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July 4th

You know you’re at an Asian American’s barbecue when 1) Grilled FISH BALLS are on the menu, and 2) Through a freak defrosting accident, the burgers are made of ground pork, not beef. There’s ten of us on a suburban patio, eating Kam’s assorted meat simulacra, and none of us can ever legally be president. The American dream. So far, I am the only one to have brought beer. The others, perversely, have brought two coolers full of Mountain Dew. Loads of sugar, loads of caffeine, and it glows radioactively like something out of a sci-fi movie. Asian Americans love sci-fi. We know enough to pronounce it “skiffy,” just to piss off s-f writer Harlan Ellison. We are math geeks, and over-enthusiastic. We just don’t know how to be laid back.

Lies. All lies.

There is also a salad, which I blithely ignore.

Taylor is there. He procured my cell phone number two days before through the advanced interrogation technique of saying “Gimme your number, damnit!” I guess it was a long time coming.

We hung out in Central Park the day before, lying on towels on the Great Lawn. I read a book; he dozed. Upon waking, he said, “Good God, I’m a lazy fuck!” It was funny. I think I laughed. He is two months older than I am, but I feel like he’s younger.

I make a joke to Kam about eating his (fish) balls to prove I’m not a skirt, and he burps loudly in reply. Kam sits next to me at work, drinks a lot of Diet Pepsi, and is developing a Morse code that consists entirely of burping. He’s so soft-spoken that I’d never hear a word he said otherwise.

Sunday night, July 4th, on the 1 train back home. A bunch of kids (the lack of facial hair makes them look about 16) are whacking each other’s heads with rolled up newspapers. WHACK! SLAM! They’re really hitting hard. It’s all in good fun, and they are enjoying themselves, but I am afraid they will inflict papercuts on the tender flesh of their eyeballs, lacerate a cornea. I am old now, ancient, venerable. 27 and a half.

Their comic timing is quite good. Stooge-esque.

Feint. Parry. Fake. Double hit.

“Oh, shit!”


There are not enough seats for them to all sit next to each other, so one of them, the one with two rolled up newspapers in his hands like nunchaku, sits next to me and is momentarily safe.

“How long are you staying to?” he asks me.

“86th,” I answer. This is the truth. It’s just two stops away.

“Oooh, shit!” say his cohorts, laughing in anticipation.

He mutters a curse, good-naturedly.

“Can’t you stay till at least 116?”

I smile, I think, wearily. Across the aisle, one of the boys has opened his paper and is eyeing the ads for call girls and strip clubs.

“The amazing Kiki,” he reads aloud, “Shit, man, look at her tits.”

His seat mate looks over his shoulder, gets smacked upside the head.

“That’s one of them Asian girls,” he says.

I’m an Asian girl. Should I be offended? Do they mean for me to be? They are so young.

I want to say “When I was your age,” and have it sound like a joke. An elderly woman sits across from me (straggly white hair, a housecoated thing), huddling in on herself. She looks horrified, but for all I know she’s smiling ruefully inside her head; she’s wishing the same damn thing.

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