I Wasn't Writing Because I Was Trying Out a Used Microwave in a Sushi Restaurant
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I’ve been having a hell of a time trying to write something today.
I’m riddled with AD(H)D, through and through, so that could be the problem. (The “H” is in parenthesis because pretty much nobody would describe me as “hyper,” but I digress.)
All I know is that something happens to me if I miss out on my morning productivity routine. If you can call it that.
It’s fairly loose. I have some latitude. But my best creative time is in the first few hours after waking. If I am not at my desk and actively engaged in the preliminary activities that lead to writing by, say, 10AM, the day is often lost. I will procrastinate, waste time, doomscroll Twitter looking for inspiration, make extra coffee, walk around my house “checking in” with family members, stand at the back door staring outside, eat snacks, eat meals, make tea, watch random videos while looking for “focus music” playlists on YouTube, clean out my email inbox, and just generally do anything except actually write.
I will even get angry and all out of sorts when I finally realize that it’s 2PM and nothing is getting done.
Today was one of those days, and I am furiously trying to buck the trend. So I’m free-writing without a theme just to flip the bird to my stupid brain. Consider yourself warned. This is going to be a Weird Wednesday of Wandering Words.
Today’s digression was brought about by an unexpected trip to pick up a microwave. (After writing that sentence, I flipped back to Twitter to see if there was anything new since the last time I checked. Not much, and let me tell you, that’s kind of disappointing.)
Where was I? Oh yes. The microwave.
My wife is an entrepreneur par excellence. Comes from a Chinese immigrant family, and as we all probably already know, a great many Chinese immigrants don’t get jobs, they start businesses. It’s like it’s in their blood.
My late father-in-law, Jim Gong, came to America at the age of 14, without his parents. I don’t remember the exact story, but as I recall, he had relatives who bought immigration papers for a forthcoming child, only for that child to be born a girl, when the paperwork said it was a boy. He was given a chance to take the slot if he repaid the debt for the papers. I don’t honestly know how this was done in China in the 1940s, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the story or the way things played out. (And Jim loved to tell stories, they just didn’t always add up.)
He was the oldest son. He had no idea what America was like, so he asked his parents what to do. “I have a chance to go to the Golden Mountain,” he said, referring to what rural Chinese peasants at the time called America — specifically San Francisco. “What should I do?”
His father, whom he described as aloof and angry and mostly silent, a man who hunted frogs and snakes in the waters of the rice paddies to sell in the local market, shrugged and indicated that he couldn’t care less. His mother enthusiastically told him he should go.
And so he did. He wouldn’t see his mother again for many years — decades, if I recall correctly. His father died before he ever made it home again.
But in America, he found a land of opportunity. He worked in a grocery store, learning to butcher meat. He went to school, and tried to learn English in between getting into fights with the locals, who didn’t like “off the boat” Chinese. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Navy, and served as a cook on a battleship, with most of his deployment taking place back, ironically enough, in the Asian Pacific. I don’t have that whole story. I don’t know if it was during the Korean War or the leadup to Vietnam. I do know he spent time in Japan, despite having a vestigial hatred for the Japanese, who invaded his village and burned down his brand new school when he was 8 years old during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He told us he had to run from Japanese gunfire, and had vivid memories of watching the bullet impacts trace across the water in his direction as he fled. He had to hide out in the mountains, eating bark from trees and whatever they could forage.
And that set the stage for his business philosophy. Although he owned a small apartment building in San Francisco for a few years, he eventually sold it and moved to Tucson, Arizona, where some of my late mother-in-law’s family lived. He knew what it was like to be hungry, and he knew that everyone needed food, so the first business he bought was a grocery store. He figured that as long as he owned the store, he’d never go hungry, and as long as people needed food, he’d always have business.
And he was right.
Over time, he amassed a small real estate empire, mostly slum properties in the most run-down, crime-riddled areas of South Tucson. It was in this environment that my wife was raised, and, as soon as she was old enough, was taught to run a business.
By age 6, she was running cash registers and stocking shelves and doing inventory. Her family’s businesses expanded, including a restaurant and a hardware store and a trailer park, and she worked in all of them. Her father eventually owned the entire shopping center where the grocery store was located. Lest you have something even slightly grandiose in mind, this is the property in question:
When the task fell to us to take care of her father in his old age, we took him into our home. He was often grumpy and ungrateful, but we managed. As his dementia progressed, however, and his mobility got worse, we knew we needed an alternative solution. By this point in our lives, we were investing in real estate here and there where we could. We have had rentals, both regular and short term, but eventually my wife recognized, by trying to find a place for her father, the value of small-scale assisted living homes that are not large, institutional facilities. I don’t know how it is in every state, but here in Arizona, small care homes can be located within residential properties in residential neighborhoods.
Last year, we bought the home that Jim would eventually come to live out his final days in.
And that home, if I may return to my meandering point, needs a new microwave.
So this morning, instead of writing, I found myself in our van, driving to a Sushi restaurant 30 minutes away, to buy a used microwave out of the back of a Honda Civic from a small Asian woman doing her best to look and sound like a small Asian man.
To test the microwave, I was instructed to carry it into the sushi restaurant where it could be plugged in at one of the tables, while customers made their way in for early lunch. This situation was only made more surreal by the fact that the small Asian man/woman told us that she/he did not own or work in the restaurant, but was merely friends with someone who did. The waitstaff looked…confused. The microwave was one of those under the counter, range-hood microwaves, so it was pretty large.
We tested it by nuking a bottle of soy sauce from the booth. You know, the little table-side ones with the red pour tops?
I’m laughing as I type this, wondering just what the hell you must all be thinking. I’ve got nothing. I told you this was going to be a free writing exercise!
Finally, we got back in the van to go pick up some nightstands a friend of my wife’s purchased and reserved for us at the local Goodwill.
“I couldn’t tell for the life of me,” my wife said, once the doors were closed, “whether that was a boy or a girl.”
“It was 100% a girl, trying to 100% look and sound like a boy.” I said. “No question. And it was cute when she was trying to carry the microwave herself. I was like,” — here I put on a Russian accent — “‘geeve me microwave, you are like leetle babby.’”
I was, and I am not exaggerating, three times this woman’s size. I basically take up the same physical space as Jack Reacher, it’s just that where he’s a giant flesh wall of unstoppable, rippling muscle, I’m a sort of amorphous lump of flab, fat, and beard.
I guess we can’t all be fictional action heroes the girls go crazy over.
We drove to Goodwill and perused their DVDs. They had the first four seasons of Fringe, which I almost bought, until I remembered I had a completely, 100% legal, totally legit digital copy of the entire show that I picked up a few years ago. They also had like 20 identical copies of the hardcover edition of Rick Riordan’s The Dark Prophecy, which was weird. Every single book was that book, which is like book two in a series, from which there were no other books on the shelves.
Eventually, we pulled around back to pick up the nightstands, only to find out they had sold them despite them already having been paid for. We said something rude and left, leaving the friend who purchased the furniture to go in with his receipt to get a refund, because seriously, WTF? Who does that?
At any rate, we got home at right around 1PM, and my attempts at coming up with something of value were interrupted by a series of messages from an anonymous guy over an encrypted chat app who asked me not to write publicly about his weird theories about the real story behind UFOs and earthly religions and how they’re all connected. So this is me not writing about that, but boy howdy, it could certainly be the plot of a sci-fi novel. And in fact, it kind of is; some of what he told me was strangely close to key plot points in the alien contact novel I am currently writing. (I’m at 34,603 of my original target of 60,000 words, so more than half way through the first draft!)
Which brings me to this Substack, which I should probably wrap up here.
How about you? How’s your Wednesday going?
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