Continued from Part 1: BC, or Before Caroline
Not too late after that particularly embarrassing incident came perhaps the most important event in my life. As a former computer scientist I dubbed it “Event 0,” also occasionally calling it “the Hegira.” Perhaps I’m being overly emphatic about the importance of this event, but then again, if it hadn’t occurred I wouldn’t be here today. One of our great uncles died and left my mother a small fortune (he belonged to a branch of our family who are rich East Coast bankers). It was enough to buy a new car or for a down payment for a new house, and in all her wisdom she spent it buying a new house. In retrospect it was a great decision, not only because it got us out of the violent, gangster-ridden Oakland neighborhood in which we lived, but the equity of the house helped finance the college education of my sister, me, and later on my cousin.
We were all happy when we moved to our new residence in Cupertino. For my sister it was an escape from the recent but personally devastating “teacup ride” scandal; for me the Hegira was wonderful because our new home was a stone’s throw from the public library (a place where I spent so much time that the seat cushion of the chair I used contained an imprint of my butt); for my mother it was great because it was the first time she had a desk job answering phone calls at a local hospital. I remember the day we moved in, it was during a summer heat wave in June. When we entered the house we felt a hot blast of air rushing out the front door as though we had opened an oven. The house we moved into was quite old, it wasn’t well-insulated and if the external environment was excessively hot or cold the house would become an inferno or a meat locker.
The first thing we did upon entering the house was to throw open all the windows and doors, to ventilate all of the hot air out into the environment and to allow some cool air to settle in (a task Congress undertakes too seldom). The attempt to cool the house in this fashion was futile, the air outside was no cooler in the air inside, so we resorted to using electric fans. We had only one oscillating fan between Emily and I, but even with the oscillating function Emily and I were still too close for comfort. I ended up spending time sitting on the sidewalk under the shade of a large gingko tree. I sat there for about half an hour amusing myself by giving crumbs of my oatmeal cookies to ants and watching them carry it off back to their nest when suddenly my mom told me that she had bought some ice cream sandwiches and invited me to come inside the house to enjoy them. The catch to her offer was that I had to sit at the same table with my sister, a difficult proposition even when we sit at opposite ends. Nonetheless, even usually vicious vultures will endure the company of their own kind when feeding on a single carcass, and for the most part Emily and I get along well when we eat together.
We enjoyed our all-American treat, which like so many things American combines two things that nobody thought in a hundred years should come together, such as a sandwich and an ice cream. Honestly, I would like to smoke whatever the inventor of the ice cream sandwich had been puffing when he came up with his landmark invention, but despite the strangeness of eating ice cream between two pieces of Graham crackers the result was delicious. As I was washing down the overpowering sweetness of the ice cream with a glass of water the phone rang, I heard high-heel shoes tapping across the hardwood as my mother raced towards the kitchen to pick up the phone. “Interesting,” I thought to myself, “barely have we been in this house for three hours and we are already receiving our first phone call.”
“Hello?” my mother answered with a tone of concern, “Yes, this is Sylvia Fields. You’re the CHP? What did you say happened?” For about a period of half a minute a disturbing silence settled over the entire kitchen, even the wind did not dared blow and the compressor of our refrigerator had no courage to turn itself on. Then my mother spoke into the receiver in a very nonchalant tone, breaking the silence. “Okay, I’ll be there.” She hung up the phone in a very ritualistic manner, lowered her head to rub her eyes, then turned towards Emily and I and said, “Emily, Ricky, behave yourselves, I’ll be gone for about two hours, maybe less, but most likely more.” Looking down at her watch she said, “I’m leaving twenty dollars in case I don’t return in time to make dinner, in which case go buy yourselves a pizza. But do pray that I will safely return in less than two hours.”
Mom seemed to be in a hurry, she grabbed her purse and bolted out of the house faster than a black person running away from a KKK rally. I only wished that she remembered to carry her driver’s license because the cash-strapped police department is nit-picky about these things.
After my mother departed I turned to my sister and asked, “Where do you think she left to?”
“She has left to start a new life with a lover and left us to fend for ourselves,” she said in a loud voice.
“Are you sure?” I said, wrinkling my forehead.
“I don’t think it matters much now. I mean, we’re already fending for ourselves, mom is at work so many hours of the day that she has hardly any time to spend with us. We already cook dinner ourselves half the time and pack our own lunches. If only we have a baby brother to take care off we’d be like a married couple.”
“But still, don’t we depend on our mother’s income to pay for the house, food, electricity and fuel we need?”
“Yes, but practically speaking we don’t need our mother; we could ditch school now and get low paying jobs. I bet if we’re not living in such a fancy place and move back in Oakland we could afford living easily, since we don’t have children to take care of we’d have plenty of disposable income to do whatever we wish.”
“Do you really plan on ditching school?”
“Well…one of these days,” she said, giving a mischievous smile and a wink.
Of course, the both of us knew that school was painful but necessary, like a root canal, a twelve-year root canal which burdened our lives from the moment we woke until that moment late at night that we finally got around to finishing our homework. It might be a surprise to you that an A student would describe school as a root canal, but the truth is I disliked school like all my fellow cohorts. Now, I did not hate school as vehemently as some people I had met, but school had taken its toll on me. All the years I had spent at my desk doing homework; I could have ran around outside and played baseball or football with a friend or two, or simply bathed in the sunshine that California is so famous for.
Of course, there was always pressure from mom to excel academically. Despite the fact that I was already doing quite well the fear of failing at a task was always there in the background, constantly gnawing away at my sanity. Then there were the projects, where kids are asked to design a poster, create a subject-related artwork, learn how to edit video, make a PowerPoint presentation or learn how to samba, all in the name of education. Honestly, how does gluing pasta on a poster board help kids learn about the Byzantine empire? Those who do not have children who attend elementary school right now do not understand what I’m saying, but you won’t believe the multitude of crap they forced us to do in elementary and even high school. For a project on which we were graded I once dressed as Portia to reenact a scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice because the group I was working with had no girls. Besides learning how to do drag, I learned nothing from the experience that would help me later in life.
Now that I have revealed to you the secret life of Maggie Fields, let me veer back to the main road from the tangent I have swerved into. It was an extremely hot day and we had no air conditioning, I believe that day set a record for the highest temperature recorded in Cupertino for about a decade. With no air conditioning there were only two options, either spend time in the library or play some basketball at the YMCA. My sister had (and still has) an aversion to libraries; she would rather go into a haunted house because the prospect of being terrorized by ghosts from beyond the grave is less disturbing than reading books and learning stuff. So, we chose to go to the YMCA where we could enjoy air conditioning for a reasonable membership fee, as opposed to going to the library where we could enjoy air conditioning virtually for free.
However, even the most ardent bibliophile will admit that the YMCA has amenities that libraries usually don’t have, such as a basketball court which also doubles as a tennis court, and a weight room for training those bulging muscles. Perhaps if libraries would replace a few microfilm machines with weight machines they could attract more people. They could work their biceps as they catch up on their Leo Tolstoy, an activity I personally enjoy. Unlike weight training or running on a treadmill, basketball is an activity which is impossible to perform while reading. Nonetheless I do enjoy it to some extent, though I’m not a good basketball player in the normal sense of the word. I made more baskets in a basket making workshop than on the basketball court, nonetheless though I enjoyed the company of young men, or as Michael Jackson calls them…nah, that joke is getting too old.
While I was running around and sweating in the air conditioned confines of a basketball court my sister was spending time in the indoor pool. It was a poor choice because the pool at the YMCA was swamped with young children. Some of them were barely able to swim while others who could swim were pretending to be sharks, popping up from under and scaring the hell out of her, so she spent most of the time treading water in the deep end. After three hours of basketball I was fucking tired, so I decided to go and see how Emily was doing in the pool. When I see Emily she usually wears her hair down which makes her look like the youthful and fancy-free girl she is. But in the pool she had her hair tied in a bun for the sake of avoiding being sucked into the water intakes. The hairstyle made her look stuck-up and conservative, which was in turn contradicted by her rather revealing two-piece swimsuit.
I carefully treaded along the slippery poolside towards Emily while at the same time avoiding the splashing water that resulted when a throng of rambunctious children play together in a small pool. She swam towards me in her breast stroke (don’t even go there), when her head surfaced she gripped the side of the pool and blew her nose, spraying a large glob of watery mucus into the chlorine-scented water.
“That’s disgusting,” I said, standing back from her.
“Tell me about it,” Emily said, “there are about fifty kids in this pool, each of them has peed about twice since they’ve been here, and I’ve already drank two mouthfuls of pool water. With the pool having a capacity of half a million gallons, the water temperature 25 degrees Celsius, and π approximately equal to 3.141592654, you do the math and calculate how much urine I have drank.”
“Actually, urine is a relatively sterile fluid. As a matter of fact people who have been caught in deserts have been known to resort to drinking urine. Some claim that urine contains essential minerals, vitamins and anti-cancer agents, and advocate the daily drinking of urine for its medicinal properties.”
“Eww! Why are you telling me this?”
“I saw it somewhere on television and I thought it was interesting, that’s all.”
“Have anybody told you that you know the most useless pieces of knowledge in the world?”
“I get that response a lot, though if I’m ever on Jeopardy and there’s a list of questions relating to urine, I’d make a killing.”
Emily was going to respond to my statement when suddenly I was splashed by an eight-year-old in a blue scuba mask. I was obviously annoyed, but I did not display my irritated mood except for saying tongue-in-cheek, “Eck, now I have medicine splashed all over my pants.”
Unexpectedly I was splashed for a second time, not by a playful kid but by my own sister. The last time I was splash my pants only got a little wet, but this time I was absolutely drenched, even my hair was dripping with water. I was somewhat furious but did not express it directly, I merely asked, “What did you do that for?”
Laughing loudly, Emily said, “Now you have medicine all over you, not just on your pants.”
Angered by her impudence, I started removing my shoes, causing Emily to remark sarcastically, “Oh I’m so scared, Ricky is taking off his shoes. Oh my, what might he do next? He’s so unpredictable.”
“I’ll unpredict you!” I said in a menacing tone, continuing to take off my socks.
“‘I’ll unpredict you?’ Is that supposed to be a threat or are you just spewing more gibberish?”
Without warning I suddenly jumped into the pool almost catching Emily off guard, but she had enough time to swim out of my reach. I hadn’t swum for quite a long time, nonetheless I took to water like a Russian takes to vodka (I know, but I’m already in hot water with the Anti-Defamation League) and quickly chased after Emily. Unfortunately Emily was a strong swimmer, and she has long arms and legs that allows her to make long, powerful strokes in the water that propelled her through the water as naturally as a seal. I was always two arm’s length away from her, unable to catch up and quickly running out of breath I stopped in the middle of the pool as Emily bolted away from me. Emily continued until she made it all the way to the other end, leaving me stranded and kicking water in the middle of the pool.
At that time I heard a voice yelling at me from a distance, it was very familiar. When I turned my head around I saw my mother. “What are you doing here in the pool with all your clothes on?” she asked with a tinge of anger in her voice. Her voice was sounding unusually threatening, I dared not swim away from her in fear that it would rouse her ire even more, instead I turned around and swam in her direction. Quickly Emily turned around too, because I was swimming at a leisurely pace she overtook me before I even reached the end of the pool. When I pulled my head out of the water I was at eye level with my mother’s mall-bought high-heel shoes, from my perspective when I looked up I saw my mother’s body towering above me like a menacing skyscraper. “Look at you, now your clothes are all wet! Great, this is more crap I have to deal with.” I had gotten wet purposefully before on hot days by running through sprinklers and my mother had done nothing except to politely ask me to step into the bathroom and change my clothes. From this I knew that she was in a bad mood instead of merely being upset by my behavior. I pulled myself out of the pool and so did Emily, though unlike Emily I had no set of dry clothes to change into.
Continue to: Part 3: Meeting Caroline