Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Holiday, Here and Now (A Christmas Story for y'all)

If you didn't know any better, you’d think that Millie Wong was particularly attractive to curbs. Whenever she crossed the street, whatever curb was there would stop what it was doing to catch her toe or heel, tripping her a couple of involuntary steps left or right.
Actually, Millie liked to have something attracted to her—even a curb. She felt unnoticed and oblivious to huge swaths of day or week, or season. Life wasn’t merely passing her by; existence seemed to waltz through her, often leaving her with no trace, no place, no idea of how she got from car to home to New Years once again.
Days, celebrations, stock market crashes, Rose Parades… They seemed to transpire with her without her, or whatever. Even something as political or personal as her own transition didn’t seem as definite, as real as the transitions she kept hearing about.  Her path was less of a roadmap, and more like crossing a street, catching a curb, and stumbling two feet somewhere else.
Somehow, on her way to womanhood, Millie had blundered through mascara-tinged drinking binges, well-meaning crossdresser support groups, lesbian goth catfights, some guy who sprinkled cocaine on his penis, and farmer’s markets with parsnips and a poofy loaf of sweet bread.  One night, Millie walked into a Denny’s with a handful of semen and a twenty-dollar bill. And she still wasn’t quite sure of where she had been or where she was going.

What might it mean to know one’s here and now? To be sure of one’s form, substance, location? Millie knew this was a stupid question, but it was a stupid that always seemed just a little smarter than she was, and even a confused Millie didn't like feeling stupid. So she usually tried to accept, even be grateful, for the clueless grey zones in her life.
Sometimes, such gratitude was easy. Like in November, the month where some genius placed the Transgender Day of Remembrance just a few days before Thanksgiving, forever mixing names of the dead with turkey gravy, murder rates and uncontrollable crying with pumpkin pie and Mrs Cubbison’s corn bread stuffing into one tragic, mouthwatering trannygiving mess of a month that she wanted no part of.

And yet, November would pass and here was December, and it was a particularly beautiful day, and she remembered that December was not November because December was Christmas and Christmas something she depended on every year. Christmas was reality on steroids—the lights were lightier, the songs songier, the stores even more open and welcoming than they had been all year.
 Christmas helped remind her that she was alive, a part of the world, even if she owed most of that belonging to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, extended mall hours, and the holiday Bed, Bath, and Beyond flyer she found in her mail.
Which must have been why she was at the Bed, Bath and Beyond today with an ad for a toaster oven.


“I’m sorry, that item’s not in stock,” the woman said.
“Oh… Well I’ll just order it online.” Millie started turning away.
“If you order here in the store, you can get free shipping, and you can use your coupon! The post office will deliver it to your door, free of charge!”
Without giving her pause to reply, the woman grabbed her arm and led Millie to another woman by a computer station.
“Nicole will help you, dear!” she said before she waved and disappeared into the festive rows of helpful household appliances.
Nicole, however, did not seem like she was going to be helping Millie any time soon. She was assisting a customer in stylish, yet sensible shoes, who insisted that Bed, Bath, and Beyond should be selling acrylic martini glasses throughout the year.

“ I don't care if it IS December,” the customer said. “I sit outside in my backyard all year round. It’s what we DO in California. Why live here if you don't sit out and enjoy the weather in December?”
Nicole tapped on the keyboard, “Yes, of course, that’s a very good point. I’ll make sure to let the managers know that we should have acrylic stemware available all year round.”
The customer shrugged. “Of course you should. It’s California, right?”
“I go to the beach in December, and send pictures to my friends on the East Coast,” Millie blurted.
The customer spun to face her.
“Exactly! It’s part of what makes winter so much fun! The rest of the country is buried in snow, while we’re outside having lazy afternoon drinks.”
Millie nodded.

Nicole stopped typing and exhaled. “O-kay. Your stemware is on its way, Mrs. Reese. Now what else do you have?”
Millie noticed the stack of 20% off coupons remaining in the customer’s hand.
Mrs. Reese pulled out her next coupon and guided Nicole through the next transaction.
“…and this goes to my Nephew Steven. We haven’t spoken all year.”
As Mrs. Reese continued, Millie stared out past her and Nicole, at the instant mini donut fryers, and double-walled plastic tumblers. She smelled the holiday-scented candles, the crisp, reassuring carpet cleaners, and inviting floor wax. The aisles were magnificently accented with snowflakes and lights and ribbons. And on them were the Nickel-plated Kitchen Aids, the sleek Keurig coffee machines, the bright green and red silicone pot holders, spatulas and muffin trays.  

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll love this. It’s really a beautiful picture frame.”
“I was thinking about getting her a Tempur-Pedic pillow, but I’m not sure if she sleeps on her back or her side.”
Nicole looked behind Mrs. Reese and noticed Millie was still waiting.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!”
“No worries, it’s all good.” Millie smiled and gave a little thumbs up.
“It really is a nice picture frame,” she added.
Mrs. Reese nodded, and one-by-one they continued through her shopping list, from the vanilla-scented flameless candles to the portable vacuum cleaner (with pet hair attachment), to the Calphalon nonstick twin pack (an especially good deal).
Finally, Nicole finished her last entry.
“There you go, Mrs, Reese, and I’ve applied all your 20% off coupons.”
“And everything is being shipped?”
“Absolutely. No charge!”
“Thank you so much,” Mrs Reese said, and as she walked past, she put her hand on Millie’s shoulder.
“And thank you, dear, for being from California.”

Nicole looked at Millie, sighed, and clasped her hands.
“I’m so sorry for the wait. Thank you so much for being so patient!”
“Oh gosh, it’s Christmas!”
Nicole stopped, and Millie suddenly wondered if she should have said “Happy Holidays” instead. Could “Nicole” be a Jewish name?
But Nicole giggled. “Yes it is. And it’s been crazy! Thanks again for understanding.”
“Gosh, thanks for being so cheerful.”
What are you buying dear?”
“A toaster oven. Here’s the model number.”
Nicole pulled up the toaster ovens on her screen. She frowned. “We don't seem to have that one.
“But this Oster looks great,” she ventured.
“It has to be Cuisinart,” Millie said. “She really likes her Cuisinart.”
“Oh… Wait a minute—is this one it?”
“Perfect—we just had the numbers mixed up. No problem! And yes, we do have it online, and if we ship it today, you’ll have it before Christmas.”
“Gosh, thank you! It’s not really a Christmas gift. I put meat dumplings in my girlfriend’s toaster oven by mistake, and they burned, and she’s, well, Jewish and uh… vegan… So she can't use it anymore”
Nicole sighed.
“I get it. My wife is vegan, too.”

“Okay, all we need is your credit card and ID.”
Millie froze.  Crap! How could she be so stupid! This wasn’t a debit card purchase. And her ID still said “Victor Wong.”
“Uh…” She fumbled and finally gave Nicole her credit card and driver’s license.  
“I haven't changed that yet,” Millie muttered.
“Not a problem Ms…” Nicole looked at the license, then at Millie. Then she smiled and winked. “Not a problem at all.
“All ordered! It’ll be shipped to you by—“
“OH NO!”
“What’s wrong?”
Millie had gotten so flustered by the ID, that she had totally forgot her 20% coupon!
“Aww… don't worry, Ms. Wong. Let’s just cancel this out and do this one more time. It is Christmas, after all.”


As she opened the door into her apartment, Millie heard a curse and clatter from the kitchen.
“Oh shit! You’re early!” Sierra was struggling with a hot wok, which was giving off a very uncharacteristic smell.
“Sierra—you’re cooking meat?”
Sierra grunted, and measured ¼ of cooking wine. Before Millie could stop her, she tossed it into what was frying in the wok.  
"SIERRA!" It was too late. The wok exploded with a spray of steam and splatter.
“Don't worry! I got this!” said Sierra, just before she grabbed her arm and stumbled backward.
“Ow! Fucking grease!”

Millie shut off the burner, grabbed a lid and slammed the wok closed.
“What are you doing!?”
“Shit, this stir-frying isn't easy!”
“Never put water into a pan with hot oil!”
“It was wine.”
“SAME THING! Sierra! Did you burn yourself?”
“No. Well, just a little…”
Millie had already soaked a dish towel in cold water, which she placed on Sierra’s arm.
“Thanks, babe… OMG, that feels great.”
“Sierra—why are you cooking meat?”
“It’s ethically raised cruelty-free organic chicken.”
“It’s still meat. And you’re a vegan.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking. A lot. I kind of yelled at you pretty rough after that toaster oven thing. And it’s stupid to have two toaster ovens and two Foreman grills and two of everything in the kitchen.
“So I don't know, maybe we could work something out? I mean, I moved into your studio, and I see you how you’ve been tiptoeing around, keeping your food hidden away for me—and I don't want to do that to you anymore.”
Millie sat down.
“You okay, babe?”
“I just bought you a new toaster oven.”
“It’s a Cuisinart. And it’s coming in the mail.”
“Dude! Are you serious? What the fuck are we going to do with three toaster ovens?”
Three toaster ovens? Millie didn't know. It was messed up, but it didn't feel messed up. She was confused. Should it feel messed up? Why was it messed up?
And suddenly Sierra was next to her, arm around her, leaning her back, and giving Millie the softest, gentlest, most sweetest kiss she had ever felt.
“You’re fucking amazing, babe,” Sierra whispered. “Have I told you that?”
“Merry Christmas,” Millie whispered back.
“I’m Jewish.”
“I’m Buddhist. Fuck you. Happy Holidays, then.”
“Yeah, that’ll work. Happy Holidays.”
Again Sierra kissed her, and Millie knew right here, right now, where she was, who she was…
That was all she needed to be.

Happy Holidays,  Everyone! 

Creative Commons License
"A Holiday, Here and Now" by Ryka Aoki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Poetry...oh..the humanity....

ugh! Sometimes poetry is super-duper frustrating! Like having the perfect hamburger that just needs a little bit of ketchup and nothing-is-coming-out-of-the-bottle.... Bonk! Bonk! UGH!

Right now, I am trying to get a bit of handle on the various blogs and stuff I'm on. Here's a link to a recent interview, with Nia King.

See, stuff like that. Tom Leger is helping me right now! Stay tuned! I know this is an odd post, but it's a very exciting time!


Friday, August 2, 2013

Hawaiian Mac Potato Salad

Serves: an extended family

3/4 pounds elbow macaroni
2 russet potatoes, peeled  
8 hard boiled eggs (fresh eggs are best, and try not to overboil)
Best Foods Mayonnaise (the only acceptable brand)
1 cup frozen peas (you can add less peas, but I like peas.)
1 can bay shrimp. Instead of bay shrimp, you can add crab meat if you want to be fancy, or Spam, if you want to be unfancy.
salt and pepper (Johnnie’s or Lawry’s can work here)
¼ cup grated (not sliced) onion. I don't add this ‘cuz my family is so-so on onions.
1 tbsp cider vinegar, if you must. I think this screws up the taste, but some people like it. I think they must be from O’ahu.
Note: Don't even think of adding Italian dressing or pickle relish.

·       Boil the macaroni. Overcook it a bit so it gets softer. Strain and rinse with cold water.
·       Rinse, boil, and dice the potatoes. It’s okay if the fall apart a little.
·       Peel and dice the eggs. Or just use an egg slicer if you're not too picky.
·       Drain and rinse the shrimp.
·       Combine everything except the salt and pepper into a big mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of  mayonnaise right away, then more until the whole thing sounds sloppy and wet. Mix gently with your hand so as not to crush the potatoes and eggs.  
·       Salt and pepper to just less than taste. As the flavors combine, the seasonings go farther.
·       Cover and put in the fridge. Tastes best if kept overnight. Some people sprinkle paprika over the top before serving. I think it’s kind of pretty that way.

It’s December 2012, and I am terrified. My mother is sick, so I am making the family Christmas dinner. Main dishes? No problem. Veggies? Fine. What is scaring me is the mac salad. Mac salad seems simple, but the way we make it in the islands is special. Get haole mac salad and local mac salad, and from the first bite, you can tell. You have to get it right, otherwise the meal isn't local. Usually one person in the family makes the mac salad.

So I am freakin’ nervous. I know the basics. Overcook the macaroni. Add shrimp. Boil fresh eggs. Use only Best Foods mayonnaise. But still I have no confidence. Then, I start, and the weirdest thing happens. I start to flash back. I see my mother peeling the potatoes. I see my grandmother mixing the mayo. And when I start mixing, I remember that my grandma knew she had added enough, not by a measuring cup, but by the sound.

I finish the salad, and the next day, I give my mother a spoon. She tastes it, looks at me, and seems surprised. I think it's a good surprised. Then she says, “Hey… This real Hawaiian mac salad!” I swear this is one of the best moments of my life. I want to jump and shout I did it! And after dinner, she tells me, “from now on, you make the mac salad for us.”

--Ryka Aoki

Friday, June 21, 2013

Publication updates! :)

Hi All! I’m feeling very blessed. I have a verbal agreement with Biyuti Publishing to publish my first complete book of poetry. I will start compiling it after He Mele a Hilo is delivered to Topside Press. Folks, it has been a tough couple of weeks, and being trans can be tough all around. I have talked to my friends and seriously, one thing so many trans folk have in common is we know a lot of people who are no longer with us. Sometimes it’s so hard just to do the normal everyday things in life. I wish things were easier. But, here we are—and for me, writing is my way of making life livable again. Thank you for reading this, and thank you for being in the world with me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cal State Fullerton Lavender Commencement Address

Visions (Perceptions) of Possibilities.
Lavender Graduation 2013 Keynote by Ryka Aoki

Thank you for inviting me to be part of this day. Congratulations! I am honored to be speaking in front of you, the Cal State Fullerton’s Lavender Graduating Class of 2013. I’d like to thank Cal State Fullerton’s Multicultural Leadership Center, and Dean of Students Lea Jarnagin for inviting me. But most of all, I want to thank you, for all your hard work and achievement. You did it! Look at you!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing and Performing

As rewarding as it was to tour with the "Fully Functional Cabaret," I will not be doing that show, or shows like it, again. :)

For me, it's time to do some work, to write, to push my voice--all the good stuff I've dreamed about doing. The Rainbow Book Fair in New York was incredibly affirming, as have been the last AWP conferences I've attended, and the fine people I've met at the Southern California Writer's Conferences. Through it all, I realize that I have everything, right here, right now, to create good work.

The Cabaret can recast my part--in fact, a rotating cast might be the best way for the show to propagate and grow. I will still perform and create pieces, but these will be more personal--not as an actor in a traveling pre-existing show. And, gosh! There are plenty of wonderful, talented, hungry actors who would benefit so much from the opportunity!

As for me--I have this story set in Los Angeles, with a family that.... :)