Archive for the ‘ Things My Family Does/Says ’ Category

At Your Own Risk

Everyone’s on the “It’s the 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake! Where were you when it happened?” bandwagon here, and I thought I’d share the shorter (and maybe funny) story.

We’d just moved into a new house, and it was the first two-story place we’d ever had. People had warned us that you feel earthquakes more on the second story and this proved to be true. Small ones (less than 3.0 on the Richter scale) felt just a little bit stronger and we swayed a fraction of a second longer. Knowing that, my dad (the same one who gave me this sense of humor) decided to play a long-running joke on my mom.

My mom used to be a light sleeper, so any hint of movement would wake her up immediately. My dad would to see if she was sleeping and then he’d start shaking the bed – slowly at first, then gradually build it up to resemble a really bad earthquake. My mom would wake up, freak out, and yell for my dad to come get me and then head downstairs.

“Oh, you mean this?” he’d ask, and continue shaking the bed. She’d hit him, call him an asshole, and then they’d go back to sleep. He did this about twice a month for a year, and she hated it.

Fast forward to January 17, 1994. The quake hit fast and fierce, and woke up both of my parents at the same time.

“Cut it out! It’s not funny anymore,” she said.

“It’s not me. This is the big one. We need to grab Katie and go downstairs.”

My parents waited until after a few aftershocks to tell me this story. We had a good laugh, then tried to go back to sleep.

As far as I know, my dad never played that joke again on my mom.

Hello, My Name Is…

I go by several names these days. If you call me:

1. Katie: You’ve known me for a very, very long time or you met me through a family member.

2. Kae: You met me sometime in middle school or high school.

3. Kathryn/Kat: You met me during college/when I started working.

4. The Letter Kae: You’ve “met” me on the internet sometime within the past eight years or so.

5. Kathy: You don’t know me at all.

6. Irene: You’re my mother, who cannot remember the name of her only child.

My mom started getting my name and her younger sister’s name mixed up shortly after her husband passed away (my aunt’s husband, not my dad). She’d say “Irene” when she meant me, and she’d call for “Katie” while trying to get my aunt’s attention. No one can figure out why this happened, but it’s been like this for over twenty years.

It wasn’t so bad in the beginning. My aunt and I would be at family functions and my mom would mistake one for the other. Then she began to call my aunt “Katie” over the phone. A couple of years later, she’d call me “Irene” while we were on vacation – just the two of us(!).

It’s now progressed to the point where my mom’s admitted to having to keep telling herself who she’s talking to when she’s on the phone with my aunt. “I’m talking to Irene, I’m talking to Irene,” is her mantra. As far as I know, it’s working.

We had dinner with cousins from Tokyo this evening. The entire immediate family was there, which meant my aunt and I were in the same room. During a conversation lull, I decided to ask a burning question:

“Hey, mom…what’s my name?”

My mother opened her mouth, my name on the tip of her tongue. She shut it immediately after, and paused to think. She had to seriously think who was talking to her.

I used to joke for years that I should change my name to “Irene” to make it easier. However, in the final days of my twenties, I’m seriously considering it. Turning thirty seems like something significant should happen, and several people have told me that their thirties were the decade that brought on major life changes. While I thought that I’d do something drastic (become physically fit by LA standards, for example), my achievement may not be much more than going to court to fill out a request form.

Aluminum Foil: the Jack O’ Lantern’s Best Friend

My family has never been one to go all out for Halloween. We’re the type that puts up smiling ghosts, mildly scary monsters, and the odd witch here and there on the door. All of our jack o’ lanterns come generally in the classic triangle eyes, triangle nose, missing teeth grin/grimace.

The one thing that makes our jack o’ lanterns better than yours is how bright we get ours to shine at night.

For as long as I can remember, my parents have used foil to line the inside of our pumpkins to enhance the glow of the candle. (And yes, we still use candles. If your children don’t have fire-resistant costumes, then that’s something you should have thought to consider before coming to our house.) At least two groups of parents will always ask, “Do you use mirrors to get the inside really bright?”

No, we just use foil. It makes things really shiny and also makes cleaning up a breeze.


Try it out this year. I guarantee you’ll make even the suckiest pumpkin look good.

“He’s HIV Positive!”

Apparently today is National Coming Out Day, if I’m to believe my Facebook and my Twitter feeds. This is great for two reasons:
1. Going to a Professionals Mixer at the Abbey tonight and am bringing my gay ex-husband/roomie with me. Flame Dame clich├ęs galore!
2. Don’t really need another reason, but I wanted to make a list.

Admitting your sexuality to others can either be an easy chat or a heart-wrenching ordeal. Luckily my friends who have come out have been able to have a relatively easy time of it (at least with the people they’ve been able to tell – sibblings and friends, but the parents may be left out for the first few years). I realize it helps to be in liberal-ish California to break the news and that millions of others are still struggling with being accepted as human beings, much less homosexuals.

To honor this special occasion, I’d like to share the story of how my mom’s youngest brother decided to come out. At the time it wasn’t that funny (for reasons you’ll soon read about), but fifteen years have passed and I’d like to think that my mom kind of laughs about it today.

I came across my first gay man at the age of fourteen. My father had just reconnected with his long-lost half-sibblings, and we discovered that his brother was gay. Having never been around a gay man before, I was intrigued by the hand gestures, the slight gay lisp mixed with a Long Island accent, and the gentle swish of the hips as he walked. I abolutely adored my newly found uncle – the things that came out of his mouth and his personality made me feel like I’d come home to something. It was comfortable, like a friend you’ve always wanted but never imagined in your wildest dreams that you’d come across someone so divine. It also felt like I could explain where some of my sarcastic traits came from, as my mom’s side was much tamer in their sense of humor.

A year passed, and my newly-discovered uncle was a permanent fixture in our lives. Everyone was comfortable around him, and I was pleased to see that my family wasn’t doing the usual quiet back-handed whispers that come with anything that doesn’t follow the norm. My mother’s youngest brother must have been relieved by this, because soon after we received a card in the mail, with this image on the front:

I had just gotten home from school to find my mother sitting in the den, crying. The amount of tears meant that it was more than just a touching moment on Oprah, so I assumed that someone had died.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Uncle M-mike c-came out,” she sobbed.

“So? Uncle Gordon’s gay.”

“He’s HIV positive!” She broke down in fresh tears.

“How do you know?”

“He s-sent this card…”

She held out the card and I glanced through it. Inside he mentioned how much he loved our family (especially our love of food), then casually mentioned that he was gay. He said that he sent everyone else cards in the mail and that we weren’t to worry about his health: he tested HIV – and would always use protection.

I turned to my mother. “I don’t see the part where he’s got HIV.”

She pointed to the line where he wrote “I tested HIV -” and got upset again.

“Mom, I bet he means that he’s HIV negative.” It dawned on me that he probably intended the dash to mean “negative,” but my mom took it to be a pause.

It took a few hours before she managed to get a hold of her brother by phone, and he apologized: he did indeed mean for that phrase to read as “HIV negative.” My mom was feeling much better after that conversation, knowing that her little brother wasn’t going to die of a terrible disease.

For me, I was pleased to have another gay man in my life. Little did I realize that this would cement my fate as a Flame Dame (and I wouldn’t become aware of the title until I started working in retail).

I am proud of my uncle for coming out, and I’m proud to have so many gay and lesbian friends in my life. You guys are the ones that keep my life exciting, and I Thank You from the bottom of my heart.

It used to be that when someone asked me when I last set foot in a church, I had to really struggle to settle on a date.

Nowadays, I can always pinpoint it.

Haha, I haven’t turned religious. In fact, in all the times I’ve had a crisis come into my life, I never found comfort in religion. (I usually get angry instead – don’t tell me that my dogs don’t have souls and won’t be in the afterlife when I die! Otherwise, what’s the point?)

I’ve been finding myself showing up at my local Methodist Church around this time every year for the past four years now. It’s been a struggle for me, not only at the early-ish morning hour, but because the service is conducted in Japanese (the only one my grandmother will attend) and I can’t read 70% of the characters in the sacred text. But I figure it’s a small moment of inconvenience when the whole church pays homage to the anniversary date of my grandfather’s passing.

My grandfather lived through both World Wars, was placed in an internment camp, raised five children on a budget that would only feed about two, and lost his produce business because he practically gave everything away on credit. He was incredibly patient with me, picking out the chopped onions in a McDonald’s hamburger and didn’t get mad when I kept brushing against the freshly painted walls while the house was being repainted.

For a man who put up through so much and still managed to smile at everyone he met, I think I can sit through a one hour session in the House of God. Just for him.

What I’m Thankful For Pt. 7

Hey, it’s Thanksgiving! Which means only so many more days until Christmas, so many more days until the day after Christmas, and so many more days until we bid 2009 farewell and tuck it away in the back of our sock drawer.

On this day of Giving Thanks, I am insanely grateful that my family loves food and loves to eat.

Day 330: Thanksgiving
This stove has cooked many a Thanksgiving Dinner for the past 30 years.

I have been drinking protein shakes and visiting the gym every day prior to this event so I don’t have to work out as hard as I would need to afterwards. When your family cooks two turkeys, has a variety of side dishes from stuffing to sushi, and finishes with six different kinds of desserts, you HAVE to parepare. Especially if you are prone to the after-dinner-before-dessert nap:

The Capital Letter K (my dad), burning the carbs and patiently waiting for the coffee to brew.

This Is Why I [Sometimes] Sleep With the Lights On

My dad has the knack of scaring the bejesus out of me. When I was a little kid, he’d hide behind doors and leave them slightly ajar; when I went to open the door fully, he would jump out and yell. This caused me to check through the door hinges or just push the door open with full force (something that I still do to this day). Sometimes he’ll start chanting in a low voice while we’re in the dark and it makes my skin crawl. And every now and then he’ll stick with the basics by pressing his face up against the kitchen window when it’s pitch black outside and the only light shinning is the bulb right above the sink.

Tonight he shared a story that now has me a little bit scared to sleep without a nightlight and my little stuffed dog.

An army acquaintance had just come back from Vietnam. He had been lucky in being stationed close to base camp; his troop had access to an actual latrine (as opposed to having to dig a community trench for everyone to use). One night, he found that he couldn’t “hold it” anymore (my dad guessed it was the beginnings of dysentery) and made his way carefully to the outhouse. Holding a flashlight concealed by his poncho, he was able to get to the toilet without getting shot.

As he relieved himself, the soldier heard a faint rustling nearby. On guard, he tried to figure out the direction of the sound – it was directly above his head. The soldier slowly brought his flashlight to the ceiling and was horrified at his discovery: above his head were swarms of tarantulas.

Apparently he burst out of the outhouse with his pants around his ankles.

Since my arachnophobia is still pretty strong, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that a swarm of tarantulas were slowly making their way towards me. I had a feeling that I’d have trouble sleeping with the lights out.

My dad made it worse by having his fingers make a crawling sensation on my arm in the dark while we were out watching the fireworks.

I can tell you right now that not only will I be sleeping with a light on tonight, I will also have a flashlight under the covers. You know, to throw at the tarantula that might be underneath my bed.

Edited to add: I also found a small spider nestled inside a basket of strawberries. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to fall asleep until 4AM.