Did the hoagie or the country come first?
Did the hoagie or the country come first?
Shh… it stands for Swiss cheese.
I suppose I could fight circumstance. I suppose there could be some sort of meaning in the struggle of swimming against a river with seemingly infinite current. Isn’t it easier to give up… to not hope for the better?
Because hope only has substance when it ties a story together. Without an ending to pain, hope only causes needless suffering. While humanity viewed hope as the only good sentiment expelled from Pandora’s Box, I put it together with the evil.
It was a cloudy summer afternoon. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees on Radio 104.5 played in the background as I turned the corner from Spruce to Delancey Street in search of a parking space. I was trying to diversify my music tastes from my short list of hip-hop, pop, and EDM. Alternative rock seemed like a natural follow-up.
I checked the time once again. It was 11:58 a.m. I had two minutes to walk to the tampons next to the High Rises to meet a friend for lunch. Delancey Street seemed like a logical place to park; I had purchased a 60 x 42″ photo print of Paris from a graduating senior the previous week, so I knew that there would be open space there. And I was correct. There were only two cars parked in the entire block, and I quickly pulled up to the curb before clicking the electronic lock on my keys.
The conversation following my lunch had been enriching. I returned four hours later to the sight of two cars. A red Toyota Corolla and a brown Nissan Altima. Funny, I thought my car was black. At first, I thought someone had stolen my car. I reflected the prospect of a thief breaking the windows for a bit before realizing that no one would bother hotwiring a scratched-up 2004 Honda Accord. Another car pulled up to the parking space where I had left my car. I asked the driver if parking here was legal. “Yeah,” she said. “Only if you have a parking pass though.”
Amazing. I strode towards the end of the block to see the white sign laced in red letters. George Smith Towing Co. A couple of numbers caught my attention: $175 Towing Charge, $25 Storage Per Night. I stopped to reflect on the numbers for a bit before reading the sign again. I checked the street next to Delancey to make sure my car had, in fact, been towed. When I had finally exhausted my will to deny my predicament, I called the towing company to verify that my car had been towed and then collected my thoughts before calling my mom.
“Hi mom,” I said in Chinese. “I think I messed up.”
“Did you get in a car crash? Are you okay?”
“Um, no. But I did get the car towed.”
“Oh,” she sighed. “Okay, how are you going to get home?”
“I can take the Septa,” I replied. “But it’s a really expensive charge.”
“That’s fine. We can talk more when you get home.”
I spent the next 50 minutes of my Septa ride in a state of restlessness. I repeatedly thought about how long I would have to work to earn $200 or how many cups of coffee this towing charge buy. To my surprise, when I reached my house, my mom didn’t yell at me. Neither did my dad. I offered to pay the charges with the money I had earned from my current research position and my previous internship, but they told me not to worry about it. My dad told me that he would take me to the towing garage the next morning, and that was all we spoke of the incident where I parked on Delancey Street.
It’s quite a contrast to what I have been used to growing. I remembered my mom yelling at me for wanting to buy a 1 RMB popsicle (roughly 15 cents) when I was a child because she said that I didn’t need it. I remember eating rotten vegetables on occasion growing up because my parents didn’t want any food to go to waste. “Just put it in a soup,” my mom would say. I remember countless times throughout my transition to an adulthood of moments where I had been denied many adolescent luxuries (and some necessities) because my parents did not want to distribute their income accordingly.
As I result, I suppose I have become more contemptful for individuals who thoughtlessly spend money without regard to the difference between necessity and luxury, which is why I had been all the more surprised when my parents did not even raise their voice for such a reckless waste of money. “Everyone makes mistakes,” said my mom. “Your dad got a parking ticket for $200 within his first week in the United States.”
For the next couples of weeks, I realized that my consumption habits have not changed. I have not bought any fewer groceries or drunken any less coffee because of an expensive mistake that I had made on Delancey Street. I still purchase a $2 coffee from Wawa every morning. I still buy my bacon, egg, and cheese with spinach on a long roll from Lyn’s every morning. I still take the Septa for distances that I could’ve walked. And for that, I am truly grateful — for the fact that I am able to make mistakes without significant repercussions beyond some mental discomfort.
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life. Most of which, I do not regret. But now that I think of it, I cannot recall my mistakes as vividly as I thought I would. Without the sharp repercussion that should follow my mistakes — with the support network of countless friends and family members — I feel as if I have moved on without the necessary lessons that I should’ve learned from the many mistakes that I have made throughout my entire life. And so, in terms of living with more intention in my life, I hope in the future that I could better understand the magnitude of my mistakes by considering the absence of my safety net.
I woke up this morning to the sound of my phone vibrating. I didn’t recognize the number, so I let the call go to voicemail. A few minutes later, I learned that my dental appointment tomorrow had been canceled.
I closed my eyes again in an attempt to go to sleep again. The windows had already illuminated my room with a soft blue hue, but my alarm wouldn’t go off for another hour. I felt some liquids draining from my eye. I wiped them with my pillow. For some reason, I didn’t recognize the feeling. Pulsating waves of catharsis, I had always described my tears in my journal entries. But these tears were unfamiliar. I could not pinpoint a definitive cause like I could with other feelings of sadness in my life. I couldn’t identify feelings of trauma or heartbreak that could possibly evoke any sort of sentiment within me. It could be the result of the underpinning melancholy in my life, but it didn’t feel quite the same.
I had been in love in my dream. It’s ironic because I had never experienced romantic love with anyone in my waking consciousness. I don’t quite remember what happened in my dreams, but I remember it had been profound. I met someone with a degree of complexity as any other person I have met in my life, and we ran away together somewhere far away. She had black hair. She laughed like a butterfly. I don’t remember her face. I don’t remember her name. But somehow, we lived a life together. Similar to the cloud of memories in our lives, I could not recall every moment unless I direct my consciousness towards them. Nevertheless, I accepted their existence.
The feelings of attachment were eerily similar to some other feelings I have had during other summers of my life. I wouldn’t know if my feelings had merit. After all, it is hard to describe colors to a blind person. One moment ago, I lived another life. While dreams exist in all sorts of durations, my world seemed like another equally real existence. I had friends and ex-lovers with as much personality as I have in this life. I slept in a bed where I could distinctly recall the color of the fabric or the hardness of mattress. I distinctly remember the view of Beijing I had outside the Airbnb where I lived. The next moment, I am living in a different world with seemingly less advanced technology and a less interesting plot arc.
My feelings will fade. My recollections of the dream world will fade. The complex world that I had effortlessly created with a couple of chemical reactions in my brain in my sleep will stop existing because I let it fade into nothingness. I deliberately choose to let such existences fade. I had stopped writing down my dreams about two years ago because I wanted to stop attaching myself to realities that did not exist. Regardless of what accomplishments or failures I have had in another world, I still have only one timeline that I perceive as real. I could consider my dream world to be real (since I did, after all, create it), but in the end, it still exists in a lesser plane of reality.
Even so, I sometimes remember some aspects of those countless worlds I have created in my head. I could be taking a shower and letting my thoughts wander to whatever corners of my mind they wish to go, and I would suddenly be overwhelmed at the discovery of another repressed world I had created in my head, a world where there seems to be a cohesive string of events. Saddened by the prospect of another timeline of my existence, I return my attention to the only reality I have truly come to know — the reality where I can perceive the warmness of the water against my back and the stinging of the shampoo in my eyes.
Yet, in my mind, I still hold my dreams and memories in the same light.
I have always found the concept of being from Philadelphia to be interesting.
On a warm morning, my grandmother opens the elevator door to give a warm embrace to her childhood friend, who had visited Beijing for professional reasons. “How long has it been?” she exclaims. “Blink of an eye, and here we are.” She seats herself and her guest on her well-dusted couch from earlier in the morning. The TV had been left on, leaving a quiet rumbling of a CCTV news anchor to an otherwise quiet room.
Twenty years from their last reunion, my grandmother and her friend had much to talk about. But, at the same time, not much has changed. They still worked the same jobs as they did twenty years ago, still married to the same people, still had the same dulled idiosyncrasies they had when they were living in another form of government housing in Hunan. They talked and talked, until she left. And then, they never had a chance to speak again.
Household income is equal to investment plus consumption.