outwait outrun outwit


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05.26.04, wednesday night

Tonight was my last night at work.

. . .

ABC. American Born Cambodian. The full meaning of being one didn't hit until the last few days working with Kim, who immigrated 9 years ago from Vietnam. Last night she asserted that I was lucky in my inability to speak khmer; the hierarchies in khmer language (i.e. terms for Elder Brother, Third Uncle, etc.) and hence khmer culture were unknown to me in any everyday, lived way. While she worried about offending our Vietnam-born chef, I blundered through conversations blithely and at Chi-Nam's indulgence. My understanding of authority - as something to be challenged or abandoned when it oppresses - is enviable to a young woman who believes that her culture has conditioned her to accept long work shifts for low pay.

I shrug. I'm only one ABCambodian among thousands. Instead, I belligerantly redirect conversation to her future. You should leave your other boss. You shouldn't work for so little so long. 50 hours a week! Goddammn! Even if you made less, you'd have enough time to do things. Take walks, spend time with your mother, go to school. Think about it! She smiles, wistfully, maybe in disbelief. Everything changes; language and tradition must, too. Old people die and their ways die as well. People won't speak the way they were expected to speak years and years ago. Less old people will get offended when you speak, you'll see.

. . .

After locking the entrance to the New World one last time, I biked with Rachel through downtown and round a light-tiara'd lake. We spied two little blue herons, graceful leggy beasts taking startled flight. After reaching a bench on the point farthest out, we imbibed whisky and talked excitedly, digressively, about art, collaboration, the future.

I didn't notice if the moon was out or not, unsurprisingly. I've been out of touch with friends, the pleasure of writing, even books. Birds and Jimmy's stories are my music these days. If I was younger, I'd go see the Cat Power show tomorrow night. Now I'd rather save the money. Shows? Parties? Bars? Unimaginable, these haunts of only two years ago.

I'd rather listen to Cat Power on a night at home with the lights dim and a glass of fire, writing to Ben or Mel about cities or poetry or the future. A deceptively quiet appearance since restlessness brews just under the surface; I'm anxious to go to someplace new, a state of mind visited rarely, in conversations with a dear friend or in dreams I forget when I wake up.

. . .

Edited this poem.


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