Saturday, June 10, 2017

dear mr. mcalpin

What's the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral?

-the last joke my grandfather told my mom

One less drunk.
It's hard to say that I was *close* to my grandfather. When I was little I spent a lot of time at his and my grandmother's house, the one my mother had grown up in, but he was usually in his room watching television, eating Fig Newtons. He wasn't one to play with the kids in the same way my grandma would. But he was there, always, whether it be at home or a school play or on a family vacation.

One time we'd gone to Fire Island with my aunt Linda and uncle Jean-Jacques. I'd been basking in the glory of having introduced myself to a group of older kids on a peddle boat. They were nice, cool, fun. But then I got bit by a crab. I stumbled out of the water, fighting back tears, and was relieved when I saw Grandpa in the distance. I waved to him for help. He waved hello and then laid back to sunbathe. My grandmother wasn't thrilled with that response when she found me crying. He hadn't realized, of course.

He was the one that took me and grandmother to church all those times. I could often convince him to take us to the diner after, or if I'd spent the rest of the morning and afternoon with them, out for ice cream. On that note, summer Fridays were a surefire way to get a trip to Carvel because they had the vintage car show in the parking lot, which my grandfather loved.

While he still had his boat in the Long Island Sound, he'd pick me up early morning (I'd better have been ready!), grab deli sandwiches and sodas, and take me out fishing. My grandmother only occasionally joined. It was the kind of quiet activity you might picture a grandfather doing with his grandson, but I was the eldest and my brother was too young. It only made me feel more special.

I brought him straws whenever I could. He collected and chewed them, a habit he'd picked up after he insisted they stop smoking when I'd been born. Occasionally, I'd go see what he was tinkering with in the garage. That garage filled with tools and duct tape and a single poster of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper. If my grandfather was in a good mood, he'd entertain my questions about why they were up there and if he knew them and what it was like to grow up in New York City. He'd been born there in 1928.

During the wintertime, he and my grandmother would escape to Florida. I remember how exciting a day it was when they came back; especially when my sister was a baby and we weren't sure if she'd remember them. She did.

Years later, when my aunt MaryAnn was in labor with my first cousin, he took me down to the cafeteria for a snack. We'd been at the hospital for hours. I was 13 years old. I asked him what could be taking so long. Without flinching, he replied that my petite aunt's hips needed to widen so she could push the baby out. It was a lite-medical explanation, for sure, but looking back I admire him for being so candid. I had friends at the time who'd be embarrassed to ask their moms such things, let alone their grandfathers.

My grandfather loved old music. He'd listen at home and in the car and even sing out loud sometimes. His lyrical memory was entertaining (even if his voice wasn't). He had an impressively dry sense of humor, and no matter how much he would repeat a joke, the seriousness of delivery managed to keep it funny. He wore suspenders. He forever-carried a camera, and a hankerchief.

He softened with age. I recall calling my grandfather to wish him a happy 84th birthday—my Uncle Walter had reminded me. He'd had a very good day and, when I mentioned I was strolling through Chelsea to meet a friend, he started talking about how different his childhood neighborhood had become. I remember being so touched by our collective family memory. He closed by telling me how proud he was of me and thanking me for calling. I'd made his day.

He moved in with my parents while I was abroad in grad school. Though a lot to handle, it was a cherished opportunity for my mom to get to know her father in a different capacity than she ever had before. I, too, learned unexpected snippets on visits home. And my gosh was he was funny! One time, I was critiquing my mom's new haircut: "It makes your head look like Frankenstein's", I said (neither tactful nor kind). "What can I say, I have a square head. Look where I came from," she retorted, pointing at my grandfather. He'd been sitting on the couch, assumedly not paying attention to our superfluous conversation, yet at that moment slowly stood up, put his arms straight out in front of him, and groaned... just like Frankenstein. My mom and I broke out into laughter.

Last fall, I visited him at a veteran rehab facility in Upstate New York. Though his memory was foggy, he was still sharp—telling jokes and stories, taking photos, commenting on the black and white film they were screening. I'm eternally grateful for all that time.

My grandpa was hardly perfect, but he adored my grandmother, helped my parents purchase their first house, and, if the number of men and women from AA who attended his wake is any indication, touched more lives than we'll ever know. He passed away at home at the age of 89 on May 30th. He had had an especially tough few weeks in Hospice. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

thursday in honolulu

Recently, AG Sessions declared his amazement that a judge "on an island in the Pacific" could block Trump's immigration order. He was referring to U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge hailing from the state of Hawai`i, who indefinitely extended the court order against that revised travel ban on Wednesday, March 29th.—the day before I flew to Honolulu for the very first time.
Being able to go to Hawai`i for work was a treat (those flights are expensive!), but I didn't expect to love the Pacific isles annexed by the U.S. in 1959. I've seen too many cheesy movies and shows; and I'm hardly the ideal candidate for personifying that "Aloha spirit".
But... then I touched down into retro-humidity and glanced out at the cloud-topped mountains and gasped in gleeful relief. The real Hawaii! I was *faraway* yet still within the bounds of my home country, and it was unlike any place I'd ever known or been.
My heart was content even after the costly stay in Waikiki. And my fascination that bilingual meant English and Japanese (versus Spanish) was exceptionally humbling. 1.5 million Japanese people vacationed in Hawaii in 2015; duh—the proximity, the history, the cultural exchange for which I am so clearly uninformed about. I learned, too, that peaceful politesse is expected and that the well-publicized pride for Hawaiian culture is beautifully sincere. When I flew from O`ahu to Kaua`i with three leis graciously bestowed upon me by my client (after we raised a great thousands for programs for girls that encourage courage, confidence, and character), I cannot even tell you how eager I was to discover more.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

a lady of leisure in amsterdam

There's a particular relief in (and pride to) the ease I feel in a city like Amsterdam. "Oh, how cosmopolitan you are," I tease myself.
Yet the pride is sincere. I spent so much of my early twenties searching for a sense of belonging to a place after having lost that in a person. I struggled to define myself while blending in, to simultaneously indulge my intellectual as well as my immature cravings.
And in doing so, I learned how to be comfortable be in unfamiliar settings. What made Paris special had little to do with the fact that Paris is Paris but that I chose it and made it home (as opposed to having accepted convenient opportunities). I imagine Amsterdam holds a similar significance for my brother—who's now taking a Spanish course in Spain and will have to repatriate soon enough.
Los Angeles and I, on the other hand, have a slightly different relationship. I came back to the U.S. because I could as much I felt I should—how irresponsible it'd be not to accept a serendipitous job offer. I chose a career, perhaps, but I did not choose this city.
Has it grown on me? Most definitely, though I continue to say I won't stay. I'll admit (as I roll my eyes at myself) that this fact pioneers my insistence of returning to Europe at least once a year. I need the reminder of that aforementioned feeling; to hold onto it.
My days in Amsterdam last fall were spent as a "a lady of leisure".  I walked miles through its narrow streets and ruffled through more shops than I had in all 10 months prior and stopped into museums deemed as having the most intriguing exhibitions. It was so wildly unlike my reality. And each evening, I met up with a beloved "local" at a traditional beer bar or modern food hall. Too good, almost.
The fall before then, I'd chosen to make as many active life choices as possible—I moved across L.A. to a walkable neighborhood feel; I took the time to enjoy the friendships I'd found; I stringently applied for new jobs, a.k.a. only those that 100% excited me. Although I was barely getting by financially, I became happier, firmly self-assured, and eventually, I joined a company that fit the bill.
It was hard to wrap my head around how fortunate I'd gotten—and yet it shouldn't have been. I've worked hard to earn my life here. I have all I need inside me to move forward. And however prideful, I will never once worry I won't be able to relocate when needed.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

wilde zwijnen

After my 2009 pre-orientation visit, I didn't expect to return to Amsterdam. Of course I'd enjoyed the charming city, and I'd been introduced to Indonesian cuisine there— as well as polarizing populism: we studied the tensions following Theo Van Gogh's murder by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch, Moroccan, and Muslim man—but I wasn't exactly hooked. Then, Lorelei was hired to work in the Hague and Jorgie was accepted to a Master's program at the University of Amsterdam. Last November 19th, I returned to the Dutch capital for the third time (via a train from Paris) to reunite with my brother and best friends. Rachael had flown in from London.
From Centraal Station, Rachael, Lorelei, and I ventured to Brouwerij't for a beer before our dinner reservations at Wilde Zwijnen, where we then opted for the chef's tasting menu and sparkling apéritifs. By the time Jorgie came to meet us, we were a few glasses of wine in, giddy in our catch-up. We'd already fully debriefed on the then-recent election results. For a night, all felt right in the world.
And it really was, because there's something to be said about being thoroughly cozy and well-nourished, surrounded by those with whom you can freely express ridicule of impending new rules and the elimination of others while also admitting cynicism towards infinite Bey-worship... we're all equally human, no? (I suppose the question itself suggests some of us do "opt for enlightenment".)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

friday in seattle

I used to pride myself on being able to blend in well. I'm pretty intuitive and can navigate new with an innate sense of cautious yet curious direction. I've been mistaken as French/Dutch/Italian/Turkish in the corresponding country that I entered seamlessly with my American passport. What I haven't regularly recognized, is that this natural skill is actually a privilege I happened to be born with. Perhaps I learned to understand its utility while socializing with "white" kids on the playground or taking summer leadership courses with those who hadn't gotten full scholarships to do so, but I played no part in acquiring my light-to-medium skin or soft brown hair or relatively slender figure; I did not choose to be born into a religion that doesn't inform my daily wear; I had no control over the fact that my parents' cells combined, aligned, and duplicated "normally" nor that I ended up having crushes on boys, not girls. Besides the fact that I'm clearly a woman, I'm conveniently able to hide most markers of identity (difference) that some might consider less than.
The morning after the 2016 election, I flew up to Seattle for work. Two days following, Leslie joined. We walked through Olympic Sculpture Park to the Elliot Bay Trail. We—the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, the grandchild of Jewish refugees—were perfectly safe and thoroughly devastated. Nearly every signature coming out of the White House this past week has validated our response then.

Yesterday, the ACLU won a case to issue "an emergency stay", halting deportations under the President's executive order to ban entry to the U.S. from seven predominately-Muslim countries. The simplified rationale: sending these immigrants back could cause them "irreparable harm". Although hope is not lost, there are still so many reasons to be horrified. Screw blending in.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

the unresolved parisienne

There's so much to be said about this country, and this world right now... I fear words fall short. My hodge-podge of sentiments—anxiety, concern, exhilaration—is too intimidating to capture. Instagram feels more appropriate in its visual short form. As such, please excuse the self-declared banality of my reflection below. It errs on the personal side of Heather Havrilesky's words (via Ask Polly): "If you can’t own the life you have right now, ask yourself what needs to change to make you feel like more of a conquistador."
On November 17th, 2016, I landed in Paris. It was dark and chilly as I commuted from CDG to an Airbnb a mere three blocks from where I'd once lived. The route itself was jarring in its familiarity. I affectionately recognized the corner brasserie, and neo-bistro, and all the other shops and bars (save for a few that were obviously new). I WhatsApp-ed Lorelei, "I don't know how you do this regularly. I want to relive every moment of life here, on repeat times a million, plus more memories." And then, after settling into my Airbnb, I texted Ben, "the apartment has high ceilings and antique furniture and my host is an older impatient woman who offered me fruit upon arrival, so I basically feel like France welcomed me back with open arms." I wasn't kidding. It felt painfully good to be back, again.
The following morning, I woke up relatively early. I Facebooked Deanna to make plans: petit-déj at a café across from a metro stop on his line so she wouldn't get lost, we'd figure out the next steps from there, Rémi would meet up with us after class. Some context: my sister is (quite ironically!) dating a French guy she met over the summer in New York; she has visited him (and Paris) twice since.
We wandered through the Latin Quarter across the Seine and into the Marais, stopping into clothing stores we couldn't afford, a free exhibition at the Swedish Institute, and a worth-every-penny visit to the recently-renovated Musée Picaso. Then we lunched with Rémi at our beloved Nanashi before dragging him into Merci—at which he was the only consumer. They (being too cute) caught the bus home at Bastille while I returned to the 17th to freshen up. Later, I ventured outside the city to join Mia at a Salif Keita concert.
Those first 36 hours were too easy, too normal... it was hard to believe I'd ever voluntarily left! And then, before traveling to Amsterdam, I brunched with Lou at Rose Café. In her thoughtful way, she reminded me of my critiques: the cultural superiority, the unyielding otherness, the callous social capital bred from famous haute-couture fashion houses and the like. Paris, too, has an ego.
A week later, I saw Lou once more whilst staying in Melun with ma famille française. I also arranged plans with Melissa, and Rithy, and Julia, and my AUP professors on campus. We spoke about politics and ideals, life and love, ambition and responsibility. I was so perfectly inspired. I found myself overcome by immense gratitude as opposed to tragic-nostalgia. Every moment was to be savored, so I did exactly that. And I was actually ready to fly back to Los Angeles when the time came—even with its infuriating civic passivity, empty "nice days", select inhabitants trying so goddamn hard to be seen as cool, laid back, and creative in unacknowledged privilege. As my sister reminded me today (from Paris, I might add!): But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?