Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stop Telling Women to Smile.

On the way back to the office from an outing today, I spent a good few minutes thinking about being told to smile by strangers on the street. I'd just passed a potential "smile" zone that proved to be quiet, but it made me think how amazing it is that women who go around minding their own business all day long still have to deal with so much unsolicited running commentary.

"Smile for me!"
"Smile, it's not so bad."
"Aw, it's not that bad is it?"

This kind of b.s. used to happen to me so regularly in New York that I thought it must be a side-effect of my condition, RBF. Now that I am old, I get it far less often, but it still happens from time to time. What's even more amazing is how this never really registered to me as harassment, or at least not in any real way, because it wasn't hissing or sex-faces, which would happen too.

Then I heard an interview with the founder of this awesome street-art movement, Stop Telling Women to Smile, and realized it wasn't my RBF, and it wasn't just New York and D.C., and furthermore, it really wasn't my motherfucking problem if some random-ass dude feels entitled to tell me what expression to put on my face.

I thought about how unfortunate it was that the younger me always felt obligated to smile in response, to be "polite" somehow. That maybe I should indeed try to go around looking more cheerful. Not anymore, I thought to myself. How ridiculous. Shaking my head.

I swear what I am about to relate is true. Not 10 minutes after this particular train of thought, I get back to the office, walk through the lobby, and get into the elevator. It's me, a younger dude, and an older dude with a mustache that I've seen around the building before.

Younger dude gets off the elevator and then it's me and the older dude for two more floors. It's quiet and I can tell he's just itching to say something.

Can you guess, reader, what he said?

Oh yes. "Smile," I hear from my periphery. "It's not so bad." A laugh.

But of course, I'm not on the street. I'm in an elevator, next to a fellow employee I might see again. So what did I do? I smiled. It was a sour, weary smile, to be sure, but not the stone-cold shutdown I'd been mentally practicing just a few minutes ago.

Sigh. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Early on in our seven-year history, I learned that Sir UM has a soft spot for the egg custard tart. You usually see this little guy at dim sum meals, but during an early visit to San Francisco, he took me to a bakery in Chinatown JUST to get the tart.

My experience of Asian food growing up white in the Maryland suburbs was: "Chinese takeout." In quotes. That's it. Cashew chicken, moo shu vegetables, pork fried rice. No dim sum. No sushi. No Thai or Vietnamese exposure, even, for this Sbarro aficionado. I'm not saying the options didn't exist; they just weren't in the picture for my family.

Moving to San Francisco changed that, big time, but the allure of dim sum remained opaque to me. A poorly lit, crowded room and food on wheels? During the day? Aren't there better things to do with the sunlit hours?

Now, after finally getting with the program via awesome meals in San Fran and New York, I have the proper appreciation for those rattling metal carts, and we happen to have a great place just a few minutes away in the suburbs, not far from where I grew up, that can satisfy the craving.

It's the kind of place where a crowd starts to form by 12:30 p.m. Where the cheesy name and unassuming exterior belie the deliciousness inside. Where the staff bring out forks to put next to the chopsticks when they seat a white person.

Here is where I finally learned about Sir UM's secret.

"Have you ever tried licking the tart?" he asked at the end of a recent dim sum meal, a plate of custards in front of us.

"What do you mean?" I said. Of course I'd never tried anything of the sort.

Truthfully, the tart always seemed extremely skippable, a fairly anodyne conclusion to a meal that involves whirling steam, chile sauce, and meats mauled into bite-size packages. Its charms are somewhat obscured by how pale and bland it looks. (You know, like me.) I'd eaten maybe four in my whole life.

He explained how, as a little kid in Singapore, he learned to hide his secret compulsion to lick the top of the custard tart.

Tonguing a tart is poor table manners, obviously. But have you ever tried? It turns out you get a hit of the sweetness concentrated at the top, while enjoying the silky smooth perfection of the surface.

His "technique," refined over many meals with adults, involves bringing the tart up to your face with both hands, forming a sort of visual screen, and then tilting the tart toward your mouth so that you can sneak in a lick, without anyone seeing, before you take a bite.

I love this for so many reasons, but the main one is how children can always figure out a way to enjoy life in the face of stiff adult opposition, and how adults are so removed from that enjoyment that they wouldn't necessarily know what to police. Among the many crimes I often got away with as a kid: drinking through a straw without holding the cup on the table, letting my ice cream melt into soup, concocting "potions" out of kitchen condiments, and collecting the colorful wrappers from candy that I'd eaten.

So now when we go to dim sum, I work on my technique, bringing the tart up to my face for a seemingly normal bite and going in for the kill. I treasure the secret, even though it will never be as surreptitiously sweet as it was to the little boy who first had the idea.

What innocent joys did you get away with as a kid?

Friday, February 05, 2016

OH: A Bizarre Attachment to Gender Identity via LEGO.

Thursday evening, crowded Metro elevator in the suburbs. A little girl, about five years old with two dark blond ponytails, stands with her dad. She is clutching a LEGO creation.

Stranger Lady, who is a loud talker: "WOOOowww do you have more of those at home?" (referring to the LEGO).

I assume the girl answered somehow, but the elevator was crowded, so I couldn't see the exchange.

Stranger Lady: "That's good, so you can build more COOL things at home. Do you have the PINK LEGOS?" (Expert enough on LEGO to know that there are pink ones, but amateur enough to use the 's' on the plural.)

Dad, tentatively: "Ummmm, yeah, we've seen those, but we haven't gotten any yet."

Stranger Lady: "Oh yeah they have PINK ones for GIRLS. They're great... " (goes into her own ownership story of pink LEGO)

Elevator doors open, people start filing out. Stranger Lady calls after the dad and girl. "You'll love them. They're PINK. For GIRLS!"


I wasn't aware that actually this was a thing until my coworker came up to me whilst I was researching pink LEGO options. I'd come upon this page, and noticed the words in red: "Retired Product." This began a conversation about pink, girly LEGO, and a coworker informed me that there had been a big controversy about it a few years ago.

As a girl who loved tiny pencils, Barbies, and Strawberry Shortcake dolls as much as I loved building forts, playing football, and Star Wars figures, I don't think we should get rid of all girly toys. I DO think that loud-talker, who was not far from my age, should have fucking known better. If you like pink LEGO, you go play with them, lady. We don't need to be telling girls that they should like pink and princesses any more than we should be telling boys to like football and shooter games. Why does this still happen?

Just FYI, the pinkest, foofiest LEGO sets that I could find, using the "girls" search tag on the site and refining to "Disney Princess," are the disturbingly romantic-sounding Sleeping Beauty's Royal Bedroom and Ariel's Magical Kiss.

They are both sold out.