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My building was on fire last night, and I slept through it. However, I did wake up for the text message from my neighbor who lives directly above the apartment that was on fire.

I’m like that though. I registered the sound of the sirens in the back of my mind, but assumed that it was for the building down the street; that place seems to be a half-way house for pyromaniacs. Sirens don’t bother me too much, but buzzing phones might cause nightmares about work deadlines, and who wants to dream about putting out proverbial fires!

I could pretend to be shocked that this neighbor was careless enough to set the building on fire. However, I think still being surprised after finding him naked in the public laundry room would just be my own naïveté.

Office discussion, in which (yet again) my humor is totally lost:

Guy 1: Soandso* is selling out, he has made a zombie proof car and designed it with Hyundai.

Guy 2: What?

Guy 1: No one would build a zombie proof car out of a Hyundai!

Me: Well, I don’t know, they are pretty close to North Korea.

And then the office collectively cocked their heads at me, much the way a dog will look at a person dancing to Neil Diamond.

*Soandso is the name of a comic book author/artist that I did not bother to commit to memory, and about whom I don’t care enough to Google. 

Confession: I have a craigslist app on my phone. Sure, it can be a great tool to look for jobs or apartments, but in reality I have it so I can win the “freak out war” my friend and I have.  This war entails sending the other person a link to the most outrageous personal ad that we can find.  My personal best is the link to a priest who didn’t want to live a life of celibacy. Her personal best was the (now famous) ad for the girl who got pregnant at the Megadeath concert. Of course we know that most of the outrageous ads are fake, it doesn’t mean this isn’t fun.  The side effect of this game is that I have read a ton of craigslist personal ads, but it also means that I can decode them, much the way a realtor can tell you that “cute” means “tiny.” Below is a list of Men seeking Women translations:

“Looking for a college coed” = I am a 74 year old serial killer, who was rejected by women in college back in the 1950s when women were actually referred to as ‘coeds.’

“I’m really into Asians.” =  I am short OR I have a small penis and think that Asian women won’t notice because of all the rumors I’ve heard about Asian men.

“Daddy looking for a daughter to spoil.” = I am a registered sex offender.

“I’m a collage educated guy with a good job and I’m looking for a intelligent girl to hang out with. I know your out their!” = I was fired from my last job as an editor.

“Sub seeking dom.” = I have mommy issues.

“I’m seeking a girl with Christian values.” = There will be a lot of missionary.

“I’m willing to provide a$$istance for the right girl.” =The police think my name is John, at least that is what they call me when they throw me in the back of a cop car every time I’m on the street trolling for whores.

“I’m drug and disease free.” = I don’t use condoms and have been REALLY lucky.

“I’m 5’8″.” = I’m 5’7″ with a pair of Timberland boots on, but I’ll just go ahead and round up.

Posting a picture of a penis = I want spam from gay men.

 

Last night around midnight one of my neighbors found what sounded like the Eurovision song contest on-demand. For the Americans out there who aren’t familiar with the contest, it is similar to American (Pop) Idol, but between countries within the European Broadcasting Union. Even if you live in a country that doesn’t compete in the competition, you are probably familiar with at least two of the past contest winners; ABBA and Céline Dion. It is a campy singing contest with a Miss Universe flair, and similar obscurity for the winners.

I live in an old-fashion Chicago-style courtyard building; meaning the building is shaped like a giant horse-shoe, and if so inclined, you can look 25 feet directly across the courtyard and watch neighbors walk around in their skivvies, or worse. (No one that walks around naked is anyone you actually want to see naked. I believe this is a law of Physics.) Along with viewing your neighbors in their altogether the other wonderful feature of a courtyard building is that during the fair weather months when all the windows are open, you can hear all of your neighbors, and those nice close confines mean that the sound echoes beautifully.

Over the course of the spring I assumed that my neighbor was inconsiderate, due to the very loud music he likes to “rock out to” all hours of the day and night. However, due to the subject matter of his viewing last night I have now revised my opinion and think he must be deaf.

I am on the train with an interesting person again; this time it is a guy that I suspect is socially retarded.  He shoved me out of the way to enter the train first so that he could sit down and call someone to tell them he had made it onto the train. I can only assume that he was worried that I was going to muscle him out of the way and personally close the doors before he had a chance to enter the almost empty train, paranoia is an acceptable excuse for idiocy and rudeness I guess. He ends his phone conversation by saying “Okay honey, I love you” and I instantly become depressed and consider myself a failure because this jack-wagon has someone to love.

I can only assume that he is a popular guy since his phone continually rings during the commute and from his sonorous conversations I am forced to change my opinion of him. I no longer think he is socially retarded, I think he is just plain retarded now. This has changed my whole outlook on the day and now I am happy and think it’s sweet that someone loves him.  I should probably have had this outlook while waiting on the train platform as I watched him try to hock a loogie, have it just land on his shoe, and then watch as he unsuccessfully tried to wipe it off by dragging his foot across the planks of wood like a leper.

My brother and I were both born in the Unites States, but since we are the first generation (yes only half, but the Japanese haven’t really recognized that we aren’t ‘pure bred’) that means that we had to have traditional Japanese names. Resistance was futile, so my Irish-American mother had to stand by and let the wheels of Japanese superstition turn. A short list of possible names was supplied to my parents by my Obaasan (Japanese for ‘grandmother’). The names were selected based on the Chinese astrological year and the number of strokes in the characters being a lucky combination depending if the baby was to be a boy or a girl. (I was born when gender was still a surprise since ultrasound technology was advanced enough to inform the parents that “yes there is a baby in there and it is not a goat!”) Not every baby in Japan is named with superstitious ju-ju, actually very few are named this way; it would be the same as equating how many children in the US are named with the advice of the psychic hotline.

The resemblance to my brother is uncanny!

The list of names for my brother included ‘Miki’ (Mickey) so my mom jumped at it. It is a hell of a lot easier than trying to give an American kid a name like ‘Zenzaburo’ (yup, you are reading it again slowly now to try to pronounce it, aren’t you?). My mom saw ‘Miki’ and thought “Oh it’s Irish too!” Yes, and in the US it is most commonly a nickname for women named Michelle, and oh lets see, the most famous mouse ever to be conceptualized! It isn’t even a common name in Japan. So no, he didn’t get any flack for his name. Is the sarcasm coming through?

Less than two years later (yes, we are Irish too) my parents were in the same boat and were presented with another list of names. This list was different from the last one because I am not the oldest child, it was a different Chinese astrological year, Jimmy Carter was president, or some other nonsense that means that these aren’t just the leftovers from the last time you procreate. My mom looks through the list and sees ‘Lisa’ Oh my god! Hallelujah! We have a clear winner for “if it’s a girl.”

Lisa is actually a Japanese name too. (I am sure that my dad would say that it was a Japanese name before it was an Italian name, but lets just agree that the name evolved in both east and west, shall we?) So, if my mom was so thrilled that Lisa was on the list, then why is this written by someone named Sumi? Funny thing, after several months of pregnancy and listening to my father refer to my unborn fetus as “Baby Risa” my mom said “ok, that is it, we are naming her Sumi.”

When I was a kid I used to wonder (hell, I still do) what the other six or so names were that “sumi” was the best option. I hated my name. Most kids that have grown-up names do. Growing up with a name that is out of the ordinary makes you the target for childish ridicule; every child goes through it. I won’t pretend that I got the worst of it, since we all know that any child with a name that is slang for human genitalia will win all competitions, or other children whose stoned parents who think names like Anita Jock, Wayne Kerr, and Helen Beck are all cute and/or funny.

Needless to say that there are ethnic names that sound like something else in English. (My dad claims to have interviewed a man for a job whose name was Ashukma Bubei, but I don’t believe everything my dad tells me. When I was five years old he told me that a man had to die in order to film a stunt in a movie. Why he thought this was a fun joke to play on a five year old, I will never know, but the joke was ultimately on him since I’m sure my nightmares kept him up all night too.) However, in their native tongue the names are completely harmless and without innuendo. Although, I wonder if something like “Keiko” wasn’t on the list; perfectly Japanese, yet not as easy of a target to English speakers.

I have been on the receiving end of a wide variety of lawyer jokes, but most people are unoriginal and I hear “Sumi don’t sue me, d’ja get it? Get it; like a lawyer?” The first time I was cognizant of the joke was when I was seven years old, although I am sure people were saying it to me long before then, and I just smiled with deep dimples and showed an expression of joy on my face because someone was talking to me. The most likely reason that I was smiling was that, through my own unscientific survey, I have noticed that most of the people that are commenting about my name are men; and when I was little I had a proclivity for smiling at attractive men who were 25 years my senior and patronizing me (sorry guys that stopped when I was about 9). I don’t know why this is, but it seems that Id is unable to control himself when presented with such an appetizing tidbit, such as my name. I am sure that Freud would somehow make this about a penis or breasts.

So at the tender age of seven I was flabbergasted that my name was now (or at least to me) a target of ridicule, so I decided to Americanize it, and for the span of two weeks in 2nd grade my papers came home reading Sue. But by the end of two weeks I had either gotten bored or realized that there was no way in hell that my personality was that of a “Sue.” Sue is a great name, and plenty of people that have been given that name live up to it wonderfully, but at the age of seven I think I knew that I was a little too strange to go by “Sue.” If I were a boy, this may have been different, thank you very much Johnny Cash.

For some reason I wasn’t inclined to use Photoshop to change the name to “Sumi”

Now that the flood gates were open,  and I was also a victim of name butchering along with all my fellow students it became a field day when the “Garbage Pail Kids” trading cards came out depicting grotesque effigies of wannabee Cabbage Patch Kids that all had disturbing attributes such as Axed Alex, Grimy Gary, or Transsexual Tommy. To the everlasting joy of my classmates there was “Sumo Sid” who was of course a bovine like human dressed in a diaper. Well, what goes better with Sumo than Sid? Sumi! Garbage Pail Kids were a flash in the pan and we moved the next year so the kids at my next school never made the same association because A.D.D. hadn’t been invented yet, so the inability for a child to remember the toy/trading card that they were obsessed with yesterday wasn’t a call for medication, it was a call for parental joy since my mom could throw all the damn things away (I am sure Obaasan bought them for us) and my brother and I wouldn’t notice.

My pin was circular, but looked almost exactly like this! I love Google.

We moved fairly often when I was a kid, so I was used to the barrage of comments that go along with my name. Sumi, don’t sue me! No, I haven’t ever heard that before, you are so original. By the time I was in high school I had come to terms with my name, and the limitations that came along with it. For instance, I could never go into the medical profession because our country runs rampant with medical malpractice lawsuits. And of course a job in law was out of the question… “and representing the defendant in the civil lawsuit is our esteemed partner Sumi…” let me think, uh no. I had a bit of a sense of humor about it and had a pin on my school bag that had an international “NO” symbol with the word “lawyers” going through it. Teenagers being the wonderfully obtuse creatures that they are didn’t always get the joke and I had one girl say to me “My mom is a lawyer, and I find that offensive because I love my mother.”  I looked at her and said “Sumi, don’t sue me, get it?”

This is totally a self portrait.

When you have an ethnically charged name people always want to know what it means and I have always hated having to explain it. As we know, my name was chosen for the number of strokes in it, having been determined to be the luckiest at 13, and yes the irony of growing up in a Christian dominated society in which 13 is the most unlucky number is not lost on me. Be that as it may, the meaning of my name was a tertiary consideration, so I am very lucky in the sense that my name doesn’t mean “tractor,” my name means “beautiful.” Being the awkward fat kid never made this easy because it opened the door to a slew of comments from people about how my parents had gotten it wrong, so I always thought that I needed to explain my whole name so that they wouldn’t be so quick to judge. I would always start out with “well my last name means ‘stone river’ and my first name means ‘beautiful’ so my name is ‘beautiful stone river’.” It always helped that no one ever questioned that in Japanese the family name comes first and therefore makes my English translation less poetic.

Since my hackles were always raised when it came to my name I was already defensive when I had an encounter with a girl in my sophomore biology class whose last name was Brewer (ugh, your name reeks of the English serf class, puh-lease!) She came up to me one day and said “What do YOU think your name means?” No joke, she capitalized the ‘you’ as if to say “oh my god, before you, like, even start, like, talking, I can, like, totally tell that you, like, don’t, like, know anything.” So I went through the schpeal of my name with 20 classmates listening in, which was my nightmare because I was guaranteed that at least 3 of them were going to comment about how ugly I was. She looked at me for about a half a second before she announced to the whole class that I was wrong. She informed me that my name actually means charcoal. In the politest way that I could manage (so for my 15 year old self it probably included the words “you’re a dumbass”) I informed her that, no, I do in fact know the origins of my name. To which she countered that she should know, her mother lived inJapanfor two years. Well, she had me there; my dad had only lived his childhood in Japan, my grandparents currently lived in Japan, and oh yes, my Obaasan (the woman responsible for going to the fortune teller to have my list of names created) does not speak a word of English other than “shopping!” Well, that’s not entirely true, she knows how to say “married” and “baby,” but the question forming words surrounding those are entirely in Japanese.

It has been years since high school, and most people I interact with are mature enough to just think my name is Cindy and I have a speech impediment. However, I still get that look, the one that says “I want to make a joke about your name” when I am introducing myself to new people. I’ve found that the easiest way to lighten the mood is for me to repeat my name again and just say “yup, you’ll be able to remember me, my name is the punch line to a lawyer joke.” I’ve finally grown into my name, and I love it. It’s mine.