Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An old friend and "favors" that aren't favors

So, on Saturday, RR and I went to visit a friend from high school.  We had not seen since her wedding 13 years ago.  She had just had surgery, but she was fine with us coming to visit her anyway because she thought our visit would distract her from post-surgery discomfort.  It was really good to see her, and much of our time with her reminded me of why we had been friends in high school.  Other parts reminded me of why we hadn't seen her in so long.

One example: she seemed to think it was acceptable to say that RR and I'd had big, frizzy hair in ninth grade (not entirely untrue), and then she pointed out how RR's hair looked nothing like it did then.  And then she turned to me and said, "Your hair's still kind of . . ." 

Yep, right to my face. 

To be fair, it was a bit on the frizzy side, but only just.  It was not "big," and it wasn't even that bad.  I would not have been embarrassed running into an old boyfriend with that hair.  AND it was raining.  AND I had just returned from going out in the rain sans umbrella to pick up some lunch.  But hey, thanks for telling me you think my hair looks like crap.  Right after you made fun of my major in college and wondered out loud why anyone would choose my major.  Ok, that's two examples.

I'm not going to make any comments here about her hair, but believe me, she had no room to talk.  And I said absolutely nothing when she said that she liked "classic lines" in her clothes, and I thought "oh, is that what you call the style of old lady from the 1980s?" Yeah, I thought it, but I didn't say it.  And I only thought it because at that point it had been several hours of her pointing out how awesome she was and how much every decision I had ever made in my life was the wrong one. 

We finally extricated ourselves around 5:30p.m.  We had originally planned to leave around noon, but when we got there around 10 in the morning, she sprung on us that she wasn't supposed to be left alone so soon after surgery, and her husband had to run out for work for a bit, so was it possible for us to stay until he returned around 4?  Of course, we couldn't say no to that.  My friend's appalling lack of a filter aside, we enjoy spending time with her, but boy were we ready to be out of there.  We both needed to work, albeit from home, and we were both a little tired from holding in the sarcastic retorts. 

But then on the way home, our landlord called.  See, he had had a handyman over at our house around 9a.m. to start work on re-grouting our kitchen counters.  He was supposed to come back the following weekend to re-grout the shower.  But I guess he decided it would be better for us to do it all at once, so he was calling to tell us that they'd started work on the shower and we couldn't use the shower that night.  All we wanted to do at that point was go home, eat dinner, and get some work done, but instead we had to go to our parents' house to use their shower.  Well, first we had to stop by the store, buy some underwear, go to my parents' house, wash said underwear, dry it, and then shower.  We were less than pleased.

And, it turns out, we couldn't use the shower the next night, either.  Or the night after that.  We got almost nothing done this past weekend that we'd planned on doing.  

Our landlord does this kind of thing a little more often than we'd like.  He's trying to be helpful, but he continually thinks of things from the perspective of how he would like things done if he were the tenant, even though we point out to him with some frequency that we are not at all like he is.  We like to plan our schedules, especially on the weekends, when we have far more to do than time to do it in.  We like to know ahead of time if we are suddenly going to be finding another place to take a shower and not after it's too late to say no.  

Sometimes we'll point out some repair that we'd like done, and he'll take care of it, but in a way that's entirely different from what we'd asked for, causes far more inconvenient, and is a lot more work and expense for him.  He's so pleased with the work, I'm sometimes tempted if he'd like us to move out so that he can move in.  And I appreciate that he tries so hard to keep us happy.  But because he doesn't pay attention to our personalities, or to the words we tell him, that his efforts to keep us happy tenants kind of backfire. 

We've noticed that back door needs some work on that insulation edging stuff that makes the door seal, but we have no intention of reporting that any time soon.

But on the plus side, we saw a lot of our parents, and I got to see the Cheeto my dad saved because it looked like a former president.  And let's face it, you don't get to do that everyday. 

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Oh, hi, Mr. UPS man. Thanks for being too polite to mention my Mylanta Face

So let me say what I was thinking, since you didn't bring it up. Sorry you had to knock twice.  I was debating whether or not to get up and see who was at the door. What?  Oh, this? Well, see, I thought I had read somewhere that if your skin is irritated, milk of magnesia will help soothe it, and my face felt irritated because I was too enthusiastic with the exfoliating, so . . . yeah.  I think that's wrong, though, because it feels like it's eating my face, not soothing it. 

Hmm? Oh, yes, actually, I did think it would be a good idea to wipe it off before I'd opened the door so you wouldn't have to look at it.  Actually, I thought I had wiped it off, so you can imagine my embarrassment at discovering that I'd missed a patch.  Hahahahaha! *sigh*

Oh, no, I can't say that I'm surprised, exactly, because this kind of thing happens to me all the time. No no, not this exactly--yes, you would think I'd learn from it, wouldn't you--but this kind of thing.  That's why I'm only slightly embarrassed.  I don't think I can get really embarrassed anymore, at least not by stuff like that.

Yes, it probably is in part because I'm getting older, which I guess you can tell because the Mylanta doesn't hide the crows feet forming around my eyes, although I'm sure it distracts from them.  Haha! Ha!

So, uh, listen.  I still have a few more packages coming in the next week.  Why don't you just leave them on the front porch, and maybe we can just pretend this never happened.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Remembering Yuko


The other day, I came across our third grade year book.  RR and I pointed me out in one of the school group's group picture, but at first we didn't see her.  Her initial reaction was "Wait, where am I?" followed by an ". . . Oh." when we realized the she was in the picture, but her face was completely obscured by the leaves of a potted tree.  I don't have any comment to make about that except that if anyone was going to be obscured by a tree in a school picture, it would be RR, and that if anyone was going to get stuck behind a tree and not say anything because she doesn't want to make trouble, it would be RR.

But in the individual pictures of each class, there she is, next to me, unobscured.  Two places to the left of my picture is a picture of Yuko Maekawa, my first ever best friend (besides my sister RR, of course) and, for about the next fifteen years, the yardstick by which all future friends were measured.

I met Yuko on the first day of kindergarten.  It's been thirty years, so my memory is a bit hazy, but the way I remember it, I'd forgotten something--I think it was my nap mat, but I'm not sure--and my mom had to go back with me to pick it up.  I remember having left it at home, but what's more likely is that I just left it in the car.  I'm sure the reason that I left it behind because I was nervous--really nervous.  RR and I were going to be separated for the first time since we were newborns and I was discharged from the NICU a week before RR.  I was excited about school and the possibility of this grownup sounding "homework" that my brother was always worried about.  Yep, I was a nerd even then.  But I was extremely anxious about the newness of everything, and about not having RR with me.

As a side note, our school was a bit experimental and had no walls separating the classrooms, so for some time, RR and I would randomly stand up in the middle of class and wave to each other.

Anyway, my mom and I had to go back to get the item left behind, and as I was walking back up to the school with my mom, Yuko and her mom were also walking up to the school, at the same time, on the same path.  As we proceeded side-by-side, Yuko and I silently and openly checked each other out.  By the time we reached the school doors, I had basically imprinted on her like a baby duckling.  She had become familiar and a friendly, comforting face.

As it turned out, we were in the same class.  All the student desks were tables with two seats, and we were told to pick a seat at a desk.  (This was the first feeling of the terror I would experience in later science classes when the teacher would tell the students to pick a lab partner, and I'd worry that no one would want to pair with me. This never happened, but I never stopped being afraid of it.) I don't remember whether I sat down first and Yuko, much to my relief, joined me, or if Yuko sat first and indicated, much to my relief, that I should sit with her.  I do clearly remember the feeling of relief combined with the instant knowledge that I had a new friend.  That's how five-year-olds are: you spend about thirty seconds with someone, decide they're ok, and this is your new best friend.

But it wasn't just my relief at not being shunned and having nobody to sit with that made me like her--Yuko really was cool.  We got on like a house on fire.  Yuko was from Japan, and I had never met anyone from Japan before.  Her father worked for Sharp, which had offices in my hometown.  She spoke English well, or at least in my memory she did, so we had no communication issues.  She, RR, and I became fast friends. 

I credit her and my friendship with her for opening me up to new cultures and lifestyles at an impressionable young age and for RR's and my casual, unquestioning acceptance that although every family is a little different, it's no big deal.  (Well, that and that RR and I have a personally quirk in that if something new is presented to us, we usually just think "this is different from what I've experience before but it must be normal, I'll think no more about it.") I hadn't spent a lot of time with kids outside my neighborhood, but just from that exposure, I already knew that not all families were alike.  Even though our street was primarily white and of a similar economic status, each family was a little different.  Lisa, two houses down, didn't share her toys. She basically just invited you inside to show them to you and not let you play with them, whereas in our family, that was considered being a bad hostess.  Her dad subscribed to Playboy.  My dad did not.  Her family room had the heads of dead animals mounted on the walls, and ours, thankfully, did not.  Kim, across the street, lived with her parents and her grandparents, who smoked in the house and had raspy voices.  Her dad was a Shriner and listened to Neil Diamond, and for years I believed without thinking about it that those two interests had some kind of correlation. My dad was not a Shriner, and he did not listen to Neil Diamond.

So when I met Yuko, because we were so young but knew enough to know that rules and customs varied from house to house, RR and I just accepted in the way that children do that in some houses, you always take your shoes off at the door without being invited to do so.  In some families, they eat food that tastes and smells differently than what you eat at home.  In some families, the parents speak another interesting-sounding language and speak English with a noticeable accent, and they are very sweet to you, aren't loud and overly-familiar like some parents, and they offer you fruit all the time.  And in some households, the kids have much, much cooler school supplies than you do, including things you'd never seen before like pencil cases, mechanical pencils, retractable erasers, and this really neat brand called "Hello Kitty."  

I think because of our early friendship with Yuko, RR and I developed a habit of wanting to befriend other Asian kids.  It wasn't because we had a "thing" for Japanese or any other Asian culture. We didn't and don't think it was or is better than our own.  We think all cultures have unique, interesting, and wonderful aspects to them, and why wouldn't we want to learn about them?  And we like learning about other cultures from a sociological and anthropological standpoint.  And as far as people are concerned, we generally think some people are wonderful, some people are horrid, most people are somewhere in between, and where you grew up doesn't have any direct correlation to what category you fall into. 

But because Yuko was the first person of Asian ethnicity we had met, and because Yuko was one of the kindest, coolest, funniest kids we'd ever met, we generalized in a way that children (and, unfortunately, many adults) do: if person X is of group Y, and person X has character trait Z, then all people of group Y have character trait Z.  The paintings of clowns in my pediatrician's office were super creepy, therefore all clowns are super creepy.*  If Yuko is Asian, and she's super cool, then all Asians are super cool.  That the stereotyping we did was flattering to people of Asian ethnicities doesn't make our thinking any less wrong, but we were kids, and kids are stupid.**

*Actually, I still think this one is true.
**Whenever I say this quote from Home Alone, I always want to follow it up with the line, "You're afraid of the dark, too, Marv," but it's pretty hard to work that into a conversation or blog post.

Unfortunately, our thinking did make us predisposed to trusting that every Asian kid was kind and really cool.  Of course, as we grew up, we figured out that we were wrong about that, sometimes the hard way.

Although we know that not all Asian kids are like Yuko, our friendship with her helped create in us a mindset that other cultures are merely different, not inherently better or worse than ours, although every culture has some parts that are superior to ours and some parts that are, shall we say, unfortunate.  And it taught us that although we should be aware of and acknowledge our difference, you should focus on the ways that we, as humans, are the same rather than how we are different, or else miss out on some great relationships.  I will always be grateful to her for that. 

And of course this applies not just to people from other countries, but to anyone from another culture group.  For example, growing up, I'd always heard that "Yankees" were rude, and while some  are rude (just like in any culture group), for the most part, they just have a different idea of what it means to be rude.  So while they might be a little less circumspect in how they phrase things, they aren't actually rude.  Almost everyone I've ever met on trips to New York has been sincerely friendly.   So I learned that you shouldn't consider someone rude unless the person is being rude according to his or her native culture or has been in your culture long enough to know that what he or she is doing would be offensive to you. 

But even as RR and I learned to set aside stereotypes, one thing that never went away for us was that feeling we would get whenever visiting an Asian friend's house growing up.  The smell of the house just made us feel at home.  You know how certain smells just automatically evoke feelings that are tied to memories?  That's how it was for us.  Our friendship with Yuko was such a positive experience that our brains started associating certain smells with a warm, fuzzy feeling.  I really think that's part of the reason we have always had Asian friends, our whole life.***  Well, that and growing up, our Asian friends' parents were as strict as our parents, so my parents would let us hang out with them, plus we bonded over the experience.  Also, honestly, the kids with overly-permissive parents tended to be bratty to their parents, and that made us uncomfortable.  Things were much more comfortable over at our Asian friends' houses.  Well, and our one Mormon friend's house.

And by the way, I'm not saying that all Asian parents are strict.  Not knowing all Asian parents, I wouldn't know. I'm just saying that the parents of our Asian friends growing up were, like our parents, strict.

***Now that I've set up this theory, I have to admit that our friendship with our friend getting married this summer is the exception that tests this rule I've just made up.  Our friendship with her has nothing to do with any of these factors.  The truth is, she is basically the Korean RR.  They are too much alike to not be friends.  They met in grad school and had one of those instant friendship connections--you know, where you meet something and know you're going to like this person, and you feel like you've known them forever?  They then bonded over their mutual love of coffee and the fact that they were the only two people who did the work in their first class group project.  Coffee love + being in the trenches of a group project together=friendship for life.  And of course RR is my best friend, so anyone who is very much like her, I'm going to like.  Also, she actually is one of the kindest, coolest, funniest people I've ever met.  Plus, you know, she loves coffee.  Anyway, point is, maybe my hypothesis is false.

Yuko's father was transferred back to Japan after the third grade.  We kept in touch through letters for awhile, but I am the world's worst pen pal, so eventually we stopped writing.  But I never, ever stopped thinking about her and missing her.  I know we're both different people now, so even if she hadn't moved, and our family hadn't moved a few years later, I don't know that we'd still be friends.  But nothing can take away those warm feelings I have for her.

It's almost the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and caused the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.  Once again, I find myself thinking of my old friend Yuko and hoping that she's alive and well. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan as they continue to try to put their lives--and their country--back together. 

前川 優子, 会いたい