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I'm Funny How?

Thursday, January 27

I was at the comedy club again last night, and this time there were five different comics, and each one took their stab at me [my fault for sitting so close], and each one made their “Hey look at the Chinese, South Korean [which was new], or Asian guy -- he’s different, everybody stare and laugh!”

Am I funny? Am I funny looking? Is it that easy to laugh at me? How did it come to be this?

There might be people that would love to chime in and throw those two cents, but there have only been a couple people in Ohio, a couple in California, a few in Jersey, and one in Mississippi that I’ve been able to talk to about this.

Kristalyn said, “You’d be happier in California.” And at times I do start to believe her, not that sunshine, beaches, and traffic jams would be my “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but she knows it would mean just a little less judgment. When I was there, I was nothing -- like I said before, I was translucent, because I was just another guy of some other ethnic descent. You can have your food, your customs, and your beliefs, but at the same time you don’t have to accept complete assimilation. Identity growth, verses identity defense, and that has been so much of who I have -- self identity based on the defense.

When I was a teacher, I remember saying, “it’s important to test your beliefs in order to know if they have the strength to stand on their own merits.” But defending yourself all the time gets tiresome and then you learn to stay silent. You let the ignorant talk. Correcting, educating, or whatever ethnic mentorship people would like to staple on it becomes the last thing you want to do.

That’s what I thought about when I was at Kathy’s wedding, yamikas and sushi, Yiddish and Vietnamese, but all of us -- family. My Aunt Van and Uncle Phung had just gotten back from a Lakers game and joined us all at Kathy and Kevin’s apartment, and somehow we were all watching “Road to Perdition.” My Aunt Van dropped her purse and sat cross-legged in front of the television. My Uncle told us about the game, and then she silenced him and asked Kevin in Vietnamese, “Who is that man that was just shot?” Kevin looked at her. Then we all looked at her. Still watching the TV, now speaking louder, she said, and again in Vietnamese, “What is his name, the one with the gun?” Kathy yelled out, “What are you thinking, Ma, he doesn’t speak Vietnamese!”

And that was the beauty -- she had forgotten, and he was family. A Jewish man mistaken for just another Vietnamese. And their wedding became a protest against yamikas and for more fresh sushi, Yiddish and Vietnamese, but all of us family.

Now please play powerful and heart-tugging Forest Gump orchestra music.

Tough Jobs Always Pay Cheap

Monday, January 24
I’ve been a regular at a comedy club called Bassa Vito. For a heartbeat – I contemplated comedy, because they said, “You’re so funny, you should be a comedian.” But after the other night, I changed my mind. I saw a guy go on stage and these four people heckled him all night. He drove from Detroit to get beat up on stage in Cleveland and probably got paid enough money to cover his toll and gas.

He handled himself like a pro, poking back but not digging his statements in too deep. It was part of the job – I couldn’t do that, I take everything too personal. Kristalyn and I always said that we go for the throat too quickly. And I think to live a descent life you have to take a lot of things personal – it is the only proof that you care about anything. Too many people shower the world with “I love you’s” and flowers, and that too seems too impersonal because it doesn’t say anything about who you are.

But I’ve drifted away from my point, the comic afterwards tried to salvage what was left of his routine and told an off-color joke about two firefighters, one fucking the other in the ass. And afterwards he was selling t-shirts and bumpers stickers of key phrases from his routine. From the stage, he just became another guy on the floor when he was done. I spent half an hour watching and listening to this guy and all that charisma and confidence was gone, and I hardly recognized him in the crowd.

I used to think that comics were the last group of philosophers. They are our Socrates and Plato. They are our humanitarians. Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Eddie Izzard, and Bill Cosby. They are the people that have seen life, but after that night – I thought, well maybe some of them are looking to expose the truth, some are that brilliant and these others – like this guy from the stage, he’s just looking for some love, a little acceptance, and a handful of existence. Before tonight, a microphone, a spotlight, and a stool never looked so sad.

On Things Californian in Nature

Thursday, January 20

I hadn’t seen Grandmother in a year, and when I asked how she was doing – my family would say, “She’s old.” They said it because it just seemed easier than saying, “She’s dying.” Age and the course of nature are easier to withstand than the gust of the word “death,” because there is a hint of guilt and even worse – helplessness. On the plane to California, in-between the “Bourne Supremacy” and “Without a Paddle,” I wondered what she looked like? Was I going to be all right?

Selfish, isn’t it? She’s the one dying, and I’m wondering if I’m going to be able to handle it. So I thought about Kathy’s wedding, my tux, what the weather would be like, Boba Tea, the NFL Playoffs, how I’d draft in the next Madden Tournament: Patriots, Broncos, or Ravens secondary, and what would I do if I saw certain people again?

It was 65 degrees when I got off the plane, and there was something comforting about seeing other Asian people at the terminal. I thought about New Year’s and how a drunken girl asked me, “Do you speak English?” How some people have made me feel so Un-American and have I grown too accustomed to that badge too well, and when I’m around other Asians – I felt a little invisible, a tad transparent. But I was too hungry from the trip to dwell on such subjects.

I woke up stretching my back because I had been sleeping on an awkward leather couch and then we all went to the hospital to see her. She was gaunt, and she asked my sister with her gown and she studied Kim, making notes of what she looks like verses how she remembered her. Last time – it was all I could see in her eyes, this is the last time. Tomorrows are luxuries. Watch each other and don’t blink – live these moments with your eyes wide open. She had given my aunt a restraint and said, “Hide this.”

[She had hit nurses and orderlies because she thought they were hurting her, and she speaks no English and they speak no Vietnamese and so she tried to protect herself, she kicked and punched, and yelled for her children and for home. So they medicated her and roped her to the bed, because – it was easier for them.]

The doctor talked about options and resuscitation techniques like pills and force-feeding tubes. I tried to smile through her stories, understanding every other word and translating what little I understood for Kim. We went to San Diego later that day. I saw Jennifer the day after. I went to the Barefoot in Beverly Hills the day that and then the next day I went to Kathy and Kevin’s wedding at the Casa Del Mar and I met and said “hello” to Matt Damon. Then on Sunday I saw Jennifer again, and then on Tuesday I left and it was 85 degrees outside, and when I stepped into Cleveland it was 20 below and my car windows were frozen.

No summary – no life lesson. There are other people that enjoy coming up with things like that, and I don’t want to take that luxury away from them.