Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

When I was a kid, I abhorred my parents’ comparisons to my best friend.  They would ask me why I couldn’t be better behaved like him (for the record: he was just quiet).  It would drive me up the wall, since, I wasn’t a particularly rowdy kid.  Of course, when I would compare myself to someone who was much worse than me, my parents would tell me “don’t compare”.  I hated the double standard and even as a kid, I thought it was unfair that my parents were comparing me with a kid that was going to private school (not a dig at Bruce, just the facts) when I was going to a public school.  Oddly enough, Bruce felt like he was a total brat as a kid compared to me, citing how he always demanded that we go and get “Happy Meals with a toy” whenever he was over at our house.  This nugget of shame wasn’t revealed me to me until recently (I don’t even remember this happy meal nonsense), so basically we’ve been harboring all this comparison related shame for years.

Of course, the comparisons didn’t end when we were kids and they didn’t stop at our parents.  Whenever he’s in town to visit me, or when I’m in town to visit him, our collective groups of friends will come up with their own judgments.  Sometimes the comparisons are bland (“you guys seem a lot alike!”) and sometimes they’re downright hilarious. (“At first, I thought you were the mean one because you’re really sarcastic and Bruce is really quiet, but then I realized you’re the nice one and Bruce is the jerk.”)  Since we’ve been friends for so long, we’re so comfortable in our skin regarding our friendship, any sort of judgement barely affects us.  Of course, not all my friendships have 25+ years of security that I can lean on.

I went to a concert with my friend Paul and a few of his friends.  I’ve known Paul since my sophomore year of college and I think we’d both agree that we’ve become good friends, but for some reason he told his friends beforehand that when he first met me, he thought I was weird and a bad person because I had blue hair and listened to rock music.  It’s true that Paul felt that way when he first met me and was my next door neighbor in the dorms, but it seemed peculiar to me that this was the impression that he wanted to impart on his friends.  Obviously, Paul thought it was funny but for me, it was weird to have to rehash the old days where I had blue hair for a month to a bunch of conservative Korean christians that I had never met before (I might’ve had a class in college with one of them).  I think Paul wanted to warn them that I was a little eccentric, but I think I was pretty well behaved that night, and I eventually won them over by dishing out some entertaining stories about Paul, like when I was unemployed and he told me to go work at The Games Workshop (for minimum wage) primarily so I could get him discounts on board games and Warhammer figurines.

Misguided selfish schemes and judgmental first impressions aside, Paul’s done a lot of good things in my life.  From taking me to the hospital in college when my stress headaches were getting bad, to telling me about the church that I currently attend, he’s had a pretty major impact on me.  I’m not sure if he would say that I’ve returned the favor as far as things I’ve said to him or done for him, but as I’ve learned with Bruce, there’s a good chance that he probably feels the same way to some extent.  No one would ever say that Paul and I are alike (except for our common affinity for the Venture Brothers), but we’ve managed to hash out a pretty worthwhile friendship since he got over the fact that I am not inherently evil, or at least not any more evil than my fellow man.  While it would be nice to hear that his friends think that he’s the mean one even though I’m the sarcastic one, it’s probably smart not to compare this friendship to any of my others.  I just know that even though there’s plenty of teasing in this one (and there always will be), especially the fact that he still loves to play D&D, there’s a lot of substance beneath the surface of my once blue hair and secular music.

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.