Tuesday, February 28, 2006

This morning on the subway

I think it's important to note odd occurences on the subway when they occur. What a mix of humanity I am treated to every day on the way to and from work! It's a far cry from listening to my self-help tapes in the car during my commute in Los Angeles, but it's fulfilling in its own way.

This morning I was standing by a woman who reminded me of this girl I kind of knew as a kid, Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen was a nice enough girl - sunburned knees, kind of nerdy, the kind of kid who rarely has a bad word to say to or about anyone, and who also has one of those piggy faces. I don't mean fat. I just mean a face that is slightly jowly, with wide cheeks and a pug-nose. You all know her. Everyone knows a Mary Ellen or two.

So I'm standing next to Mary Ellen with her piggy face and she is quite obviously listening to Neil Diamond on her Ipod. (I say "quite obviously" because the volume was turned up very loud.) I think it was his "Greatest Hits" or something. Mary Ellen seems wholesome. Quality people, as my grandma used to say.

When the subway train left the underground tunnel and moved into the outdoors on the Manhattan Bridge, Mary Ellen promptly turned off Neil Diamond, ripped open her bag, yanked out her cell phone, dialed a number and began screaming at her secretary.

Oh, Mary Ellen.

I believe in humanity just ever so slightly less now.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


It was one year ago, Friday. My sister had a special dinner with friends & family, which I was unable to attend.

There is a guestbook you can sign at this site if you would like to leave a message. My sister would appreciate it, even if you don't know her.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Random Blog of the Week: Badger Claire's Amazing Llama Loving Website

Something about this girl's blog just cracks me up. I've been cyberstalking her for a few weeks. At first she just had a few posts, one of which proclaimed her love for llamas. I was drawn to this idea because it's just so Napoleon D. that you have to love it. (I miss Tina!) Anyway, she's just kind of silly and posts a lot of pictures.

She's also a "Technical Internet Wizard." (I think that means she figured out how to create a blog.)

And now there's a cat involved. Must-not-look-away..........

Diary of Not a Rice Person: All that I need is just $288 Bucks, Johnny....

A few hours before my first Cantonese class was supposed to start, I received the following voice mail from the director who had first emailed me her half-answers to my questions about the class:

"Hello Tom, this is Julie from Wossing calling about Cantonese 1 which was supposed to start tonight. So far you're the only student enrolled, so we had to postpone the class. It will probably start next week. We'll be in touch."

Johnny, I'm afraid you're going to have to die.

And of course, he already has my $288, which I went down to Chinatown to hand over to him in person while he was lying, lying and lying some more to me about the class already having additional enrollees.

I want my $288, and I want it now. I'll be happy enough to give it back once I know I'm getting a class out of the deal, but I no longer trust these people.

I keep picturing Roz Russell walking in to Johnny and singing "I had a dream, a dream about you, Johnny! And all that I need is just $288 bucks, Johnny! Just $288 bucks, Johnny!"

(Sorry, I spent 5 hours belting out show tunes at Marie's Crisis last night, so I still have Gypsy on the brain....)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Finally, I've found the perfect website

This site is perfect: a cat, a silly song and a ukulele. What more could a guy want?

Min, will you PLEASE learn this number for us?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Diary of Not a Rice Person

After living with George for seven years, I decided it was an abomination that I haven't officially started studying Cantonese, since a) I'm a language junkie and b) George speaks it fluently, providing me the possibility of a 24-hour a day tutor and vocabulary sparring partner. So for the new year I decided I would look for an evening class in Cantonese & get busy with a new project.

Last weekend I spent several hours on the Internet looking for classes in New York, both for myself and for George, who wants to study Mandarin.

It's insane what they charge at universities like the New School, NYU and Columbia. I'm talking over $500 for 12 classes. Although at $40 a class it doesn't sound like much, and I wouldn't want to begrudge a struggling professor the money. Nonetheless, Barkis is just not willin' to shell out $500 for a general interest class. Not now, anyway.

After surfing for a while, I found this school which looked pretty cool, and the website invites you to sign up for classes online via PayPal at $288 a pop. Before deciding whether to shell out the money, however, I had a number of questions I wanted answered. So I decided to email them.

I sent an approximation of the following questions, clearly numbered so that it would be apparent what I was asking.

1. Are your classes live or online?

2. Does the class start Tuesday 2/21 or Thursday 2/23? (since the website says "Thursday 2/21" which is obviously incorrect.)

3. Where do I buy the required book?

4. Does the class include writing or is it just speaking?

I recevied the following reply from the school's director:

"The class starts Thursday 2/23, pending a minimum of 2-3 enrollment. There are textbooks assigned to the group classes. We do not offer online classes."

Ok, pet peeve #1: I asked four distinct questions. I even numbered them to be clear that there were four distinct questions. I do this all the time in business emails, and generally find it an effective way to get all my questions answered.

She answered questions 1 and 2.

She vaguely acknowledged question 3, although "there are textbooks assigned to the group classes" does not really answer the question "where do I buy the book?"

Question 4 she simply ignored.

Annoying. But anyway.

I didn't want to go paying them $288 on PayPal when I wasn't sure if the class was going to happen, since there was apparently a requirement that 2-3 people be enrolled. The director's inability to answer my questions did not inspire any confidence that I would receive a refund in case of a cancellation. And I certainly didn't have the impression that she'd be able to handle an additional question along the lines of "how many people are currently signed up?"

So I decided to call them.

"Hello, I'm interested in enrolling in Cantonese 1 which is supposed to start Thursday, February 23. I wanted to know if the class is going to take place because I understand you need at least two or three students."

A youngish sounding male voice with only a hint of an Asian accent answered, "Yes, the class will be taking place."

"The class that starts next Thursday?"

"Excuse me?"

"I understand the class starts next Thursday. Apparently there was a typo on the website, but the class is supposed to be for Thursday, February 23."

"Oh, right, the website says 'Monday.'"


"No, the website says there are two classes. One already started. The website also says there is a class that is supposed to start 'Thursday February 21' which is obviously incorrect because there is no 'Thursday February 21.' There is no mention of a Monday. I emailed your director, Julie, and she said the class is for Thursday, February 23. Is that what your records show?"

"I guess."

I guess? It was a yes or no question.

"Ok, well I do want to enroll in the class but I understand that you need at least two or three students before you decide if the class will take place."

"Yes, that is correct."

"So, I'm calling to find out if you have any other students signed up yet."

"Ok, can you please hold?"


I wait for about two minutes.

"Sir? Yes, we will have the class starting on Thursday, February 21."

Ok, this is not going well.

"Do you mean February 23?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, as we reviewed a few minutes ago, there is no Thursday, February 21. So it's either Tuesday, February 21 or Thursday, February 23. Which is it?"


"February 23?"

"Excuse me?"

Get me a gun. I'd almost rather commit suicide than continue this conversation.

"The class starts Thursday, February 23?"


"And you have other students enrolled?"


Great. Now we're getting somewhere.

"Ok. I would like to register for the course."

"Ok. Would you have time sometime before the start of the class to come to the office and enroll for the class?"

Well, since email didn't work out so well and we were having telephone communication problems as well, I was not adverse to the idea.

"Certainly. When would you like me to come in?"

"What time is good for you?"

"Well, what time do you close?"


"Yes, how late would someone be there for me to drop by?"

"Can you hold again?"


I wait another two minutes.

"Sir, can you come down tonight?"

"Yes. How about 6:00?"

"Would 6:15 be ok?"


"Great, just ask for me, my name is Jimmy."

6:15? I'm wondering why Jimmy needs such an exact time for me to come sign up for a class and write a check. I'm starting to think that NYU would have been worth it even if I'd had to take out a student loan to pay for it.

I had a short conversation with my boss on my way out the door, and then jumped on the subway to Grand street. I made it to the school at 6:15 on the nose for which I was glad since showing up at any other time would have surely confused Jimmy.

Jimmy buzzed me in.

"Hi, I'm here to sign up for the class."

"Oh, yes, hi."

"Are you Jimmy?"

"Johnny." Ok, so I'm a little hard of hearing. But I'm reasonably certain this is the person I had the phone conversation with. He seems nice enough, although he looks like he's about 12.

He invited me to come sit at his desk.

"Ok, so you were interested in Cantonese 1?" Oh no, I'm thinking, do we have to go through this whole discussion again? He knows exactly why I'm there. Cantonese I. Starts Thursday. February 23. There are at least 2 people signed up. Which means the class will take place. $288.


"Great. So, why do you want to study Cantonese?"

Ok, now I'm getting annoyed again. Is my money not green enough for these people? Do I owe them an explanation on why I want to take the class?

"Because I know a lot of people who speak Cantonese and I would like to learn it."

"People? Like friends?"

"Yes, friends. This is just so I can learn social conversation. Nothing business related."

"So where do you live?"



"Oh really? Any chance you're anywhere near 18th Avenue?"

"No, Bay Ridge."

"Really, Bay Ridge?"


I'm starting to feel like he's stalling. It reminded me of how my friend Michael went to get his car from a garage and the guy in charge of the keys just kept chatting, chatting, chatting until Michael realized it was because they had lost his car and the guy was trying to buy some time before the cops were called.

"So do you know of a restaurant called 'Banana Leaf?'"

"Yes, it's Malaysian and it's really good. I've been there many times."

"So where is it exactly?"

"Right at the subway stop at Bay Ridge Avenue. You should go."

"I'll be sure to try it."

"Great. So what do you need to sign me up for this class?"

"Wow, so you want to study Cantonese?"

No, you *sshole, I want to study Irish Gaelic. That's why I came down to Chinatown to your office after spending thirty minutes having a maddening 'Who's on First' telephone discussion with you about class dates.

"Yes I do."

"So who will you be speaking Cantonese with?"

I could just tell him "my partner speaks fluent Cantonese along with the rest of his family, and I really feel it's a language I should know more about." But I'm starting to get pissed. It's really none of his God damned business who I want to speak Cantonese with. They offer language classes for a fee, I'm ready and able to pay. That should be the end of the story as far as I'm concerned. It's not like I'm going to take my new-found knowledge of the seven tones or whatever you call it and use it to fly planes into buildings. I'd like to get better at ordering Dim Sum and maybe learn to discuss the weather. Jesus Mary & Joseph already. I decide this kid has no need to be in my business.

"I live with several people who speak Cantonese, so I'd have people to practice with."



"So, do you like share a house or something?"


"Wow, that's great. That's something I should do."

Yes, and you should also just sign me up for this f*cking class. What is your problem?

It felt like he was interviewing me, trying to make sure I was going to be right for the school. I find this offensive. Geez Louise, I'm thinking that if I owned this school I'd be signing up anybody with a pulse and a checkbook. This is not a multimillion dollar enterprise here. An extra $288 could only help this organization.

Unless they're trying to keep out the riff-raff. Or government inspectors. Or something worse.

The rice queens.

It finally dawned on me. This kid is interviewing me to see if I'm a rice queen.

For those of you not up on your contemporary racist terminology, a "rice queen" is a Caucasian person who harbors a certain fondness for Asians. I didn't know much about this population until I met George, but apparently there is an abundance of gay rice queens, usually older men who hang out in bars frequented by younger Asian guys.

It's probably not unheard of for rice queens to sign up for Asian language courses to enhance their stalking skills, or perhaps to prepare themselves for lucrative careers in human trafficking. So I guess the schools maybe would like to know exactly who they're dealing with when random men with no apparent Asian ties (like a wife) come in off the street to sign up for classes.

The phenomenon of rice queens is a complicated one. There are certain people who are attracted to certain races, just like someone who would prefer blonds over brunettes, etc. Although that is not how I ever looked at my pool of potential dating partners, I suppose it's just a personal preference that each person is entitled to.

But then there is a kind of rice queen who sees a white-on-Asian relationship to be about power & control. These men view Asians as meek, submissive, a bit exotic, and they tend to go for recent immigrants who don't speak very good English and who don't currently enjoy positions of power and prestige in our society. This is where the rice queen thing gets a little creepy.

Needless to say, many Asians have a negative view of rice queens. Especially the latter kind, but sadly even a little bit of the more innocuous kind. There's a sense of inner conflict, from what I gather. On the one hand, who doesn't like to be admired? If someone likes me because of my race, well then at least they like me. On the other hand, and especially depending on the flavor of rice queen you're dealing with, it's not necessarily a great feeling to think that you're being fetishized like a pair of shoes. Or that someone likes you because they think you'll submit. Or because they want to take advantage of your lesser station of power in society.

And then it turns into a self-esteem issue. I've met my fair share of gay Asian men who on the one hand date rice queens because they like the admiration, but on the other hand feel scorn for the rice queen, as if to say "God, he's so pathetic that he preys on Asians - no one else will date him."

George is the first (and only) Asian-American I've ever dated. I don't particularly like or dislike Asians or any other race, thankfully. I just happened to like George. I didn't even know the term "rice queen" when I met George in 1997.

Sadly, during our first year together when I was getting to know his friends, I became more familiar with this whole rice queen issue because many of George's friends assumed I was one. At first I found it puzzling. Then it was amusing. But when I discovered how much contempt they hold for rice queens, I found it offensive.

Whenever someone makes a comment about my supposed preference for Asians, I usually try to correct them, gently, by explaining that George is the first Asian I've ever dated and that I was not targeting any particular race of men when I was still single. That usually clears up the confusion.

Occasionally, I have to use stronger language to make myself understood.

This all came to a head with a large group of George's friends at Gay Pride in NYC about five years ago. We were gathered on the lawn of a park in the Village waiting to see the fireworks, when someone brought up the subject of "the Web."

"What's the Web?" I asked. From the context I could tell they weren't discussing the Internet.

Brandon replied "you've never been to the Web?"

"No. What is it?"

"Hey guys, did you hear this? How could a rice queen like Tom not know what the Web is?"

Apparently, the Web is a bar favored by rice queens and their admirees. Needless to say, I was not happy with Brandon's rejoinder. I felt my face start to flush. I didn't know what to say.

In fact, I was starting to get mad.

Damn mad.

I'm talking Mommie Dearest mad.

I was so mad that I practically started spitting. I stuttered and stammered until I was finally able to blurt out the following sentence:

"I .... AM .... NOT ........... A RICE PERSON!"


Then laughter. A lot of it. Loud, hearty, belly laughing.

"Rice person? Did you hear that? Tom's not a rice person!"

"Rice person? Where'd he come up with that? Is he trying to be politically correct?"

"Tom, I believe the correct term is "rice queen."

Ok, ok, I told them and tried to explain that it makes me mad to be called a rice queen, that I hate the idea of it, and I even hate the terminology so much that I try not to use it. Which launched us into quite a discussion, one I'm glad we got to have.

Brandon, a self-avowed rice queen, was utterly confused. "But Tom, I thought you liked Asians! I don't understand! What is this thing with you and George for five years?"

"Well, I love George. But not because of his race. I just like him for who he is."

"So you're not a rice person? You're a George person?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

Brandon was just floored by this concept. Don't get me wrong - we adore Brandon. He's one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet. And, as far as I can tell, even his Asian friends don't begrudge him his fondness of their race. He's definitely a rice queen of the former variety.

Which brings us back to my "interview" at the Chinese school. I've decided I was being interviewed to ensure that I was not a creepy trollish rice queen signing up to learn Cantonese so that I can travel to Hong Kong and lure young girls back to the States with me. Their extensive questioning has put me on the defensive, and so I've decided they have no need to know anything about my personal life, my relationship with George or my living arrangements. The last thing I need is these people accusing me of being a rice queen.

Just the same, I might ask George how I would say "rice person" in Cantonese should the need ever arise. Or maybe I should phrase it as a question?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Random Blog of the Week: It is a Numeric Life

I was going to link to a guy who is obsessed with his own poop (he posts pics of it and everything) but I decided it was a little too gross for now. Instead, I'm featuring this delightful site filled with random factoids & statistics. Plenty of fodder for Lu to absorb before her next go at Jeopardy!

In other news, we have a foot of snow in New York and it's still coming down. Mama Gin came down at 8:00 am to make sure we have food.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Is it just me?

I feel like I have so liittle energy these days compared to 20 or even 10 years ago. I am ill today, so it's not a perfect example of how I normally feel. But every little thing I have to do feels like it takes an enormous effort.

It could be because I have a "fun" job that I usually like, but it's also one of those jobs that is literally impossible to do "perfectly." Which means that if you have any hint of a perfectionist in you, you'll drive yourself crazy thinking about all the things you "should" be doing.

At the end of the week, I am officially "done" and am ready to sit on my couch. I used to look forward to going out after work, and it was always very important to have at least two social outings arranged every weekend. Now I feel happiest when I have nothing planned.

I'm not sure if I'm OD (officially depressed) or if I'm just old. 2005 did suck very badly, so maybe I'm still rebounding. But I seem to remember the low energy thing coming on in late 2004 when I moved to the job I have now. Maybe it's the job.

Isn't it weird to think that a job you like might be the thing dragging you down?

Maybe I don't really like this job but am trying to convince myself that I do. Hmm. Entire lives have been constructed on that premise.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mother's Special Words

I started thinking about the fact that there is at least one minor who occasionally visits this blog, so I decided it's not always necessary to use words like H-E-doublehockeysticks and worse. Hence the renaming of my Cuter than **** picture series.

I had a rather Christmas Story upbringing where my mom was the notorious potty mouth of the neighborhood. The funny thing was that I somehow knew I wasn't allowed to use same bad words that flew out her mouth with alarming regularity. I don't even remember being punished or reprimanded or anything - I just knew that those were Mother's Special Words that only she got to use.

With the exception of a brief period when I ran around with some wild 9 year olds (I was 7 and 8), I didn't start using Mother's Special Words until I was in college. Even though I was a pretty good kid most of the time, it wasn't the worst thing in the world not to have June Cleaver for a mother. It was like being given a secret stash of weapons you only had to take out very occasionally, like when you were being bullied.

Speaking of bullies, I found out a few years ago that something terrible happened to one of my childhood nemeses. I'm never happy to hear sad stories, but it stuck me as a reminder of the whole what-goes-around theory.

That's it, good night. Oh, and for anyone who watched the Grammys, I saw Kelly Clarkson win one of her awards and found it odd that she didn't thank her American Idol friends. I didn't see her acceptance speech for "Since You've Been Gone" though - so maybe she thanked them then? Oh no, I feel another entry coming from the Post Traumatic Etiquette Wh*re..... (do I have to change that one too? Maybe I should be Net-Nannied.....)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cute as Heck series: Morrissey

Since losing Betty last summer, I live vicariously through the cats of others.

My friend Arvid has acquired a new "roommate" - Morrissey!

Sharon & Emma, if you answer the many demands of your readers & give your fans more pics of Edward, I might have to swipe them for my own blog!


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Random Blog of the Week: Tokyo

I've been cyberstalking this guy for a while. He's kind of a cute geek-boy computer scientist living in Japan for work. He writes these kind of geeky but entertaining little entries about his expat life, with lots of pictures. I was wondering why the comments are usually in German until I figured out, duh, that he's GERMAN. That would explain the geek-boy thing - I find Germans to be simultaneously geeky and charming, with very strange senses of humor. I always think of an old SNL sketch on "Sprokets" where some German lady was describing some "absolutely hilarious" performer she'd seen, who turned out to be an ordinary old circus clown. Apparently she'd been quite moved by it.

I guess our new computer scientist friend blogs in English because he used to live in NY and probably has a lot of English speaking readers. What do I know, I'm just a geeky NY cyberstalker.