I just don’t like being yelled at

November 23rd, 2014

In the past year, I have seen an old man at the entrance of San Francisco Costco who checks for membership cards. His hair is all white and his stance is slightly tilted from years of working. As members walk in, he barks, “Your membership card? Let me see it! Do you have it? Your membership card, please!”

Members pull out their card, obeying their orders. Then they walk in, stuffing their cards back into their bags, to be forgotten until it’s requested to be seen at the register.

On my first encounter with the old man, it was amusing to be yelled at by a drill sergeant. Chris called him a “crotchety old man”, noting that “crotchety” is often only used for old white men. For me, I started feeling embittered on return visits. His behavior was so unlike the usual door greeters (or door enforcers). Now let me start that I love Costco. It is a big-box retailer, but I actually find the limited choices and quality to be appealing. It’s rare that I can get high-quality cheese at bulk prices. Not to mention discount gas.

We whispered to fellow staff members, “Who is the old guy at the door? The one who yells?”

“Him? Oh he’s always like that. He’s always angry.”

Chris isn’t bothered, but my stomach tightens each time we approach the door. It’s like walking through a door with knives. I know how to go around it, but it’s always unpleasant each time to be pricked. I start to wonder what if I went inside without showing the card. Like heading to the pharmacy as I should be allowed to do in the state of California.

Instead, later, as I am dealing with something at the membership desk, I notice the woman helping me has the title “front end supervisor” on her nametag. Chris urges me to mention something and points at the sign that says customer service is our priority. “I am uncomfortable,” I say, rehearsing out loud as the supervisor heads to the other side to grab paperwork. “With the way he yells at the door.”

Indeed, I stumble over my words, panicking that I am not making sense and that my concerns was going to be dismissed. I nearly dismiss myself to say that it doesn’t matter even if it did matter. But then she understands and tells us that they have tried with him, but he doesn’t seem to listen. And the supervisor was concerned as Chris added, “She doesn’t feel comfortable when yelled at.”

I hate it when I feel an invisible force shield

November 21st, 2014

My appointment was 2:30 PM. I was sure of it. I had checked the text messages twice to make sure before I even departed my apartment. I sprinted up Sansome Street, going full speed when the lights turned green and moving as efficient as possible to Montgomery Street. I reminded myself that I will have to take the time later to seriously consider if this location was worth it.

Outside the building, I pressed the # button to get to the directory. I punched in the number, unsure if I did it right and hoped that the “system is dialing” meant that something was happening. I tried to focus on the sound spilling out of the metal speaker, hoping that I could hear both the dial tone and the door unlocking at the same time in the midst of the street noise. Anxiety hurtle through my chest. Last time, did I announce myself? Didn’t she just let me in and I didn’t have to say a single word at all?

Her voice began speaking, and I was puzzled. I started saying my name, but I thought that it was silly. I was here for my appointment and really, who listens to their voicemail anyway? So I pressed the star button and hung up. I checked the directory and dialed the number again. It rang and rang. Suddenly behind me, a woman opened the door, leaving the building. “Oh!” I said and quickly hit the star button.

It was 2:31 PM already and I felt late. So I ran to the elevator, pounding the call button. It arrived slowly in 30 seconds and I climbed it, slamming the 4th floor. It felt like a snail moving through the building. Then the doors opened and I walked down the hallway that I had visited a few months earlier. Outside her door, I heard voices. So I patiently waited, checking my phone to make sure it was on silent. I sat down on the steps and wondered what to do.

But then it dawned on me after 10 minutes that my appointment time was incorrect. I checked my text messages again. She had said, “2:30 pm”. I thought to knock on the door, but I couldn’t do it. I was admonished by a nearby practitioner for thinking such things. So I paced up and down the hallway. I was here and could figure out the misschedule right now instead of resorting to an abnormal communication. But I felt the invisible force shield as my hand reached for the door.

If only I could not hear the voices, would I behave differently? Would I consider this whole space to be mine? I couldn’t do it. Instead, my fingers touched the door and absorbed the voices. I texted, “Am I supposed to be scheduled at 2:30 pm?”

I texted Chris to ask what I should do even though I already knew what I was comfortable doing. He texted back saying, “Knock softly.”

I raised my hand and just could not. I thought about all the times that I couldn’t do something that I thought that I should do. The time in college when I wanted to join a club and got to the door one minute late and was panicking in the worst way possible, never making it inside. The time that I was 20 minutes late to a blood donation center and completely flaked out on my appointment (only time in my life ever, I swear and they never contacted me again). But the funny thing is that I clearly remember pushing myself to go some places in despite being uncomfortable and late, and I don’t remember what they were.

So I stood outside the door for 30 minutes wondering what to do. I sent another text message, thinking that I had fulfilled my duty of acknowledging my presence. I lifted my arm and made a soft barely audible knock. One that I couldn’t even hear myself. In seconds, I received a text message confirming my hypothesis. So I took a deep breath and went down the elevator. Out back on Columbus Avenue, swinging down to Kearney stopping to get an expensive Sea Salt Creme Oolong Tea with Milk Pudding in the Financial District. The rain poured then, dripping all over me since I opted not to bring an umbrella. I looked down the sidewalk, letting my hood shield my head and breathed in the air.

What is the point of existence if the past is forgotten?

November 19th, 2014

Yesterday morning, I walked around my block and documented it for the local blog for the Mission neighborhood.

I came up with the title, “Leave your mark”, within the first few minutes when I stepped outside.

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It started like this: Just steps from my apartment where I have lived since 2006, I discovered the tiled entryway “Dog Eared Books” in shades of green. You see, I knew that Dog Eared Books had never been there ever since I moved in. I had always known it as the “witch” and “herbal” store, which recently moved several doors down to be replaced by an artsy zine store. In fact, Dog Eared Books had been several blocks away. It is the bookstore whose bargain bin always caught my eye, the location where I found something for a SF “scavenger” hunt experience, the place where I could find literary magazines and zines and other various things.

But what struck me was how the former businesses here left their mark whether it was their historical and/or artistic signs. How people left food outside. How artists left their marks on the sidewalks in Koi fish or fried eggs. How the city’s sirens ring every Tuesday at noon singing “This is a test.”

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What would be my mark? I moved here in 2006, not knowing that I would be still living here in 2014. I think that I believed then that I would be a transient, making a momentary stop as I figured out my life. But as I look around the neighborhood to the businesses that used to be here, I wonder if I would disappear? Just like all the people I never quite knew who lived right next door, quietly watching in the window, wishing that the neighbors wouldn’t block the driveway. Again.

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Fancy pants mean that they ride low, literally.

November 13th, 2014

Suddenly, a cyclist yelled something at me as she rode past me as I cruised down Market Street. Her hair was short, and she wore one of those city helmets. Now, when I am on my bike, I get yelled at a lot. By cars for taking up the lane. By other cyclists for being too slow. By pedestrians who think that the light was green.

But a moment after she started singing (because I realized that it wasn’t yelling, it was singing), I realized what she said.

As she rode past me and swung into my lane, “Your pants are so low and I can see your ass-crack.”

Stunned, my first instinct was amusement. But the next one came almost immediately. Anger. How dare she comment on something that couldn’t be helped. I was in my aggressive cycling mood—almost required when riding downtown, but then my cautious cycling mood popped in the moment the light turned red. She zipped two blocks ahead then further as I waited for the numbers to countdown to zero. I quickly pulled up the expensive pair of jeans, the skinny leg ones that were over $100 and as I rode down Market Street onto Valencia Street, I stopped leaning forward and sat straight up so nobody would see. Like the way I liked it. Because I don’t ever want to be like Kim Kardashian (NSFW).

Darkness descends

November 11th, 2014

And the brightness retreats, taking all clarity.
Here is where the storm boils and spills.
Here is where the shouts come out of exhaustion.
Here is where we let darkness consumes us.

In high school and college, I learned to love the night unlike the nights I used to spend terrified of monsters, demanding night lights. This is where my parents and my sister disappeared into their bedrooms and dreams suspended them, leaving me alone in my room with my books and the family computer. I let the ideas fly from the printed word into my head, unfolding and folding upon itself until it became an inspiration for an idea. I let words unfurl from my fingers onto the keyboard, filtering as 1s and 0s.

But as exhaustion overtakes me and my eyelids feel heavy, I rest my head in my pillow and my arms fall slack. For a second, everything is calm, but without electric light, I bolt up and wonder if there are monsters lurking outside of my sight. I rush to turn on the night light to create my own burst of clarity.

Hangry?

November 6th, 2014

I dislike ridiculous slang and avoid it as much as possible. It’s those young’uns that keep using it after all!

But then recently, a young ‘un used hangry in front of me. As we walked around the NASA base a few weeks ago during a public opening, I was nearly dying. Without eating breakfast, I was subsisting on air fumes, the smaller dinner from the previous night. Every step I took to move from building in the multiple acre campus (imagine this: shuttles, big satellites, wind tunnels need to fit all here; imagine the space required). Within two hours of walking, my friend admitted that she was hangry. “I think that I am too!” I chirped, my stomach rumbling and my feet hurting.

But I couldn’t understand the word. Because I have always hated words like totes, natch, cray cray. Just say what you mean! But then I finally understood hangry.

When you find me at my worst, it’s when I have been starved beyond recognition (in my mind). Where I want to collapse in a heap. All because I follow my usual habits of not eating in the morning. My eyes are likely falling out, because I didn’t sleep well or that the alarm woke me up before my preferred natural waking up time.

“Where is the effffing food?” I want to demand and strangle anybody in the way. Instead that day on the NASA base, I just started charmingly singing, “Foodie!” every ten feet. As if I was calling a dog to come back to my side. “Foodie! Foodie! Foodie!!!!! Come fill my belly!”

The story of the mistaken identity

November 4th, 2014

From a distance, I saw a young Asian female. She shuffled slowly toward the genius bar at the Stonestown Apple Store. Standing near the kids area that played animated games over and over again, I wanted to lunge her and declare, “JEN NG!”

Instead, I maintained my composure and moved my weight to foot to foot, craning to hear her soft voice speak to the check-in guy. “My iPhone is broken,” she said.

Doubt spread among my ears. It wasn’t Jen Ng, someone who had signed up for the 3:10 pm appointment and used my email address. A few days earlier, I was in a rage. How could someone use my email address again? To not only verify an apple id, but more importantly, to sign up for an Apple appointment. The rage rippled through my head muscles down to my shoulder muscles. In my mind, I imagined running up to her, grabbing her by the shoulders, and demanding that she stop using my email address for everything on the Internet, so help me God.

In all clarity, I knew that it was a minor mistake. This one probably would have been corrected easily. But it’s all the frustration I have been feeling as gmail has become prolific and everyone has been using it. At first, I thought that it was hilarious when I received an email about bank statements from Toronto. Then it was just amusing when a travel agent sent me airplane tickets in my name and some husband’s name for a destination cruise. Then it was almost sentimental when I received heartwarming emails from women in Hong Kong for a newly born infant diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Until it wasn’t of course. The annoyance happened when I was accidentally included in a mass email list for a tutoring group in Canada. At first, I politely requested that I was removed. But then I was not. I received reminders, doodle invitations, and new assignments. Anger flared and I sent very directed angry messages to be removed. Then I received dinner invitations and bachleorette invitations. At first, I again asked to be removed. Then in my following messages, I gave snarky reply about how I wish that I was invited, but sadly my name is the only thing that really matters. Whose fault was it really? I wish that I knew, because I wish that I could blame the person with my same name. But how can I blame the non-Jenn? How can I blame the people who have too misspelled my own name?

My war continued. In the Apple store, I stood stupidly right there near the guys with the check-in tablets. Waiting for someone to show up. But then I realized: if she scheduled the appointment with my email address, then this means that she never received a reminder or confirmation email. How would she have remembered to come? I argued with a genius about how I could contact this mysterious Jen Ng who was a no-show. “Just email her,” he said.

I scoffed, because I didn’t follow his logic. “But how can I email her if I don’t her email address?” I said. “Because she used my email address and as you know, I would be sending an email to myself. Do you understand what’s going on?”

The rage tipped over, and my blood pressure must have been going higher than its usual low calm level. I was impressed with the guy’s calm as he smiled. “Just schedule an appointment,” he said. “Let’s take a look for what we have.”

What if I did everything that I said that I would do?

November 3rd, 2014

It’s a crazy question. And yet, we are all human and we make promises that we can’t keep, because we can’t keep all the variables in our hold. The variables that are the more interesting events that may happen at the same time, the chance that a family member needs our help, the deadlines for work (because work always take priority over everything), the energy levels, the timing of other activities.

We don’t know the risk and rewards.

But what if I did everything that I said that I would do. That if the words slip out of my mouth that they were the truth. That yes, I would go to the book reading on Saturday and the dinner with my parents in the East Bay and help my friends move to a new apartment and wash my car and do my laundry. What if I actually did commit?

Wouldn’t it be a crazy world when our words become meaningful and they are worth something?

That’s what had surprised me the most as a child. That words are only words. “But that’s what she said!” I would scream when I was surprised by lies. “But it was a promise!”

What if all the words that we leak in conversations, the empty promises that seem to pour out of our fingertips could not be taken back? What if they meant something and that we were chained to it? On one hand, that seems like a horror movie where yes, we would still have free will, but we wouldn’t have play, experimentation, and failure? But then again, isn’t the reason that promises become broken is because we are afraid of commitment so words keep falling and falling out, rolling around on the ground until they become forgotten and decay into dust.

Running a checkpoint on Journey

October 27th, 2014

I fell in love with Journey to the End of the Night several years ago when I stumbled upon it trying to figure out what adventures laid in San Francisco.

After a few years running it, I found that I became too aggressive, too competitive, too defeatist that it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. Tagged a few blocks from the end point, I felt my life sucked out of me, literally collapsing in the street. Dangers lurking around me was interesting and perhaps even fun. Yet when it became real, it wasn’t something I wanted.

How could it be?

I would blame the balance of the game—when someone is tagged, the desire to go on is taken away. The joy of experiencing the checkpoints is gone.

So this year, along with Chris and others, we manned a checkpoint. We asked players to run two at a time through a tire obstacle course. The other volunteers would yell at them much like a bootcamp for the tires that lined approximately 30 feet. The “winner” would receive a cape for their achievement. Of course, perhaps to my surprise, people enjoyed winning even if it was a “cape” that would make them more obvious to the chasers. Everyone wants something that shows their dedication, their achievement, their best.

How do they feel if they lost? Do they know that they have won and that they can still continue to run without a signal that they’re playing a game?

The key to success: Presence

October 22nd, 2014

Yes, I have always repeated this mantra over and over again to drill people into what I value: Presence > Presents.

But it’s more than that. I truly believe that to succeed at anything is to show up. If I want something, the least that I can do is just be present. Because the fact is everyone else who doesn’t want that something as much as you do will not be present, will not show up, will not commit.

I admit though that the detriment of this belief is that I lose trust in others when their presence falters. So many people claim “busy lives”, but it’s the fact that what I value isn’t the same as what others value.

But then there comes the question of: will they even notice my presence? will they even notice my absence? will it even matter? will it matter if I was present and then as they say…ghosted?

I always notice when people appear and when they disappear. I wonder what happened to their self-respect if they won’t let others remember them.