Thursday, February 4, 2010

This is Me

Home Brew Coffee Co.
601 W. Arrow Highway
San Dimas, CA, 91741
(909) 394-1964

Ok, I am cheating. It is not Home Brew Coffee [Bar]. I even tried to look up the corporate entity on Westlaw and the Secretary of State. But I am going to count Home Brew in my 30 for several reasons. First, this project is getting really expensive, so reducing the amount of necessary visits by one is a plus. Second, I am rapidly approaching March 7th, so time is of the essence. Third, I was going to sit at the bar, but my brother was already sitting at a table. Fourth, there has been a lot of interest in what happened on that day. So I am going to treat it as one of my 30, I promise I won’t cheat again.

After Buca de Bepo (see, Helene kindly volunteered to drop me off at Home Brew where Jon was doing some intense studying on food sciences. I wanted to go back to parents’ house with my brother in tow. It was going to be an Asian Ragnarock.

Dear Reader, I need to back up a bit. In order to explain the material events of that night, I have to discuss several personal issues. First, in case if you happened to stumble onto this blog, I need to state that I am gay. Not Jack McFarland gay, but Sex and The City watching gay. I like shoes, I like clothes, and I really like chick-flicks. But being gay is not the defining element of my life. I was born to a Chinese family – and that fact has often shaped all the important variables of my life.


In the 40s there was a minor spat between the world superpowers. China was under siege and my family was definitely hit hard. My maternal grandfather came from a family of business owners and land holders. I don’t really believe that they were part of the landed gentry of Gone with the Wind, but one’s place in China was determined by real estate. If you had land, you were privileged. My maternal grandparents didn’t meet at a Starbucks or through Their relationship was the product of an arranged marriage.

I don’t know what the early years of my grandparents’ relationship resembled, but for the 21 years that I saw them together, I thought they were terribly in love. But “love” in the Asian context (especially old world Asian) is an unwieldy word. It is not like Nicholas Sparks, Notebook love, where the protagonists are always running towards each other in rain. It is much more quiet, harder to explain. I would always remember how the two of them would cook in their small kitchen. They could cook seven courses without speaking a word to each other. But it wasn’t because they spent half a century hating each other, it was because they knew each other so well. Without a sign, my grandmother would hand my grandfather a cleaver. He would chop cabbage in half and then return it back to her. It was an efficiency Sony hopes to achieve. Two people, could know each other so well that they could feed their family, without saying a word – not because they didn’t want to – but because they didn’t have to.

Now being a grandchild, one naturally casts his grandparents in the greatest light. They are good people, highly moral people. But they did one thing that might appear repugnant to western eyes, but perfectly reasonable for the times. Holding property is a dangerous class in times of war. They had to flee China, and it was a journey that I can’t fully comprehend. According to my mother, my grandfather saw his own father and siblings executed by decapitation. But it wasn’t WWII that forced them out, it was the communist revolution, and they had to make a difficult choice, “what if you can’t take all your children with you to another country?” They made the difficult choice of leaving their eldest son, and fled to Hong Kong.

I cannot make that choice – but I know my grandparents tried to atone. In the late 80s they did everything they could to bring their eldest and his rather large family to the states. But even after the arduous journey through immigration law, and having full citizenship bestowed to them, you get the feeling that wounds were never healed. My uncle looked at his younger siblings (born in Hong Kong) with contempt. On the other hand, the siblings – including my mother, first looked at him and his family with curiosity, then with Westernized superiority, and then finally with disdain. I know it was difficult for my grandmother to see this civil war between siblings – war after all separated them from the beginning. Admittedly, I even viewed the “others” as exactly that. They were foreign to me, they spoke in a dialect and cadence that I did not understand. It is only until writing this that I can get a glimpse of how they must have felt.

People who are familiar with Asian stereotypes or characteristics, will be able to easily identify my mother. She is the Crazy Type A mother who would look at my report card and ask why my A was not an A+. When she use to take a more involved approach to the restaurant it was quite terrible to work with her. Everything has to be perfect, place mats must be perfectly aligned to her desires, or she will go into a horrendous tear. In my description of my mother so far, I can admit, I am exactly like her.

My great grandfather was the last Nationalist Governor of Canton. When the communist were about to take over, he and his giant family fled to Taiwan. During World War II, my grandfather was studying at Stanford, and after the war he also moved to the fledgling colony. My father was born in Taiwan, and after a few years my Grandfather moved his family to Hong Kong.

Now I don’t know much about the early years of my paternal grandmother. I know she was from a Northern Chinese province. But I don’t know how they met. My great grandfather is not portrayed positively in the history books. My grandfather was often portrayed as a lackadaisical man whom dreamed too much. My grandmother was often viewed as a drunkard whom constantly said the wrong things at the most awkward moments. My father rarely talked about his family, and I used to think that he bore some sort of odd shame for them. But in later reflection, I don’t think that is the case. To me, I think he doesn’t talk about them, because he has no real involvement in the development of their lives. They were adults when he was born, their paths shaped before he was a gleam in their eyes. To him, I think he says to himself “I had no real involvement in what they became, so it is moot.” It is quite a clinical view, and often one that I adopt.

My father also has a sister whom he hates. He tells me that it is because she cheated him from a lot of money. I don’t dispute that - she also stole my grandparents’ Social Security checks. But I think his hatred is something more. My aunt always received my grandparents approval and attention, and I think there is a line of jealousy. But it is merely conjecture.

What I do know is that my father’s family disapproved of his marriage to my mother. They thought he was marrying below his class. My paternal grandfather went to Stanford after all; on the other hand, my maternal grandmother never learned how to read. But as bitter and mean as my father’s family could be, he stuck it out, he married my mother.


When I think of what really constitutes as my family, I of course have to include all the relevant parties above. But also of material importance are my cousins and my brother. I really have no paternal cousins per se (my aunt did have one daughter, and I think she is in Hong Kong), my paternal grandfather had a second wife in Canada and I do not know of their status, so all the cousins I will be talking about are from my mother’s side.

Bryant is my youngest cousin. He is also the one that I know the least about. I know he goes to Mt. San Antonio. He works at Panda Express. He is pretty good at videogames (but not Halo). Between all of us, Bryant is definitely the quietest one, but he is also pretty damn observant (a trait I think all five of us share). I know he was a member of a very Evangelical sect – but he doesn’t seem to hew to any religious ideology at all. He just strikes me as a guy who will be able to look back in his 20s and say that he had a more well-rounded time than I ever did.

Darren is next in age. Not going to lie, he was my favorite cousin. The first bar he went to was a gay one. His first drink, Pauline bought. He went into Gucci and YSL more times with me than a GQ Editor does in his career. He was my protégé, my chum, my pal. He went to UCLA and in his first year I remembered having a discussion with him about gay marriage. He seemed rather left of the middle on the issue. He rattled off the talking points; I was happy. But then something happened, it might have been an epiphany on his part, or just a gut feeling – regardless he voted for Prop. 8. All that has been said on the issue has already been noted. But the vote still stings, the wound is still raw.

Jason is Darren’s older brother. He was the black sheep of the child. Jason is not dumb, or lazy, or born lame. He was disfavored because he resembles his father, who in turn, was not viewed favorably by my mother’s family. College wasn’t for Jason, he worked at Panda Express instead. I just found out that he now trains managers, a feat that I find astounding. He also comes across as the most gay-positive of my cousins; even admitting that he and his friends often go to gay bars because they are the only ones who play Lady Gaga in the desert. I will say this about Darren and Jason, I think that they are more socially approachable than my brother or myself. Jon is really good in social settings too, but Darren and Jason often appears to have a populist approachability that we will never have.

Then there is Jon my brother. I often write about him, but the one thing that I learned recently about him is that he is much more emotionally nuanced than I am. One time we were talking about “Fat-Kid Syndrome” and how he believes that all people who were fat kids had it; for example, himself. I was a bit amused and I rapidly proclaimed I don’t have it. This incident coupled with several other situations (one fight in particular) made me realize that I am often the clinical one between the two of us. But that being said, I also have a much shorter fuse. I have very little patience for the ignorant. I am more like Mom, and I think he is more like Dad.

Dear Reader, I have essentially reduced my lineage into three pages. Everyone has a subjectively torrid history. I don’t really. I was raised in a white, middleclass suburb of Los Angeles. But that is not to say I had a normal childhood. I didn’t swim or play sports. Videogames was my football, the shuffling of Magic cards was my activity. Needless to say, this sedentary lifestyle made me a fat kid; I was fine with it. I took it with aplomb, a confidence that I knew who I was – even if I did finish twelve cans of coke a day.

You may argue that being a fat kid is relatively normal – Michael Pollan did not start writing after all. But my curious nature was how I carried myself – I was a stoic, elitist because I was bred to be. I was also subjected to history and politics early in my life. When he stayed with my parents for the summer, my grandfather would teach me about the atrocities of the Kuomintang (ironically), and the politics of triangulation (4 years before Clinton’s win in 92). My parents never taught me how to swim, or ride a bike, but my Dad would always be willing to take me to Barnes and Nobles to spend a king’s ransom on books like The History of Hell, Barbarians at the Gate, Ulysses, and Atlas Shrugged. Sure, I had no idea what those books were talking about. What is this rapture in Thessalonians? Why does John Galt keep speaking? Ulysses – what the fuck? I often wonder if my parents thought if I was some Yuppie-Satanist, or maybe they didn’t even know what I was reading.

Regardless, I was the golden child – I was the Straight-A-kid (with the exception of math – an Asian chromosome that must have hybridized during ESL), who made them look good. I hewed to the typical Asian conservative taglines. “Why increase minimum wage when it will lead to a distortion in the markets?” or “Universal healthcare, my grandparents fled from genocide and they didn’t complain when they heard a cough on their boat.” Everyone else could be children – not me. I was the mature one, the one privy to all the family politics and secrets. As confidante of the forbidden truths, I learned at an early age to leverage information to get what I wanted. People allowed me to do whatever I wanted. I could do no wrong. Sure my cousins and my brother had the social skills and lived the relatively normal childhoods, but I also knew that I could pick on them and win any argument. I was the unholy result of two very political families.


Helene and I entered a very simple order: large non-fat cappuccino, and a large green tea; two simple drinks. We sat down with Jon and talked about the company that he is working at. After some general discussion about the state of the economy and the difficulty in the housing market, the issue at hand was on the table. What should I say to my mother who just found out I am gay.

My mother found out in the most ridiculous way. Seven years ago when I came out to my father, he made me swear that I could not tell my mother because he was afraid she would get a stroke. We all thought she knew, that she was just in denial. This was entirely consistent with her actions too. Whenever one of her friends would bring up the obligatory Asian issue of marriage, she would change the discussion to mahjong or purses (a very gay issue that I know too much about). “Mother’s know,” … so we thought.

So I told Helene the story, about how my mother and I got into a fight because I did not want to have dinner with one of her friends. It was after all my vacation, and I did not take time off to each with all her friends individually. I was loquacious and heated. I just kept talking and became very thirsty. Where the hell is my cappuccino? We already talked about the Fed-Funds rate, internet start ups, and I was in the middle of briefing Helene on this very important day. It must have been 15 minutes. Why can’t I get caffeine! Jon noticed too and inquired about it. Helene looked over and said “Well she is cleaning dishes.” I stopped mid-sentence and approached the barista.

“Pardon me, but where is my order?”

She gasped in horror and dropped the plate into a sink. “I am so sorry, that was a nonfat cappuccino and ….”

“A large green tea. Thanks.”

I walked back to the table. Was this the girl that was hitting on Jon? If so, society should be more concerned with the heterosexuals than the queers. Without missing a beat, I continued with how after my fight with my mother, she called my father and asked “Is Eric gay.” He confirmed that I was and she responded with “If any of my friends ask me, I am moving to another state.”

The barista dropped a wax bag on our table. Oh dear god, she probably thought I ordered an oatmeal cookie instead of coffee. I was about to correct her, but as I looked up I noticed she was holding two drinks! Halleluiah! THERE IS CAFFEINE! I let out a shriek reminiscent of the ringwraiths. In less than 30 seconds I finished half of the cappuccino – and you know what – it was pretty damn good. It was served scalding, like eighth layer of hell hot. Screw the Defense of Marriage Act, the greatest legal injustice occurred when some plaintiff successfully sued some coffee store for serving scalding hot ambrosia. Coffee has never been the same ever since. Home Brew obviously doesn’t have legal counsel because I burnt my tongue – and what a joy it was. But temperature is not the only important variable in a delicious drink, the foam was done pretty damn well too. Often non-fat foam comes out in a chalky, insipid mess that resembles balsa wood. This foam was airy, and LO, it tasted like dairy. My hometown is doing something rather ridiculous, they are posting banners all around this stretch of highway called “Heroes of San Dimas.” Under each banner is a name of a person who is serving in the military. Now heroes are subjective, and I personally find the barista who served that damn cup of espresso to be a hero. Sure she is a retard who can’t handle one/only order in the restaurant, but I would gladly wait for that cappuccino again.

Alas, the cookie was a nightmare. Thank god I did not pay for it. In hindsight, Home Brew should have given me money to take it away. The cookie dough was still chewy but it tasted stale. What were suppose to be chocolate chips (but resembled something much worse) were absolutely terrible! The chocolate comprised of overly sweet little nuggets of brown. I was reaching for an insulin pump after taking a nibble. The restaurant was closing up, so maybe – just maybe the cookies might have been better when they were freshly baked and not sitting at a counter waiting to be given away. I personally don’t think any act of Chronos could have revived those little landmines.

As I lapsed in-and-out of hypoglycemia, I asked Jon and Helene for consultation, “What should I do with my mother?” “Nothing,” was the consensus. Jon pointed out that my parents don’t even speak to him about his romantic dalliances, so why would they even bring my lack of Craigslist connections. As we discussed the politics and implications of “Do Nothing,” I noticed a skeezy fellow around my age, silently eyeing the barista as he nursed his ice tea. As we walked to our cars, ready to implement the plan of apathy, my brother pointed out the skeezy fellow driving off in his beaten up station wagon. Jon pointed out how that would be suitor was trying to impress the barista with his “I am starting a business” shtick. Perhaps “Do Nothing” would have worked better for him than me.

Later that night, my father had a really long talk with us (I insisted that Jon sit in). Apparently my mother drove to San Diego and decided to stay there overnight. The issue of his friends, the thorn that has expensed all my vacation time, was brought up. How dare they be concerned about what their friends thought. I have a pretty advanced degree, I am upward mobile, I can outwrite any of their children, I helped out at the restaurant, I am a much better son to them than any of their friend’s spawn … I … I … I ...... I. All the arguments of the past came out, I am the Golden Child, I will not lose this one. But that is the point, I was the Golden Child, and I am gay. At my conception, those two points were headed into collision. I was the first son of the family, so I was bestowed with certain gifts – taught certain things – made privy to certain facts that Jon, Jason, Darren or Bryant were not aware of. But I like men, and that appeared to discount everything in my life. My life was fully expensed under the guise of “What if my friends ….” Jon brought up the fact that how does my orientation actually affect my personal characteristics. My father rapidly conceded that it did not, but he still defended his friends arguing that “Eric is in Chicago, and you will be elsewhere in the near future, all we have are our friends.” Jon and I argued that it was a backwards argument, that if they cared, they are not your friends.

“Dad, all I want from this is your defense. To say in the grand scheme of things I am a good son.”

His answer was ridiculous, “You know how I feel about you, I can’t go around defending you if they don’t bring the issue up.”

I didn’t need my father to join PFLAG, all I wanted from him was to say “I love you.” But he wouldn’t. Of course he wouldn’t, I come from two families where emotion is a lonely stepchild, where practicality runs the household.

My mother came back the next day. We did not discuss the issue. As I flew back into Chicago I called my dad to let him know I arrived safely. On the phone he said the one thing I never thought he would say, “I am always on your side. I love you son.” Maybe history does turn – I might be the first openly gay person in my family – but I am also the first one to graduate from college, first to be a Presbyterian, first to register as a Democrat, first to go to law school, and first to live in Chicago. I won’t leave my children in times of war. I won’t steal from my parents. I will always love my brother. I will stand up for myself. This is my journey. This is Me.