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The Dim Sum of All Things
Many strange tales have been told about sassy receptionists and their antics in the urban wild, but none so strange as the story of Miss Lindsey Owyang, a Chinese-American wage-slave who turned twenty-five last summer.
Lindsey was a fairly clever receptionist, but she was more than just a worker bee who had mastered the intricacies of voice mail and fax dialing. She was a third-generation San Franciscan of Chinese descent who could not quote a single Han Dynasty proverb, but she could recite entire dialogues from numerous Brady Bunch episodes. She knew nothing of Confucius and did not speak any Cantonese or Mandarin, but she had spent years studying the Western Canon and had learned to conjugate irregular French verbs. All that reading of European literature did her a heap of good now. When she graduated from college, prospective employers didn't care about her mastery of iambic pentameter; they just wanted her to answer the telephone and type with robotic efficiency.
She considered herself lucky to have landed her job at Vegan Warrior magazine. The publication was a style resource for the vegetarian community, and most articles featured organic food, hemp fashions, astrology, and eco-travel. In their mission statement, the editors bragged of their firm commitment to equality and social justice, but their philosophy didn't prevent them from summoning Lindsey to perform all their menial tasks. Each morning, she mopped spilled rice milk from the kitchen floor, and in the afternoons she was dispatched to retrieve soy lattes.
She and a few other closet meat-eaters had infiltrated the staff of smug Limoges-liberals who drank cruelty-free decaf. As the majority of employees stomped through the office in Birkenstocks and Chi Pants, Lindsey was an outcast because she wore makeup and owned one vintage sweater with a modest rabbit fur collar. Coworkers regarded her with suspicion, but she was happy enough to keep to herself.
When the phones weren't busy, she deionized the drinking water and scoured the tofu cheese from the inside of the microwave. While performing her various housekeeping duties she had time to ruminate on the philosophies of the various dead white men she had studied in college. However, as a modern Chinese-American woman, her worldview was quite different from theirs.
One day, as she unclogged a bloated gardenburger from the sink drain, she was pondering the existence of certain white males who were obsessed with Asian women. She called these men the Hoarders of All Things Asian, or just Hoarders, for short. These shy, Caucasian beta-males, with dirty blond hair and sallow complexions, moseyed through the world, blending effortlessly into the general population. But Lindsey had learned to spot them. Over the past few months she had been noticing that she attracted numerous stares from these nerdy white guys wearing tan jeans and vanilla-hued cardigans, and she deduced that their clothes were meant as some kind of urban camouflage. Their gray pallor, mixed with beige wardrobes, combined to create an overall "greige" appearance. And when they tried to pick up on her, saying garbled things like "Konichiwa, Chinese princess," she assumed they had bland, taupe personalities to match.
She had a theory that these neat'n'tidy nerds were disguised as "good guys" but were actually stealthy predators who feigned interest in Asian cuisine, history, and customs in hopes of attracting an exotic porcelain doll like those portrayed so fetchingly in pop culture movies and advertisements. These Hoarders of All Things Asian sought the erotic, hassle-free companionship they believed to be the specialty of lily-footed celestials, geishas, fan-tan dancers, and singsong girlies. They were unable to distinguish these fantasy ideals from modern women, and, like fishermen in sampans, tended to cast their nets toward any vaguely Asian-looking female, expecting to be lavished with the mysterious, untold delights of the Orient.
These creepy men frequently approached Lindsey at coffeehouses, on park benches, and in bookstores. She sometimes spotted one cruising Clement Street, or dining alone in a Chinese restaurant, or clinging to a ticket stub from the Pacific Rim film festival with clammy, froglike fingers. They trawled the land in search of Asian flesh, and she was sickened by the idea of being targeted as some kind of exotic sex toy.
She felt like she had discovered a new comet, and she monitored the night sky for potential dating dangers. She was convinced that, if Dante had been Chinese, he would have designated a specific circle of hell for the worst of these loathsome trolls. She liked to think of these fetishists cast into the Underworld, confined in a criblike pen where they could not escape to molest her. She wanted them corralled into a muddy pit, where they would remain, wallowing in miserable, Woodstock-like conditions for all eternity.
Although Lindsey was admittedly attracted to white boys, she shrewdly eliminated romantic candidates who exhibited any Hoarder tendencies. She hated the idea of some pervert zoning in on her because of her black hair, almond-shaped eyes, or any of the submissive, back-scrubbing fantasies her physical features might suggest to a large, clumsy mammal in tube socks.
Her wariness stemmed from the fact that she had convinced herself that her Chinese heritage was not one of the main components of her identity but was simply a superfluous detail. As far as she was concerned, her Chinese-ness was not the first thing someone should notice about her.
Walking home from work one day, she stopped at the video store to browse. As she perused the biography section with tapes about Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, her mind drifted. She had always had romantic notions about becoming a famous author, but she often wondered if writers all had big fat butts and sat around in sweatpants all day. They all died depressed, crazy, and poverty-stricken. And that certainly wasn't what she wanted ...The Dim Sum of All Things. Copyright © by Kim Keltner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Dim Sum of All Things by Kim Wong Keltner
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