Published in Pen America, 7/1/2020
I won’t lie. I’ve been finding it very hard to write these days. My brain can’t seem to hold a thought with enough quiet space around it to blossom into a well-ordered sentence. The air is thick with alarm, or despair, or contagion, or fatigue. I’ve gone from code-red, sleep-depriving distress—was that cough, THE cough?—into a numbing routine of cleaning and sanitizing and masking and quarantining. And now the world has erupted again, in anguish and rage. How to start a new project, when the country is stumbling into the first chapter of a Cormac McCarthy novel? How could anything I write compare to the sheer magnitude of the events of the day?
Published in The Rumpus, 4/22/15
It’s your first trip to the Century Regional Detention Facility, AKA Lynwood Jail. It won’t be as easy to get there as you think. The directions look simple on your car’s map, but once you get off the highway you will get lost. The Lynwood exit empties into an industrial section of town: underpasses, streets splintering off into multiple smaller streets, hairpin turns. This urban labyrinth will confuse your car’s GPS, or more accurately, your ability to understand what it’s telling you to do. You’ll turn off one street only to meet up with it again two blocks later. Recalculating.
Don’t be late. Arriving late could mean losing your reservation, and you don’t want to make this drive more times than you absolutely have to.
The boy in the back seat will help you. ”Turn on that road,” Kevin will say, the boy who’s not your son, whose name is not really Kevin. Kevin will surface from his uncharacteristic silence in the car to offer you this advice. Take it. Swing your Highlander Hybrid around; backtrack your way onto the right street. Brown signs will soon appear along the road, confirming Kevin’s direction. Shortly after that, the car will announce that you’ve arrived at your destination, but too late—you’ll already have passed the jail. Kevin will point this out to you, too. Your mistake will have been that you were looking for some imposing, monolithic structure, with checkpoints and towers. Barbed wire, maybe. Instead, you should have been looking out for a group of buildings that appear, from the road, as unassuming as any other bureaucratic government facility—a post office, or DMV.
Make a U-turn at the next intersection and pull into the lot. Kevin will tell you where to park. Eleven-year-old Kevin knows his way around.
My Son’s Gay-dar Stinks
Published in The Advocate, 5/12/15
Fresh Off the Boat was the answer to our family viewing prayers. It was a rare show we could watch as a family with our 13-year-old son that didn’t involve superheroes or cartoon characters. It was funny, with enough Asian-centric humor and middle-school shenanigans to be instantly relatable to the two Asian-Americans in the family. My husband (the non-Asian) and I also thought it would be a good launching-off point in discussing race with Ben, who’s adopted from Vietnam. What we didn’t expect was to be having another kind of conversation altogether.
The three of us are sitting on the couch, the remnants of roast chicken and potatoes on the TV trays in front of us, watching television (in our household, this is what we call “quality time”). We have DVR’d the most recent episode of FOB, the one where the mother, Jessica, has her ex-boyfriend come to visit. She doesn’t understand why her husband, Louis, isn’t jealous, but for the viewer, the answer is pretty obvious. The ex-boyfriend is played by the fabulous Rex Lee, best known for his role as Lloyd, the gay assistant to Jeremy Piven on Entourage, and he sashays his way onto FOB with the same flamboyant panache he had on HBO. Even better, his behavior isn’t the joke; the humor lies in the fact that Jessica doesn’t have a clue about his orientation. Her gaydar is almost as broken as Michele Bachmann’s.
During the commercial break, Ben, sprawled on the couch, turns to me and says, “So, why isn’t the dad jealous?”
I stop my fast-forwarding. “You really don’t know?”
“Is it because he’s married?”
“He has a girlfriend?”
“Definitely no. Just watch. You’ll see.”