Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

A couple of years ago, I thought of a really cool Christmas gift for my nieces.  Since they always love to watch The Simpsons with me, I would get them these limited edition Kid Robot vinyl Ralph Wiggum dolls.  I’d bought them Kid Robot blind box toys before, but this one was easily bigger, better, and much cooler than any of the others.  I called the Kid Robot store to reserve a couple (they were going fast), and then hopped in my car, drove through OC/LA traffic and made my way to West Hollywood during rush hour to get the best Christmas presents that Uncle Ryan could find.

Upon opening the boxes, my nieces were ecstatic.  My sister and brother-in-law were impressed, and I was obviously happy that everyone was pleased.  I could continue my reign as “best uncle ever” for at least another year because I was so thoughtful and creative.  I really milked it as I told the dramatic story of weaving through rush hour traffic on Melrose Avenue and how I got the last two boxes that the store had.  My brother-in-law later pulled me aside to disclose to me a secret:  whatever Uncle Ryan buys the girls is automatically their favorite gift, so it doesn’t really matter what I buy them.  It was very touching to hear this, but in a petty way, it was also disappointing.  I understand that I achieved my goal in buying gifts that the nieces loved, but I also wanted them to understand why they were the best gifts EVER.  I understand that they’re kids (or pre-teens, to be more specific), but I just want them to know how much I truly care.

I’ve given cool and thoughtful gifts to my friends as well.  For just a few bucks extra, I added a joke gift of the Owl City “Fireflies 7” to Sherlan’s already awesome Mastodon – Blood Mountain vinyl record birthday present.  While Sherlan would’ve appreciated the Mastodon record by itself, the joke gift will make the gift an even fonder memory for years to come, even if he never listens to “Fireflies” for the rest of his life.  With just a little extra thought, and an extra $7, we turned a great gift into a gift that will be remembered for the rest of his life.

I know that I’m a pretty thoughtful person and while I understand it’s a pretty good trait to have, sometimes I wish I could turn it off, and I’m not saying this because I’m bitter towards my nieces.  I just understand that it’s kind of dangerous to be thoughtful towards all people and in all situations, because sometimes thoughtfulness can often be misinterpreted to be creepy or it can broadcast the wrong signals.  Like I said, I wish there was a switch that I could turn off when I first meet someone so I could prevent this possible weird situation, but I have yet to find a solution.  It’s definitely gotten better, but I’m not sure if that has to do with age or new anti-social tendencies.

My oldest sister claims that my thoughtfulness is part natural ability and part trained ability.  I’m sure growing up with four older sisters definitely has attributed to my ability to be sensitive to the needs of people around me, but I don’t know if they can necessarily take any credit for “training” me.  If there’s any visible legacy of my sisters “training” me, it’s the fact that I instinctively push down my finger nail cuticles every couple of weeks, and that I always put the toilet seat down.  They also taught me to squeeze from the bottom of the toothpaste tube opposed from the middle, I later found out that this is not necessarily a “girl thing” but something that might be specific to our family.

I appreciate all the influence that my sisters tried to exert on me, and I hope they’re happy to know that at least some of it stuck.  Whether I’m thoughtful because of my sisters is debatable.  What is clear is that either way, it benefits them and their kids and even though it doesn’t inadvertently get me in trouble from time to time, I’m probably lucky that I don’t have to try to learn it now.  Perhaps one day, I will find that switch and provide the world a perfect balance of thoughtfulness, but I guess until then, the world is going to be stuck with too much of a good thing.

Back in college, my friends and I became fascinated with Claim Jumper’s chocolate chip calzone, which is coincidentally probably the fattiest dessert known to man.  It is exactly how it sounds: it’s like a pizza calzone, but instead of being filled with sauce and meat, it’s filled with white chocolate and milk chocolate chips, and it’s served a la mode, and for some unknown reason, they top it off with whipped cream.  It’s also on par with the typical proportions at Claim Jumper, so it can feed 3-4 people pretty easily even though it says “for 2”.  When my friend Tommy had the calzone for the first time, he didn’t describe the experience as “orgasmic”, but like “someone had an orgasm in my mouth”.  Luckily, Tommy didn’t have any aspirations to become a food critic because his words that night would’ve definitely come back to haunt his career.

Tommy wasn’t the best with words, but he had a keen way of visualizing his satisfaction with food in a way that no food blog or Yelp! Quick Tip could put in the most eloquent of words.  Tommy would just sit back in his chair, grin like a moron, and tap his fingers against his stomach.  He wouldn’t say much, but you could tell he was pleased.  It was a truly endearing scene and if you were the chef, you would be truly honored that your meal had moved him so.

I haven’t seen Tommy much since college, and this was all before the Yelp!/Twitter pics/ Food Truck craze, which I admit, I’m probably one of the worst offenders of, especially when I’m on vacation.  For me, vacation is all about the food I’m going to eat, and thanks to Man Vs Food, No Reservations and the around the clock programming of The Food Network, I’ve been able to find exciting new things about places I’ve been to previously, like how the best ice cream in country is in St. Paul, Minnesota (Izzy’s! -> with the malt ball in the waffle cone).  It’ll occasionally drive someone mad, like when I visit my sister in New York, but I live to eat, I don’t eat to live.

Sharing my food experiences through pictures on the net/twitter probably annoys a lot of people and I understand their disdain, but it’s started a lot of dialogue, often with people I’ve kind of lost touch with.  It also helped Allison and Charis track my vacation to Chicago last year through their dad’s Twitter accounts.  “It looks like you ate a lot of good food in Chicago, Uncle Ryan!”  Hopefully they just glazed over the tweet about sitting next to a transvestite on the bus on the way to Wrigley Field, but I digress.  I’ll be honest, often the food I eat is the most exciting part of my life.  If I had more going on, I’m sure I’d be tweeting about that.

Often, I wonder how restaurants survived before the food shows, review sites, and smart phones.  I’m glad technology has made things easier for me to find what I’m looking for, so this is no way a complaint that technology has taken the excitement of trying somewhere new.  I just feel bad for new start up restaurants.  It feels like they’re under the gun, and there’s no room for error when they open up to make things right.  It also seems that everyone is trying to create some sort of edge these days so there’s a lot of made up terminology being made to try to stand out.  It reminds me a lot of independent music now.  A lot of phrases like “hyper-literate” and “post-punk afro pop” are being used to describe new bands and instead of enticing me to listen to them, I almost shy away since I don’t know what to make of these newly branded terms.  I’m all for trying new things, so eventually I give in, but all this information that gets thrown at me these days is sometimes tiresome.  While I love having all the technology at my disposal, sometimes I wish for a simpler time, where instead of looking for fancy prose, I’d just watch Tommy lean back in his chair and tap his belly to know that we just had a great meal.

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.