Lucky (#180)

Once upon a time, Andy headed off to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. When he came back, I asked how many strip clubs they’d hit.

He said, “None.”

I said, “Liar.”

He said, “No, really,” and handed me some expensive chocolates.

I said, “Exhibit A! Chocolates wrapped in guilt!”

He laughed and said, “You don’t want them?”

“What? Of course I want them. Guilt chocolate tastes the same as regular chocolate.”

Andy handed me another gift — golden earrings. I gasped and said, “What, were there full on hookers?”

He laughed some more. “It wasn’t that kind of party. There was only one white guy.”

“I’m scared to ask what the hell kind of party it WAS! How come you’re giving me all these presents, if not out of guilt?”

Andy shrugged. “I won a lot at the craps table.”

“What? You mean you guys went to Vegas and all you did was GAMBLE? I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“You haven’t been hanging out with enough Chinese people, then.”


I did a little research on gambling while Chinese. Not because I was suspicious, of course, but because I’d never heard about the Chinese gambling issue.

Apparently, I live under a rock. Chinese gambling is huge – and a huge problem. Psychologists theorize that cultural emphasis on numerology, superstition, and luck make gambling especially popular. Games such as Mahjong are an attractive social activity…and possibly gambling’s gateway to casino action.

In Chinese-American immigrants, gambling is even more prevalent. Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, explains, “Folks who come here to take a chance and come to America are more likely to gamble because immigrating to America from your homeland is a huge gamble in and of itself.”

1-2% of the population in the United States has a gambling addiction. Problem gambling in the Asian-American population ranges from 6-60%.

Las Vegas recently opened a huge new casino – the Lucky Dragon – to cater to the Chinese gambler. The Lucky Dragon has no high-end bars or nightclubs. There are no shows. The swimming pool is tiny. This casino is all about the gaming, and their Mandarin-speaking staff aim to get their guests to the table with as few distractions as possible.

Within months of opening, the Lucky Dragon turned one of its few restaurants into a VIP gaming room. None of their guests cared about something as trivial as food – they wanted tables for baccarat instead. And they got them.

When my in-laws originally announced their visit, they planned to visit Vegas. I crossed my fingers, hoping they wouldn’t lose their retirement savings and have to move in with us some day.

They changed their minds and decided to spend their entire visit at our small house in Los Angeles.

I figured they’d realized the house always wins and wanted to save money.

I was half wrong. Sunny and Jay saved money by avoiding hotel and airfare to Vegas. But that was only because they had another plan.

My in-laws had discovered, through the wonders of the internet, California Tribal Gaming. Because American Indian Tribes are technically sovereign, they aren’t subject to state laws regulating gambling. Some of their casinos are within driving distance of LA.

They wanted me to drive them there and back again.

I refused. I have no interest in gambling. I loathe casinos, where the desperation is as tangible as the cigarette smoke. I would have no part in the bankrupting of my in-laws and – more importantly — no part of the I-10 Freeway during rush hour.

I told them this in no uncertain terms, of course: “Sorry Jay, Sorry, Sunny, there’s just…no way I can leave the dogs that long.”

Dogs are almost as good at providing excuses as they are at farting.

Sunny and Jay never take no for an answer, of course. They told me the dogs could hold their pee, or be left in the yard.

I countered with stories of Woofie’s bottomless holes.

Sunny told me to get a pet-sitter. I told her how expensive pet-sitters are.

She told me she would win more than enough money to pay the sitter.

“You can’t,” I argued. “It’s simple math. Even craps offers the house a .8% edge.”

“That’s why I play the slot machines.”

“What?! Sunny, that’s so much worse! The house has something like a 17% edge!”

“Not for me. I am lucky!”

I don’t know about lucky, but my mother-in-law was determined. By the end of the evening, she and Jay had convinced Andy to take them gambling. On the Friday before the family barbeque. This meant I’d have to do most of the prep work. But since was my only chance to be alone in weeks, I sent them on their way with a cheerful wave.

Then I spent all day baking desserts and cleaning.

Well, not all day. At 5:30 PM I got a blissful half-hour on our backyard swing in the sunshine. I even allowed Woofie on the swing with me. We smelled the orange blossoms, enjoyed the singing birds, and thought life was good.

Until I heard the doors of our brand new, less-than-a-month-old car slam. Sunny yelled, “Did Andy tell you?! It’s not good!”

“No! What? Is everything okay?” I asked. “Did he re-injure his knee? Is he okay?!”

Sunny’s next words do nothing to alleviate my concerns.

“Not good, not good!”

Not helpful, not helpful! I was running for the car when Andy appeared. He looks miserable.

“What’s wrong, are you okay?!”

Andy shook his head. “A rock hit the windshield on the interstate.”

“Oh, crap. How bad?”

“Not good!” Sunny interrupted. “I see the rock coming, I tell him swerve, but he doesn’t! The rock hit the glass. Not good!” She shook her head. Obviously, this could all have been avoided if her son had only listened to her.

Andy’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing. He knew it was useless to tell Sunny that if he had swerved on the freeway at over 75 mph, none of them would be standing there. His parents didn’t grow up driving cars. They have never driven a car over 45 mph, in fact. (This is possible in Hawaii, where the only highway has a speed limit of 50 mph.)

I led Andy to the swing, put my arms around him, and told him to smell the orange tree.

Sunny wandered around the yard, telling the dogs and the birds that it is, “Not good! Not good! Very bad.”

I’d had enough. “So, Sunny, how much money did you win?”

“Oh, well, you know, that casino is no good.”

“Really? Sunny, did you lose money? But you said you were so lucky, you would win money!”

Sunny edged away. “I’m lucky. Just a bad casino. But only lost a little money.”

In my white world, you never ask about money. But my in-laws had such scruples and I was on a mission of vengeance. So I did the unthinkable. “How much money did you lose, Sunny?”

“Just a little,” Sunny mumbled, then fled into the house.

We sat in silence and orange fragrance for a few minutes. Then my husband told me how much money his parents lost.

“Gah!” I sputtered. “There’s no ‘little’ about THAT. And there’s no ‘lucky,’ either!”

But later, looking at the sider-webbing crack in our new windshield, I realized that a minor incident could have been much worse.

The rock could have been much bigger.

Andy could have listened to his mother.

The rock might have been tossed at another car. That driver might have panicked, swerved, hit the brakes, and caused a massive accident.

Maybe Sunny was pretty lucky after all.

Hostess with the Mostess…Dysfunction (#179)

I’ve had a lot of comments from incredulous readers over the last few months. Apparently, no one believes that I have not lost my shit yet with my provocative Chinese-American in-laws. Not even when they nearly burned down the house and never apologized.

Spoiler alert: I have, indeed, lost my shit. In as spectacular fashion as any of you could want. It just wasn’t on my in-law’s first visit, the one I’m blogging about now. (Yes, my reward for surviving the first visit was a second visit! Whoo-hoo!) If you’re waiting on the East Dates West version of The Real Housewives, check back in a few months.

But for those of you who can’t believe it took me years to blow my stack, a little background:

In the White Anglo Saxon Protestant culture of my youth, girls did not make scenes. From day one, girls learned to be kind, to share, to not make people uncomfortable. Teachers rewarded us for being forgiving, no matter how many times Entitled Dickhead Donnie jerked our pigtails around, pretending they were motorcycle handlebars. We laughed along with everyone else in the class, being a good sport, because “You know boys! They’re so silly and they don’t know any better. Not like you girls!” We preened, and congratulated ourselves for being doormats.

Our mothers trained us to be good hostesses, downplaying any awkwardness or discomfort. We were also expected to be good guests, bringing wine and hostess gifts. If someone forgot a gift for us, we never said a word, lest we make them feel bad.

Many men wonder why women don’t immediately report sexual assaults, especially when we know the perpetrators.

I don’t. I know how hard it is to break training, to be confrontational. No one wants to be the bitch who wrecks everyone’s good time or a ruin the life of “a nice boy who just didn’t know any better.” We’re trained to endure our own discomfort, not to stand up for ourselves. We worry about ourselves last.

My Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister sees the “me last” patient all the time in her oncology rounds. These are the mothers and grandmothers who ignore their ovarian cancer symptoms to shuttle kids to sports practice or help out with someone’s new baby. By the time their pain is not ignorable, their cancer is usually terminal.

Some women avoid or escape the “good girl/ me last” dynamic, thanks to therapy, or enlightened parents, or more progressive schools.

On the plus side, I now have mad vacuuming skills.

For those of us from overcrowded families and critical parents, though, the cycle worsens as we try ever harder to win increasingly elusive approval. When my mother, in the midst of a divorce, lashed out at me for making a mess, I vacuumed the house. She smiled for the first time that day and told me I was a good girl.

I was six.

Sometimes a romantic partner or dance partner steps into that dynamic, with devastating results.

Sometimes the good girl becomes good student, taking extra credits and extra majors. The good graduate becomes excellent executive assistant, coming in early, working late, anticipating every need.

And when that excellent executive assistant marries into a family with demanding Chinese in-laws?

Does she smartly say, “It’s 4 AM, get your own damned tea, I’m going to bed because normal people are sleeping now,”?

No. She thinks, “I can do this! Not only will I make them tea, I will make sure they have toast and oh, they needed raspberry jelly? Nothing’s open except…Denny’s! It’s only five minutes away and I’m sure they’ll let me buy some jelly packets, won’t that be clever and impressive and oh, my in-laws will be so happy and they’ll tell me how glad they are that Andy married me and I will be the first white woman to win the Best Chinese Daughter-In-Law Award!”

In reality, of course, I only win a few grunts of acknowledgment and dishes to wash. (I’m sure my in-law’s praise would have been effusive if Denny’s carried raspberry jelly, but strawberry was all they had.)

Normal people would decide that their in-laws are impossible to please. Normal people would stop trying.

I am not normal. I am easily sucked into Over-Hostessing Syndrome.

After the jam setback, I decide I will impress my guests with my culinary skills.

I spend several hours making Spicy Thai Tofu with Fish Sauce Noodles and homemade chocolate pudding (this recipe is on page 1019 of “The Joy of Cooking” and I heartily recommend it over mixes).

My dinner prep is repeatedly interrupted. First by The Farting Dog Episode.

Then by my impatient father-in-law. Jay wants to know when dinner will be ready. I tell him 6.

“No! Dinner is at 5:30!”

“But probably Andy won’t get home until at least 6.”


5:30 it is. I don’t boil the pudding quite as long as usual, but it’s in the fridge, chilling, when dinner is ready at 5:25. I give myself mental bonus points for seeing to my father-in-law’s ridiculous demands the comfort of my guest.

At 5:30, Jay appears and announces, “It’s time to eat. Where is Andy?”

I check Andy’s location on my phone. “Still at work. It’ll be at least another half-hour.”

I’m wrong. It’s 45 minutes. A very loooong 45 minutes, peppered with repeated questions from Jay:

“When are we eating?”

“Where’s my son?”

“Why aren’t we eating?”

“Is Andy home yet?”

“Check your phone again.”

When Andy finally arrives, Jay is at the table, fork in hand. But now his wife is on the phone with her sister. Jay yells at her in Cantonese. She yells over him at Yee-mah in Cantonese. Andy sits down and starts eating.

I grab his hand. “You can’t start! We have to wait for your mom!”

“Forget that, I’m starving,” Andy shoves a bite into his mouth. “This is great, honey, thanks for cooking dinner.”

Jay eats, too. I give up and dig in. Sunny eventually joins us, and, wonder of wonders, my in-laws have no complaints and no criticisms. BOTH have seconds.

I’m sure I’m finally destined for the Best Daughter-In-Law Award, because I know my pudding is awesome (also made with expensive bittersweet chocolate). I even serve it with freshly whipped cream.

Jay has two bites before making his pronouncement: “It’s too watery!”

I say, “Really? You think it’s watery?” through gritted teeth.

“No, no, it’s not watery, honey, it’s perfect!” says Andy.

“Apparently not. Your dad says it is WATERY.”

Jay nods. “Yeah, too much water.” He has another bite.

I tap my fingers on the table and fume, wishing I hadn’t hurried the pudding’s boil. Maybe it is a tiny bit more watery than usual.

Jay devours his supposedly sub par pudding. He scrapes the dish with the spoon to get every bit of chocolate.

“Wow, Jay, that must have really sucked, that watery pudding,” I tell him triumphantly as he deposits the empty serving glass on my plate. I’ll pry some praise out him if it kills me.

Or not.

“It’s very dry here. Not like Hawaii. I need to drink lots water,” Jay explains as he leaves the dining room.

Despite my best efforts, there was no Best Daughter-In-Law Award bestowed that evening. There was no praise at all.

My only reward was dirty dishes.

But for those of you also recovering from Over-Hostessing Syndrome, take heart.

I left those dishes for my husband.

We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)

Would you throw this vase at the patriarchy? What if the patriarchy is your father-in-law?

I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who didn’t have double standards for girls. No telling how much of this was due to feminism and how much was due to fact that the child labor pool in our house was only ¼ male (sometimes less). Big Brother had to do dishes. My sisters and I had to mow the lawn.

Our value was no less because we were female. Continue reading We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)