my sister is in a healthy and happy marriage so don’t be a creeper).  He was able to give it his best shot and he was able to state his case.

In my life, I try not to have many regrets.  Failure is a part of life that everyone experiences, so it shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of.  Most of my regrets stem from not being given a chance, not because I tried and failed.  While no one in my family keeps in touch with this guy, I don’t think this guy was a failure by any means.  He didn’t achieve his goal, but he took a risk and put his best foot forward.  He may not have been able to earn my sister’s hand, but he was able to gain the respect of a young boy.  He may have thought of himself as a reject and a loser afterwards, but as sad as it sounds, he was probably more of a man than most of the people that have passed through my life since.

Over the weekend, a good friend came back to town for a friend’s wedding.  They had been gone for a few months and were only in town for the weekend.  I got to church late, so by the time I got there, there were plenty of people in the process of catching up with her.  I figured that at some point, I’d stop by to say ‘hi’, but I wasn’t going to wait in line.  I knew that she’d be back home for good in a month, so I wasn’t going to be upset if I didn’t get that time to reconnect.  Besides, she was in town for a wedding.  I wasn’t going to take things personally if catching up with me wasn’t on her agenda on this trip.

I eventually did get a few minutes to chat.  Since it had only been a few months since she’d been gone, it was easy to fill her in on what she had missed.  Sure, we had Facebook, e-mail, and blogs to fill in some of those cracks, but it was nice to just let the conversation flow rather than sitting down and typing up bunch of concise facts.  Even though the time was brief, I didn’t feel like my time was rushed and I was able to share what I needed to share.  It’s not like my life had radically changed in the last 3 months and it won’t likely change too much in the next month by the time she comes back.

A year or so after our move to San Diego, Bruce’s family came to visit us, or more accurately, they came to California to visit some relatives and were nice enough to swing by to see us for a day as well.  Since they had other obligations, their time with us seemed brief but I was obviously thrilled to see them and made the most of it.  After their visit, there was a 6-7 year gap between that time and the next time I would see Bruce.  We kept in touch through the years with a couple of letters, the occasional (more like annual) phone call, and eventually instant messenger/e-mail when the technology became available.  I didn’t see Bruce again in person until my sophomore year of college and when I went to the airport to pick him up, I wondered if it would be really weird.  We were no longer kids, we could legally drive cars.  We pretty much missed each other’s teen years (though that may have been a good thing for us).  The dynamic in our friendship could’ve understandably been a lot different, but there I stood there at baggage claim wondering if I’d even recognize him right away when he walked by.

Luckily for us, things hadn’t changed too much.  We still loved to eat and play video games.  He got along with Phil, who generously drove us around, and I didn’t notice any awkward silence.  I don’t remember discussing what we had missed out in each other’s lives at all, but I’m sure there was a little of that.  I think we spent most of the time focussing on the present and the surreal notion that we were actually sitting in the same room as adults.  I think I asked him if he thought I talked like I was from California now or if I seemed different because of my move, but the only thing that seemed to stick out as different was how large the size of the asian population was at my school.  I think a lot of the big changes in either of our lives were mentioned mostly in passing and we weren’t very aware of the weight that they carried.  My oldest sister had gotten married and had a child.  I was already an uncle.  That’s kind of a crazy notion, but I don’t think I understood that then.

I’ve always found catching up with people as kind of an intimidating task and sometimes I’ve even found it intrusive with the friends who’ve dropped off the face of the earth and have come barging back into my life wanting to know everything they’ve missed out on.  I’m not sure where this disdain stems from, since I can’t really think of any specific instances where I’ve had a bad experience.  I’ve had to catch up with someone who missed out on years and years of my life in Bruce, and I’ve caught up with someone after just a few months of being out of the loop, and I found both instances to be refreshing.  Perhaps I can put whatever bad taste was in my mouth behind me, and look forward to a future where I’m happily sharing about my past.

In elementary school, I was quite the overachiever.  I maintained a 4.0 GPA, played little league baseball, took piano lessons, and was a part of student council. By the time we moved, I was also the captain of the school crossing guard (complete with sash and flag).  Somehow in the midst of all the studying and extra-curricular activities, I tried to sell magazines, not as a job, but rather to get a bunch of crappy prizes from my school like a limo ride or these furry ugly things called “weebles”.  I would go door to door and I’d bug my neighbors to buy subscriptions to help my school.  My parents weren’t a huge fan of this, but they didn’t do too much to deter me (they also didn’t do too much from deterring my sisters from entering the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes or buying 15 cds for the price of 1 cent from the Columbia Record house – these were strange times).  I didn’t rack up particularly huge amounts of sales, but one year in middle school, from what I believe was a clerical error, I was able to miss class to go to a concert in our school’s auditorium because apparently I was one of the top sellers at school.  The only thing I remember from this concert was the performer was some pop-star wannabe with long hair, ripped jeans, a leather jacket, and a Beverly Hills 90210 t-shirt.   It was a bad show, and I won’t count it as my first concert ever, since it was at school during school hours.  I feel like that concert pretty much summed up my adolescence:  ultimately disappointing with a lack of better options.

I stopped selling things door to door after that (not because of that) and even though I was tempted to sell knives before I went to college, I ultimately decided against it.  I was done with the door to door sales phase of my life and felt pity upon those who would come by my door trying to sell me magazines, or drinking water, or newspapers.  For a while, I was kind of a sucker for these people because I sympathized with how rough their work was, but after a while, I stopped answering the door for them.  Not that there was a particularly unpleasant case that stands out, but it’s draining to listen to a sales pitch and  then constantly rebuffing someone.  It really goes against every fiber in my body to ignore someone when I’m actually home, but I’ve learned that it’s for my own good.

Ever since I moved last year, I haven’t had to deal with many door to door people.  It’s probably because they need a gate code to get in and most of my neighbors are older so their kids are out of the house and not in the door to door trade.  Of course, the gate won’t keep me immune from all door to door traffic, since there are other ways for people to pedal their wares.  For instance, the girl scouts sell cookies at the grocery store, and in my case, I know a particular girl scout who calls me directly from her mom’s phone, which in no way am I implying is cheating.  It’s just really awkward when she calls right after I’ve had dinner… and a couple of beers.

“Hey Uncle Ryan!  It’s Charis.”

“Oh hey…”

“I’m selling snacks for girl scouts.”

I wasn’t drunk, but I wasn’t exactly at a point where I was totally comfortable talking to a ten year old child on the phone, so I tried to rush through the conversation as quickly as possible.  I told her I’d buy some stuff, I asked her what she recommended and then promptly told her “I’ll take one of each” to keep the conversation as short and to the point as possible.  I wasn’t slurring my speech or anything obvious like that so I’m pretty sure she had no idea that I wasn’t quite myself at the time, but I knew, so I felt guilty and my offer to  pretty much buy anything was me trying to buy myself out of an awkward conversation.  Luckily, my purchases came out to the affordable total of $19, which is completely fine with me.

I sold magazines during the daytime after school so looking back, I’m pretty sure all my sales were completed with my customers sober, but of course at that age, the thought wouldn’t have ever crossed my mind.  It’s strange to be on the other side of a “door to door” sale and all the complexities that come with being an adult.  Though, it’s probably weirder to think that I used to work really hard to gain so little.  Merit badges would be one thing, but weebles are pretty worthless.

When I first moved to San Diego, I would wear shorts every day.  I would scoff whenever anyone would say it was cold.  I’d tell them that “back in Minnesota, it’s probably below freezing right now.  This is nothing!”  It was really obnoxious, but I was actually really fascinated with the weather, or the lack there of.  I no longer had to deal with wind chill, snow, hail or tornadoes.  At first, it felt like there were just two seasons: summer and a season that seemed slightly less nice than summer.  Eventually, what was considered cold to the natives was cold to me, so I no longer go run out in the street in shorts when it’s raining just because it’s raining in December.

Even though my tolerance for cold weather disappeared, I still like to point out that I’m from Minnesota.  It’s a good conversation starter even though at this point, it can cause a lot of confusion.  “Do your parents still live there?”  “Do you fly out there for the holidays?”  I don’t mean to be confusing or obnoxious about it.  I actually do have a lot of pride in growing up there, even though I was occasionally bullied and teased for being asian.  As a kid and a sports fan, it was quite a rush to watch the Minnesota Twins win 2 World Series Championships in the span of 5 years.  It was heartbreaking to find out that the Minnesota North Stars were going to move to Dallas.  I remember a lot of things about growing up there without the aid of Wikipedia.

Since I went to elementary school in Minnesota, I never really learned about the geography and history of California.  I know the state flag and motto and such, but I never learned much outside of the gold rush and that Los Angeles is a very big city.  My first trip to Northern California wasn’t until I was in college, and the Bay Area is still kind of a mystery to me.  I’ve felt the earth shake, and perhaps that’s all I really need to know about living in California.  The food is great here, and that’s probably the main reason why I see myself staying here long term.

I remember complimenting my friend on her 3/4 sleeve coat and she told me that she can’t wear it when “it’s really cold”.  I reminded her that in most of the country, she probably couldn’t even wear that when it’s “kind of cold”.  It’s been raining a lot here lately, probably more than most winters.  The weather’s been chilly to the point where wearing a semi-heavy coat isn’t enough.  I’m probably as miserable in this weather as anyone.  I no longer take joy in the cold or the rain.  Sometimes Bruce teases me when I complain about the weather now, but I’m not ashamed.  I’m no longer a kid, I avoid puddles now instead of jumping in them.  I wouldn’t call this a rejection of my past, but an acceptance of who I am now, and I realize that it’s a fluid process and that it’s changing by the minute.

I probably held myself back for a while by reminiscing too much about the past when I first moved here, but it’s because it’s an important part of me and important to my journey as a person. There’s probably even a lot of stuff I don’t understand about it.  I was probably scared that feeling cold meant I was changing for the worst, but probably the worst thing I could do is not change at all.  I’m just trying to deal with the hand of cards that I’ve been dealt and while there’s been plenty of frustration, humiliation, and disappointment, I don’t regret a whole lot about it.  I’m not going to be defined by the amount of cold I can take, but I’m going to be defined by the fact that my heart will still be warm and beating strong even while being covered in an avalanche of disappointment.

We went to a small Korean Church in Minnesota.  According to Bruce, this was one of two Korean churches in the state (Google says there now at least 8).  As you might expect in the state of Minnesota, our Korean church didn’t have the largest congregation, but I would say it’s safe to estimate that we did have at least a couple hundred people, children included.    A decent percentage of that population consisted of my family (8 people, including my grandmother), my aunt’s family (herself, my uncle, and three kids), and Bruce’s family (his mom, dad, him and his 2 brothers – no relation, but close enough).  So while we probably couldn’t stage a coup de etat of the church on our own, we were pretty visible and probably had a decent amount of influence at the church.  My sisters seem to be pretty involved during their high school years, but they pretty much stopped going to our church, or any church after they graduated from high school.

Since my sisters have stopped going to church for years now, it is always very entertaining to see how uncomfortable they are when they’re home for the holidays and my parents beg them to go to church.  I understand that part of their discomfort stems from my parents introducing them to a bunch of people that my sisters don’t know (they had all moved out and stopped going to church before my parents and I moved to San diego), and it probably doesn’t help the matter that I usually don’t go with (to deflect attention, I suppose).  I know it probably sounds ironic that I attend church regularly but I sit out Christmas service at my parents’ church, but I really can do without my parents’ friends telling me how much weight I’ve gained since high school and how chubby my face has gotten (complete with visual illustration).  So my sisters go, they sit through it, they meet some people that they barely remember / never met before, and head home to ask my why I’m not forced to go (and that everyone asks about me so my parents have to spin a lie about why I’m not there).

The meals at Christmas time are also really amusing because not only have my sisters stopped going to church, but they’ve also stopped praying on a regular basis so when my dad asks someone to pray for the entire table, there’s a lot of awkward silence and finger pointing.  My sisters tend to volunteer me every time this happens, and I’m never especially happy to be handed this “honorable” duty.  As I’ve gotten older, and have become more comfortable with interacting with my much older sisters (between 8-15 years older), I’ve tried to turn the tables on them when they’ve forced me to pray out loud in front of the whole family.  I can’t say that it’s stopped them from pressuring me, but at least I feel like I do achieve a small victory now in the process.

When my sisters force me to pray, I try to make the most uncomfortable scene that I can.  I tend to stand up, I raise my hands over everyone, and I try to speak like a charismatic tele-evangelist.  I pray for my sisters’ disobedient sinful souls, and I try to draw the prayer out for as long as I can.  If I can stay in character, I’ll try to perform an exorcism, but usually there’s a lot of laughing at that point.  I’m sure my christian friends don’t approve of this method.  They’d probably recommend that I take the prayer seriously so I may help my sisters remember the importance and power of prayer, and I think that is a valid argument, but I’m just not wired that way, and humiliating my sisters is just so irresistible.

A few months ago, my sister was in town, and since I was her ride to the airport, she had to go to church with me, since I had to play guitar that day.  It actually wasn’t too uncomfortable for her to be there.  I’m guessing it probably helped that everyone in my church speaks English and no one wears a suit.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad she didn’t accuse me of forcing her to go and that she didn’t complain about the service afterwards.  I’m to get all my family back in to church so we can return to old days but in a way it was some sort of a small victory for me.  I’m in no way trying to be the family evangelist, but it would be nice if we could finally get to a place where my sisters were finally comfortable with going to church with my parents once a year and I wasn’t forced to pray at every family dinner.

I used to fall off my bike a lot as a kid, so I was no stranger to scrapes and bruises.  Usually, I’d fall, get up, and walk my bike home, and then my parents would freak out and clean up the scrapes with rubbing alcohol (to say it was painful is an understatement).  I wouldn’t say that I ever got used to it, but there’s only one time where I can vividly remember how painful the fall was.  I was riding around the block, and somehow when I fell off my bike, my bike landed on top of me.  I think because of that, I freaked out and just laid on the street crying.  Luckily for me, a neighbor ended up rushing out of their house with bandages and disinfectant.  He helped clean my scrapes and I was finally able to get up and walk my bike back home.  I had never met this neighbor before and I don’t think I ever really saw him again, but this act of kindness didn’t really surprise me.  We were a tightly knit community.  I don’t think anyone ever came over to ask for some sugar, but it wouldn’t be a stretch.  It was nice.

I realize that things are different now.  If a man who I’d never met before rushed out of their house to tend to my wounds, he wouldn’t be referred to as a “neighbor”, but as a “stranger”.  While his intentions were clearly noble, they would now be looked at with skepticism, questioning whether he might be up to something more elaborate and sinister.  The world has clearly become much more cynical over the past 20 years and it’s not without just cause.  While I would love to say that the Minnesota neighborhood I grew up in is still a wonderful utopia, it’s not, in fact we were there when that image was shattered. Even though my parents won’t admit it, I think it’s the reason that we left.

Ever since kindergarten, I typically walked to school.  Obviously, on days where the weather was bad, I would get a ride, but for the most part, I walked.  I even walked home in a blizzard once, since the distance between the school and our house was so short.  It was convenient for both my parents and my sisters since their schedules didn’t have to be tied to my school schedule and this was common for lots of other families as well.  It was a no brainer for families in our neighborhood, we felt safe.

Then something terrible happened.  Something tragically terrible.

We lost one of our kids,  but not by a freak car accident, not by an accidental fall into a lake, but by murder.  She was walking home from the Junior High School when it happened.  That school was a bit farther then where the elementary school was, but I actually biked through that area pretty often to get to my friend’s house.  I didn’t know the girl since she was a few years older but I did know that she lived in our neighborhood.  Her death sent shock waves throughout our community.

It didn’t feel safe anymore, it didn’t feel like home.  Walking to school was no longer an option.  As a kid, I felt sad about the situation, but I couldn’t exactly comprehend how it affected the parents and other families of the community, whether they knew her family or not.  It changed how we all lived.  The neighbors were all still friendly with each other and the kids all felt safe running around in our yards, but I think we all started getting more rides to my friend’s houses even if they were in manageable walking/biking distances.  We moved a year later, and my parents gave me plenty of different reason for why we were moving, but none of them involved this girl, which I guess is for the best.  It’s probably not a good idea to have a kid walking into a new school telling all his new classmates that he moved because someone kid in his neighborhood was tragically taken away from their family.

I didn’t get to visit my old stomping grounds until 10 years later and it wasn’t a pretty sight.  I’m not trying to imply that this murder sent this suburb on a downward spiral, but I can’t see how this tragedy doesn’t  still loom over that neighborhood.  I didn’t know the girl or her family, or exactly which house was theirs, but I knew approximately where on the street they lived, and I think that’s what spooks me the most about all of this.  That man who had rushed out of his house to help this random kid a couple of years earlier could very well have been the girl’s dad., that could’ve very well been their house.  It pains me to think that one of the kindest people of my childhood, might’ve been the person who suffered the greatest tragedy.

In college, I was asked to make a short video for my church’s Revolution campaign.  During the campaign, blown up pictures of revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi were plastered all over the place, so when I was asked to pitch an idea for my short film, I decided to go down a much more lighthearted path.  I even pitched my idea via a sketch that I had drawn up on a napkin, but I was told to re-draw it on a piece of paper.  They finally approved my idea and I gathered up a handful of the kids from the church and shot my “revolutionary” video.  It wasn’t the most original concept; a girl disguising herself as a boy after being shunned and then thoroughly beating all the boys at sports, and then being accepted after revealing her true self.  Even though it is a bit of a cliché premise, I felt like I was able to add some of my own flourishes bia dialogue by having the boys berate the girl with such terrible lines as “Why do you women want everything?  We already gave you the right to vote!” and “Why don’t you go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich?”  The video did its job, people laughed, and I was able to show that kids can be revolutionaries in the own communities without having to be martyrs.

Usually when I make a video, someone will ask me whether the video’s idea comes from some event from my past.  Sometimes these questions gets a little annoying (“did you ever fall in love with a mute girl?”), but it comes with the territory.  With 4 older sisters, I was never a boy that thought girls had cooties, and I never had a problem with girls wanting to play sports with the boys at recess (not a lot of girls cared to anyways).  We only had one girl who would consistently play sports with us during recess, and there was never any resistance to her participation.  It wasn’t because all the boys had older sisters or because they were all brought up to respect girls as their equals, it was because this girl was better at sports than most of the boys.  Whether it be soccer, kickball, (touch) football or what have you, Krissy was always one of the first kids picked, if she wasn’t forced to be a captain.  She was just that good, and there was no shame in this particular girl being faster or better coordinated than any of the boys. (She was also pretty good at hockey, but we didn’t play that at recess.)

I wouldn’t say that Krissy and I were good friends, but I think we were more than civil.  I remember one instance where my mom agreed to be a chaperone for one of our class field trips and how Krissy (among other kids) wanted to be in my group, so I think our friendship at least extended beyond the playground.  When the bell rang and recess started, we were just competitors.  If we were on the same team, great.  If we were on opposite sides, our friendship would have to be put aside.  She was fierce, but I don’t think she was obnoxiously cocky.  She wasn’t a ball hog, but she knew when she had her shot. She never begged for different treatment for being a girl and she never complained when things got a little physical.  No one felt emasculated when she scored or deked you out.  No one was ever teased that they were beat by “the girl”.

After I moved to California, Krissy and I didn’t keep in touch, but because of her success in sports, I’ve been able to keep track of her accomplishments.  From the appearance in the Little League World Series, to medaling in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, it’s been nice to see my friend find such great success (she even has a wikipedia page!).  Hopefully through the exposure that she’s received through the Olympics, she’s inspired girls across the country to pursue their athletic dreams, and hopefully she’s inspired some boys as well, since in the rare instances that I play pickup sports, I’ll still hear guys talk about how they don’t like to play with girls;  they complain about giving them special treatment, and the stigma of being beaten by a girl.  Obviously, these guys didn’t grow up with Krissy because if they had, they would realize that there’s no shame in being beaten by a girl, whether an Olympic calibre athlete or not.  I’m not saying that video I made for church was an account about growing up with Krissy, but look back, I definitely think my female protagonist in the video definitely mirros her spirit.  They both started out just wanting to have fun and ended up blazing a trail for others to follow.

In elementary school, I was a pretty big New Kids on the Block fan.  I wasn’t the only one in my family that enjoyed their music.  I know that at least one of my sisters have seen NKOTB in concert (pre-reunion).  Even though my sister Ami enjoyed them, she also pushed for me to listen to “better” music, so at the age of 10, I was making mixtapes featuring The Replacements, Jane’s Addiction, and late 80s era REM.  A few years later, Ami started interning at a record label and she started sending me droves of free music.  By the age of 13, New Kids on the Block had been replaced with Nirvana (and then Foo Fighters), Beck, and Weezer.  Eventually I started venturing out and finding music on my own, but I was already heading down a course that my sister had more or less charted.

Not only did my sister try to impart good musical taste on me, but she also tried to teach me to be driven.  While I marveled at all the cool stuff she got while interning and working at record labels, she would explain to me at how unglamorous her jobs were.  The perks were nice, but the pay was lousy.  It was a lot of paperwork and phone calls.  Still, to my friends and I, she was setting the bar high.  I didn’t necessarily want to be her, but I could feel myself getting buried alive in her shadow. At times this annoyed her, at other times she would lecture me about how hard she would work and that I would need to do the same.

She’s 8 years older than me, so when I started high school, she was finished with college.  So in a way, she’s always made my life kind of miserable by telling me how insecure and petty my peers in my life stage (at least high school and college) were, which while true, has gotten me pretty jaded.  Her intentions have been noble, but sometimes a 14-21 year old can’t process and act on wise advice properly.  Obviously, she was looking out for me and was trying to keep me from unnecessary drama, but I didn’t understand that her advice wasn’t supposed to make me cynical towards everyone.  It also really sucks when you’re an adolescent teen uncomfortable in your own skin and your older sister tells you “stop talking about yourself so much.  No one’s going to like you.”

Eventually, I started finding my own lane in life and every now and then, I feel like that causes tension with her.  She still pushes me to succeed and will give me her unsolicited opinion.  Occasionally I lose sight of her noble intentions and lash back at her.  I’ve wondered if there will ever be a time where she’ll be happy with what I’ve accomplished or who I’ve become, since I’ll always be her little brother.  My lack of urgency drives her nuts when I go visit her in New York.  I would think that she’d be grateful that I’m not bugging her to take me to places, but it’s the opposite with her.  She wants to know why I don’t know where I want to go each day.

We haven’t hit too many rocky stages in our sibling relationship though she always likes to remind me of the story about how I caused her to get an ear infection when I was a kid.  Sometimes, I need some space from all the pushing.  Of course I know that with all the tough love and constructive criticism, I know that there’s plenty of caring in there too.  The last time I was in New York, she was out of town but she let me stay at her place.  She mailed me a set of keys, and sent me a list of places to go eat, and a list of food that she had stocked the fridge with for me.  So even though I didn’t get to see my sister, she was there, her presence visible during many of the activities and meals of the week and in a totally positive light.  Obviously, there were no talks about trying to push me harder to not be satisfied with my current state or talks about how I’m consistently trying to get out of her shadow, but perhaps she knew that on this trip that I didn’t need any of those talks.  Perhaps, I just needed to see that she’s going to be there for me even when she can’t be there physically, and maybe that’s exactly what I need right now as I’ve learned to push myself out of her shadow without her.

During freshmen year of college, a lot of my high school friends became devastated that a lot of their “friends” from high school weren’t keeping in touch with them. I tried to explain to them that sitting next to someone in a class and getting along with them does not count as a friendship. This would usually get my friends pretty bent out of shape. “Are you saying that this friendship was fake?! We had so many deep conversations!” I would respond by telling them that if they weren’t having these deep conversations outside of class, they were merely acquaintances, or (gasp) just classmates. This usually just added to the betrayal that my friends felt, but I thought it’d be better that they hear it from me than waste hours trying to hunt down people that were just “classmates”. People just lose touch. It’s a fact of life. I wasn’t trying to be a downer. I even suffered this same betrayal after college. Even with the technological advancements in recent years like Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and e-mail, people have still found a way to not keep in touch. It’s almost harder not to keep in contact with someone than it is to keep in contact with them.

My friendship with Bruce is bit of an anomaly. Not only have we kept in contact despite being in different states for the past 16 years (California for me, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey for him), we didn’t live that close to each other when we both lived in Minnesota. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood, not even the same school district. So while most kids see their friends every day at school, and often after school as well, I saw Bruce on Sundays at church and sometimes that was it. Occasionally I would go to his house after church or vice versa but there were never any spontaneous “Hey are you done with your homework? Come on over!” phone calls since it wasn’t worth it to our parents to drive us over and pick us up after only a couple of hours.
When we did get to go over to someone’s house, we usually got a pretty substantial amount of time to wreak havoc. Usually this consisted of a lot of video game playing. There were other toys (train sets, Transformers), but typically we were more interested in Tetris and Rampage. Occasionally we’d wander outside but once the sun went down, we were usually crowded around the Nintendo. Dinner would be served and then the parents would come to pick us up. We learned that we could buy a couple extra hours of play time if we could convince the arriving parents to stay for tea. This was a gesture offered every time, and almost without fail, we were able to get our couple of extra hours.
At one point, my Nintendo started acting up to the point where it was kind of hit or miss whether it would work. This caused me to later “upgrade” to a Sega Genesis (hindsight doesn’t necessarily agree with that). This problem caused us to be creative and come up with an alternate activity that we could do if the Nintendo wasn’t working. We came up with something that we called Human Canonball. It was an activity that consisted of jumping off a ledge in my room, trampolining onto my bed, and then into a pile of pillows onto the ground. Bruce recalls this as being terrifying, but if he was truly terrified, he definitely wasn’t against participating. Not once did someone get hurt, which is probably quite incredible with the amount of danger involved. We were like 8, so we didn’t really think about any potential ramifications.  His younger brothers would eventually join the fray, and everyone would end up a winner.
For some reason, I never introduced Human Canonball to any of my other friends. Perhaps it’s because my other friends and I would play sports and wouldn’t need to find some mindlessly dangerous activity to kill time. All I know is that I never invented anything like Human Canonball with any of my friends from school. This is not to say that they weren’t as smart as Bruce or that I didn’t have fun with them. I had a lot of fun with my neighborhood chums, but some reason I just slowly started losing touch with them when I left Minnesota. It definitely stung, these people that I used to see everyday, were no longer in my life at all, not even by snail mail. I’m not even sure many of them would remember who I was if I showed up at their door and introduced myself. I probably spent a lot more time with them but perhaps Bruce and I were just much more efficient. We had inside jokes (tea!), a game we invented, and we shared many many meals of great Korean cooking together. Maybe the cliché is right. It’s not about quantity of time as it is quality of time. We’ve had plenty of great memories, and luckily at we both remember most of them.

Lets start with a simple SAT exercise.

Marge Simpson: Casinos :: My mother: ________
A) The Farmers Market
B) Garage Sales
C) The Mall
D) Church

In Season 5 of The Simpsons (don’t ask me the episode number, I am too lazy to research this, and not a big enough nerd to know this off the top of my head), Mr. Burns opens a casino and Marge becomes addicted to gambling. Homer explains to Lisa that “The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it’s time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!” While this monster is obviously supposed to be an exageration, I do believe that there is something that takes over my mother the instant she walks into the mall. Once she enters those doors, you cannot be sure whether she’ll ever walk out and if you are foolish enough to follow her, your life will also be in danger.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “you hate shopping with your mom because you’re a boy and you’re exagerating.” Not true. I have four sisters, all whom love to shop. They all can’t stand shopping with my mom. They all have horror stories of losing her, my mom not meeting them at specified times (my mom wears a watch, by the way, so she really has no excuses), and my mom not answering her cell phone. It’s really the thing that my sisters loathe the most when they’re back home for the holidays.

Not that they’ve ever had it bad as me. At least they’ve never been told to stay in the car for “ten minutes” while my mom walked into Brookdale mall for about half an hour (would’ve been longer if it wasn’t closing time) in the freezing Minnesota cold without a heater. I was probably five at the time and while this sounds totally barbaric, I think times were a bit different back then, so please don’t call Social Services. I would never accuse my mom of being negligent, in fact, she’s pretty much the opposite but that’s another story (my first day of college).

So my sisters have all tried to devise ways to make shopping with my mom into an enjoyable experience. As far as I know, they’ve failed. When my mom was in Oregon (writers note: 0% sales tax is pretty sweet) visiting my sister, my sister lost her at the mall while going with her kids to pay for some earings. It turns out that my mom slipped in to a fitting room while my sister was gone, and you know, didn’t call her to let her know or anything. My mom is a department store ninja.

What has made this more difficult in recent years is the addition of grandchildren to the equation.  Now my mother has more options than just shopping for herself (petites), men (my father and myself), women (my sisters) and jewelry (herself).  Now she has grandchildren between the ages of 1 and 12 years old to shop for.  Instead of being confined to just a few different sections in the department store, my mother could conceivably be anywhere.  It also means she has more stores to check out when she hits the mall, which means she has more “hiding places” to sneak in and out of.

My other sister has decided to accept my mother for who she is, with alterior motives. She goes shopping with Mom with full knowledge that the scene will play out like this: they will arrive at the mall, my mom will promise my sister they will only be there for a short while, my mom will say she’s almost done when she’s totally not, my sister will get frustrated and angry, and then my mom will buy her something to calm her down. My sister is thirty four years old.

I, on the otherhand, have decided to be creative about this dilemma. My theory is that you have to take my mom shopping somewhere that is foreign to her, and I don’t just mean that you should take her to a mall she’s never been to before. A lot of malls are designed pretty similarly (like if they’re designed by the Westfield Company), it doesn’t matter if they’re indoor or outdoor, they have the same stores, and they all come with a map to help you find your way. They’ve designed to be convenient, to trap people like my mom, but not the shops on Melrose.

The shops on Melrose Ave. are just that, shops that are spread out on a street on Hollywood. there’s no map, and this street stretches out for miles. There’s no elevator or escalator (of course my mom is kind of scared of these), and no map. Heck, there’s a good chance you don’t know what half these stores sell until you walk inside. The stores are all one floor and they’re much smaller than the a typical store in the mall. There are no department stores and usually these places charge you an arm and a leg because these are mostly speciality boutiques.  At one point the Bathing Ape store sold toilet paper at $35 a roll.  I didn’t buy one, but I’m sure there were plenty of people who did.

So my plan is to take my mom to these shops on Melrose and to take her to some stores that I know she’d enjoy browsing at like the Marc Jacobs store. My mom is pretty afraid of Los Angeles in general so I don’t think she’ll wander off too far without me and since the shops are small, I should be able to recognize if she’s making a break for the door. The tempo of the day should be controlled by the small amount of stock in the stores, and by the fact that we’ll have to drive around a little bit. I think my plan will be successful though my sisters think that like all our other plans, this one will fail. I hope not, but if it does, I guess my mom will be buying me some new stuff to calm down so it’s a win-win situation for me.

I was once on a public elementary school field trip to the Science Museum of Minnesota and I saw Bruce there with his mom (he went to a private school).  They weren’t there with anyone else, no classmates, no teachers, just the two of them.  It was a treat to see my best friend on a weekday, since I would only see Bruce on Sundays at church (his family lived about 15-20 minutes away via car).  As cool as my classmates were, nothing was better than getting permission from my teacher to ditch the group during our lunch hour and hang out with my best friend. The prospect of leaving your public school field trip group is pretty unheard of these days, so I’m not exactly sure how I pulled it off. Regardless, it was good times.

I’ve always loved going to museums, maybe not as much as the arcade or the baseball stadium (or Metrodome, if you will), but it was something I was excited about. Especially since the Science Museum of Minnesota is pretty top notch and perhaps this is why moving to San Diego was kind of underwhelming. I wasn’t a big fan of the museums and since San Diego seemed like a big deal (population and popularity wise) compared to my beloved Twin Cities, I expected bigger and better museums.

As enriching as I find museums, they can also be pretty draining. Perhaps it’s my lack of attention span, but I can only take so much learning in one day. My trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York almost overwhelmed me to the point where I needed to call someone before my head exploded. After seeing so many famous paintings and absorbing all those vibrant colors just sent far too much information to my brain to process.  It was stimulation overload and sometimes I need something a little low-brow to bring myself some balance.
Usually museums have something to provide me with some sort of “break”. At the Science Museum of Minnesota, it was the musical stairs. At the Getty, I usually talk a walk in the garden and throw coins into the pond, at LACMA it was that giant metal balloon dog, and at the Brooklyn Museum, it was watching Murakami cartoons and music videos before hitting up the rest of the exhibit.  Maybe I just need to go to museums more often to build endurance, much like training for a marathon.  Maybe I’m just getting the equivalent of “side stitches” when I feel like i need to jump around the musical stairs.
Occasionally I’ll get a break just by observing my other spectators, like the occasional asian teenage girl next to her mom mad dogging while her dad takes the picture. Or I’ll get the confused toddler putting on 3D glasses in the gift shop. Of course none of this matters if you’re the only one to see it. It’s in the same vein as a film or a good book, a discussion is the second half of the museum experience. Obviously there is a certain amount of pleasure taken in seeing something, but there’s something special about discussing it as well. Like most places, museums are often best enjoyed in good company.

So whether you’re discussing the latest masterpiece, or the little child that’s wading into the fountain, make sure you know someone nearby because there’s always going to be something to talk about.

So there’s a bit of confusion is raised when people ask me about college. People assume I was a film major when I entered UC Irvine or at least that I was undecided. The truth is that I entered UC Irvine as a computer engineering major. I never took a single engineering class before changing to film, but people still think it’s preposterous that I even thought to choose something in a non-creative field in the first place. Taking a look back, I can understand this confusion. Writing has always naturally to me so computer engineering was kind of an elaborate detour.

I don’t think I have a random train of thought. I think that my train of thought is linear, perhaps not a straight line, but linear nonetheless. I like to think it’s like a treasure map, and like a treasure map, it leads to riches, but throughout my life, my ability to story tell through writing has been consistent.  From my little band interviewing site, to the ridiculous Bottle Rocket-esque Christmas skit that I staged at my parents’ church in front of a crowd that didn’t understand English, I’ve enjoyed writing on a non-academic level for some time. I wish I could talk about some grand epiphany I had while listening to A Prairie Home Companion that led me down this route but really what it comes down to is a simple little book that I read in the 5th Grade called Incognito Mosquito: Private Insective.

We read this story in 5th grade and it was an enjoyable enough. It didn’t really make you think, it was just humorous parody. We were given an assignment afterwards to write a story of some kind. I’m fuzzy on the logistics but I remember having to read our stories out in front of the entire class. I remember having about 5 pages typed out and as I read my story out loud, I was getting a lot of laughs out of my classmates, and as I hit one of my last pages, I had thought of a bunch of funny things to add to my story. So, that’s what I did. I made things up on the spot and I probably added what would amount to 2-3 pages more without my teacher knowing.

The response for my story was positive and now that I look back, was the first time I can remember enjoying myself as a writer. It wasn’t until after I switched into my film studies major that I realized that this was something I was good at and enjoyed doing, and that I’ve been doing it all along. Incognito Mosquito: Private Insective was the catalyst for all of these things. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the story since 5th grade or any of it’s subsequent sequels, but that’s not important. This story has lead me down this road, and even though it doesn’t even have a wikipedia page, deserves my acknowledgement.