My First Date Ever: Reality

Disclaimer: there was no kiss.
I arrived early and found parking not too far away from Class 302, located in a strip mall that could appropriately be considered to "cater to Asians." More specifically, to Chinese people. A small corner joint, Class 302 sat between a 99 Ranch Market - the United States' leading Chinese grocer now dying a slow death at the hands of Korean grocer H Mart - and another small Chinese restaurant that specialized in Cantonese-style barbecue. In an hour or so, the parking lot would become a sea of black, grey and silver Camry's, Accords, Civics, and Odysseys. An Altima here, a Corolla there. My Prius here. At night the bad, ne'er do well rich kids would come out to smoke and karaoke in their Bimmers, Benzes and Lexuses.

As Steve and I had arranged for an earlier dinner, the café- I couldn't really bring myself to call it a restaurant - was quite empty and, it seemed to me, rather dim, as though the proprietor didn't think enough patrons were present to warrant turning on all the lights. I felt like I was making a quick food pit stop before getting groceries with my parents instead of going on my first date ever. My first thought was, Thank God I did not wear heels. That would have been dumb. My second thought was, I could be barefoot and I'd still be overdressed.

Befitting its name, Class 302 was done up to look like an old fashioned Taiwanese classroom, with a chalkboard menu, wooden tables and low chairs that together were meant to look like student desk sets. Two high school-aged girls wearing fake Taiwanese school uniforms chatted quietly behind the cash register. There was no hostess. One of them waved for me to sit wherever, so I took a seat, which I found rather low, next to the window so I could see when Steve was walking up.

My third thought was, "This fool is late." (So there was a time in my life when I bothered to show up five minutes early for dates. Thanks to OkCupid, I got over that real fast, unfortunately for Tom.)

I waited a few minutes more, wondering if I should order a drink first - there was no alcohol on the menu, which was fine since at the time I still didn't really drink on dates but everything else was too sugary.

I had just put in my order for water when a stocky Asian guy around my age walked past the window. He wore a neon multi-colored zip up hoodie that looked like he'd gotten it from Active, a shop that specialized in skater and surf clothes, and jeans that were ripped at the heels from being dragged. He wore blinding white Etnies,which made me suspect the hoodie was from Active and also, that he might think these were his "nice" shoes. But where in the world was there an Active - whose target clientele seemed to me the sun-kissed blonde boys of my hometown - in Rowland Heights which was 50 percent Chinese? I was lost deep in thought, trying to think of the surrounding malls which would carry an Active store when the guy came to the side of the window, faced the parking lot with a searching look, took out his phone and called....me.

"Hello?"

"Betty? It's Steve. Are you here?"

"I'm inside," I said, my voice deeper than I intended. I hadn't yet adjusted it. I tapped on the window and Asian Skater Dude/My First Date turned, gave me a dull look of recognition and headed inside.

Et voilà! Now, in the dim interior of Class 302 he stood before me in all his odd, colorful skater-dude, much beefier and with a slight muffin-top un-glory. My fifth thought materialized as though it were being written by an invisible, deadpan hand on one of the chalkboards behind him:

"Well, this is a disappointment."

While a handful of disappointing future dates awaited me, I already felt those future guys could thank Steve for setting the bar real low. Right away I saw that he was guilty of posting photos at least six months old and many beers ago and hot dogs ago. Now up close he seemed not so much "stocky" as puffy...as though he'd spent the week floating in the river. Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. But the lanky fellow I had first glimpsed online was nowhere to be seen. 5'10 and lanky is very different from 5'10 and puffy. 5'10 and puffy as a guy means you look 5'8. Also, he now wore glasses, a mild surprise given that not one of the four or five photos he'd posted online showed he owned such. Which is not to say I discriminate against people who don't have perfect vision - but c'mon. At least comb your damn hair. Steve looked as though he'd just rolled out of bed.

He gave me an awkward one-warmed hug, and, perhaps I could have done a better job hiding my disappointment said, "I'm late."

"Traffic?" I said, figuring coming from Alhambra was worse than coming from Orange County, since these northern freeways were older.

"No, I'm staying with my mom this week so I'm like right down the street." Oh god he did just roll right out of bed.

I raised an eyebrow. Okay...so you made me drive to you. I didn't have to have tons of dating experience to know that this was not a gentlemanly thing to do.

"Yeah," he said, as though I was nodding along in agreement, "My apartment is a lot further from my work so I just stay with my mom during the week. She cooks and stuff. I'm trying to find a new job anyway and interviewing around here. I hate my job."

He chuckled. I tuned out. I don't remember the meat of the conversation after that, just that I sat there with a bland, friendly smile and nodded. Asked the occasional question. But I remember my body language: legs and arms crossed, leaning away from him.

We ordered four things - a stinky tofu which wasn't quite stinky enough - and some stir fried spinach and maybe one of those minced pork things, but it wasn't a a ton of food. I didn't know what the protocol was. Should I just nod and say, "Anything's fine with me?" Or should I take charge and wave the pre-teen servers over with the same kind of authority my dad did in Chinese restaurants? "Okay fool, this is enough food for a mini-me. Can we double everything?" It didn't matter because I nodded "Yeah that sounds great," and he ordered and the dishes arrived with lightning speed as they do in what are essentially Chinese fast food restaurants. The whole time I thought, "This is like eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei. Except I'd much rather be eating in the back alley of my house in Taipei."

I took the "I don't eat much" route which afflicts millions of girls on first dates everywhere, and ate a bit of everything.

"You don't eat much," he said.

"You don't order much," I thought.

I must have looked like I was having an alright time though -mistake number two - because Steve didn't want the date to end.

"Well, that didn't take very long," he said, when the plates were empty.

I thought about my dad's warning and glanced down at my watch. We'd sat for exactly twenty minutes. Ate for about ten.

"You wanna walk around 99 Ranch after this?"

All the expressions of incredulity I had been practicing my whole life should have been used at that point, but instead I thought since it was my first date ever, might as well make a story out of it.

"Sure," I said, wondering if I needed to go home after this and practice not looking so warm and inviting and kind.

One of the "school girls" brought the check - cash only. Without even pausing to think whom she should place it in front, she set it firmly down on my side, at my arm, clear across the table from Steve. As though for emphasis, she gave me a gracious smile and said thank you.

"That's odd," I thought. I looked at it. I looked at Steve. Steve looked at me.

It dawned on me. That moment when you realize the young server thought I was Steve's older sister. Or aunt. Or [insert older more mature matriarchal figure here]. There was about as much chemistry in the air between as an English classroom. Also, I was dressed about twenty years older than Steve's middle-school Billabong outfit.

I moved my arm to pick up the tab. Very very very slowly, like a slug going backwards, Steve reached for it.

"I'll get it," he said.

"Um..." I wasn't sure what to do. Do I offer to split it? I didn't see the number but it couldn't have been very much since we ordered four small plates and no drinks, two of which cost $2.50. The thought of splitting a check that was less than $20 on a date seemed ludicrous to me. I wasn't high maintenance but I also wasn't no maintenance and I hoped to God Steve wasn't both slovenly and a cheap. But I wouldn't have been surprised. He was already a lazy, tardy dumb ass who didn't know how to make a good first impression.

I got that dates cost money and it all adds up, but the guy had already made me drive thirty minutes for a 20-minute takeout meal. He would have made a better impression if he brought it as takeout to a ghetto park and called it a picnic.

"Seriously let me get this one," he said, as my hand was still on the bill. As though in a trance, I handed it to him. He took out a velcro wallet - velcro! - and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill - the only Jackson in a billfold full of Lincolns and Washintons and putting it down on the tray, pushed it towards the edge of the table.

"I get this one," he said, smiling as though he'd paid off my student loans, "So you can get the next one."

To be continued...

My First Date Ever: Expectation vs. Reality

Thanks to Best of Tens for this apt image. 
The first date I ever went on was thanks to OkCupid. I was twenty-five and new to the world of dating, not just online dating. I had just graduated, was living at home with my parents and had landed my first job at a company that made aerospace transparencies - a fancy phrase for "airplane windows." The job paid fifteen dollars an hour and was, up to that point, my biggest paycheck ever (if I adjust for inflation, most jobs I've had since then actually pay about the same...and...sad face). Laugh all you want, but it was quite enough discretionary income for a young woman who lived rent free and had no car payments (Thanks Mom and Dad!) Or any payments really, except for my monthly credit card bill which listed nights out with friends, gas, clothes, shoes and the occasional tub of greek yogurt from Trader Joe's.

Which made me feel, in one way or other, ready to start dating. I figured since I had a job, I could date guys with jobs (Yeah! Standards!) and be able to pay for the occasional dinner and movie tickets and not have to think "Thanks Mom and Dad!"

So my first date. I don't remember his name, but I'll call him Steve. Steve and I emailed for a week or so - long pointless emails I thought meant we were "getting to know each other" - a rookie mistake, but it took like three more guys before I learned to save time and keep these messages short - before he suggested we meet up for dinner.

"Sure," I said and, thinking with more excitement than was due, This is going to be my first date!

I found Steve as well as our email banter attractive. He was a lanky, twenty-seven year old nerdy-ish Chinese guy who worked in IT - whatever that meant - and had a snarky sense of humor. Check, check and check. One of his profile photos was of him smiling goofily next to a chalkboard with a bunch of numbers and charts on it and I, like Groucho Marx, thought, "He wasn't an English major. Good."

Steve lived about an hour away and suggested a place thirty minutes between our two houses, in the city of Rowland Heights.

"You like Taiwanese food?" he asked.

I said yes. Over our first few messages, we had "clicked" over the fact that while technically we were Taiwanese (I was born in Taipei) we told people we were Chinese because ethnically, we were. And in general, I did not make a big stink about it but found it irritating when super Taiwanese people got in my face and called me a Communist for saying so.

"You're not born into the Communist party," a Chinese person from China once said airily to me, "You have to be invited."

I'm still waiting for my invitation.

"So am I," Steve had said. We had a good laugh over the OkCupid chat service.

Steve suggested Class 302, a Taiwanese cafe that served street-food-type things like minced pork rice, fried pork chops over rice, stinky tofu, and stir fried veggies, along with tapioca drinks and shaved ice. It was opened by a guy from Taiwan and popular with the AzN teens, FOBs and minivan driving Chinese moms of Rowland because a.) the food is pretty good and reminiscent of home and b.) it's cheap, which means you won't break the bank if you eat there on the regular.

I had never been and had no idea what the price point was, but thought, "Whatever, this guy seems cool and I trust his choices."

I dressed carefully for the date, much like I did in college before I went to stalk my Slavic Lit professor's office hours (sadly, the bulk of my romantic activity in college), choosing a silk cream shirt, skinny green pants and gold flats. He had listed his height as 5'10, but I had heard from my more experienced peers that this, alongside income, was the thing guys enhanced the most in their dating profiles. I did not want to stomp in and discover I was a giraffe to his prairie dog. I even put on makeup with a shaky but improving hand. To be honest, I didn't need much at the time (smug smile).

Before heading out, I told my father where I was going. He asked for Steve's phone number, in case the gentleman turned out to be a psycho-killer.

"I doubt he'd pick up if he kills me," I said, but wrote it down anyway, smiling; I had never seen my dad be anything remotely resembling protective.

"Where's he taking you?" my dad asked.

I told him and my father made a face.

"You're driving all the way to Rowland Heights to eat there?

"We're meeting in the middle," I said, "He lives in Alhambra."

"Alhambra's far," my dad said, wrinkling his nose. I could tell he was judging the Alhambra address. My parents worked hard to make sure we lived in a neighborhood with just a sprinkling of Asians. People in Alhambra, successful as they may be, might own a chain of laundromats rather than, say, real estate in slummy cities, as my father did. But before he could say anything else to put a damper on my date, I asked him what was the matter with Class 302.

He shrugged, "That's more like a takeout place than a restaurant. You'll finish eating in less than the time it took you to drive out there."

Disdainful as my father was, I knew he knew his stuff. He often drove to Rowland, Hacienda, and Arcadia to eat with friends because the offerings for Chinese food were better. When we were younger it killed me that my dad thought it was worth it to drive an hour to get good lobster in a rundown restaurant whose dinginess always undercut the word "Palace" inevitably in its name, but as I got older I appreciated his wanting his friends, our relatives, everyone he knew basically, to share in these gustatory delights.

He knew which places were worth the drive. Apparently Class 302 was not. I began to sense the perils of trying to meet my parent's still quite mysterious standards, vs. my own expectations, at the time equally murky.

But I was running late and besides, I said, "I don't eat as fast as you do. And it's expensive nowadays for young people to be dating. I haven't even met the guy I'm not going to expect him to take me somewhere super nice."

"Okay okay," my dad said, "Go and have a good time."

Though I should have anticipated otherwise because right before I pressed open the garage door, I could still hear my dad muttering and probably shaking his head, "Class 302, really?"
----
A few months prior to that first date, I was both encouraged to and prepared for online dating by my cousin D who at the time, had just turned 34 and was newly single. He was a good looking guy who never had any problem getting girls, but wanted to have more agency in his love life. Apparently this is a problem exclusive to attractive people: where ripe fruit keeps falling on top of their heads instead of them having to reach up and pick anything themselves. I'm sure it gets so annoying.

He nurtured his agency by signing up, simultaneously, for all the major sites available at the time: OkCupid, Match, and eHarmony. Tindr was just an embryo.

"Cupid's free," he said, when I mentioned I was ready to start dating, "And you're young. You're what - twenty-two?"

"Twenty five," I said.

"That's the perfect time for women to go online," he said and unabashedly revealed that while the filter he set his age range to was from 24-34 (though later he admitted to be messaging a 22 year old girl), he mostly breezed over the profiles of women thirty and above unless they reached out to message him, which was quite often.

"But I've learned that the older they are, the more baggage they have."

Huh.

"Get on there while you're young. Right now, you're the one with lots of options and zero baggage" he took a step back said with well-intentioned urgency, "Seriously, don't waste time."

He went on to tell me one horror story after another about encounters with females aged thirty and beyond. More than a handful of women had posted photos from more than five years ago so that when they showed up my cousin hardly recognized them.

One woman showed up with a shock of white hair covering her face, which was far saggier than it had been in any of her profile photos.

"She kept pushing the white hair back behind her ears, as though I didn't notice, but Jesus, just be up front!"

Worse, a few, while not so much aged, had gained more than ten to fifteen pounds.

At the time I sympathized with the women.

"Would you have gone out with them if they'd posted photos of what they actually looked like?"

"Probably not," my cousin said, "But they shouldn't have lied."

"That's not lying," I scoffed, still thinking him unfair to write someone off for the way they looked. Or the way they looked now.

"Yeah it is," he said, "Your profile is supposed to represent you as you are. It's already hard enough to make anything out of the stuff you write, so the most you can do is make sure your photos are accurate. It's the same if I lied about my height or my income or my weight. You think any of the women would have clicked on me if I looked old or ugly or didn't say I worked where I do? Or if I did put those things and they showed up and I looked totally different and was actually broke? You think they'd want to go on a second date with me? No! They'd think I was a liar too and wasting their time!"

I had to agree. She probably would not have. I certainly wouldn't. But I naively thought that since I had this conversation with my cousin, a seasoned online dater who also happened to be a man, the problems he encountered were probably more common to men.

It didn't take long to find that this was common to both men and women.. A few months later I found myself driving to Class 302 for my very first date where I'd learn that all people lied about all the same things, just in varying degrees.

Click here for Part II

The Sunday Seven: Good Parenting

Greetings from San Mateo, California, where my brother and sister-in-law live with their newborn baby - my nephew - Dylan and their dog Poochy. Dylan is cute. In all the ways babies ought to be, as though cobbled together from various types of bread: with arms like just-baked dinner rolls, belly like a giant loaf of sourdough, hands and feet like delicate braided pastries and a gleaming, puffy face which, for some reason, reminds me of a doughnut. A glazed donut when he cries.  

Baked into the doughnut are wondering eyes ("A little on the small side," says his mother), barely there brows that are furrowed more often than not as though he were pondering the world's most pressing yet unfixable issues, and a button nose. His lips are smaller versions of his mother's - full and pouty - but perpetually chapped from all his fuss.

So, don't be misled by the tranquil looking photo above - those times are rare. I've met many babies by now, and I would have wished upon my brother a less fussy version of this one, but instead they got a quiet dog, obedient and independent and quiet. I suspect their next child will be somewhere in between. Sometimes those are just the cards you get. 

But parenthood, if you're cut out for it, brings out qualities you didn't even know you had. Mountains of patience, for one, and a reserve of phantom energy that no other living being in the world could have summoned, meant to be used at the oddest hours (between 2-5AM) for the oddest things - breast pumping, feeding, picking dried poop off your baby's butt, or to say, over and over again, "And here's your nose! And your eyebrows!" followed by pleading, "Okay who's a good boy and is going to go to bed now please, for the love of God!"  

And this most important one, the ability to take long sighs and accept certain people as they are because you a.) made that person and b.) are now responsible for them and c.) cannot expect, at least for another year or so, for them to communicate with you in any reasonable way. 

So after all the pushing and pulling, the negotiating with your parents, your sister, your teachers and professors, your boss, your girlfriend-then-wife, and all the millions of people and situations in between that helped bring you to the life you have now, you return to a time very similar to the very beginning of your life. But now the roles are reversed. 

Your baby cries incessantly. Spits up almost everything it eats. Smiles a gorgeous heart melting smile every day for just five minutes and for the rest of the time is either frowning, on the edge of crying, or hyperventilating on the edge of crying, or actually crying - wailing, as though you were hurting him in unknowable ways even though all you're trying to do is rock him to sleep. 

You look to your parents for advice and your mother can only shrug and smile and look tenderly upon her grandson because she's only here for the weekend. She's done this before. Now it's your turn.

"Oh every baby's different," she says, "but you," and she lists those very same difficulties your baby gives you (as if you were a victim!) and which, apparently, you gave her, "you were just like him." 

For the first few months, anyway. 

So this Sunday's Seven: On Parenting! 

1. For starters, 7 Research Backed Ways to Raise Your Kids Right

2. But now research says that some stuff, like what your grandparents did, is just out of your control. It's called epigenetics. 

3. Over indulgent parents beware: it's okay to be a little withholding with the compliments, (but not too much like my freakin' dad) unless you want a little narcissist.  We all know a handful of these little boogers and they are not cool.

4. But if they are narcissists anyway, hopefully it's because they're damn smart. Here's how to make them that way.  Reading to them is always at the top of similar lists, which is good because I've already started my collection long and crowing collection of "Books I Want To Read to Mini-Me."

5. Are you an irrational parent? Hopefully not, but it's all relative right? I'd like to let my kids walk a mile from my house to the park without my friends thinking I'm crazy...but who would be the crazy one?

6. That kids are expensive is not a secret. But in New York it's almost doubly so: it can costs upwards of $500,000 to raise a kid in New York. Sometimes I see kids (not in the mirror) that look like they cost way more.

7. Lastly, does all of the above sound exhausting, expensive and not-that-exhilarating? That's cool too: kids aren't for everyone and it should be totally acceptable for people - like my professor did - to opt out of parenthood.  

Happy Sunday! If you've got a baby, hope it's happy too.

Musings: On Crying


Last week, I took a seat next to my professor just as she began to tell a story about her grandfather.

Many years ago, her grandmother passed away and her family sat in the funeral home around the casket. Her grandmother was to be cremated in a few hours after the service. No one said anything until her grandfather, who was sitting next to her cousin Joe, slapped Joe on the arm. For emphasis, my professor slapped me on the arm.

Loudly, as though starting a regular conversation, her grandfather had asked, "How hot do you think it gets down there, eh Joe? How hot?" He was referring to the cremation chamber.

Cousin Joe looked startled, then mumbled, "I don't know."

"Four hundred degrees? Five hundred?

The room stayed silent after that.

The Sunday Seven: A 'House of Cards' Marriage


"I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood."     
                                                                                     -  Francis Underwood

Don't worry, no spoilers here.

I started watching "House of Cards" a few nights ago on a borrowed Netflix account (thanks, M) and am feeling, for the first time in a long while, "with it" on the pop culture front.

Job Hunting Is Kind of Like Dating

A lot of people ask me, 'How did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13 and jump right into the music industry?' It's because I knew I could never feel the kind of rejection that I felt in middle school. Because in the music industry, if they're gonna say no to you, at least they're gonna be polite about it.         
                                                                                                             -Taylor Swift
--------
"You just can't take it personally," Tom said. 

"I know," I groaned. It had been three days after I'd gotten my first "Thanks, but no," from a recruiter and despite having sent my resume and carefully tailored cover letters to a dozen or so other employers, I had (or have) yet to hear back.

The Sunday Seven: Unemployment Edition

"She doesn't even go here." 
Greetings from a Starbucks in Charlottesville, Virginia, where yesterday I saw my first college basketball game: UVA Wahoos vs. Virginia Tech Hokies. UVA won. I've never seen such a united display of school spirit, even though it seemed my classmates had plenty of it. I just didn't. I also never paid attention nor participated in any sporting events aside from badminton. Though I did go to one football game at Berkeley (vs. Oregon) and sat on the wrong side. In a sea of folks dressed in forest green I said very loudly, "What color are we?"

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