Holiday Gratitude

December 28, 2018

Please take a moment to remember all the lonely, forgotten, and neglected this holiday season.

The Gift Room

December 18, 2010

I’m missing my friend Julie this Christmas.

To be fair, I miss Julie and her wonderful husband Steve every single day, but this Christmas especially for some reason.

Julie and I worked together for many years although in different cities in Texas.  When I travelled to Austin from my Houston for work, I was welcomed into their home and spared from a lonely, impersonal, jizz-stained hotel room.

Julie and Steve had two grown children who had long since moved out into the world, having been raised in warm love and prepared for greatness.  One of their rooms had been converted into a guest bedroom and the other into…

The Gift Room.

What the hell is a Gift Room?

Obviously, a gift room is a place to store gifts.  For this delightful woman, The Gift Room is a place to store all of her lovely intentions and her generosity.

You see, throughout the year, Julie thinks of all the people she loves.  And when she comes across a ribbon, a bow, a card, a trinket, or any gift that might appeal to one of these lucky people, she pounces right then and there.  She seizes the thought and the opportunity to make a friend smile and she saves it for just the right occasion in The Gift Room.

You can imagine how fun this room is.

Shelves lined with boxes and bows, figurines, colors, and packages of all shapes and sizes.

She is prepared for birthdays, holidays, and thinking-of-you days.  I’ll bet she’s even prepared for surprise babies.

I’ve received cards for every birthday and holiday since I’ve known Julie.  I often wear the silver friendship bracelet she gave me.  I have Longhorns napkins still from our lunch years ago at the University of Texas alumni club.

When I lost my beautiful mother, Julie’s was the first call I received.  And thereafter, she became the woman I turn to for guidance.  That was her ultimate gift to me.  It wasn’t in a box and it was wrapped with no bow, but it’s in that room nonetheless.  It’s her intent to bring comfort and love at any moment.

That’s what The Gift Room is. Not just a room full of things.  It’s a room filled with thoughts.  Of us.

My mother died ten years ago.  And Julie lives way down yonder in Austin.

So yes, I am missing my mother this Christmas.  Both of them.

How To Get Over Yourself

November 1, 2010

"Grumpy Hulk Need Mindy Time!"

Coming Home

June 13, 2010

Home is not a familiar concept to me.  Roots are not in my dna.

I’ve lived in Vietnam, Alabama, Texas, California, Florida, Montana and now, Illinois, and not just in one house per state.  I’ve had 5 addresses here alone.

I am a nomad.

I moved to Chicago from Houston in July of 2003.

I had explored a handful of neighborhoods in advance to decide where to begin my new life here, and settled quickly on Uptown in order to be close to my beloved Vietnamese food.  Yes, anyone who knows me knows of my devotion to all things Phonatical, so it comes as no surprise that proximity to edibles would factor heavily into my decision.  Obviously, it wasn’t just food.  What psycho would choose where to live based on a $7 bowl of soup?

Being close to “Little Saigon” is a way for me to be close to my mother, who died in 2000.

Although I was born in Vietnam, I remember nothing of it.  My family came to the US during the Fall of Saigon when I was just 18 months old.  We somehow landed in Alabama and stayed until I was 18.  Through a series of circumstances not to be explored in this blog entry, I was around almost no Vietnamese influence until I was legal.  18 months to 18 years as an Alabama outcast.  Awesome.

It’s not at all that I struggled with my half-Vietnamese identity.  It’s more that my mother was entirely my Vietnamese identity; as long as I had her, I didn’t need to explore further.  I was a visitor to her world, and she was my interpreter.

And then she was gone, and I understood.

Flash forward to 2003, and to the subject of this post.

I have been researching the economic contribution of ethnic enclaves for one of my many side projects, and came upon this Chicagoist post about Argyle Street from 2005 discussing the gentrification of the area.  I doubt much has changed since then, except that the Red Rooster sits empty now, reprimanding me for not peeking in at least once when I had the chance.

It reminded me of my first day in my new home on Winnemac.  My fabulous new neighbors were filling me in on where to go for this and that, then offered that Clark street was a block west and boasted great shops and restaurants I would surely love.  But, they said, I should steer clear of the area one block to the east: Broadway and Argyle.  I stubbornly replied, “Yeah, that area is the reason I moved here.”

While I understand that their purpose was only to warn about the perception of crime in the area, I recall feeling sad that they may have missed out on so much the area offered.  For them, Argyle was simply to be endured as the fastest route to the Red Line.  They had ventured into a couple of the well-lit places with more familiar menus, but skipped the ones with ducks hanging in the window.  They had never experienced the many restaurants, gift shops, tea and herb specialists, plants and fragrant lemon tree vendors, grocery stores, bakeries, or of course, the people.

Dan B and I were chatting about a lovely place just under the Argyle stop called Thai Binh, whose hostess, the owner’s daughter, is as much a part of the experience as the food.  Linda is charming and welcomes any questions about the area or her family business.  One time, she seated me and went back to the corner where she seemed to be negotiating a residential lease for her father.  By the way, she was about 12 at the time.  One Yelp reviewer references helping her with her algebra homework during dinner.  Ha!  I hear she’s off at college now.

Some argue that ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago or in any metropolitan area keep immigrants from assimilating into mainstream society.  Others believe they are simply an alternative way of adaptation that conflicts less with maintaining cultural distinctiveness.

I am fascinated by each argument and many that lie in-between.

All I know is, Little Saigon is the closest thing I have to coming home.

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