Thursday, January 24, 2008

No Matter How Good You Are, There Will Always Be an Asian Man Who Is Younger, Smarter, And Better Than You At What You Do Best

Frequently, that man will be your best friend.

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The history of my life is in many ways a history of the Asian friends who have been better than me at what I do best. I'm not sure how far back records go, but beyond the border of my birth-picture I'm pretty sure there's a Japanese boy eating his foot.

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"Watch out!" I want to yell at my baby-self. I want to warn him to pay no attention to what is happening one dish over.

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There is so much to say in these situations! For example, I want to say, in second grade you will befriend Shunsuki Eno. His house is covered in blue shag; there is a Yamaha organ with an ungodly number of sound presets in one corner of it. The bench is so tall that your feet barely reach the ground - but this is appropriate since Shun himself is at least twice as good a piano player as you. He does not look at his fingers while he plays.

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In addition to the organ Shun will have a Nintendo. But it's a strange Nintendo: smaller, with bright, pastel-colored games that cause him to whack disdainfully at the controller. None of its games will work on your console.

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At one point you will decide to design your own video game; so you will sit on a wall drawing the slime from Legend of Zelda until your mom comes to pick you up. Shunsuki will let you keep his drawings.

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Later, Thomas Aquino will own that rare thing: a Sega Genesis. You will never get to play it. You will never want to play it: you will prefer watching him play, cross-legged on one of his tessellated floor pillows, lunging through Strider, hacking apart Golden Axe, or manipulating the gigantic four-dimensional quilt of Sonic the Hedgehog. You will watch him play these games with your heart in my stomach - you will want him to win so badly! And when he does win, you will feel a warm feeling spreading through your body like pee or the seat-heater on your family's Volvo. Even when you're outside - even when Tom's mother kicks you off the Genesis, and you go outside and tie firecrackers to small lizards, you will continue to feel this.

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You will be, according to your sixth grade science teacher, "fiercely competitive." And this will be a terrible and exhilarating feeling at the same time - one that you will savor for years, that makes you more unhappy than any other friend, girl, or even parent. At this point, finally, you will begin to beware your Asian friend.

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The Asian friend of your youth will occasionally be Jewish. Don't let this fool you.

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He will be an only child; or he will have a sister who he worships.

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Tri Vinh Van, location currently unknown. Of all the Asian friends, he will be the most mysterious. A gentle man whose generosity is at times princely, at times merely Canadian. The first one to broach, unabashedly, the Insolubility of White People. The borders of his life will be bizarre, even dangerous-sounding, but he will maintain a clear and untroubled brow. When you drop out of touch with him you will begin to doubt that he ever existed.

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Boxers, Hockey Players. They will gravitate to sports and video games, both of which they will beat you at. They will be dogged and quick and above all else hungry for love and attention. They will have pity on you, but this pity will be tainted by your weakness, which will disgust them. Weakness: one of the few things that you will learn without hesitation to call your own.

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There will be problem areas. Girls, for example: the time Dewi Dynoot puts paper-clips in your hair. You thought you were just playing around and in doing so proved yourself part of the Insolubility of White People. In this way you will betray, again and again, your Asian friends. They will repay you in kind through their excellence at what you do best, or by stealing girls from you. You will repay them through your excellence at what they do best.

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What will it take for you to understand the serious of this? The older you get, the less you will know. Conversely, your Asian friends will get younger, more talented. They will succeed where you failed.

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At which point you will have to discover their secret.

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You will have to find out how to use this feeling or be destroyed. On the other hand, if you are not destroyed, you will owe one more thing to your Asian Friend.

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Of the many things I wish I could tell my younger self, the danger of jealousy is one of the most difficult to part with. I am sure there was a time when I felt that I was who I was - there must have been a time like that. I remember it as if it were this morning, before some long nap I fell into. But now I feel like there's no way out of certain things: self-disgust, for example; also shame, a sense of failed promise. Does this mean that I'm growing up finally? I am convinced it must be, that I'm not alone.

How can I possibly be alone?

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On the other hand, I am pretty sure that Shun would never allow himself to be this way.

4 comments:

Seth said...

Josh:

You continue to surprise me--you and your eccentricities. I really like them, I have to say, although they make me feel somewhat Un-Lived-In Russia and Somewhat-Bereft-of-Asian-Friends-In-My-Life.

But no matter, I can read your blogs and live, vicariously, with you.

I was always terrible at Nintendo, always a watcher and not a player--funny, now that seems like a badge of honor to me. Sure, I was terrible at video games, but I was honing other desires, watching, such as my keen desire to be elsewhere...

Josh said...

Seth,

Well, I've never almost been eaten by a shark...which goes to show that as myth-making machines we take what we've got and try to invest it with ridiculous, maybe even debilitating amounts of meaning. Kind of like packing a suitcase so full that you can barely carry it. I mean, the people in my past that really effected me aren't even people anymore. They're gods.

Video game watching is an intensely imaginative pursuit - something that "The Wizard" really capitalized on, by making Fred Savage a video game klutz next to his wunderkind little brother. I personally never wanted to play video games: I wanted to LIVE in them. Now I try to write stories that are basically unbeatable versions of Super Mario Brothers 3.

And the desire to be elsewhere....oh man, I hear you on that one.

This is why I've always liked to think of writing as one of those portable holes that cartoon characters use in dire situations. Fold one up in your pocket, or fwap it down on a flat surface - and BOOM, you're out of there.

Anonymous said...

I know the Asian rival phenomenon well, although mine have always been Italian, and the animosity has never risen above what could be settled with a slap on the rear-end with a moistened towel. Actually, I usually delivered the first slap, and then ran out of the locker room squealing like a little girl. Oh, well. I feel much better, having made that confession.

Josh said...

Italians are worthy rivals, and anyway race doesn't really have anything to do with it. The important thing is to develop a habit of rivalry and then plug in whatever people or groups intimidate you on any given day. Also important: that you have once, maybe in a ridiculously meaningless way, been victorious. That way, no matter how bad your situation, some part of you assumes it can be done.

Literary masters of rivalry? Hard to overlook Hemingway. Kafka, who subtly demolished everyone he ever met. Without their even knowing. See, it is not necessarily important for them to know.