Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I don’t watch Project Runway, or Pimp My Pride, or Cribs, but I’m still pretty superficial, and I’m okay with that, since everyone is. It starts at birth with your parents dangling shiny objects in front of you and continues on for the rest of your life. Perhaps you’re not stereotypically superficial (fancy clothes, fancy car) but your superficiality manifests itself in many other ways. There will always be things that are pleasing to your eye, it’s just human nature, and it doesn’t make you any better or any worse than anyone else, even though you probably would like to think otherwise. My friend Mary claims that she “doesn’t see ugly” but we can’t all be like her.

I don’t necessarily try to stand out too much with the clothes I wear, but I like to think that I dress nicely. I used to be a little more lazy about things in college because 1) I didn’t have a lot of money to burn. 2) I felt like people should like me for me, and that me dressing up should make them feel special. I also quickly realized that college is the last time that walking around in public in your pajamas is socially acceptable.

Since I don’t have deep pockets, decking myself in designer clothes is difficult. I don’t have enough clothes to last me for months and I don’t want people to always thing I’m wearing the same thing (like that Simpsons episode with Marge and the Chanel dress). It’s like an epidemic, you get one piece of fancy clothing, and all of a sudden you need to revamp your entire wardrobe. Once you get a nice pair of jeans, you need to get shoes to match and you might as well get some shirts while you’re at it. It’s maddening.

I like to think I dress within my limits, not just financially. I think I wear clothes that fit me, suit me, and make me look fashionable, which I believe is the point. I WILL NOT just buy something because of it’s brand name or because it’s “in”, and I think that is the problem with a lot of the “superficial” people today. They spend money on things that don’t even make them look good, which defeats the purpose. Fashion is supposed to enhance your appearance. This is why you don’t wear just white t-shirts and khakis everyday.

Unfortunately this is where some people go wrong, and I mean ridiculously wrong. I was in Hollywood over the weekend and while at a stop light, my friend had a terrified look on his face. Curious, I wanted to see what triggered the reaction and soon enough, I saw a lady walking away from our view, wearing a shirt that kind of rode up on her, revealing a pale section of back flab. It was disgusting, and I feel terrible that my reaction to seeing this back flab was repeating “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” for about a minute, until we made our turn and went home. Honestly, if this lady was wearing clothes that didn’t reveal this pasty flab, there wouldn’t have been any reaction. She would’ve been just another pedestrian. It wasn’t her weight or appearance that was garnering our ridicule, it was the lack of foresight on her part. Unfortunately this happens all the time, like at clubs or bars.

I realize people of all sizes and body types look ridiculous in certain clothing. Super short shorts, showing off a really bad farmer’s tan, wearing a fedora when you’re kind of white trash, pig tails while wearing a trucker hat; these are all fashion faux pas that people should realize they should avoid but they don’t. And it really goes beyond clothes, it’s knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and gifts. If you want to be a writer and you think a good beginning for a story is “There was an Aunt Tiny, who was quite large.” and you’re not writing a children’s book or a gross limerick, you should probably look into another profession.

I believe that knowing what looks good on you is more attractive than wearing clothes that just “look good”. It shows that you know what you’re all about. You seem comfortable and you aren’t trying to be something that you’re not. You might not be gracing any fashion magazines or wearing designer clothes, but you’re definitely not playing to your weaknesses. You know how to make yourself look good rather than making other people look good. I can understand the logic behind wanting to wear clothes that make you look more attractive but attractiveness is not based on what clothes you’re wearing, but how you wear the clothes. The cliche is correct. It’s what’s beneath the clothes that count. And that’s even true for the muffin tops.

I don’t remember many Thanksgivings from my childhood. In fact, the earliest Thanksgiving I remember was from freshmen year of college. The plan was to spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s place in LA. I was having a hard time reaching my parents and finally when I did, I was informed that I would have to find a way to get to my sister’s place since they were taking care of my grandmother in LA and wouldn’t be able to swing by to pick me up since they weren’t coming from San Diego. I scrambled to find a ride and was finally able to find one via a dorm mate of mine named Fred.

Fred was a foreign exchange student from France but his English was pretty good despite his accent. Fred was studying music at school, I often would seem him playing the piano in the dorm. He was also a Rastafarian so he, his room, and his car always reeked of weed. There was also the one time where he tried to fit himself into the dorm fridge, but I think that was a result of alcohol, not marijuana. I liked Fred a lot and we got along really well, he and his friend once opened a show I was playing by rapping in French. Having previously established a friendship prevented the following conversation from sounding as hostile as it probably reads:

“So Fred, I know you’re French, but are you going to celebrate Thanksgiving since you’re here in the States?”
“I don’t celebrate cultural genocide, man.”
“So what are you going to do for the time off?”
“Party. I’m going to LA and I’m going to party.”

So, that is the earliest Thanksgiving I remember, and I remember it because of my car ride with Fred, not because of the food or the people I actually spent the day with. Perhaps, that’s why, since then, my parents and I have quickly bypassed the traditional turkey meal for whatever we feel like eating that day. We’ve gone from having Thanksgiving meals with a family of 8 down to a family of 3 since my sisters have married/dispersed throughout the United States.

A couple of years ago, Bruce’s mom had a brain aneurysm in the Spring. I remember getting the news from Bruce and then relaying it, first to my mom, and then to all my sisters. The relationship between Bruce’s family and my family doesn’t end and begin with the boys (Bruce, his brothers and me). Bruce’s mom and my mom are very close, my mom says they are “like sisters”. On my first trip back to Minnesota in 2004, Bruce’s mom welcomed me back by saying that “one of my sons has finally come home” (NOT in reference to the prodigal song story). We’re as close to family as can be without actually being related by blood.

This is why, later that year, my parents and I jumped on a plane and flew to Minneapolis to spend Thanksgiving with the Lee’s. I was unemployed at the time but that wasn’t going to stop me from making the trip. Not to compare my situation with the level of tragedy that Bruce’s family was facing, but I must say it had been a pretty crappy year for me as well. I lost my job and got out of a long-term relationship in a 48 hour span. I wouldn’t say I was really stressed out at the time, but just being in Minneapolis helped put my mind at ease and helped me focus on what was more important, and that was being there for Bruce and his family.
We kept our visit low key. We didn’t tell a lot of people we were making our triumphant return to Minnesota (first time I was going back with my parents). My parents did end up visiting a couple of friends (once dragging me along), but for the most part, we kept the focus on spending time with the family. I went to a hockey game with the boys, my parents went to lunch withe Bruce’s dad, and there was time spent at the nursing home. Thanksgiving itself was a nice low key affair; some people from church dropped by and ate with us, but no one that knew my parents or me. It was definitely a bittersweet time for all of us but we were glad to be there.
On the night we left back for San Diego, we made one last visit to the nursing home to say goodbye to Bruce’s mom. My mom sat beside her bed and held her hand, and while she couldn’t speak, I know that she knew what was going on in the room. My mom started to get emotional, which immediately started getting me emotional, while my dad did his best to be a calming presence in the room. Finally, it was time to leave the nursing home and to leave Minnesota.
By no means did we want this to be the circumstance that finally brought us back to Minnesota, but it did redefine Thanksgiving for our family. I don’t expect this holiday to have this impact on us every year but it is a reminder that it’s about togetherness, even if Fred is right about the cultural genocide aspect of the mythology. When I have kids and they ask me about Thanksgiving, I’ll have to initially tell them the lie about the Pilgrims and the Indians, but eventually I’ll tell them about the time the Paks left California to break bread with the Lees in Minnesota during a tumultuous time and how that’s the true meaning of Thanksgiving for our families.

Every year, without fail, I’ll get obsessed with the NBA, NFL, and NHL drafts. I’ll scour mock drafts on websites, talk it about it with friends, and read whatever I can get my hands on. This is definitely a huge time waster at work so I try my best to avoid the temptation, since now with the internet, following a draft starts the day after the draft. These drafts are an odd process.  These multimillion dollar (soon to be billion dollar) sports teams congregate in some auditorium, they force kids (between the ages of 17-24) to sit in said auditorium in a suit, and then select them like they were selecting a kick ball team by giving each kid a baseball cap. But unlike a kickball team, these kids are getting multimillion-dollar contracts. Sweet deal.

I’m not complaining about the fact that these kids are getting paid millions of dollars. If you’re really good at something, you’re going to get paid for it. That’s how I’ve been taught life works, unless you’re an artist. Plus, these kids get put under the microscope and aren’t allowed to be kids anymore. Caught smoking weed in college? You have “character” issues. Got in a fight outside of a club because someone spilled Bud Light on your new Italian loafers? You’re a head case. Every kid gets dissected. “He seems to have a low basketball IQ”, “he doesn’t have a high enough vertical”, “his wingspan is surprisingly short”.  See, these kids have expectations to perform, and short of dying or being paralyzed, these kids will be judged no matter what life throws at them. “Tore up your knee? Great! You will be booed on the street because you’ve set our franchise back three years!” “Your Mom died? You need to get over it because Game 7 is tomorrow.” Sympathy is dead. 20-year-old kids are getting labeled as failures. It’s truly a great world we live in.

It actually really is if you’re Mark Madsen, who somehow managed to escape having any expectations bestowed on him even though he was a 1st round pick. 1st round picks are supposed to be useful, maybe not necessarily great, but regular contributors. Mark was picked by the Lakers with the last pick of the first round, and immediately the joke was “he’s getting picked to guard Shaq during practice”. Madsen is perhaps the worst player in the NBA. It’s almost unanimous but he seems to find work and isn’t considered a failure. If he were a walk-on, I’d understand because he’d be the modern day Rudy. But would you still enjoy the movie if Rudy came from a ridiculously wealthy family? Nope, but here we are, shrugging at Mark Madsen’s lack of skills, instead of looking back at the draft and wondering who the Lakers could’ve had that would’ve been a better choice of a pick.

Not to personally hate on the guy. I mean, I hear he’s a great teammate, and an even better person. Maybe the NBA is just trying to teach us about morals. Or maybe we see a little bit of Madsen in ourselves. I mean, isn’t most of America incompetent at what they but enjoy getting paid for it anyways? Mark Madsen is a symbol of America, except he’s got great character.