Monthly Archives: August 2005

the elusive hope (4 of 10)

note: ten-part series continued! | 1 | 2 | 3

“We used to work on two or three clients every month. It was all by word of mouth. We would take a look at the place, take some measurements and some photos, and then imagine how we could make it look nice. And then we showed our clients a few ideas, let them have some input, and got to work.

“To stay within the budget, we did all sorts of shopping. We visited garage sales, flea markets, and warehouse closings, and even picked up things off the curb. Some clients let us splurge and we were getting things custom-built or ordered from Europe. But what mattered more than the brand of the furniture was the entire theme. We made sure that, on the whole, everything just worked.

“Some of the jobs were worth half a million and some were worth less than ten thousand. We didn’t really discriminate. Each one was a challenge. We took a non-negotiable 7% fee from the project budget. It was a fair sum, and money wasn’t what really drove us anyways.

“Greg handled a lot of the creative work while I did the talking with clients and suppliers. We rented a loft in Brooklyn, back when it was really cheap, and turned it into our home office. We worked in basketball shorts and t-shirts. We had an indoor hoop and shot baskets while brainstorming or picking swatches.

“We never studied any of this in school or worked under anyone before. We started by volunteering to do some interiors for friends and took good pictures of our work. Somehow word got out and we were in business before we knew it. It’s an intoxicating feeling. Running your own show only a few years out of college. We thought we would be doing it forever.”

He paused and looked down at the food. He wondered if she would sleep with him on their first date. She looked much better in person than in the photo she had sent him over email. He liked her sharp nose and thin face. He liked the way her shoulder-length hair was shiny and very black. He wondered what sort of sound she would make if he kissed her on the back of the neck.

“So then what happened?” she asked. She tried not to look too hard at the pock marks on his face. He could lose a few, she thought. But she had seen worse. It was her eleventh date in the past three weeks. Since posting “SAF seeks nice, gentle guy – 29” on Craigslist, she had been exposed to men she never even knew existed: the tall, athletic-looking attorney with blue eyes who swept her off her feet only to admit later that he had wife and kids; the fashion model with washboard abs and sculpted back who seemed too enamoured with himself; the chubby PR exec whose booming voice hurt her ears; the black policeman whose conservative views seemed so out-of-place to her; and many other interesting characters. This was her first date with an Asian male; an obligatory chance given to a poor SAM. At least dinner would be free – again.

“Greg and I had an argument and stopped working with each other,” he said.

She didn’t know if she should ask for further details. She nodded slowly and tried to give a sympathetic look.

“Yeah, it’s worlds away from a desk job. I don’t even know much about computers, and yet, people call me to fix them every day,” he said.

“Why don’t you quit and go back to what you were doing?” she asked.

“That was ten years ago. I don’t have such ambitions anymore,” he said. He realized he wouldn’t be getting any that night. Fuck – women like ambitious guys, he thought.

the elusive hope (3 of 10)

note: ten-part series continued! | 1 | 2

He used to stand in line at Whole Foods, the one in the lower level of the Time Warner Center, while Janet ran back and forth dropping off grocery items into the shopping cart. The checkout line was always long on weekends, and this method that he and Janet had devised allowed them to save twenty or so minutes which otherwise would have been spent idly standing in line, peppered with inane comments about the nearest products and moments of awkward silence. Even in marriage, these awkward silences, when both sides wished for the other to say something interesting, persisted. Their efficient method was not welcomed by all parties. In some instances, people behind them would flash disapproving looks or mumble disgruntled noises under their breaths. Janet never seemed to pick up on the irritation of other shoppers, or if she did, she chose to ignore them. She was very good at ignoring, he often thought.

He still went to Whole Foods. Not every Sunday night as he had with Janet, but every other week, when he felt the need to save money and eat at home. He also used a basket, not a cart. Today he went to satisfy his craving for tuna. He remembered the days when he and Janet bought big chunks of dark red tuna and prepared grilled tunasteak with peppercorn and lemon seasoning at home. He walked swiftly by the fresh seafoods and walked down the aisle towards the canned goods. He reached for the 365 brand tuna, only $1.19 per can. He grabbed ten cans and stacked then in two columns inside his basket. Tuna sandwiches and tuna salads for at least two weeks. He just needed some celery.

Ten years ago, he owned his own business. Tomorrow, he would be in a cubicle waiting to answer phone calls from careless executives who spilled coffee on their keyboards and needed a replacement. He once thought about getting a dog, not long after Janet moved out. A friendly-looking one that was big and soft and would greet him at the door when he came home. But he doubted his ability to care for a living thing on his own. The city loves dogs, he thought. And yet, the idea of feeding the dog and cleaning up after it on a daily basis seemed too much of a nuisance. Laziness is often a companion of loneliness. He had been lazy for as long as he could remember.

the elusive hope (2 of 10)

note: ten-part series continued! | 1

“It’s like a Buddhist resort here,” he said as his mother served him a bowl of bibim bap. It wasn’t the normal Koreatown fare. The rice was dark brown, of assorted grains, and the vegetables were fresh and plentiful, not to mention organic. His parents had stopped eating meat years ago as a health measure. He didn’t mind; it was a welcomed sight after weeks of greasy Chinese take-out and flabby turkey sandwiches from the corner deli.

“So have you heard from Janet lately?” his mother asked as she sat across from him at the dining table.

“Mom. I don’t know. I told you we stopped talking a couple of months ago. It’s over. She’s out of my life now,” he said. He kept his head down and ate from the bowl.

“I’m sorry. I just thought you guys would at least check up on each other. You were friendly even after it ended and -”

“Mom. Please. I didn’t come here for this.”

His mother got up from the chair and walked towards the kitchen counter. She leaned on her elbows and rested her head on her left palm. She looked and took in the image of her sullen son eating at the table – the once cute boy who had grown up to become this unkempt, awkward, and now lonely man. She let out a sigh and walked out of his sight.


He found his father intensely absorbing the pages of his latest passion, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus – Capitalism and Schizophrenia. He remembered learning about Deleuze from his college days. The French philosopher had become a chronically sick man by his late sixties, and at seventy years old, he jumped out of the hospital window and took his own life. You can theorize all you want, he thought, but we all die in the end. He wondered how his father never tired of the tedious reading.

“You should read this some day,” his father said, his eyes still fixed on the pages. “It explains a great deal about how capitalism alienates us by forcing us to care for ourselves as individuals but at the same time, it forces us to come together as social groups to function. It’s a mentally diseased system.”

He nodded and muttered some vague comments in agreement. There was a time when heated philosophical conversations with his father enlivened a Sunday afternoon with both of them reaching for the bookshelf to point out quotes and refute the counterparty’s arguments. Sometime in the past fifteen years, he had lost complete interest and stopped reading. He grew tired from his father’s ongoing summary and decided to take a walk outside.

Suburbia isn’t so bad, he thought. He liked the sight of basketball hoops in driveways and the lushness of well-manicured lawns. He had discussed the possibility of living in the suburbs with Janet on several occasions when they used to entertain the idea of kids. He crushed the cigarette butt and took out another one. A carton here would be cheaper, he remembered. He headed towards the local 7-Eleven.