My friend Jeni Dodd, who used to be a lawyer, teamed up with Jason McDonald, another legalese–>tea leaves person, and headed down to New Mexico this week to help the NM Immigrant Law Center with reviewing, digesting, and writing briefs for the detained immigrants at the border. This is a complicted and nutballs situation, and as positive as one can be in theory I’m sure visiting the Cibola County Correctional Center in Grants and hearing the stories of the separated families and kids sucked.
They have a gofundme set up, but being from New Mexico I wanted to try and arrange for a catered lunch to be sent to the entire staff at the Center. I asked my dear old friend Michelle, from high school, who runs a catering business making her own pastas and amazing Italian food, if she could swing something at the last minute. I texted Jeni to give me the total head count.
Then, the screen on my old iPhone lifted off. The battery had swelled up like a giant zit, rays of lights could be seen shooting out the sides of the phone, but until then it was hobbling along just fine. I took the phone to my pals at UbreakIfix, who were in the middle of dealing with a crazy lady from Miami speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The UbreakIfix guy kept typing into the computer and shaking his head and pointing to the back of the lady’s phone. Her child kept complaining that the password to the free wifi wasn’t working. The woman kept insisting on something, and finally the guy turned the computer to face her/me and I saw that he was showing her a map of Miami, proving there were lots (tons!) of places for phone repair. She was incredulous but finally grabbed her son and left.
The guys replaced my battery, but as soon as I left the store my phone began restarting every few minutes. They wanted to run additional tests and put in yet another battery so I had to leave my phone for an hour. ONE HOUR!
Things I noticed without a phone:
– I had no idea what time it was so I didn’t know when the hour was up.
– Everyone is on their phones
– Going shopping for shirts and sucking down a root beer float takes half an hour, even though the lady who scooped the ice cream confessed she tends to put way too much ice cream in the cup.
– Worrying about missing messages is super intense when it’s 100 degrees out.
Sadly the tests pointed to a motherboard issue, and even putting the old battery back in, cantilevered screen aside, caused the phone to continually restart. Bleh.
At least I was able, back home on my computer, to finalize everything, and sure enough lasagna, garlic bread, ceasar salad, lemon ricotta cake, and ice cold drinks were delivered today.
“They’ve got cars big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the old”
(From “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues)
Corn nuts, grilled toast, ice cubes, lemon slices here we come!
Implants are amazing things. They’re made of titanium, which apparently is the material closest in electrical charge to human bone, so it has the best chance in fooling your body’s stem cells to fuse with it.
But bone growth is a slow process so after the posts go in there’s a lot of gap-toothed waiting around, and staring at the little screws that cover the post for so many months makes you wonder what options there are to implants other than plain old boring white.
Other than my having ingested way less alcohol and drugs, and my needing only one seventh of his total implants, Shane MacGowan and I are like implant BFFs. We got our implants on the same week, just in time for the holidays, only he got one in gold, but I got one with a photo of him with his gold tooth.
I’ve managed to keep most of my teeth, just in a jar rather than in my mouth.
Apparently the new set of teeth will help Shane enunciate better when he’s singing. This is very exciting.
I remember being in high school and sneaking out in the middle of the night to meet my friend Ellen. She’d pick me up at the end of the cul de sac, having rolled all the way down my street with the engine completely shut off. We were sneaky. But this being White Rock, New Mexico, there was nowhere to go. The fun was climbing out the window and seeing if all the stars were still there. OK, sometimes we’d light firecrackers. It was also before gas stations took credit cards, so if we didn’t have any gas we were stuck, and Ellen often had no gas.
One night we were in my room and Ellen had to pee. In the darkness she went to the bathroom which I shared with my grandparents, who were sleeping in the next room, and since she thought we were good at nighttime maneuvers she didn’t turn the light on.
I heard her scream, and then she called out “Abby!”
I wondered why the hell she would call me “Abby.” Ellen and I had been friends forever, and we didn’t even know an Abby. I went into the hall, stopped for a few breaths to listen for rumblings of my grandparents, and ran into Ellen carrying a glass jar on her head, with my grandmother’s full set of dentures submerged in water, rat-tat-tatting. The moonlight sparkled off the metal, and the water gave the dentures a magnified look, causing the pink simulated gum to actually look like flesh. Bubbles rose to the surface and popped. It was alive.
Ellen danced the jar back to my room, saying something about how that Polident shit was weird looking.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“We’ll need this!” she said, tapping on the jar. “It’s Abby Normal!”
Also back in high school my teeth didn’t respond well to orthodontic manuevering so I had to have several teeth pulled and a bridge put in. The doctor who put my bridge in told me I’d probably get twenty years out of it, and by then some new technology would be invented to solve my problem. Well that time has come.
Here is what’s been helping me eat for the past 25+ years. It’s like having your personal fork taken away.
Since I started tooting around on my bike, I’ve noticed an odd pain on the outside of my wrists. It’s sensitive to the touch, and annoying when trying to open jars. My latest theory is that my hands are too small for the average distance between handle bars and brakes, and it’s causing me to twist my wrists and put pressure on some nerve that doesn’t like to have pressure put on it.
In the biking world as anywhere there are shim-eisters that will sell you all sorts of fixes and magic pills for your bike-related woes. To be sure your Bike Fitter is the real thing you have to Face Time with him over a chunk of caramel. Then when he says use a shim, you got to use a shim for everything.
In memory of my father’s passing I created a website where friends and colleagues could post photos and remembrances. One letter, from an old Chinese friend of my dad who apparently knew him at a young age (speaking about my dad, he wrote: “A lot of childhood stuff starting to pop into my head: mischief, the way he walks, talks, playing silly in front of girls, his lovely parents and grandma”), contained a rather peculiar sentence which went unnoticed for several months. Not “unnoticed” like I didn’t read it and think it was weird, but rather “un-taken seriously.” At the time I figured the entire letter had been put through Google translation and, like the way most Chinese vegetables get presented as “lettuce,” some nickname or term of endearment which the friend used must have gotten twisted into the word “stepfather.”
Mr. Dai wrote: “Most importantly, he is a wonderful son ( I know for fact, he loves his father (stepfather) dearly until his pass-away).
When my father’s wife threatened to sue my brother and I (not sure over what), and then in a follow-up email forwarded a powerpoint presentation of the concept of a mathematical magic square with the eerie command “Enjoy it,” we decided that sleuthing out the grandfather-as-stepfather rumor was a brilliant way to avoid dealing with crazy people.
Mr. Dai told my brother that he had heard our father’s biological father died as a pilot in the Chinese Air Force, which prompted a search in all the old photos for anyone that was Chinese, wearing aviator glasses, and short. (my *ahem* grandfather was very tall, a “clue,” seeing as how short my father and my brother and I are, when you really take the ridiculousness of all this into account)
We asked some old family friends, who all said they knew nothing, but offered similar stories from their own family, of non-biological parents kept secret for generations, of a father who said to his family “I had a wife and family back in China, and they’re coming over… today.”
Then we asked the husband of my grandfather’s cousin, who had taken good care of my father’s family before they moved to Taiwan in 1949, who said he knew nothing of the matter, and even seemed a little sad that we would doubt the bloodline between his family and ours. Then we debated whether to get DNA tested with the daughter of that cousin, to really settle matters.
Then we asked my mom, who said she didn’t know, but always suspected it (whatever that means). My mom of course sent us on another wild goose chase, recalling an incident around thirteen years ago when my father was shocked to find out he was unable to donate blood to my grandfather due to blood type. My mother couldn’t remember the details but it revolved around something like if you were A type, then both your parents had to be A, and clearly my dad was an A, and his father wasn’t. Of course, this isn’t entirely true, and the Internet sez it’s quite common for children not to be able to donate blood to their parents, and keep in mind my mother—in the same breath—insisted that my brother and I had “Type Q” blood. If you put “Type Q” blood into Google translation you find out it means you carry the trait of being able to slurp oysters with grace, something shared between my brother’s children, myself and MO. The smurf hand I inherited from my mother’s side.
China in the 1930’s was invaded by Japan, then entered WW2, then began its own civil war. There was no shortage of widows, abandoned children and dead fathers. My father had always said there was debate as to the year he was born, one reason being that many Chinese kids were considered to be one year old when they emerged into the world (the 9 months in the womb providing the experience of one year on the outside), and we don’t have any specifics like my grandparent’s marriage certificate or anything, so we have no idea whether my grandfather met my grandmother while she was pregnant, or whether she already had her kid. We don’t even know if she was married to the pilot guy. We even tossed around the idea that maybe my grandmother was a rape victim of the Japanese, in which case I’d be quarter Japanese (am I allowed to buy a Prius now?).
What we do know (and this is where it gets weird) is that my father’s name (a rather unique name) is the exact same name as my grandfather’s first son. Say WHAT?
My grandfather left behind a wife and son in Cixian during the westward retreat of his university due to the Japanese invasion, and this wife and son (both long dead) was kept a secret from my dad for nearly fifty years, until the eve of my grandparents’ first trip home to China after an exile of nearly as many years. My father in turn kept it a secret from me, and he had it pretty buttoned up—like he had shoved the largest cork in the world into his ass not even a Cixain crowbar could bust loose—as nothing came out other than “beware the lying aunt” and “seems like a bad connection” on the MORNING that David and I were to visit my grandfather’s old home, not knowing who we were about to meet, not knowing what the f**k “lying aunt” meant, and as I stood there surrounded by (so called) relatives, half of them screaming on the cellphones to get other relatives to come ASAP, David asking “What are they saying? What are they saying? And which one is the lying aunt?” and I couldn’t understand shit until one wrinkled lady changed her dialect to mandarin, and said very slowly, “Your grandfather is my father.” Chinese being a language with specific words for describing exactly how a person is related to one another, it took another several minutes to get it clear that what she meant to say was that she married my grandfather’s son. Needless to say the next words out of my mouth were “Holy Shit.”
After David and I returned to the states we had to sit my father down and accuse him of sending us into battle without a helmet. He hummed and hawed and gave super uncomfortable eh’s and ah’s as he explained stuff about the “lying aunt” that I promise to get to in the future. The point is, at that moment, sitting there uncomfortable as hell, my father could’ve told me about my grandfather not being his real father, and all that old home myth wasn’t really his real old home. But he didn’t. I don’t think it’s strange that my grandfather was not my real grandfather but I do want to know why it was such a guarded secret. By this time, both my grandparents had passed away, and yet the cork didn’t budge. My dad’s second chance to reveal the secret came when he was about to go into the hospital for his heart surgery, and his third chance was anytime after surviving his surgery and subsequent complications.
So, maybe my grandfather renamed my father in the memory of the son he left behind. Maybe he had to rename my father for obtuse Chinese and/or legal reasons. Maybe he just really really liked that name.
But maybe it wasn’t true? Maybe Mr. Dai had my father confused with another childhood friend? No one else seemed to be able to confirm this so my brother, being semi-masochistic or something, asked my father’s wife whether she knew anything about this. She told him (in between her claims that my father promised her this and that), that she knew about my grandfather from a secret source which she wasn’t revealing, and that my dad didn’t know that she knew. Great. So we called up another old friend of my dad’s whom we think could be the secret source, since he lived close by to my dad, and Holy Blistering Barnacles the guy has not returned our call. Which, with all due respect, seems pretty strange.
Even though all this grandfather business is more of a curiosity than anything else, genetics do come in handy in some ways.
But be careful when breeding happy faces to happy faces,
If you ever wondered how come I am such a fan of colloidal suspension of tiger-striped polyphasic foam or why I thought the argumentative atmosphere of Cal Arts was just an extension of home life or why the hell my cat speaks one language and my dogs another, here’s the primal source.
There just wasn’t a way to know my dad casually. Even if you didn’t understand physics, or mathematics or the other things he was passionate about, like playing go, or skiing, it was impossible not to get caught up in his quest to make things better, to try harder, to figure things out. He instilled in me the idea that you can always do more, and to never be satisfied with “good enough.” He was the King of the Satisfaction Upgrade. This meant to have high expectations for other things but save the highest expectations for your own self. This didn’t mean life was all work, however. When I was younger he inspired me to never give up, but when I worked too hard he always reminded me of the breakthrough discoveries solved by scientists while they were on vacation.
There are some people in the world who you meet under one context, and then after awhile you find out something else about this person that surprises you. With my dad, no matter what the context, for better or for worse, you got the entire package. This meant he would always keep his word, he did everything he could when friends or family needed help, and I don’t have to tell anyone here that he was a champion of integrity, a big fan of math puzzles and intellectual debates on all subjects. What you might not know are some facts of his life, so I would like to give a little timeline.
In 1937 the Japanese invasion of China forced the government and many universities to relocate west to Sichuan and Yunnan. Amidst this chaos my father’s parents met at a train station in Wuhan and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. Two years later my father was born, in a small town called Bei Wen Quan near ChongQing.
In 1948 as China entered a civil war, my grandfather took a job in Taiwan, thinking that it would be a yearlong assignment. Instead, the communists took control of the mainland and it would be decades before any of them could go back.
In Taiwan my father studied Chemical Engineering at the National Taiwan University and received his masters in Atomic and Nuclear Physics from Tsing Hua University. In 1962 he received a scholarship to U.C Berkeley to study Theoretical Particle Physics for his PhD and together with my mom began a new life in the United States. It was an adventurous, and thrilling time to be here.
My dad was part of a generation of forced ex-patriots. He came out of China at a unique moment where the old China no longer existed and the new China was yet to be. He believed in all the traditions and values that the old China had, but he also knew America was the future. From the moment he arrived until his death this was the profound balancing act he navigated on a daily basis. He took care of his parents, and helped them with their English, and he took care of his kids, and helped them with their Chinese.
After graduating from Berkeley my dad had post docs at MIT and Northeastern University, so we moved to the east coast, where I remember summer road trips picking apples, looking at foliage, and of course, doing math problems.
In 1976 he was hired at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where he worked until he retired. He worked on various experimental and theoretical projects, and published over a hundred papers on subjects I can barely comprehend, such as Regge-Pole Formalism, Origin of the B-dot Jump, Energy Loss of bunched beams, and Monte-Carlo calculations, which to me sounds like one of his theories on beating the dealer in blackjack.
Though he loved the landscape and the mountains of New Mexico, he couldn’t quite handle the local food, and the nearest Chinese market was a two-hour drive, so instead he performed small garden miracles by growing Chinese vegetables no one believed could grow in the high desert climate. He also watched Los Alamos grow from a town where we were the only Chinese family around, to one that had a Chinese Cultural Association. An association that had many informal meetings on the ski hill, even.
He spent many lunch hours practicing figure 8s and jumps at the skating rink, but I don’t think I have ever seen my dad so happy as when he was on the ski hill. Not only did he master the black diamond mogul runs, he figured out the perfect velocity, angle and weight distribution to approach a mogul in order to maintain absolute control of his speed. During my last year in high school, we had an arrangement: provided I kept up my grades, he would occasionally pull me out of class in the middle of the day to drive up to the ski hill for a few runs.
In 1984 my father’s parents moved from Taiwan to live with him, and then the garden really took off. My grandmother was an exceptional cook and my father always bugged her to write her recipes down. However, every time she would make the dish the recipe would get an addendum or a revision. This endless tweaking, the continual quest to find ways to improve something, was a trait my father got from his mother, so watching him go crazy trying to make sense of the recipes, to comprehend the final, final and ultimate final number of tablespoons of salt, was very funny.
When my grandfather developed dementia my father was still working at the lab, but he wanted to find a way for my grandfather to be cared for during the day. When an unemployed mathematician offered to help out, and this mathematician also happened to be a really nice guy and also Chinese, I think my father came as close as he ever was to believing in something as totally irrational as fate.
In 1999 and 2001 my husband David and I were awarded grants to travel in China to study tea and the classical gardens. My father prepared an exhaustive itinerary, and we zig-zagged across the country armed with not only the typical stuff like history lessons, cultural tidbits and political criticisms, but select Huan Lee specialties like how to speak the Shandong dialect using a rule of switching the inflections used in Mandarin, what the local specialties were and which towns were worth a detour just for a meal, and to beware the steamed bun that shows the meat on the outside but is empty in the middle. Every time we called him he would ask “Where are you?” This was followed by “What did you have for breakfast?” After that he’d recommend a list of sites to visit, including specific objects of significance, such as a certain poem carved in stone, a painting, or even a famous old tree.
It wasn’t until we returned from our second trip that we realized he himself had not been to many of those places. The itinerary he planned for us was based on memory and his historical perspective of a country he had left when he was 10. We were his eyes and ears, we soaked in the famous hot springs of his birthplace, Bei Wen Quan, and we even went to visit Cixian, his actual lao jia, or “old home,” which he had never been to. He was so proud of China’s past, and so hopeful for its future, and so he was one of its fiercest advocates as well as its harshest critic.
Following my grandfather’s passing in 2001, my father retired from the lab and moved to Moraga to enjoy the bay area, to marry Ying, and be close to his grandchildren. Somehow, though, the lack of stress in his life backfired and he suffered a heart attack on the tennis courts in 2004. He recovered from the heart surgery fine, but had an allergic reaction to one of the medications, and it poisoned his lungs, causing him to stay in the hospital for several months. We all think it was a gift to have him live for eight more years, as he was able to finally enjoy his retirement. He took the cruise down the Three Gorges, and travelled to Taiwan, and Hawaii.
My dad taught us to always look for the interesting parts of things, and also to do things that we loved, because that would make them interesting. He showed us how much fun it was to change spark plugs, how playing pool reflected Newtonian physics, how to cut a block of tofu into thirteen exactly uniform pieces. Sometimes he got carried away, for example the rules governing sponges and scrubbies in the kitchen still strikes fear in me, but my father never had an opinion without a well-reasoned argument to back him up. This is not to say he was always right. He wasn’t. But he respected you more if you could match his level of debate, because that meant you put in the effort to think about it. Looking back, these debates were never about him telling me what to think, while I was growing up, he was teaching me how to think.
Sometime after graduating from college, my father told me something that I think would be what he’d like to leave everyone with today.
He told me I should remember the words of advice he’s given me, the problem solving tips that he’s shared, and that I should think about the things he’s criticized, to really think about them, because now that I was an adult, I wouldn’t necessarily have him around any more for guidance.
And in the end, it all comes down to the “Physicist’s Afterlife.”
After my dad left his hospital room he found himself floating in a very dark space filled with pinholes of light. It was hard to tell which way was up and which was down, but he felt all the strength returning to his body. His lungs filled with air. Slowly the lights grew larger and larger and as my dad turned to look around him he saw Richard Feynman standing right in front of him.
“Welcome Huan.” Richard said. “How was your journey?”
“Oh. Very relaxing! I’m curious though, I felt some sort of a low-gravity situation on the way over here.”
“Well, that’s to be expected. Welcome to the physicists’ afterlife. Are you ready for today’s puzzle?”
“Wow!” My dad said, excitedly. “Is that what we do here?”
“All day long if you want. But there’s plenty of other activities too, like skiing and tennis and go. We have some of the best chefs too, myself included, and wait until you see the stock market!”
“I’m very excited.” My dad said. “What’s today’s puzzle?”
Richard Feynman turned and pointed to three doors located on the wall behind him. “Where would you like to go today? To a beautiful little picnic spot, filled with wildflowers, pretty birds and rock formations… or …would you like to go to the Puzzle Wonderland.”
“What’s the Puzzle Wonderland?”
“The Puzzle Wonderland is a very special place. At every fork in the road you will encounter the guy who always tells the truth, and the guy who always lies. Every creek you cross you’ll have to figure out how to get yourself, a fox, a chicken and a sack of grain to the other side one item at a time without the fox eating the chicken, or the chicken eating the grain. At every farm house you see there will be dueling brothers with odd shaped land that needs to be divided evenly. There are stacks of coins, plus other goodies like hot tea, fresh fruit and unlimited macadamia nuts.”
“Oh yes, I’d like to go to the Puzzle Wonderland, please. But I have a question.”
“Sure. What’s your question?”
“Are the macadamia nuts roasted?”
“OK, great. So how do I get there?”
“See these three doors? Two of these lead to the nice picnic spot, and one door, only one, leads to the Puzzle Wonderland. Now first thing is for you to pick a door.”
My dad pointed at one of the doors and Richard Feynman walked over to it and spray-painted a large red A on the door. “We’ll call that door A. I’m not going to tell you if you’ve picked the picnic spot or the Puzzle Wonderland, I’m not even going to open it. What I will do is show you one of the other doors that leads to the picnic spot.” Richard Feynman went up to one of the unmarked doors and opened it a crack. “Yup. Lovely, just lovely. Just missing all the puzzles. This one we’ll call door B.”
My dad craned his neck so he could take a peek inside Door B. The other side looked very sunny, with a faint smell of jasmine.
Richard Feynman smiled. “Now you have to make your last choice. Knowing that door B does not lead to the Puzzle Wonderland, you can keep the original door you’ve selected, Door A, or you can switch to the last door, Door C.”
“But I don’t know what’s behind A,” my dad said.
“But you’re saying I can also switch to door C. Which means you’re really asking me whether my chances of getting to the Puzzle Wonderland are better if I stay with my original door A, or if I switch, or if it doesn’t matter whether I switch or not.”
“Hm,” my dad said, lowering his gaze to the ground. “May I have a few minutes to think about it?”
“Here’s something to write with.” Richard Feynman said, handing him a pad of paper and a gold cross pen.
After a little while my Dad handed the papers back to Richard Feynman and said, “That’s my final answer.” He had a smirk on his face as he walked over and rested his hand on the doorknob. “Am I right?”
Richard Feynman nodded. “You sure are. Have fun in there. Hey, later tonight Albert and Hans are meeting me for a game of bridge. Would you like to be my partner?”
My father scratched his chin. “You and me against Albert and Hans?”
At some point during the day, when you’ve simply had too many cherries (yes, this really is the best coast), and way too much coffee, it’s time to take a trip into the meta-meta tunnel, which means screen sharing with yourself.
And it gets cooler. You can take a screen shot of your shared screens taking a screenshot with your shared screen!
“It is the nature of scientific study of non-human animals that a few individual animals who have been thoroughly poked, observed, trained, or dissected come to represent their entire species. Yet with humans we never let one person’s behavior stand for all of our behavior… we are individuals first, and members of the human race second…
By contrast, with animals the order is reversed. Science considers animals as representative of their species first, and as individuals second. We are accustomed to seeing a single animal or two kept in a zoo as representative of their species…”
After reading my friend’s recent blog post titled “And Now for a Little Biracial Rage,” it seems like in actuality some humans do see other humans (of a different race) as representatives of that race first, and as individuals second. But all this “seeing” is in the guise of power, with race simply being the whitest, most convenient ax to wield. Humans tend to privilege vision over everything else, and so that means when one looks different that’s what other people are going to latch onto. Plus it’s simply too hard to take the time to learn about other people’s experiences, which (in my opinion) are really the things that make up one’s identity.
Besides, race and identity are fluid things, and made convenient only when necessary. Notice the recent hubbub surrounding our President coming out for gay marriage. This puts gay Republicans in a conundrum, as it does black conservative Christians. What the conservatives want is for the black community to put race aside (“Aw come on, just this once”) and not vote for the person who is trying his darnedest to help their race, and instead condemn him for something totally abstract like thrusting a rainbow fist in God’s face, whereas the gay Republicans (who I think are Republicans for mostly fiscal reasons) have to wiggle about deciding whether their capital gains tax and other pocket lining issues are more important than voting for the first standing president in the history of the U.S. to support their cause. Yup, it’s a toughie.
What all this means, is that race and identity are tools. Just like the argument of how guns don’t kill people, bullets do, telling someone (who’s half Chinese) “You don’t look Asian to me,” is not a comment on race as it’s a statement proving the guy who said it is a dickwad. Not only is he dismissing her actual identity, he’s also judging her by what she looks like based on an identity of his own fantasy, and in that visual judgement is also an opinion on how she should behave, given her self-proclaimed membership in the race he’s an expert in, and boy let me tell you he knows the Asians, as in he’s received some juicy Asian back rubs and bowls of Moo Goo spicy chicken. And I’m sorry to say, but it’s got to be a guy, a white guy, and he’s probably single (or soon will be), and he’s trolling Southeast Asia for a reason, and in the words of my dear friend living in Hong Kong “These mother scratchers, once they start dating locals, they can never go back to an opinionated western girl.”
The ease of how these things are said and taken lightly reminds me of a recent Meet the Press where Rachel Maddow brought up some facts regarding how women were getting paid less than men. Alex Castellanos answered with the nastiest kind of condescension. He said “I love how passionate you are,” which is just about one of the most belittling responses, one, because it reduces the presentation of facts to a mere display of emotion, and two, because it’s disguised as a complement.
So this brings me to the woes of MO, my bi-tri-multi-racial dog. In the dog world I assume she presents her identity clearly, as dogs tend to do, that of trouble-maker-chase-extremist, and it makes most dogs just want to slap her, but when it’s humans she encounters, they tend to pull the “you don’t look Asian to me” on her because they’re just looking at her, as opposed to watching.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten in terms of raising a rescue dog (or any dog) is to “See the dog, not the problem.”
Or in other words, “Train the dog you have, not the dog you think it should be.”
Or, “If you can’t be with the one you love, don’t fake it by pretending to love someone else who kinda looks the same.”
Clearly this memo hasn’t gotten around very much.
MO (and me, since I have to suffer the human part of the conversation) have had plenty of encounters with people telling me (not asking) what breed she is. Most people that declare what breed of dog I have must feel pretty self-satisfied, but they don’t realize that even if they were right, even if I bent over in a total and absolute kow-tow, it wouldn’t do me a wit of good in terms of understanding MO’s behavior, or MO in terms of how she should live her life.
They say “That’s an Australian shepherd” and when I say “Well, actually she’s got some gouda and aged gruyere and possibly some ham in there,” they say “NO. She’s definitely an aussie. I’ve had two. I’ve a good eye for them.” Some say “Whoa, gotta watch out for that cattle dog,” and when I say she’s “50/50 butter and duck fat,” they say: “NO. You see her coat? (how can you not?) See how she’s trying to herd?” (uh, actually, I’ve seen what she looks like when she is herding.)
Sometimes (when people do ask) I offer this explaination: “MO’s mother bit her owner and was taken to the shelter where she promptly bit a shelter worker right after they found out she was pregnant. There were four pups and MO is the only one with a merle coat, and they tell me the mom was a German Shepherd/Chow.” And they say “NO WAY she’s any of those,” as if they were there in that back-alley-south-central-Los-Angeles point of moogoomaculate conception with a freaking DNA strip.
Even when I had to register her to take obedience classes I was chastised for writing German Shepherd/Chow as her breed. Turns out I should have written “All American.” It’s pretty hilarious to think which part of a German Shepherd and a Chow is American!
All of this is frustrating and stupid and annoying, but the really critical part is, (other then why has no one told, (or asked) me about her double life as Canine Sherman) what difference does it make what breed she is?
What is breed going to explain in terms of her actual identity/experience? Will her being a “full-on” whatever breed explain her permanent fear of strangers and her facility at defusing a naked squeaker? Which is a more authentic part of her identity, the fact she spent the first six months of her life learning all things dog from twenty some dogs and so can read other dogs in an instant, or the fact that she looks, or doesn’t look, like a German Shepherd/Chow?
Even with Stevie, people will often say “My, what a pretty border collie mix.” I just lower my head and say, “Thanks, but she’s only a regular border collie.” Good God. At least I don’t get thanked for being so damn passionate.