I had the week off, the whole week.
My week was spent on two main things: drawing cars and visiting family. On Monday, I went out to see my dad on his waterfront house in Huntington Beach. I arrived with my bags and laptop. My sis and her fiance arrived with some Hawaiian food, and we ate then took dad's boat out around the harbor. It had been a while since we were on his boat during the daylight -- it made it easier to see the colors on the floating buoys the marked the lanes. On the way out of the harbor, stay left of the green buoys, and stay right on the orange ones that marked the center divider. We saw the sunset on our way out of the harbor, passing under the bridge for PCH and moving beyond the final dyke to the open sea. A naval patrol boat with flashing blue lights was wandering around, defending the area around a very large flat gray, unmarked cargo ship.
When we made it out to the open water, the waves were pretty choppy. In order to maintain control, you actually have to increase speed. If you were going too slow, your boat will orient itself whereever it wants to, and control is very difficult. Heaven is to steer, hell is to drift. My dad pointed large cargo ships several miles away from shore. "Let's go out to the big ship" he said. We started looking around his boat for the location of the life jackets. We found them, counted them.
We turned around without ever getting to the large cargo ships. It seemed that as we sped towards them, they didn't really get any closer.
Back at his house, I told my dad I wanted to spend the night on his boat. It was docked just behind his house, and he was able to run a special, thick yellow power cable from his house to the boat to provide shore-power. He asked me not to use the toilet in the boat, since it would smell up the boat and he couldn't flush his waste tank unless he was 3 miles off shore. And that didn't happen often.
I brushed my teeth and took my last bathroom break inside his house. Took my bag and laptop onto his boat. His boat has room to sleep about 6 people comfortably, so I had my choice of beds. I took the one that had the smallest opening and lowest ceiling. Turned on the radio, and set up my laptop to draw a Toyota Matrix. This was the first car I was drawing somewhat out of spite, looking for vindication. Through my car site, I have a tracker that tells me who is linking to my cars. A thread on a Matrix owner's site was started, people were interested in my cars, and there was some discussion about somebody emailing me to draw a Matrix. At some point a Hater jumped in and said that my drawings were "done in Photoshop with simple effects applied to a photo"... ie, simple to do and involved no skill. Woah, that hurt. I was so upset about that, showed the thread to a few art directors at work. Yeah, they co-miserated with me. So anyway the thread evolved into a rally to create an official t-shirt design contest for their car club site. Meanwhile everyone had forgotten about my site; the Hater had redirected them.
So I was drawing a Matrix so I could have one to sell, but also to join their car club and enter a T-shirt design into their contest. It was a matter of principle, to stand up for my work and talent. These cars are not easy to draw. Since I saw that thread, I've also posted a "how to" on my car site that walks people through how they are made... so they know that it is not a simple matter of applying effects to a photo in Photoshop. Ugh, punks.
Despite this, I've never been so relaxed as I was on the boat that night, drawing away. The lights of the passenger cabin were recessed, creating an intimate space. The rocking of the boat was gentle and soothing. There was plenty of AC power outlets too, so overall it was like being in a tiny hotel room where you couldn't use the bathroom and there was no TV, but there was radio, carpet, wood-clad custom furniture and a microwave.
I read a few chapters of "I, Robot" and fell asleep.
In the morning I completed my drawings and posted my first Matrix shirt. My dad had an appointment, so he left me at his place at 2pm. He said I could stay while he was gone, and left me a key. But I could tell he needed to know that I'd be gone by the time he came back; his girlfriend was probably coming back tonight and as yet the family was still pretending she didn't exist. My dad is like a child playing hide and seek -- he covers his eyes, figuring that if he can't see you, then you must not be able to see him.
Before he left, he asked me to take a package to the post office for him. At my request, he drew me a hasty map. I checked it on Map Quest, just in case his directions were wrong. After he left, I noticed the package was not sealed, so I looked for tape. He didn't have any, just big cans filled with old pens, most of which were out of ink. It had always been this way, even since my parents still lived together. We kept every pen that came into our house, and yet never had tape, nor paper to write on. The lack of tape and paper always bothered me as a kid, and it bothered me now. I opened a drawer in his office, and found a brand new pack of tape and a tape dispenser. They were incredibly hard to open, since they were sealed packages within packages. Oh but so satisfying once opened.
Turns out the directions he gave me to the post office were wrong. I'm glad I checked the directions out for myself.
I got back to his place and packed up my stuff, then drove to my sister's house in Pasadena. Her house was my next destination on my week off.
At my sis's we ate pizza, and I tried repeatedly to connect my laptop wirelessly to their Airport-enabled wireless network. We watched a few shows on cable tv about people fixing up their cars. It was a great night of quality tv. Her dog kept trying to lick me.
I stayed in my sis's guest room. It was stark, and sort of quiet in her house. It was a big house, and I could hear her dog moving in her small plastic kennel.
In the morning, my sis and I talked about her wedding. A few weeks ago, my sis had announced that she wanted both my dad and I to walk her down the aisle, instead of just my dad. This morning, I told her that I didn't feel good about this choreography. It was physically complicated, but also potentially dishonoring to my dad. My sis saw it coming, I think she had already figured it was an odd arrangement, and was quick to recall the idea. She explained though that back when she was really upset with my dad, she had always sort of figured that I would be the one to walk her down the aisle in place of my dad. Lately, Dad was becoming a more stable and likeable person, at least to my sis. And so she brought my dad back into the ceremony, and by default she kept me in the picture too.
There is a lot of depth to my sister's affection for me. She treats me like I am some kind of veteran, like somebody who has suffered or worked hard for noble and courageous acts. I can tell you I've never done anything like that, and honestly only lately have I contributed to our family. I think her love for me comes from early imprinting of when I was the older brother who showed her around, took her on walks to 7-11, made her laugh with funny recordings of myself. I probably made her laugh a lot when we were younger and our parents were still interested in each other's company. I was a break from the depression that was creaping over Mom and the emotional vacancy happening with Dad.
Yesterday, my dad called, asking for a favor. My mom's house had been nominated for an award by the city of Cerritos. Apparently the house had won the award, and Mom and Dad had RSVP'd to attend an award banquet at the Cerritos Sheraton. Dad was backing out, and wanted me to take his place. He said he couldn't make it, that he had an appointment. He always used the word "appointment". For 32 years, he's had appointments during hours that nobody does business. I wish for once he would just tell us where he is going, but he never elaborates. In the last 5 years, he's expanded his disappearance declarations to include golfing, but everything else is still just a mysterious appointment.
I told my dad I would think about attending the banquet in his place, that I'd call him tomorrow with my decision. He asked me to decide tonight instead. Said that Mom would be mad at him for backing out, and needed to offer my company as consolation. "I hope Mom does get furious with you" I thought. This is his problem anyway. I felt put out and upset with having to take his place, since for so many years as a teen, my mom had also used me as a replacement for Dad. When Mom was upset and needed to vent emotionally, she couldn't talk to her husband, so she talked to me. I was just a kid, not ready to be emotional support for my Mom's drowning marriage.
I was so upset about being asked to go to this event. It was the last day of my week off, and it was one of the hottest weeks we've had this year. And I would have to drive out to Cerritos, get dressed up, and attend some event in place of my dad? Ugh.
The next day, I drove out to an afternoon appointment in Irvine. I met with Jerry, the Director of Operations for a company that makes aftermarket body kits for cars. We went to Wahoos and talked about his company, and business overall. He was genuinely interested in me, and treated me very well, giving me a tour of their facilities. I was only there to do some simple design work, but he saw me as a partner, somebody to keep in his Rolodex for years to come. We did hit it off pretty quickly. He is also Chinese, probably about 5 years younger than me. And he looks just like an old gearhead friend of mine name Bernie. We talked like old friends, and he probably shared more with me than he intended. Our dads have a lot in common, both involved in commercial real estate and driving the true Chinese status symbol, the Mercedes Benzu. Jerry talked about his personal goes that he wanted to reach by 3 years' time, and how he was worried he wasn't on track. In 3 year's time, Jerry would be my age.
By the end of the appointment, we had agreed that I would do a certain number of designs for his company, and in return they'd give me a rear hatch wing for my car made out of carbon fiber. The wing is worth about $400, and is not something I would buy for myself, so this is a great transaction for me.
From here I went to my mom's house in Cerritos. Mom was very happy to see me, she kept talking. I showed her my car illustrations, which took her a bit of time to understand. I showed her the vector shapes and I think she started to understand it. I had hoped to connect my laptop to the phone line to check my email, and we set up a makeshift desk. I found a phone cable and plugged in, but my modem couldn't connect. I tried several dialing configs with no luck. It turns out, my mom can't dial outside her area code. She doesn't have long distance. She lives in a $680k house in one of the best cities in Southern California, but has no long distance. This is what my wife and I call "extreme and disproportionate frugality". It is a phenomenon that is widespread amongst Chinese, and it drives me crazy.
Unable to dial up, I took a nap.
When I woke up, it was time to get dressed for the banquet. I was in such a grouchy mood. It was hot, and I was not looking forward to getting dressed up. My nose itched. Hairs seemed to be hanging just in front of my eyelashes. I told me mom I was not happy about taking my dad's place. She said we didn't have to go. Amazingly, I stopped myself from complaining further. My wife helps remind me that my goals these days revolve around relationships. If not for my relationships, and the actions I take to build them, my life is actually fairly meaningless when all is said and done. So these are the moments, to be a son, to be there for my mom. When my mom is gone, I will give anything, maybe, to see her, but here I am, I have her with me, and I am complaining about a free meal we are going to enjoy together. In my heart, I know I am fighting an old nature of ungratefulness, fueled by my personality of seclusion and isolation.
My mom asked me to comment on her dress and her shoes. Did I think they were appropriate, she asked. I don't know. I actually told her she should start over on her wardrobe.
We drove over to the Sheraton. On the way, she said "people are going to all get married, then they have children, soon they die. Life is so short".
We parked, found the banquet hall. We signed in, I got my nametage. It said "Tim Wang" on it. In the printed program, my mom's house had been one of 50 homes to win the Grand Prize of the "2004 Annual City Wide Pride" award. 250 homes were nominated, and then judged based on several criteria, including things like "curb appeal", "lawn", "roof" and "architecture". We don't even know who nominated my mom's house; my mom already inherited one of the awards from a previous year, from the previous owner.
We met the mayor of Cerritos, a very tall and jovial guy who looks just like J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man. There were about 300-400 people there for the banquet. At our table, we had lively conversation. Flora sat to the left of us, she was very friendly and her voice was exactly the same as the Rose Parade's commentator, Stephanie Edwards. I told her that in my part of Culver City, you could win an award just for not parking a car on your lawn. She covered her mouth when she giggled. All night she'd call me Tim, my father's name, because it was on my nametag.
To our right were the Meyers, JoAnn and Bob. They had been judges for the event. Bob had worked for the Cerritos parks and recreations department for 32 years before he retired, and knew everything there was to know about Cerritos. JoAnn could have been one of my grade school teachers at some point, I can't say. We all talked about Cerritos back in the 70's, back when it was mostly dairy and sheep and orchards. Memories came back to me about the corner of Shoemaker and Artesia near our first California home, and the smell of the sheep there and the dirt. I remember our old street I walked to first grade on, and how it used to make Mom so mad that I would take 30 minutes to walk one block home. She could never find me, because I would always follow Conrad home and spend time playing with them. In those days, I was a tanned, smelly little kid trying to keep track of my Hot Wheels. Conrad has moved on to Saudi Arabia, his sister had married a prince, and the last time I saw him, we were in junior high. He bragged about his new lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, and I knew we would not be friends anymore.
At last they projected my mom's house up on the big screen, there was much polite applause for my mom and I and we got up to accept the award. Shook many hands of politicians, took a picture with the Mayor. We had more coffee, and some really chocolate cake, and went home.
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