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Angry Little Asian Man

October 10, 2011

Me and Andie. I don't usually dress like this, she does.

This was just one of those days that picks at you like you are the scab and it is the bored child who secretly likes pain and blood, but doesn’t want anyone to know about it, thus the little tiny swipes. I was late picking up my mom and her husband at the airport, I forgot to bring my water bottle to the gym, my windshield wiper flew right off my car (in the rain,) and my friend Andie texted me to say, “meeting soon?” Which is her very sweet way of saying, “bitch, you forget about me?” I would have deserved that, because I had forgotten, but Andie is too sweet to even think that, much less say it. I aspire to have her sweetness and grace. I don’t. But I was glad that she still wanted to meet, for lunch, way after we were supposed to be having coffee.

I pick her up, and in trademark Andie style, she’s dressed like Audrey Hepburn. Maybe a slightly slutty Audrey Hepburn, with a black satin cocktail dress, rhinestone necklace and patent leather handbag. Also with thigh-high knit socks and hot pink hair. She’s awesome. Andie stands out in a crowd, for a lot of reasons. One of them is that she’s very tall, and I am willing to bet that more than one person has wondered if she was born a man or a woman.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. She’s more a woman than I’ll ever be. In other ways, it matters, because our contexts shape us, our struggles shape us, our perspective shapes us. More importantly, how other people treat us is often based on how they deal with their contexts, and whether or not they care if Andie was born a man or a woman. More specifically, how her body was and is shaped.

It is not irrelevant that we are meeting today to talk about her writing for Not So Secret, and helping me build bridges between communities that have traditionally been marginalized and consistently misunderstood. I am so happy to have her in my life. For so many reasons.

In sharp contrast to her, I have just come from the gym. I am in yoga clothes, sweaty, unshowered and my fingernails were recently chewed to the quick because it’s the only bad stress-induced habit that I have. I should do drugs, it’s less ugly. I have thrown on an old grey sweater that doesn’t match in either color or cut. In short, I look like shit. Cute shit, but shit none the less.

We decide to go to a crappy little Vietnamese restaurant that we both acknowledge isn’t very good and has the worst service you can imagine. But it’s close and I’m harried, my day is already askew. It’s one of those shady places that is in a mini-strip mall thing, in an entirely questionable neighborhood. The kind about which the word “colorful” is used to mean “those scary people who talk funny and don’t look like me.”

The parking lot is crowded, and most of the spots are labeled with either “restaurant” or “mini mart.” There are two empty spots. One of them has a “No Parking” sign above it, the other has no sign, no label, no nothing. I pull into that spot.

We spend two hours slurping noodles and sharing ideas about how we can eliminate sexual shame and fear from the world. I tell her I have a 20 year goal. She says 10. Because that’s how she is. When we walk out, someone has parked a black SUV right behind my car, maybe 2 inches from my bumper. There are now plenty of empty spots, so the clear intent was to block me in.

I look around the parking lot and there are three men who are looking at us, eying each other and not saying a word.  I admit, I was nervous. This felt like the beginning of an evening news story to me. Andie, in her festive frock, was undisturbed. I was already figuring out how I was going to fight off the obviously impending hate crime that was about to take place, while calling for help and video taping it for evidence. I was ready to go all Crouching Tiger on it. I wonder if this is the rape-survivor in me thinking, ever vigilant. Or maybe the screenwriter / actress, ever dramatic?

Andie just asks if any of them know whose car it is. They grunt, vaguely nodding their head towards the mini-mart, which is obviously a perfect setting for a shoot-out of some sort. Andie marches in, her perfectly pink hair lining up with the height measurement guide on the door. She’s tall. Even without the high-heels. “Do you know who’s car that is, they’ve accidentally blocked us in.”

I aspire to be as sweet as her. Accidentally my ass, I know passive aggressive when I see it.

The men in the mini-mart, and the men in the parking lot, all look at each other, and a furrow-browed Asian man in John Lennon glasses and a fleece vest comes out from behind the counter, arms waving and words flying out of his mouth like bats flapping around. He’s mad as hell. Apparently, I have parked in his space.

I think he’s threatening us, but I’m not terribly concerned, because I know I did nothing wrong. And I’m relieved that he’s angry about my parking, not my companion. But he keeps yelling. And his arms keep flapping. I can’t park there, he says. It is his spot. I have no business being there.

I reach out my hand to touch his shoulder, and look him in the eye to apologize as earnestly as I know how. I was eating in the restaurant with whom he shares the parking lot. The space was not labeled, it didn’t say no parking, so I thought it was fine to park there.

It was not fine. He yells some more. Do I not respect people? Their property? I have been there too long, and I shouldn’t be there at all. He is going to have me towed.

“Sir, honestly, I didn’t know I couldn’t park there, it is not labeled.”

“It supposed to be, but it raining, they no can paint in the wet.”

“I see. I’m sorry, like I said, it wasn’t labeled, so I had no idea that it was not okay for me to park there and go into the restaurant in this parking lot.”

He’s bouncing up and down. I think there are threats, but it is so comical that he has actually turned into a cartoon before my very eyes. The whole scene has. He has gotten shorter and rounder, his arms are little bat wings and he’s buzzing around me. The men in the parking lot are darker, and have no facial features, they are more like haunted trees in a forest that eats children. Andie has gotten even taller and more princess like, as if Disney had gone fetish like, and her hands are big enough now to catch the angry bat-man.

In reality, she is apologizing and being as polite and calm as can be. In my mind, she’s holding him in the palm of her huge hands, with the thumb and index finger of her other hand pinching his wings so that is torso is flapping instead. She’s telling him that it just isn’t nice to behave this way, and she’s not putting him down until he can compose himself. The tree men are creaking with  subverted anger, impotent since they don’t have legs any more. And I’m this weird sloppy mess of a woman, oddly unshaven – even though that makes no sense – being hapless and comical in my own inability to do anything. I’m still prepared to defend my friend from imagined dangers, even though there is no danger, and she doesn’t need my protection.

Eventually I come back to the real world and the angry little Asian man moves his huge black SUV, Andie and I get in the car and drive the few blocks back to her house.

We discuss that he was so angry. It had nothing to do with us. He was just angry. At everything. The weather, his parents, the government, the….  He was just angry angry angry. It’s sad. I don’t know what to do with people like that. It’ makes no sense, so I just turn them into cartoon characters in my head.

I am surprised at myself, however. At how quickly I assumed that Andie and I were being judged, simply for our appearances and what people must have assumed about us. I could not have been more wrong.

I drop her off at home, and race around with the rest of my nutty day. Replace my windshield wipers and made it home barely in time to get my daughter to crew. But I’m still wondering why I assumed that people were judging us, and judging us menacingly at that.

He was just angry. In general. It had nothing to do with us.

Then I wondered how the hell we can deal with generalized anger. It’s “easy” to help people get to know and understand people who are different from them and chisel away at anger based in ignorance But generalized anger, that just makes you spin around all the time, that’s harder to deal with. And way worse. I bet Andie will figure out how to deal with that. And she’ll probably look perfect doing it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    January 23, 2012 8:40 pm

    You’re right: “He was just angry. In general. It had nothing to do with us.”
    Or about race.
    Road rage, or parking rage in this case, is always maddening, and I get it even here in the boonies where there’s plenty of room on the roads and plenty of parking. People are just…mad. But I don’t think of them as ‘mad white or black people’.
    I got the finger the other day for slowing down in the fast lane (when I had to make a turn). Recently, a woman confronted my mother at the bank–apparently, she followed my poor mom all the way to the bank after allegedly being cut off coming out of a Burger King drive-through.
    In both cases, the people were white. But we don’t go around saying ‘Oh that angry WHITE person–why are they like that”? Somehow, not only do you note the guy’s race, but you make it part of the actual headline, like race somehow explains the unfortunate exchange you had.

    Right before coming to your blog, in search of fodder for inspiration–I came upon your site by way of the TED speakers page–I had literally just commented on an article about Private Danny Chen, who had been found shot to death at his guard tower in Iraq after enduring months of racial slurs and hazing. It’s not clear if he was murdered or commited suicide, like another Chinese American soldier last April (who had also been the victim of racial slurs), but it’s clear that he was singled out for abuse because of his race.

    Now, I am not equating your careless yet specific reference to race with behavior of soldiers whose behavior was at least unbecoming of a person in uniform, if not outright criminal. But, it does seem like the majority always makes race a salient factor. Then, remarkably, people love to ask “why is it always about race”?

    You don’t have to be ‘angry’ like your parking lot guy to be singled out. When I worked at a department store, it turns out that people with whom I had a good relationship were referring to me as ‘Ching Chang’ behind my back and even in memoranda. And these were people who were otherwise nice to me. A few years back, while I got money at an ATM machine, some guys shouted slurs from a car, then drove away. They caught up with me later when I was in my own car and shouted new insults, all having to do with being Chinese which, by the way, I am not.
    Why didn’t they just say I was wearing a funny hat? Or ugly? Or driving a beat-up car?
    Recently, I read a Time article about NBA upstart Jeremy Lin. The writer quoted his college teammates who said he often got called “chink” and other slurs “all having to do with being Asian”. By Ivy League fans, no less. Why couldn’t it just be about his crappy shooting?
    No, somehow people just fixate on race. Whether they were the victims, as you were, or the victimizers.
    And then people people wonder why it’s always about race.
    Because you make it that way.

  2. Alyssa ROyse permalink*
    January 23, 2012 9:25 pm

    Fair enough. It was actually an obtuse reference to an even-more obtuse comic strip called “Angry Little Asian Girl,” which is written by an Asian girl, who is very funny.

    And in this case, it was also just a physical descriptor. I didn’t attribute his behavior to his race, or his decisions to his race or anything else. It was just a descriptor. I guess that when I write, I want people to be able to picture the scene as I saw it, and the man was Asian. If he was black, or white or purple I would have said that too. (Indeed, I described my friend and her hot-pink hair and the fact that she had been born a man, because it was relevant. And accurate.)

    I would agree with you 100% if I had suggested that his anger was because he was Asian. Or worse, that Asian people are just like that. But I didn’t. And I wouldn’t. I would agree with you if I had, or if I ever had, used racial slurs or suggested that anyone’s intelligence, behavior or worth was connected to race. But I didn’t, and I never would.

    I simply said he was Asian, because he was. I often describe myself as small and white, because I am.

    This is not a color-blind world, and I don’t want it to be. That would be boring, and would remove the beautiful and rich variety of individuality that makes the world so interesting. What I do want is for people to be able to observe and describe diversity without it being seen as bad. In this case, the problem isn’t that I said he was Asian, but that we live in a world in which anyone would assume that is a negative thing. Or had negative intent. Neither is true.

  3. Dan permalink
    July 14, 2012 6:21 pm

    I cringed a little when I saw this post. I have been reading your posts off and on for the past few weeks and have enjoyed your writing a great deal. But I do have to call you out on this one.

    I hate the pc culture we have here in the us and I always would rather people just be honest and say what is on their mind. But after reading your response to the first poster I can tell you missed the point completely.

    Rather than seeing you as “just being honest” and telling it like it is, it seems more likely to me that you were just being passive aggressive and are very bitter. Something that is the opposite of honesty. Calling Asians “little” is akin to calling a black guy “boy”. It is something white people use to put others in their place. Trying to pass off the use of this phrase as just being descriptive of the scene is so disingenuous it insults people’s intelligence.

    It means you are so clueless to how you really feel that you did not realize you were being passive aggressive or you are just socially clueless and did not realize that when people read your title they would not be thinking about some obtuse comic strip.

    You may want to paint a vivid detail in people’s heads but I seriously doubt you would ever describe a Jew as a “shifty Jew” or a “big nosed Jew” even if that description is accurate. And I know you would never describe a black woman’s hair as being nappy would you? If I said Michelle obamas hair is nappy, but it is ok to say this because I am just describing her hair and that my hair is nappy as well what would you think? Do you not understand why my bs detector does not believe you?

    You say that you would never say that his behavior had anything to do with being Asian. Yet your title was not “angry parking lot encounter”. So being Asian obviously had a lot to do with the subject since you did make it the title of your post after all and Seattle does have a lot of Asians.

    If you had just said what you felt about the subject, good or bad, pc or not, you would have been fine. But the sneaky way you expressed yourself along with the sloppy way you are trying to explain yourself is embarrassing to witness.

    Anyway. Just a bit of a let down that someone who understands so well how honesty is important in relationships does not seem to understand that honesty with one self is important in all walks of life, not just love

    Regards

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