August 03, 2015 11:42:48 PM





The Outsider

“The sun rose and everything fell.” My mom claims that according to Gandhi, this is how you’re supposed to think of life, putting yourself at the mercy of the idea that every day holds new adventures, totally unrelated to the past.
I will check, but I’m pretty sure that Gandhi never said that. Lately, she’s been citing Gandhi’s words, albeit nonexistent words, a lot. I would guess it’s because she thinks that I don’t value Indian culture, and thus feels the need to instill a pride for the nation that I, or rather my parents, hail from. Now, my beautiful, deluded mother thinks that the statements she is fabricating in the name of Gandhi are profound, yet the things that he’s said are obviously 100x more profound. But it’s not like I’m not proud of being Indian, I never really cared about it. My culture was just a part of me, like my above-average height or the rolls that adorn my stomach. The idea that I could be inferior, well, perceived as inferior, only really hit me when someone at my preppy, primarily Caucasian school told me, “You’re pretty enough to get a white guy.” Isn’t that a touch insulting?
Well, the problematic thing is that my mother thinks that I’m afraid of the past, that I’m letting it hold me back or something of the sort. But not quite. I’m just a bit obsessed with everything: past, present, future, the meaning of umami. I don’t discriminate with the focus of my neurosis.
My mother made up another Gandhi quote while she was taking me to a blind date that my friend, Ileana, set up with some white guy named Alex. Ileana told me that she had the perfect guy for me, with an unhealthy emphasis on the perfect, her words nowhere near authentic, and her nose scrunched up just a bit too much. I knew that something unusual was to happen but then the restaurant he proposed we go to has really good food, so I didn’t really care. At all.
I might as well just kiss him in the beginning, so we don’t have to do that dreadful back and forth thing at the end of the date. Oh god, that’s the worst. Well, it’s not like I’ve experienced it before, it’s just in all the movies, even the good ones. “Just remember the food, just remember the food,” I mumble like a faithless preacher.
“What’s that?” my mother asks.
“Don’t tell anyone, but—”
“I don’t have anyone to tell,” I automatically retort.
“Whatever, just don’t alienate him, okay Jessie? Just be yourself.”
And that’s exactly the problem, my nature is to alienate people. But I mumble a dismissive, “Okay, mum,” and wander out the door.
I see him, and he’s even better looking than in the pictures. I assess him a bit, forming my initial, meaningless judgments, before he sees me and I can tell that he’s doing the exact same thing. But then both of our faces lift, forming very forceful smiles, and he’s pulling back my chair for me. He’s nice, very nice actually, and I get a bit excited because this just may be the first boy I might like in quite a while.
As we settle in with the usual mundane, early date talk, the family next to me receives their dishes. I presume one had peppers in it, because I went into a coughing fit worse than that of Granny Klump at family dinner in The Nutty Professor. And when I see everyone covering their plates, I do have half a mind to retort “I’ll kick yo’ ass,” in her stunted yet headstrong manner. But I proclaim “Excuse me,” because God forbid my beau of 10 minutes, dear Alex, refuses to excuse me.
He responds, “You may want to get that checked, Jess. You could have bronchitis.”
Ermm, what do I say to that? “Oh no, I’m just allergic to peppers.” Jesus, I’m out with a hypochondriac. I guess he is perfect for me.
“Well, last time I checked, 100% of people who have bronchitis are victim to coughing fits. And since you were coughing…” he says in a very matter-of-fact tone, as if waiting for me to realize my approaching danger.
And for a second, I really think about it. “But, of course they are,” I respond, and at this point, I’m a bit pained and confused. I can’t tell if he’s stupid or just incredibly cautious, even more so than me. Yet, being myself, by now, I’ve cultivated a subtle appreciation for him.
“Listen, we’re all threatened by—”
I interject, “China, the existence of ‘meninism’, the idea that Donald Trump, or worse Waka Flocka, may become president?”
He giggles a bit, “But would that really be worse?”
A small smile forms on my face and I continue, “Honestly, I—”
“Jessie, were you dishonest this whole time?” he retorts with mock surprise. And we continue like that, never letting the other finish their sentences, and it becomes a game.
At the precise moment that he’s leaning in, his parents pull up, because that’s just how life works. His mom’s the sort of figure that’s vainly holding onto the idea that Annie’s fashion in Annie Hall is still in and his dad looks like the type of guy that would change his last name to his wife’s in a marriage. He is so incredibly small and…stocky, and bald. Like shiny bald with a little hair around the edges and sideburns that cannot go without being noticed. They must be writers, the ones who inevitably teach.
I love them.
As I climb into the car, his mother (I don’t know Alex’s last name, so Mrs. Alex?) asks me how the food was. “Oh, it was impeccable,” I respond.
“Well, there must have been something that was peccable,” she claims, giggling at herself in a very small, mousy way, after which Alex rolls his eyes and her husband falls to pieces, as if he’s about to die from laughter. He must have practice. If I were living like I were about to die, say, tomorrow, I would first figure out why Caillou is bald or pretend to be Kylie Jenner’s dentist by using the horrifying makeup from White Chicks so that I could deflate her lips. I’m absolutely sure that if I were to live like that, someone would move up the date to yesterday so that, not I, but the rest of the world could rest in peace.
And then, it gets so. Much. Better.
With a painfully innocent glint in his eyes, his dad asks, “What’s it like being exotic in America?”
Just wonderful. My face goes blank, but somehow my mouth manages to form words. “Well, I was born and raised here, so I wouldn’t know.” Their eyes are wide as they look to glean treasured information from the foreign species. “And a billion people live in India while the population of America is a couple hundred million. So, in the grand scheme of things, you would be the exotic ones.” I can tell where this conversation is headed, so I’m hoping, vainly hoping for it to end.
“Ooh, John, we’re exotic,” Alex’s mom responds enthusiastically, but I think she can tell that I’m a bit affronted because she says, “We really love the Kama Sutra, your people really nailed it with that one.” Well, I’m obviously no longer offended now.
Alex sighs. My eyebrows rise in a fashion inhumanly possible and followed by a nervous laugh, I respond, “Well, that was written about 2000 years ago, it’s basically like the 50 Shades of Grey of an older generation, so it doesn’t reflect our entire culture or society.” I guess it does to a certain extent, but that’s an issue for a better time with better people. “And also, I’m Catholic. That’s a Hindu text.” Not really sure if I love them anymore. Actually, I’m very sure.
“Sorry, they can be incredibly ignorant with culture of any kind,” Alex reassures me, trying to send a message to his parents.
“Yeah, we’re ingenuous,” his father proudly claims, victim to wishful thinking. And I’m about to laugh, but it’s not a joke. Well, I’d like to be able to cultivate the same amount of self-respect, so that I too can hear what I want to hear.
“What?” his dad turns, his eyes wide, unsuspecting, and well, ignorant.
“Uh, nothing.” Did I say that out loud? Oh well, what do I have to be embarrassed about?
But the night continues like that. I hear it all: Slumdog Millionaire, Drake (Apparently Indian?), Rajesh Koothrapalli from Big Bang Theory (They didn’t know his real name), Aziz Ansari and Tom Haverford (Apparently two completely different people) and of course Apu from The Simpsons. They even try to recreate some scenes with Apu, so I hear John’s Indian accent: “Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in hell.” Already there bud. And I was victim to that 50 times. Minimum. But hearing them trying to pronounce Apu’s last name, Nahasapeemapetilon, which of course is not Indian, was the highlight of my life. My last name, however, is Albert.
“Are you all doctors?”
“Are you all engineers?”
Prolonged sigh. “Yes. Every single one of us.” Well, both of my parents actually are…
“Your parents had an arranged marriage, right?”
Actually, no. They fell in love in college. But…“Yes, yes they did,” I respond, inwardly rolling my eyes.
While they were boiling down Indian culture to popular figures and the conventions they’ve heard in passing conversations, I was the one who had to mention Gandhi. And that really was just a short conversation between me and Alex before I had to endure their recreation of Life of Pi. The whole ride was a bit embarrassing, not for me, but for them. I didn’t hold it against Alex though, who spent the entire ride profusely apologizing. After a while, I was not angry or annoyed, simply, enlightened. And a bit uncomfortable.
Some people really are very ignorant.
Finally, when I get to the point where I’m delirious from the incessant talk and in dire need of my fairy godmother, we reach my home. As I wave goodbye to my hell-buddies, I wistfully think of what went wrong for them. If I tried, I would be helping the world by fixing them.
Alex, who accompanies me to the door, reads my mind. “Believe me, I’ve tried. They or their,” he gestures at nothing, looking for something, anything to capture his parent’s essence, “I guess, quirkiness?—are here to stay.”
“They’re good people, just a bit far from the light. What do they do by the way?”
“English teachers.”
“Ahhh, of course.”
When I asked him, a bit nervously actually, if we could meet again, he seemed relieved, and incredibly surprised. Pulling me into a hug, he responded, “Of course. You just might be the first girl to want to come back after the test that is my parents.” I could have said that that’s surprising but that would have been a lie. Instead, I smiled, the first genuine one in what seemed to be a while, while I put my keys in the lock, twisting, hoping for it to work and not make a fool out of me for once. But, my hopes went unanswered as he laughed at my misguided attempts and eventually helped me unlock the death trap. Alex stared at the door handle and slowly turned the knob.