Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
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from The Wangs vs. the World

Andrew catapulted himself onstage and shook the emcee’s hand before turning around to look out at the room. LSU frat boys, townies, and tourists. He spread his arms out.

“So, I’m Asian. Mm-hm. Yeah.”

There were a couple cheers as he turned his head right and left, showing his profile.

“Yep. One hundred percent Asian. I know you want to know what kind. Because people always say they can’t tell the difference between Asians, right? And that goes all ways. Like, you can’t tell the difference between particular Asians, and you also can’t tell the difference between different types of Asians. You know right now you’re all thinking, Is he kimchee and born-again Christian, or is he sushi and octopus porn?”

He leaned in and whispered, “Oh, or is he that guy I used to work with? That real quiet one in the IT department with the Hello Kitty license plate frame?” Straightened up. “Except you don’t say any of it out loud because you know that thinking all Asians look alike is one of those stereotypes that’s supposed to be super offensive, right?”

He was starting to feel like himself again. This was different from the club in Texas, where Barbra had seen him bomb. These people were laughing. Who could say why? He saw a guy shush his girlfriend when she leaned over to whisper something. Yes. He pumped a mental fist and then stepped a little to the left, turned, and said, in a John-Wayne-as-frat-boy voice that sailed out of him, booming and false, “So, hey, bro, you Korean or you Chinese?”

Stepped back to the right, turned, mimed a super-offended, borderline effeminate gasp and immediately hated himself for it. Still, he pivoted forward to face the audience. “I’ll tell you a secret . . . we can’t tell the difference either.” He pointed to an Asian guy in the crowd who luckily hadn’t moved since Andrew had first spotted him. “You, you could be a real cool-looking Chinese guy or a real dorky Japanese guy. I mean, I really can’t tell. ’Cause, dudes, honestly, we do all kind of look alike.” Thank god that got almost as big of a laugh as he’d thought it would, which buoyed him, making him talk even more expansively. “Oh, by the way, I’m Chinese, so just think, like, dumplings and human rights abuses.”

“But you know who else I can’t tell the difference between? White people.” He glanced at a few of the white people in the audience, half hoping that they would look upset. “I mean, first of all, British, Irish, Scottish? Uh, whatevs. Who knows. Oh, and British people, yeah, you don’t look all that different from Germans. Sorry, dudes, y’all both white. Oh, and you all-American white Republicans? Um, yeah. Your average Texan and your average Frenchman? You both wear high-waisted pants and have butter-based diets. Not that different. Sorry, haters. But let’s talk about the particular, because you guys are all sitting there thinking, Oh no, unh-unh, no way, we might be all ‘American’ but I do not look like this loser on my left, and I definitely don’t look like that mouth-breathing scab in front of me.” Air quotes. What the fuck was wrong with him?

Crowd work. Crowd work. A good stand-up does good crowd work. Andrew held out a hand towards a white guy with a Nirvana T-shirt and light brown hair that hung to his shoulders. “You, grunge boy, nodding down there. That’s what you think, right? Weeeell . . . the only difference I see is that you’ve got a Nirvana shirt on, and that equally brown-haired guy next to you has a Pearl Jam shirt, so you’re probably a little cooler.” Okay, that didn’t make much sense, but the important thing was to try. And out in the audience, someone shouted back, gratifyingly, “Cobain rules!”

“By the way, white people, that’s how we tell the males in your species apart—by hair color. It’s kind of like with cats or horses, you know ? ‘Oh, Dave? Yeah, he’s okay, he’s just a tabby, dime a dozen. Eh, kind of a sloppy drunk . . . Brian? Yeah, yeah, that guy’s cool, he’s a palomino. Real nice coat. Shiny. Yo, a little tip: Try to get him on your team when you’re playing Trivial Pursuit. Man, that guy knows everything about the ’80s. Declan? Oh, he’s real weird, but kind of beautiful, not in a gay way or anything, man. It’s just, he’s a tortoiseshell, and he’s got these white paws and these yellow eyes that just look through you, man, like he knows something . . .’”

People were laughing, but he felt the false note in his voice and tried to center it, to take away the performance aspect of it.

“But you know what I think? You know what I really think? Alright, join hands everybody, join hands, this is a real kumbaya moment. Guess what? We all all look alike. Every single one of us.”

It was still there, a hamminess that had come out of nowhere. Here he was, swaying theatrically, kumbayaing all over the place. Maybe it was because he hadn’t really eaten anything besides donuts before drinking those whiskey and Cokes, and these lights were bringing out his claustrophobia. Flashing forward to the rest of his act, Andrew felt a sudden emptiness. It wasn’t that different from what he’d said already. It was all Asian shit, and it wasn’t even his best stuff. What was he doing here anyway?

He looked out at the crowd, their faces turned towards him, waiting, and said, without thinking, “Hey. Have you guys ever had everything in your life change? Like, just everything? Maybe? Anybody?” He waited, hoping that someone would respond. What the hell was he going to say?

Just say everything.


Sure. Why not? He’d never see these people again. Everything.

“Like, whatever you think you are just flips the script and you’re left reaching around like an idiot, trying to grab at something familiar, because all you want is some . . . I don’t know . . . some certainty?” A couple of guys in the front row were nodding. Heartened, he went on.

“You know, you’re like, ‘Oh, my father’s not the man I thought he was, but . . . at least I still love Cool Ranch Doritos!’ Or ‘My girlfriend just dumped me because I didn’t want to give it up to her, but, hey, I still drive a sick car!’ Or ‘Oh shit, my sick car just got repossessed but at least I’ve still got all my college buds.’ Or, you know, ‘Oh hey, I’ve been yanked out of college and my family’s bankrupt and I’m in the middle of a crazy cross-country road trip in my dead mom’s car because my dad might be delusional and my sister might be a whore and who the fuck knows about my crazy little stepmother and believe it or not I was a virgin up until two days ago and I just lost it to, like, a thirty-five-year-old who I told myself I was in love with but that’s over and I’m stranded in the weird-ass city and how the fuck is this my life now but, oh yeah, I can still, like, recite the Gettysburg Address so I guess I’m still me, right?’

“Yeah, here’s how the Gettysburg Address goes: Four score and seven years ago our forefathers said good fucking luck.”

Andrew breathed. Oh shit. This was why people loved being onstage. It wasn’t the applause; it was the honesty. He’d always thought of himself as an honest person, but he saw now that he wasn’t, entirely.

A girl in the audience dressed in a horrible purple pantsuit whooped—she whooped for him!—and he thought of the woman in the donut shop, of her nails and her donut icing and of their connection. It was almost easier to open up to people he’d never see again. He plunged ahead.

“But here’s the thing. Here’s the shit of it. Here’s the bottom-down deep truth of it. I think maybe none of that matters. Like, not the Cool Ranch Doritos part, and not the losing my car part, and not even the losing my virginity part.” Even as he said it, he knew that wasn’t quite true.

“Well, shit. Okay. The virginity part matters. As much I tried to front like it was cool and I didn’t care because it wasn’t like no one wanted to sleep with me, I really do feel kind of relieved now. Even though it didn’t happen the way I thought it would—and really, what does in life?—at least it happened and I can move on and stop being so self-conscious about it all.” An absurd thought struck him. “Yo, I can start flying Virgin again! I’ve been avoiding them for years, even though they’re clearly the best airline, because I just couldn’t face the thought of anyone seeing me standing under that Virgin sign.” That actually was true. “And drinking virgin daiquiris. I weep when I think of all the frosty blended drinks I’ve denied myself.” And so was that. Andrew almost couldn’t believe these things were actually making people laugh. “Oh man, you know what? I can finally watch The Virgin Suicides! That matters, right? Right? I didn’t even want to read the book!” A table of awkwardly matched friends just offstage all laughed uproariously at that, and Andrew felt a surge of love for them, and then for everyone in the bar, and then outward until he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire city of New Orleans. “Okay, seriously though, losing my virginity matters to me, but I think maybe the only thing that really matters, like in a ‘the universe and everything in it’ kind of way, is the connection you make with another person, whatever your relationship is with them.

“So, me and you here. You know, me up here and all hundred of you down there. Alright, eighty. Seventy-five. Whatever. Yeah, all forty of you, I see you. I SEE YOU. I. Fucking. See. You. Do you see me? Because I see every single one of you even if you’re hiding behind the lardass in front of you. And that’s all we want, right? Just that? I SEE you. I feel you. I know you. And now that I’m done with being a virgin I’d fuck every single one of you if I could and it would be tender and it would be beautiful. Yeah. That’s right. I’m not ashamed. That’s what I said. I would fuck you with my heart, and it would be tender, and it would be beautiful.”

The words had just rolled out, unstoppable, and he meant every one of them. Now the clock over the DJ booth was flashing down at him. It was showing negative numbers, giant and red, counting him further and further into debt to these people who had given him their attention, and so he smiled and raised the microphone—because what else was there left to say?—and the emcee came back onstage, clapping, clapping, clapping for him.  

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