Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I recently found out the my ex-girlfriend go married.  I found out via social networking; but not through Facebook or Twitter, or Myspace, but through Linked In, a business social networking site.  After the breakup, we decided not to keep in touch and she is pretty anti-social networking.  I haven’t really updated my Linked In account for a couple of years, I just tend to add people when I get requests, so I forgot to delete her.  One day I was e-mailed “updates” from people we were connected to and when I opened the e-mail I saw a name that I didn’t recognize.  It was her first name but a different last name, and then I finally put two and two together.  “What?  Oh.  OHHHHHHHH.”

Finding out your ex got married is one of those landmark signs of adulthood.  (The first, I believe, is being genuinely happy for your friends when you hear they got engaged, opposed to wondering if pregnancy is involved with the engagement.)  It’s always kind of a weird feeling.  Even though I never had any ideas about getting back together with her, I will be honest and say that it threw me for a loop.  We had been broken up for over 2 years so it made logical sense that in that time, she could’ve found someone, dated them, and gotten married to them, so I can’t say that the timing was a huge shock or anything like that.  Perhaps it’s because in the time it took her to get married, I’ve been on a grand total of 0 dates.

Now I know that getting married isn’t a race, so it’s silly to think of my dating life in those terms.  I also realize that going on a bunch of dates with a bunch of different people isn’t going to make me feel anymore successful about my personal life if I’m not finding any people that I can have a worthwhile connection with.  I understand that finding the right person can take some time and doesn’t mean that it’s a reflection of how people view you when you’ve been on a bit of a dry spell.

I was at a sushi bar last week with my roommate.  We sat at the bar, and there was a seat between this woman and me.  She was asian, much older, and had already been drinking by the time we had gotten there.  I just wanted to enjoy my sushi in relative peace while making small talk with my roommate, but this woman forced herself into our conversation when my roommate asked me if I was going to take my parents out for Korean food the next time they were in town.  She proceeded to ask me if I was Korean and then told me about how the person that was on Deal or No Deal that day was a Korean man who was on the show so he could win some money to fly his parents back to the motherland and that he ended up winning $38,000.  After trying to humor her for the duration of her story, I tried to shift back into sushi eating privacy mode.

I tend to wear very interesting t-shirts.  I know they draw a lot of attention so I’ve grown used to people asking me what they mean, or what brand I’m wearing.  It comes with the territory.  On this particular night, I was wearing a t-shirt that Bruce had gotten me for Christmas a couple of years earlier.  On the back of this t-shirt, a man in a banana suit is chasing his friend with a knife.  If you don’t understand why there’s this image, don’t worry, it’s kind of an inside joke.  Unfortunately this woman decided to make the worst possible interpretation of this shirt ever:

“Is there a banana on a shirt because you’re a banana?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know a banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside!”

I politely tried to explain that my friend got me the shirt and I didn’t know what it meant (a lie – I just wanted to keep the conversation short). She asked me if she had offended me and told me that she would stop talking to me if she did.  She said she wouldn’t take it personally but then said she really would (the train of though of a crazy person), and my discomfort level was off the charts at this point.  She got the hint that I didn’t want to talk to her and then she started telling the sushi chef that she was in her own league and that she was 44 and single and awesome.  She was pretty wasted at this point and she was kind of ruining my dinner.  She finally stumbled out of the restaurant after being surprised that her credit card didn’t get declined and that was the last that we saw of her.

On the ride home, my roommate teased me about the whole incident and how he was scared that the woman was going to try to sit on my lap or do something crazy during the night.  I honestly felt bad for her.  At 44, she was desperately seeking connection but she was shut out.  Drunk or sober, I was probably not the right person for the job.  It reaffirmed that I’m probably happier going on 0 dates than going on a bunch of dates where either myself or the women were just desperate for some sort of connection.  My ex might’ve found that certain someone and I’m happy for her.  I’m happy and resigned to the fact that one day, I’ll also have that certain someone, and that it’s okay that it’s just not today.

I went to a high school that had very few Koreans.  It had a fair amount of asians, but like I said, very few Koreans, and of those few, I believe a good amount of them were adopted Koreans who had Caucasian parents.  So, in short, the environment I grew up in for high school in San Diego was not substantially different from the environment I grew up in for elementary school in Minnesota.  There were some obvious differences of course, like I had never met a Filipino person until I moved to San Diego and I was ridiculed for saying the word “pop”.

During my senior year of high school, I ended up going to Winter Formal with one of the few Korean girls at our school.  I wasn’t on the prowl for Koreans or anything, it just kind of happened that way.  She was a junior and I didn’t know her that well, so I had never met her parents prior to picking her up for the dance.  I knew both her parents were doctors, and while that might strike fear into most 17 year olds, I actually showed up at the house quite confident.  I’ve always had a pretty good report with Korean parents even though I can’t speak the language very fluently.  I attribute this mostly to my innocent looks.  Also, since our high school had such a small population of Korean kids, I figured just the novelty of a Korean boy taking their daughter to a dance would bring them great joy.  I told my friends “I bet from this point on in her life, every time she goes to a dance/date/ or gets married to a non-Korean guy, they will ask her “what ever happened to that Ryan Pak kid?  We really liked him.”  My friends didn’t believe me.

The girl and I had a nice time at the dance but we didn’t end up dating or really hanging out after that.  I went to college and we ended up losing touch, not that we were ever particularly close to begin with.  The following summer I came home and took a summer job at Target (I had worked there the previous summer).  I was a cashier and my job was to get people out of that line as soon as possible, so I met a lot of people but most of them have been condensed into a huge blur.  So when a customer said “Well, if it isn’t Ryan Park.  It’s nice to see you again.” I was pretty confused.  I looked up and saw an older Korean woman.  She looked kind of familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on where I knew her from.  At first I assumed, that she went to my parents’ church and was friends with my Mom and Dad, but then I ruled that out, just because I would’ve been able to realize that right away.  She asked me how college was and while we made small talk, I slowly started to realize who this woman was.  She was the girl’s mother.  A year and a half after my only time meeting her (and for 5 minutes, and that’s probably an overestimation), she had remembered me.  I won’t jump to the conclusion that 10 years later, that she’d still remember me, but obviously I had made some sort of impression on her and as silly as that may seem, I can totally relate.

The previous summer at Target, I worked as the “operator”, so my duties included answering the phones and sorting clothes, since the phones are back in the fitting room area (weird, I know).  A lot of people came and went, and I would say less than 10% of people who actually tried on clothes actually bought anything.  I’d have to clean up after them after they left and sort the clothes to be re-deployed onto their clothing racks or tables.  I don’t have any horror stories from working back there, though I’m sure if I had worked there for longer than a summer, I’d probably have some.  I just remember this one customer who brought her two kids and her friend.  The customer and her friend went to the fitting room with a ton of clothes and left the 2 year old daughter in the shopping cart while her 3-4 year old brother was just standing around.  The two ladies were super loud and obnoxious while trying in their fitting room, so I tried to divert my attention to the kids, who were being absolutely neglected.

The kids were pretty well behaved, there wasn’t a crying kid that I needed to console.  The boy was pretty involved with playing with his toy but the girl looked pretty bored in the cart when she wasn’t stuffing her face with popcorn.  (She was also the most adorable kid that I had ever seen.) First I waved to her and she returned a wave to me.  Then I asked her for her name, and she said it was “Kylie”.  I think I asked her how old she was and basic questions to help pass the time until her (I presume) Mom and friend were done trying on clothes (they didn’t buy anything).  They finished and they started to whisk Kylie away, but not before she tried to offer me some of her popcorn.  I declined the offer and her mom was pretty amused that her kid had become so comfortable with me in such a short amount of time.  Kylie waved “goodbye” to me and that was the last I ever saw of her.  Ever since that chance encounter, I’ve always felt that when/if I have a daughter, I’d like to name her Kylie.  It’s probably really silly that this kid that I met once and just for a few minutes could be forever etched in my memory, but certain things stick with me and I’ve just come to accept that.  Just like that mother who remembers that Korean boy who took her Korean daughter to winter formal, I remember this little kid who offered me popcorn.  The only thing weird about these memories is that they happened at the same Target, during two different two different years, and with me working different jobs.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was pretty weird in high school, but I’m sure a lot of people will say they were weird too.  Of course, those people will talk about how much they’ve grown up and found themselves since then.  I realize I’m still pretty weird.  I really don’t think I’m that different.  I’m more mature, wiser, and more refined, sure, but I don’t think I’m a much different person from the one that I was 10 years ago, I just think my wackiness is much more appreciated now.

During my senior year of high school, I took AP Biology.  I wasn’t so much interested in biology or gaining college credits as I was about keeping my GPA high (AP classes were “weighted”, so an A = 5 points, B = 4 points, C = 3 points, etc).  I got paired up with a junior named Mike (but not the same Mike as in this story).  We were kind of an odd couple at first glance.  I was fighting senioritis, while Mike was still trying to be the best student he could be.  We actually had a lot in common though.  We were both heavily involved with our respective youth groups and both loved sports.  I think he respected my dedication to my Minnesota teams and he was a fan of anything Sacramento (which I guess is just the Kings).  So, Mike and I had a lot to talk about during classes and we generally enjoyed working together, even though I was on the lazy and unfocussed side.

I like to think that I contributed the entertainment to our lab partnership, thought I’m not sure Mike will agree with this in hindsight.  I remember making him laugh a lot in class, sometimes with wit, sometimes with absurdity.  I think the pinnacle of our time in AP Biology was when we had different microscope stations set up and I found a rolling chair.  This was during a time where the Goo Goo Dolls were at their peak and the video for “Iris” was in heavy rotation.  I never really liked the Goo Goo Dolls and their brand of inoffensive acoustic pop rock or for Johnny Reznik’s haircut, but I do vividly remember the video for “Iris” and how Reznik was in a watch tower going from telescope to telescope looking a different scenes from the movie City of Angels.  I did my best to replicate this video for Mike in class, wheeling myself from microscope singing “AND I DON’T WANT THE WORLD TO SEE ME/ ‘CUZ I DON’T THINK THAT THEY’D UNDERSTAND/ THAT EVERYTHING IS MADE TO BE BROKEN/ I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHO I AMMMMM” in a pirate voice over and over again.  My only guess on why I chose a pirate voice is because I didn’t want people to mistake me for someone who actually liked the song.  I don’t know if Mike enjoyed my rendition, but like everything else I did, I know he tolerated it.

I will in no way ever say that Mike is/was as weird as I was, and maybe he did this as a really passive aggressive gesture, but the summer after he graduated (and I finished my freshmen year of college), Mike called me and told me he was selling knives door to door as a summer job and asked if he could drop by for an hour and give me his spiel.  I was familiar with this job and I knew that he would get paid by the company whether I bought any knives or not so I told him he could drop by and we could catch up.  Unfortunately, Mike actually sincerely tried to sell me the knives and seemed disappointed when I wasn’t having any of it.  We did get to catch up so I wouldn’t say it was a wasted visit, but I remembered being pretty annoyed that he actually thought he could sell a poor 19 year old a set of pricey knives.  My diet at school was Shin Ramen and In-N-Out.  I had no needs for knives, I just needed a pot and chopsticks.  So my final answer was ‘no’ and we chatted it up for a little bit.

I found out that Mike and I have a mutual friend and I recently shared these stories about him with them.  While they aren’t shocked that I would replicate the “Iris” video while serenading Mike, they were surprised and amused to find out that their dear friend was a door to door knife salesmen for a summer, which leads me to wonder how weird I actually am if people find my behavior to be pretty consistent, or “typical”.  Isn’t it weirder when someone drastically changes or has unbelievable stories about how they used to be than to be someone who’s been the same all along?

I was at my friend’s apartment over the weekend and he had a vocoder.  I spent a good 5 minutes screaming “PA-PA-PA-PA-POKERFACE” over and over again into the mic while my friend hit random keys.  I could hear my friends laughing and I was enjoying myself as well.  I have a feeling that if Mike was there, he’d still be shaking his head in disapproval, but being amused at the same time just like he was back in high school, because I’d like to think that my serenading of people is pretty universally hilarious.  I’d like to see Mike again sometime, not just to see how much we’ve changed or to make fun of how we were in high school, but because there was definitely substance to our friendship.  If we could put up with our teen weirdnesses, songs and sales pitches, it seems like continuing our friendship as mature adults should be a walk in the park.

I wouldn’t say I have “interpersonal conflicts” (aka friends pissing me off) all that often, but even if I did, they are somewhat inevitable.  Sometimes I can brush them off, but sometimes there has to be some confrontation.  When that happens, I try to cool off as much as possible and I try to get some advice from someone I respect, like a pastor, which is probably a really good thing since they usually give me a level headed response.  I’m waiting for the day that a pastor will tell me to “seek retribution against all those who’ve sinned against you”, so I can let my inner gangster rapper out and spout threats like “I’ll cock back the mag and pop one in your ribs” (Ghostface “Biscuits), but I don’t think that’ll ever be the case. (Perhaps I should just get an 808 machine and record dis tracks and e-mail them to my friends?) So I have to let cooler heads prevail, tell my friends how I feel, and then deal with whether they take what I said to heart or not.  Unfortunately, even if my friends don’t find my claims to be off base, they don’t always “do” anything about how they’ve hurt or angered me.  I can keep huffing and puffing until my face turns blue, but you can’t really change how someone is.  I know this but sometimes I forget it.  Sometimes I wonder why they can’t understand simple things, but you know what?  I’m absolutely guilty of this as well.

I gained the Freshmen 15, or possibly just 10, I’m not sure on the particulars.  My weight didn’t fluctuate, it spiked up another 10-15 pounds.  I wasn’t exactly fine with the weight gain, but at times I just assumed it was inevitable.  It happens.  I worked out on a regular basis, I stopped eating fast food, and I decided that if these things weren’t enough to bring me back to lighter place, I would just have to live with that.  I wasn’t in denial that I was at an acceptable weight.  It’s just that it had been 10 years since I was at a place where I was happy with my weight, and maybe I just needed to accept that I was going to have a little gut for the rest of my life.

Bruce started losing weight about 6 months ago.  He didn’t start an intense workout regiment.  He just started eating smaller portions (we call this portion control, or p-control now).  He’s lost about 20-25 to this day and isn’t in any danger of gaining it all back.  When he first started his p-control diet, I was skeptical of it and then horrified when he would tell me things like all he had for dinner was a single chicken thigh.  He told me that he allowed himself to eat whatever he wanted to on the weekends, and that’s what kept him going for his portion control diet during the week.  I still balked at giving the diet a shot.

Over the holidays, I was able to spend a lot of time with some of my nieces and nephews.  A phrase that gets thrown around a lot when I’m around the kids is a korean word “tegi” (teh-jee) which means “pig”.  We would use it in a very fun and teasing way.  When we went bowling, all the kids put their names in the queue as Tegi 1, Tegi 2, and so on.  It was all fun and games until one day when my nephew said “you’re the only one that should be called tegi because you’re chubby.”  I know it probably sounds really silly that 5 year old’s brutal honesty could make that light bulb go off in my head but it did, and after the holidays were over, I started the p-control diet.

(Warning: If you’re frustrated with weight loss, you might not want to continue reading this)

With some guidance and support of a couple of friends that have done p-control or are in the middle of it, I started my diet.  The first week was brutally painful as I would usually go to sleep hungry.  After a couple of weeks, my stomach started to shrink, and while it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable for me, I started to get used to it.  I’ve been able to go all out and eat what I’ve wanted to on the weekends without looking at portions or counting calories.  After about 2 months, I’ve lost about 20 pounds and hopefully I will still continue to drop a little bit more.  I don’t want to sound insensitive, but this hasn’t been that hard.  I know that weight loss is not easy for everyone, so I’m not taking it for granted, but I realized that I made weight loss appear much more difficult for me than the reality of what it really was.  All I needed to do was make small adjustments to my diet.  All it took me was 10 years to figure this out and apply it.  I definitely feel silly that I’ve been carrying around this extra weight for so long when I realized how easy it has been for me to shed it.  Fortunately, I have a little nephew who can set me straight.  For my friends, I hope they can find something that will help the light bulb go off for them and they can shed all this weight (baggage) that they’re placing on my shoulders.