Fish in a Can

I met my childhood best friend in the gymnasium during lunch, just after our second grade began.

During lunch, the gymnasium doubled as the lunchroom, filled with rows of collapsible picnic tables rolled in from the school storage shed, the basketball nets above folded up so as not to provide the children with yet another unwanted distraction.

I remember. No one would sit with me because of my “Chinese lunches.” According to the other children, the food my mom packed for me (leftovers from dinner and the now fashionable, but back then the as-yet-reviled bánh mì sandwiches purchased from the local Vietnamese market) – that food was so smelly and gross and simply unfit for human consumption. So go ahead and let the “Chinese” girl eat it. This went on for quite some time; longer than it should and much, much longer than seemed possible.

Then one day someone did sit next to me. A redheaded girl whose preoccupied mom began packing her sardines for lunch. I remember the heft of the can, the way the girl plunked it down at the table. No one would sit with her either, at least, not after she opened up that can of fish. She was more confused than sad about this, but then maybe her confusion just masked her sadness as it did for me.

It took a while, but we got to talking, then comparing lunches. It was a sobering exercise. Because, whatever else I had (old rice, soggy noodles, weird veggies with marinated eggs), she had fish heads. Whatever else she was, I was still the Asian girl in a mostly white school.

We were a match.

I never shared my lunch, and the girl, my eventual friend, never asked. She never ate her sardines, though she eagerly opened them every day, right after plunking that heavy tin on the table.

We smashed up the fish with her fingers, rendering them into a viscous fish-paste that fascinated (so much destruction in that particular transformation). We took the heads and spines from the sardines and threw them at boys, then girls, then whoever. We were seldom caught (not many snitches in that lunchroom and who wouldn’t appreciate some distraction?).  I was always a little proud we started with the boys, targeting them not out of malice but out of a vague sense of obligation. Anyway, it was something my friend and I never questioned.

Her mother remained preoccupied, packing her can after can of tomato-submerged fish, thinking they made a good lunch. This went on for years.

***

Bánh mì is now fashionable, so much so that non-native speakers gladly twist up their tongues trying (and failing, failing, failing) for an “authentic” pronunciation of the word, the dish. What they settle for (“Bah, bah”, “me-me-me,”) is, fortunately, often more amusing than anything else. More amusing, possibly, that it should be.

Sardines, however, remain what they are.

Still just fish in a can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Childhood, Food, Friendship, Race, Relationships, School, THE PAST

Numbers Game

13 is an unlucky number. Likewise is 4 inauspicious, deadly even.

5 is a good number, divisible into two plus one left over, just in case. 5 is a prepared, good-natured number.

11 stands in solidarity, no matter what.

You cannot dispute the double happiness of 88. Go ahead and try it. You can’t! My parents refuse to even entertain the possibility. The impertinence of it!

Luck can certainly turn, which is why some buildings won’t officially have a 13th floor and some house numbers skip over 4, not like it doesn’t exist but because it does. And I wonder what people have done just to ensure they get 88, ignoring the possibilities of, say, 11 and good ‘ol number 5.

Poor 5, good-natured and underrated. It’s no 42, but it could be a contender, if only.

***

My second grade teacher, fresh from teacher’s college and seemingly only a few years older than myself (13, if not 4), reprimanded me harshly for crossing my 7s – adding that little dash (-) in the middle which made it, in my mind, a more robust, reliable number.

Not apparently so.

Crossing my 7s was rude, she said. It made the 7 into a bad symbol, one of hate and ignorance.

Did I want to be ignorant? Was I hateful?

Civil 7’s for her then; anything else was savage, uncouth. Not to be borne.

Poor thing. Some people can’t handle it, the numbers game. Life, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Childhood, Death, Family, People, THE PAST

Avocado Hands

I know someone with a job I cannot do and never could do (therefore never will do). The person is a nurse, a job I tell people I’m too sensitive for. But it is a selfish thing to say, isn’t it? On my part, I believe it is.

Such stories this person could tell you about extraordinary things happening every day, at the their job, while they’re on the job.

For example, Avocado Hand.

The other day, I learned about Avocado Hand.

Heard of it? Avocado Hand: when someone accidentally stabs themselves in (more often through) their own hand when attempting to remove an avocado seed (its stone, or the pit, depending on your perspective) with a knife.

Halve an avocado, twist it apart: one side, pristine, hollow, ready for you. As for the other, well, there it is. That damn pit. Staring at you like an all-seeing eye. Something for you to pluck out, with gusto. Tout suite. Grab a knife. Use your hand.

Results Often In: Pierced, serrated, mangled flesh. Blood too. Lots. Damage a few nerves, sever a few tendons, split the sinews here, there…irreparably, maybe. But then again, maybe not. You could get lucky.

I’ve never heard of it before, Avocado Hand. But I’ve always suspected, felt its presence, its potential, in the spare moments when I prepare some extravagant toast or contemplate a nice guacamole or consider the produce on a grocery run.

What if? Press this way and that with the point of a big, solid knife. Stab it there, just right. Just hard enough to get it. Never mind going across with the side of the blade. Never mind a spoon.

The nurse. Avocado Hand. You know how many times they’ve seen it? Three times this summer at least. Not enough to count on one hand, but getting there, not forgetting, of course, to include that all-important thumb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Body, Food, Health, People

The Blue Pill

Unless The Matrix starts with the scene with Neo evading Agent Smith, ducking behind cubicles and office furniture, desperately following Morpheus’ orders, the movie doesn’t feel real to me.

The first time I saw The Matrix I was in a car with a bunch of friends of a friend, at a rundown drive-in parking lot somewhere on the outskirts of Calgary, 1999. We got lost, arrived late. Caught the movie beginning at what reminds in my mind as that pivotal scene.

I have since seen The Matrix two more times (maybe three), and in its entirety.

Neo has an apartment? Look at those people standing there in the hallway! Trinity first speaks to him at some aboveground underground latex night club? Really.

Really?

Each time since 1999, Calgary, everything before Neo in the Office is a new movie, a different Matrix from The Matrix as I know it. I am aware that this Matrix is the real Matrix (The Matrix as it has always been, if there is in fact to be a Matrix film), but I can’t convince myself that that is so, memory and sensation in this case overriding fact.

Never mind the red pill.

***

2009. A transcontinental flight from Canada to Vietnam. Malaysian Airlines in flight movie.

The Watchmen.

It is the case that sometimes (and likely much more often than you think) countries will edit foreign films for domestic consumption. They revise the material, edit for content, blur things out, cut scenes containing, for instance, sex and/or violence (or interpreted as such…and let’s face it, hardly anyone makes cuts when it comes to violence).

Enter Dr. Manhattan.

Have you seen the film? Read the graphic novel? Then you’d know: the good doctor is naked, full frontal, a lot of the time.

Except where I was, fifty thousand feet in the air somewhere between Toronto and Ho Chi Minh City. From the hips down – way down – down past his cobalt thigh and down to his cerulean knees, there was a mass of pixels, pixels, pixels overlapping each other like crude geometric barnacles. They (the proverbial they) blurred it, and took extra just to be sure.

I found out about that extra later when I saw the North American (adult rated) release of the movie.

Imagine my disappointment; picture my surprise, however underwhelmed it was destined to be and inevitably so.

***

  1. My aunt’s house. A bootleg copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hello again, Keanu.

Whomever got to this movie before me had a grand ‘ol time with the edits they employed. Bootlegging it, apparently, was not enough to satisfy.

All sex, all whiffs of it were cut from the movie’s 128 minute runtime, as was most of its violence (again not all, I saw much blood, a few stabs and, I believe, a beheading, if not the acts that lead up to them or even followed).

The final cut made no sense or rather, it made the kind of sense you’d sense in mediocre dreams and poorly-constructed nightmares. Dialogue cut mid-sentence, absurd time jumps from one scene to another, characters that simply appeared and/or vanished without explanation. Or reason.

The whole movie was 20 minutes long, if that. And it was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of a movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It took me years before I saw the full, unadulterated movie.

And yet. Both versions remain valid, the one being so far removed from the other that they are different things entirely, things quite impossible to compare, one way or the other. No need to vouch or even speak of quality or control here.

Too much has changed. Not enough remains the same.

Hello again, Keanu.

And again, but not really.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Characters, Childhood, Movies, Places, Politics, Pop Culture, THE PAST

The DENTIST

Do you like going to the dentist?

Does anyone?

***

I never know what to do with my eyes at the dentist. Where to look? Not at the dentist, at least not into their eyes (best to let them concentrate).

Where then? Where is the middle distance in a situation like this?

Where indeed.

Some dentists have flat screens mounted to the wall, complete with streaming services. Pick a movie or show of your choice! Stare there, OK? Tune out!

As if. I have yet to deploy that particular option. There are too many choices and I want to be agreeable, pick something we can all enjoy or at least not hate. Besides, why potentially ruin a good show or movie via association? Tricky business, that.

I’m so glad they got rid of the mirror. You know, the one that used to hover above your face so you could watch yourself, immobilized, while a near stranger dug around your exposed teeth and gums with sharp metal instruments you didn’t even know the name of (even if you wanted to know them).

That was a hard sight to see. Hard to avert the eyes from that.

Out of sight, out of mind?

***

What’s worse is the tongue. What to do with the tongue while the dentist or (more likely) the hygienist in in there poking around with their instruments and fingers and thumbs? The tongue is definitely worse.

To the left? To the right? Up, down, side to side…?

But that’s the thing about tongues.

They are uncouth.

***

My aunt’s dentist sells Botox and other “injectable fillers.” Not such an odd combination of services, once you stop to think about it.

No free samples there, unfortunately. Not even the customary complimentary toothbrush, travel floss and/or sample toothpaste once your appointment is finished. Nothing of that sort. Just simple professionalism, whatever you come in there for.

Habit breeds expectation, after all. Fix your teeth, rejuvenate your face.

Smile pretty!

***

If I were a dentist, or ran a dental office, I would deal in teeth and manicures. My office would be called “Tooth and Nail.”

I imagine I would have to turn a lot of people away who come expecting Botox and other “injectable fillers.” I also imagine that some would come expecting a pub of some sort, but in that case would be covered: I would, naturally, locate the office near a good pub, maybe even next door to one that plays live music on Wednesday nights.

I would do it all for them, the people.

At least then they would know where to go; have a good notion of what to do with themselves, given the options, teeth or no teeth, dentist or no.

Really. It would be the least I could do.

***

Dentists used to be barbers. Or was that the other way around?

But no sense there, you know, in splitting hairs, etc.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Body, Family, People, Television

Rent or Buy

There was a rule in our house about movies: you could only rent or buy movies you hadn’t seen. Renting or buying movie you’d already seen was a wanton waste of money, precious resource that it was, stupid.

So, what happened? Nothing but the inevitable: we watched the rented movies that we liked as much as possible before returning them (ostensibly forever; never to see them again), and we bought a lot of movies we only watched maybe once, maybe twice.

There is a sense here of wasting time as well as money. Yet, my parents remained firm. If you saw something once you never needed to see it again, did you? It’s been spent, over and done with. Rent or buy.

(There was no room here – no accounting for taste).

It was like they wanted to eat their cake and have it too, but also not have it to eat it.

Actually, it feels like it was a kind of test, which we failed, miserably.

Or maybe not.

Maybe we surpassed all expectation, if only because there was really no accounting for taste, no reason for or against it.

Waste not, want not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Childhood, Entertainment, Family, Movies, THE PAST, Time

Gros Michel & The Anaconda

Did you know? All bananas are clones.

Not all. But the ones we (you & me) buy at the supermarket are overwhelmingly clones, produced via cuttings of the most desirable progenitors; therefore (re)produced clonally.

Gros Micheal. That is the variety that dominates, that we consume, that we eat for breakfast. Which we have as snacks during our busy, hectic days.

But this is hardly new knowledge. These are just facts.

It’s just…the fact that the bananas we consume are genetically identical seems absurd, doesn’t it? Absolutely preposterous. That’s why a banana tastes like a banana tastes like a banana. It’s why a banana never not fits in a Banana GuardTM. Haven’t you noticed that?

It never not fits.

***

But not all copies are not always created equal. Lacking males (or perhaps it’s better to say “bereft of suitable males”) some reptiles, for example, have been known to spontaneously self-replicate, a process known as parthenogenesis (derived from the Greek meaning “virgin birth”).

However, genetic material can get shifted during parthenogenesis, shuffled like a deck of cards, thereby producing imperfect copies of the progenitor.

Not so for Anna the Anaconda, current denizen of Boston’s New England Aquarium and mother of 18 identical babies – identical to each other and to herself and born without Anna ever having contact with a male of her species.

Anna, in essence, gave birth to herself: 18 babies worth. Only two survived. Still, that seems so much better (i.e. simpler, easier) and frankly more impressive than, for instance, being your own grandfather; no paradoxes there. No needless complications. Just the question of creation itself. Only the mystery of it, going forward, as we hurtle through time.

The same cannot be said for our Gros Micheal.

But then, it’s hard to complicate a banana.

***

Anna is also a palindrome, derived from the Greek meaning “again” and “way or direction.”

“Running back again.”

Never odd or even.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Food, Nature, THE FUTURE, THE PAST, Time, Words

Good White Shirt

Someone stole Stephen’s white dress shirt from the communal laundry room.

We liked to call that shirt his good white shirt. Now the shirt is gone, gone, gone.

Nothing else was taken, even though there were other, what we also call “good” shirts in that particular load of laundry. Blue ones, a purple one. One in cascading shapes like fish and birds.

I sometimes wonder about that shirt. The good white shirt.

Why just that shirt?

 That shirt and nothing else?

In my more generous moments, I like to think that whomever took that shirt really needed it. For a job interview or custody hearing; a night out (someplace nice or at least, nicer) or a funeral (paired with a black jacket, or navy blue one depending on the shade).

In my not so generous moments, I like to remember how the sleeves of that shirt are just a little longer than you’d think, how the cut of it is specific and on most non-Stephen-shaped bodies would hang loosely and weird, like a strand of wilted fronds over an undersized fence or a full dead skin draped over a stranger’s lap.

Most times, I don’t think of that shirt at all. But then again…. it’s not like we are made of shirts (good shirts).

Why just that shirt?

That shirt and nothing else?

It’s a pickle, it is. Not the shirt, but the situation.

But you know what I mean.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Fashion, Interruptions, People, Work

Big, Little

The hedge encircling our house was a world onto itself, a network of tunnels and hidden places we scurried and hid in like rabbits. It was a refuge, a hideout, our shared headquarters. It went on and on, right around the house and into forever.

That was years ago. Years and years, the kind you can put into groups of five or ten and count on off. Our house, a squat three bedroom bungalow, was at the bottom of a hill, right at the dead end street behind which the train tracks that ran. Not exactly prime real estate, but then I never minded the trains (freight, never passenger), and missed them after we moved away.

Next door was our neighbour the hunter, and his pack of three walker/beagle hounds. Across the street was the family whose kids we feuded with on and off and whose grandmother had a pug. We also feuded (again, on and off) with the next door neighbour’s kids, three girls (but not one for each dog, as I’d assumed. The dogs were their father’s dogs and his alone).

Later, the next door neighbour acquired a chihuahua, which had puppies after he “accidentally” let it out loose in the neighbourhood with my aunt’s chihuahua. There were three or four of them, I could never keep track.

He named one of the tiny dogs Rambo. He never offered my aunt any of the puppies. As mad as she was about it, she still let her dog roam the neighbourhood untethered after the fact so it’s hard to feel indignant on her behalf.

***

I check in from time to time, on the old house, the old neighbourhood, despite myself.

The hedge has been removed, pulled out from the ground, roots and all, and replaced by a sagging wire fence (maybe it wasn’t always sagging…I have just only ever seen it sagging). The space the fence occupies, once enormous, seems so small now as to have been frankly impossible. Perhaps it shrank? Or maybe it just atrophied in memory.

The bungalow – somehow even squattier now and dingy in spots (the once white brick, the once gleaming windows) where I remember it had been pristine – has been split into two (of all things, lengthwise), and has been remade into a rental property with faded patio furniture in the driveway (at last glance, three off-white plastic chairs and an overturned table).

Other things, too, have changed.

The houses up the street have been bought up by the city and are in various stages of being torn down so that the street can be widened and a new, modernized transit system can be put into place – in this case, a light rail transit system and not, as I’d initially assumed, a monorail. Pity.

Some years ago, our next door neighbour died (in his basement), as did the man across the street (in his sleep), although that one is more recent. A coma and then a recovery and then that singular twist of fate that took him out of the picture.

The dogs, naturally, are all dead too. Rambo included.

My aunt gave away her dog soon after she had children. Be it shame or indifference or something more or light banal or benign, she never mentions him. It is as if he never existed, as if none of it ever happened.

Like none of us were ever there at all.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Change, Childhood, Death, Dogs, People, THE PAST

Titles of Biographies Written by People Who Never Actually Talked To Me (Likely, I Forgot to Call Them Back)*

  1. That Bitch
  2. Hopeful Disappointments
  3. Of Course Not
  4. Like, The Right Amount
  5. Cockamamie Outcomes & Contradictions
  6. Wayward Consequences
  7. You Heard Dirty
  8. Shut It Down, Bring It Up
  9. Enviable Indignities
  10. The Pits
  11. Knee High
  12. Where Applicable?
  13. About Thirteen
  14. And Such That It Wasn’t
  15. HELLO STALLION!
  16. Normal Weird
  17. Once or Twice
  18. Light Here
  19. Every. Damn. Day.
  20. Good Psychology, Bad Math
  21. Pffffffffftttt!!!
  22. The Skinny On The Shit
  23. No, Actually
  24. Stupid Good Times
  25. Origami Logic
  26. Oh, You Bet
  27. That Bitch

 

________________________________________________

* Please follow any of these with “The Cindy Phan Story,” where you feel it best fits.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Books, Mind and Body, Relationships, THE FUTURE, Words