Pork Chops on Christmas

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Christmas came and went.

We ate deep-fried greasy everything and saw just how far we could sink into our respective couches. We stared or didn’t stare at the TV. At dinner we sat around the table fact-checking each other’s know-it-all claims about something or other, each refusing to give in because we were all equally right.

Then it happened.

It began just as any of my dad’s depressing-to-us-but-normal-to-him-tales typically do—out of context.

Just what we were laughing and chatting about I can’t remember. A mispronounced word perhaps? An errant booger?

Whatever it was, it went a little something like this:

Me: Pork chops, am I right? Man, do I love me some pork chops!

Dad: Speaking of pork chops… it was 1992, and it was time to enroll you three into your first American school.

[My sister, brother and I exchanged knowing looks, “Here he goes again.” Franco, an experienced awkward-moment provocateur, perked up.]

Dad: We’d arrived in the US just months before. Your mom and I decided to take you to a private Catholic school a couple blocks from our apartment. I remember talking to you in the principal’s office in Tagalog, and the lady at the front desk—

Older Sister: She was mean!

Me: What did she look like again?

Older Sister: A mean old lady!

Dad: She snapped at us and said, “We speak English here.”

[This led to my parents telling us to speak English at home so we could get rid of our accents as well as minimize the inevitable discrimination we’d experience elsewhere. This also led to us losing fluency in our native tongue… whoops.]

Me: I remember leaning on her desk as a little 8-year-old, 3-foot-nothing, and she said, “Before I begin, how about no elbows on my desk?” And I was like, bitch please….

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[Author’s note: That may or may not have happened.]

Dad: All the immigrants they’d previously admitted had trouble catching up and had to take remedial courses. The school even suggested we enroll you in public school instead. Imagine that, public school!

[Lest you think my dad was some kind of elitist snoot, remember that this was early ’90s NYC in Da Boogie Down Bronx. We eventually made friends with people who did go to public school, but they were noticeably less, um, geeky and lame than we were. In short, we totes would have gotten our faces punched.]

Dad: I was like, Nah, homies. I want them to go to school here. The school said, “They should take ESL (English As a Second Language) classes first.” They were held in these trailers parked in front of the school.

I told them you all could speak English! So you took a test to prove it. Then, when you passed, they came to me with another problem: “They’re older than the kids in their grade! They need to be in their proper age group, but I don’t think they’re ready for that.” So I told them, “Well, I suppose they could take summer school if they end up struggling.” The school begrudgingly let you three take an assessment quiz.

Older Sister: I remember it being really simple. They asked us to spell words like “cat” and “dog.”

Me: Meanwhile, in the Philippines, I was already spelling four-syllable words.

[Author’s Note: bowdown.gif]

Dad: Of course this was all reflected in your test scores, but the school came back and said, “We have another problem.”

“What now?” I said.

“Well,” they said, “it seems they’re actually quite advanced for their grade level. Would you  mind if they skipped a grade?”

“Wonderful,” I said. Then I thought, “What about letting them skip two grade levels?”

“Mr. Bolipata,” they said. “Now you’re pushing it.”

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***

Epilogue:

My mom, wanting to show up our doubters, incentivized us by promising to shower us with presents should we get first honors. This method proved way too effective—we asked for TVs, our first desktop computer and dial-up internet, a dedicated phone line, film cameras, video cameras, books. My mom soon dreaded report-card season, while the nerd monsters she’d created grew into even bigger nerd monsters.

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We Went To Oregon

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“Are you saying the greatest creations are manmade?”

“Of course,” said I, making sweeping motions with my arms. “Cities are amazing.”

Lucas was dubious. At least I think his name was Lucas. A Swede, he probably spelled his name with a K. And Lukas with a K was the unwavering sort.

Logical and devoid of passion, he made it hard to tell just how much he believed in the things he said. He made jokes using the same delivery someone might use when saying, “My dog got hit by a car today.”

“Nature,” Lukas went on, “is the greatest creation.”

We were obviously not going to agree. But this was normal. This was what we did for fun.

Well into a semester at the University of Barcelona, Lukas and a couple of others and I gravitated toward each other because of our inability to fit in anywhere else. My particular study abroad group was made of a bunch of fellow Americans who spoke mainly to each other and traveled to a country a weekend.

I was broke. And I wanted to learn Spanish. My idea of fun consisted of eating dinner with my homestay parents (Lola and Eduardo) and drinking café con leche with other café con leche enthusiasts who were also broke and didn’t fit in elsewhere.

There was the Armenian from California who could make friends with a plant (and the plant would love her). The Swedish Ecuadorian with an affinity for the ladies. The 40-year-old Taiwanese man who’d left home to learn Spanish for a few months. The amazingly sweet French girl from Bordeaux. The thirtysomething-year-old American who married a Spaniard and had just moved to Barcelona. And Lukas, the sometimes-friendly Swede.

Because only some of us knew English, or didn’t trust our English, we felt best speaking in clunky Spanish.

It was the one language we all equally didn’t know.

On this particular day, Lukas and I were disagreeing about what made countries interesting.

‘Tis the cities! I said, pointing my index finger to the heavens. Cities are culture, art, people, learning, innovation and architecture.

NAY! said Lukas, punching the air. ‘Tis nature! Lakes! Mountains! Purple majesties!

For years I thought he was wrong.

And then I went to Oregon.

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Fort Klamath en route to Crater Lake.

Our campground mom at Joe’s, after our third or fourth water bottle: Where are you guys from?

Franco: San Francisco.

Campground mom: I knew it.

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On our way up the Pacific Northwest coast, we stopped by Florence, land of many, many sea lions and endless seas.

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Five hours across, the trees and lakes disappeared. We saw desert, nothingness and abandoned shacks. Every couple of hours, we saw another human. We waved.

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Lake Trillium (Note: same place as first picture), the best part of Mount Hood. Which we never would have gone to had our cab driver, a proud Oregonian, not told us about it in Portland the night before.

And dassalligot. For now.

Much more to tell and just as many pictures. Some of them in FLAS.

Graduation beckons.

Looking At Something

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When you spend a year doing one thing and not much else, you go a little nuts.

At least I do. If I don’t get to write or take pictures, I get seriously crabby. I start thinking of projects. I declare to no one in particular, with much defiance, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY, BY GOLLY, I WILL MAKE STUFF.

It doesn’t even matter what it is as long as it’s something. Which is how I started a winter break blog about being on winter break, or a blog about pups in sweaters, or PROBAATD.

It’s how I, an aspiring copywriter, started Franco Looking At Something — a wordless, writing-free, un-captioned photo project.

The concept is simple. There are cool things everywhere. You just have to look.

Sure, that’s easy to say when you’re in an awesome city. Even then, though, we’re subject to Getting Used To Everythingitis.

Everything on FLAS is taken with an iPhone 4S and Instagrammed. I’d toyed with the idea of using DSLR pictures, but the iPhone’s portability allows for more spontaneity and, let’s face it, it’s the camera I have with me at all times.

Sometimes the city’s so beautiful I do nothing but press a button. Other times I capture the mundane. My favorites are often the ones nobody likes.

The most popular so far? This one.

Take a gander. Hang a while. Raise yo hands in the air and wave them like you care a lot.

Because it’s important.

Chinese Takeout

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My favorite type of travel is the long, lingering kind. The kind that sees the best of somewhere as well as the not so best.  The kind that lets me sit, study and hang.

It’s how I ended up in Staunton, Bristol and Fredericksburg. Their one main attraction, aside from a guaranteed paycheck, was that they weren’t Richmond.

When you stay in one place too long, the awesome becomes the norm. I remember arriving in San Francisco a few weeks ago and marveling at the big blue sky. “Oh yeah,” Franco said. “I guess it is pretty blue.”

It’s strange to think you can get used to this. But you do.

You develop a routine. You find your favorite coffee shop. Your Chinese restaurant. Your greasy breakfast place. It’s inevitable and yet deceptively satisfying.

Look at those tourists, you tell yourself. You’re not one of them.

Because they don’t stay in one place long enough to look past the big blue sky. They don’t know you don’t walk until the light tells you to walk. Or to order first before finding a table. Or to know the difference among what’s trash, what’s recyclable and what’s compostable.

You notice the absurdity in finding system and order in a place the ‘60s became the ‘60s, where cyclists wear helmets and nothing else, where nudist communes are just around the corner.

But you suppose when you’re free in most aspects of life, you can afford some structure.

Back East, there’s nothing but that.

You live to work. You know the endless grind that frustrates and disappoints, so much so that you take it out on people you’ll never see again. You push and you shove, fighting to be first to sit on the train, to walk 4 seconds faster, that your line is better than theirs so they should get behind yours.

You know it’s never really about the dude slowly crossing the street so much as it is about that shitty thing your boss said or that shitty thing your landlord pulled or that shitty thing that happened on the subway.

Just a year ago, I was that person. I remember visiting law firms in San Francisco and being more dressed up than the lawyers. Lawyers who did things. Who went home to their kids.

Who had lives.

It fascinated me so much I decided to go back this summer as a jobless wandering wanderer.

Because here, a late night means dancing past midnight. A commute means walking under the big blue sky. And a hectic afternoon means having to go to three coffee shops on the same block before settling on one.

It’s a glorious existence because it isn’t forever. Soon, school will start, the days will run together, the nights will blur, the end will come.

And so will the grind.

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