Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

My friend Paul once informed me that his dad told him to go see Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and even paid for his ticket.  When I asked Paul if his dad even knew what Harold and Kumar was about, he told me that his dad “just wanted [him] to support John Cho”, the Korean-American actor who plays Harold Lee.  Paul’s dad wasn’t particularly worried about the details: what the movie was about, or that it’s full raunchy stoner humor. Paul’s dad just wanted his son to support “one of us”, which in this case, was a Korean American who was starring in an American film.

While it was only a $12 gesture, it’s pretty funny to think of a father demanding his son to go watch a raunchy R-rated movie to the point where he’d pay for the ticket.  This is an extreme case of this “one of us” sort of mentality, and while it can seem a little silly, It’s a mentality that I actually identify with (it’s also a Minnesota thing), and that’s probably why I ended up in a little story that I like to call Ryan and Cameron go to Bakersfield.

I met Cameron at work when we were both working retail.  He worked in the stock room and I worked on the sales floor.  He had just moved to the mainland (California) from Hawaii and he didn’t have many friends or any family out here, so I quickly became one of his good friends.  Cameron found out that my friend Jessica and I were really into hockey, so he started to check it out and quickly became a fan.

He started going to games, buying jerseys, and soaking up any information about the game and its players.  Since he was Japanese-American, and since Hawaii has no hockey team, he started gravitating towards players of Japanese descent like Paul Kariya and Devon Setoguchi.  He became particularly enamored with Yutaka Fukufuji, the first Japanese born goalie be drafted into the NHL, and when Cameron found out about him, he found out that Fukufuji was playing on a minor league hockey team in Bakersfield, just a few hours north of where we lived.

He wanted to see Fukufuji in action so I agreed to go to Bakersfield with him so he could catch a game.  He had never been to Bakersfield before, but he was so excited that Yutaka Fukufuji was getting his own bobble head night, that he insisted we go, even though I gave the city of Bakersfield an unfavorable review.  We met up at my apartment the morning of the game, piled into my car, and made our way north towards Bakersfield.  We stopped for lunch in Torrance so I could meet up with a friend, and at lunch, Cameron took advantage of the fact that I was driving by indulging in a 2nd drink.

We made it up to Bakersfield a few hours later, but we arrived so early that they weren’t ready for us to enter the arena.  It was quite windy that day so when we decided to walk the streets of Bakersfield to pass the time, we were met with flying specks of sand.  This was unpleasant to say the least, and completely horrifying to Cameron.  This was a far cry from the serene and beautiful conditions of his native Hawaii, or at least it was in his mind’s eye.  For him, the trip started to go downhill at this point, and it went downhill pretty quickly.

Once we entered the arena, we received our bobble heads and Cameron bought a jersey.  I asked him if he wanted to grab a beer but he declined because he started to get a headache, most likely from the drinks that he had at lunch.  We sat in our seats and soon after, the game started.  The Bakersfield Condors came out on the ice and for a brief time, Cameron was able to enjoy himself despite his headache and his poor opinion of Bakersfield.  He cheered for Fukufuji whenever he made a save, but there was very little to cheer for in this game.  The Condors fell behind early, and it was clear that they weren’t going to make any sort of a comeback.  By the time the 2nd period hit, Cameron’s headache had come back with a vengeance, and we ended up having to leave the game early.

As we headed back to Orange County, it started to rain, and when you couple rain with high winds that are picking up sand, it might appear to the untrained eye that it is raining mud.  Cameron started to freak out that the apocalypse had arrived and I had to calm him down, while driving us both in the pouring rain.  We got back safely to Orange County and when he returned to work over the weekend, he was spinning tales of surviving the hell that is Bakersfield, California, where it rains mud, just so he could get a Yutaka Fukufuji bobble head and a Bakersfield Condors jersey, and that he would do it again, because Fukufuji is “one of us”.

A lot of my friends are perplexed about the fact that I’m a fan of R. Kelly.  I assume this is, in part, because I’m Asian (and those confused friends are Asian or Caucasian), but mostly because of his very public and disturbing indiscretions.  While I definitely don’t condone what has come out about his private life, I still enjoy his music, even if his hit to miss ratio isn’t what it used to be.  Besides, even after after his scandalous private life became public, he was able to bounce back into the spotlight, with the focus back on his musical talent.  A petition to the US Government to change the national anthem from “The Star Spangled Banner” to his “Igntion (Remix)” was created, comedian, Aziz Ansari, is known for recounting his various R. Kelly experiences at his stand up shows, and there have been many organized Trapped in the Closet related viewing parties.  Even though his star was back on the rise, when I decided to finally see the man in concert, it was basically on a lark.

About 5 years ago, when I met my friend Beverly, one of the things we bonded over was karaoke, and we’ve been on a quest to find “Ignition (Remix)” at a karaoke studio.  We’ve found it at karaoke bars but we’d like to be able to sing it within the comfort of a private room with friends instead of in a room of tipsy strangers.  We haven’t found a place yet, but our quest has taken us to many different parts of Southern California, and karaoke still remains one of our favorite “go to” activities.  A love of “Ignition (Remix)” has also bonded Beverly and my friend, Jessica, so when R. Kelly announced a tour, Beverly immediately decided that the three of us needed to go.

Unfortunately, by the time we found out there was a show, the show was sold out.  In what Beverly describes as an act of divine intervention, a second show was added a few days after our initial disappointment.  I’m not exaggerating Beverly’s excitement about this added show, in fact, her exact text to me was “It’s a sign from Jesus that we must GO”.  I wasn’t going to argue with that.  I texted Jessica if she wanted to go to the show, and there we were, back on course to see the man known as R.  We were going to get the full R. Kelly experience, but none of us knew what that meant until it was too late.

We all had an idea of what was going to happen at the show, whether it be from checking out various message boards on the net, or going through Aziz’s live tweets from the show the night before, but somehow, we found ourselves constantly surprised.  Perhaps, this had to do with the fact that we procured and demolished a bottle of 100 proof rum and a bottle of Coke at the beginning of the night so we could pay tribute to the song that we all love so much.  I thought we were going to drink in the parking lot but Jessica decided to quietly open the bottle of rum and drink from it in the back of the car while Beverly and I chatted.  As we got closer to the venue, we started to mix the rum and Coke into the Coke bottle so we could drink and walk to the venue, incognito.

So, by the time that we got to the venue, we were all tipsy.  We walked in to the Nokia Theater, and everything looked as it would on any other night, upon first inspection.  That was until Beverly and Jessica walked into the bathroom and overheard some girls talking about how they were glad “their mans [weren’t] here.”  Soon after, we found the R. Kelly Chicken Wings table where I promptly dropped $7 for some wings when I wasn’t even particularly hungry.  Beverly proceeded by buy a t-shirt that had an enlarged black and white photo of R. Kelly’s face on the front and we proceeded to go find our seats.

On our way to the seats, I realized that our casual dress attire wasn’t the norm for this show.  Not that people were decked out in formal wear, but they were definitely dressed differently.  To put it as succinctly as possible, that was the most leopard print clothing per square foot I had seen in my life.  Once we found our seats, I came up with idea of taking pictures with the R. Kelly t-shirt while Beverly went to the bathroom.  I wasn’t able to keep myself from bursting out in laughter while holding up the shirt, so I decided to get more alcohol, and this is where I found the cart that sold rum lemonade out of a keg.  Since this was something else that was unique to this show, I had to buy one, even though my tipsy self could even tell it was probably not of the highest quality.  I brought it back to our seats, we drank some more, and finally the show started. This was The Single Ladies Tour, and you could even buy tickets in a “single ladies” section but we had regular seats because Beverly decided to spare me whatever embarrassment I would receiving being a single man sitting in a “single ladies” section.

I couldn’t tell you what was special about the “single ladies” section but I do know that R. Kelly had two bartenders on stage making drinks for girls from the pit.  Drunk Beverly was pining to be in the “single ladies section” and Drunk Jessica was someone that I hadn’t seen in about 5 and a half years.  Drunk Jessica doesn’t show up very often for a reason.

After a highly entertaining and over the top set (Aziz does not exaggerate, Beverly points out), we headed out the doors back to our lives, or so I thought.  Jessica and Beverly had gotten ahead of me and I ended up losing them.  Beverly tells me that Jessica ended up accidentally knocking over a trash can and yelled “Lets go drink some more!” before Beverly lost sight of her.  I was able to easily track down Beverly through text messages.  Jessica, on the other hand, wasn’t responding to texts or phone calls right away.  We were obviously concerned that our friend was running around the streets of Downtown Los Angeles drunk and alone.  Finally, Jessica called me and told me that she was waiting for us at the car… but she wasn’t.

It took Beverly and I a while to find the car, and when we finally did, Jessica was nowhere to be found.  I called her again and informed her that she might in fact be standing next to a totally random car in a totally random parking lot.  This was completely terrifying to Beverly and me.  Jessica could be anywhere.  After telling her that we were in different lots, Jessica handed her phone to the parking lot attendent who somehow was able to guide us to Jessica even though I think we were all sort of lost.  Jessica finally got in the car and we were finally able to head back to Orange County, not before Jessica told us that she was sitting in the parking attendent’s chair and when he told her that she couldn’t sit there, she told him that she was Mexican.  Then she told us that she was going to sleep in the car, and proceeded to throw up in the car somewhere between Los Angeles and Orange County.

While I couldn’t have predicted any of these events before the show, they all sort of made sense.  We went to go see an artist who’s notorious for excess and self-indulgence and we decided to mimic those impulses.  We ate too much, we drank too much, and then all hell broke loose.  It was a fitting end to a memorable night.  We all just wish Jessica was able to hold her liquor for just a little longer.