Tuesday, May 4, 2010

25 random things about my mom

Mother's Day is this weekend and I've been thinking a lot about my mom and missing her terribly. I don't know what she would have made of Facebook, or the fact that I have friends I've never actually met face to face. I want to think she'd like it - especially as Facebook has let me keep in touch with relatives and friends who live all over the globe.

So, to celebrate Mother's Day, I want to share 25 random things about my mom. There are many things about my mom to share, and were my sister and brother to share their own list, I'm sure they'd come up with different things. But... 25 seems like a good, round number. I hope you enjoy learning about my mom, and share your own list.

Happy Mother's Day!
25 Random things about My Mom

1. She was a HUGE New York Yankees fan. She loved Lou Piniella and Don Mattingly, especially. And a little guy she called Mike Pagalulu. We once took a drive to see Sweet Lou's house in Upper Saddle River, NJ. And she told me she'd like me to marry Mattingly. My sisters and I gave her a Cabbage Patch doll in a Yankees uniform for Mother's Day one year. She named him Donnie Junior and kept him with her to watch the games. (I have Donnie Junior now).

2. She had an amazing laugh. I wish I could explain it. It started out quiet, then got kind of rollicking. She didn't laugh a lot, but when she did, you couldn't help but laugh too.

3. Her name was Hyon, but everyone called her "Lee". Easier to spell and pronounce. But she made us call her "Mommy," no matter how old we got. We still call her "Mommy" when we talk about her. Even my dad calls her that when he talks about her.

4. She was a huge soap opera fan. From the time she moved to the US with my dad in the 60's, she watched the same shows: All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital. In later years, she'd tape each day's episode and watch when she got home from work.

5. She loved Christmas. Our tree was decorated with so many ornaments, candy canes and tinsel, you couldn't see the tree. My dad had to secure the tree to the ceiling to make sure it didn't topple over. We also got cans of "snow" to spray in all the windows. And Christmas lights stayed up outside the house all year round. She also never failed to give us socks in our stockings, in addition to other little gifts.

6. She was a pro bowler. She bowled in several tournaments a year. She had a number of bowling balls and shoes ("for different lane conditions") and took most of them with her. She'd never let us go watch, either. But she called every day to tell us how she did.

7. She was Korean but made a mean homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and baked ziti. I think my Aunts Ann, Cathy and Antionette helped her hone her Italian cooking skills a bit, but she was a whiz in the kitchen. And her garlic bread? Let's just say no vampires ever came to OUR house.

8. I once asked her for a recipe for bulgogi. She looked at me scornfully and said, "Recipe? Where's the recipe? You watch, taste, learn." So I watched, tasted and learned. Later on, I found a cook book that she and other members of the greater Washington, DC chapter of the Korean-American Wives Club put together. Inside: a recipe for bulgogi. But I still go by what I learned by watching her.

9. I played softball for 5 years. She never missed a game. She might not have gotten there for the beginning sometimes because of work, but she was always there for the last few innings.

10. She always drove about ten miles UNDER the speed limit, and moved her seat up so she was almost right up against the steering wheel. She didn't like to drive with me. Once, I drove her home from my older sister's house in Newark. I thought she'd fallen asleep. When we got home, I proudly told my dad that Mommy was comfortable riding in the car with me because she'd fallen asleep. She retorted, "Asleep? I was too scared to open my eyes!"

11. She was a huge fan of "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right." One year, she went to bowl in the National Championships in Pasadena, so I got her and her team tickets to "The Price is Right." Not only did they get to see the show, they got a tour of the studio and got to meet Bob Barker. She thought I'd set that up, but I hadn't. She didn't tell her friends - she let them continue thinking that I rocked.

12. She liked gefilte fish.

13. She made some pretty amazing fruit cake.

14. She had 2 refrigerators. One for groceries. The other for kimchee.

15. She met my dad when she was a teacher in Korea and he was stationed there. He said he and a couple of other soldiers went to the school to help move furniture. She was the only one who spoke English well enough to tell them where to put everything. He says, "And she's been telling me what to do since then."

16. Her favorite musical was "Phantom of the Opera." She went to see it a number of times, with a number of family members. She played the soundtrack a lot at home. She also liked the movie and soundtrack to "Dirty Dancing" and "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

17. She loved the "Indiana Jones" movies. But she'd leave the room whenever a scene involving snakes came on the screen. She hated snakes.

18. She was able to go home to Korea for the 1988 Summer Olympics. She loved watching summer and winter games. Her favorite events were: figure skating, gymnastics and track and field. She may have liked other events. I just can't remember all of them right now.

19. She loved watching Miss Universe pageants and always rooted for Miss South Korea.

20. She loved Johnny Mathis, Jim Nabors and Andy Williams. Her favorite song was "Danny Boy." My dad and I danced to Andy Williams' version of that song in her memory at my wedding. Every Christmas, she played Johnny Mathis' Christmas album. I'm sure my brother and sisters could sing you pretty much any Johnny Mathis Christmas song.

21. When I worked for a PR company in NYC, one of the clients was Andy Williams. When I told him my mom was a fan, he autographed a photo for her. When I gave it to her, she didn't believe he'd signed it. She thought I had done it. When I saw him again, he asked if my mom had liked the photo. When I told him that she thought I'd forged his signature, he had me call her, then chatted with her for several minutes. After their conversation, she yelled at me for telling him that she'd thought I'd forged his signature. But I know she was pleased.

22. She once had me call in sick to work, and stand in line for hours outside Penn Station in NYC to buy lottery tickets for her because the jackpot was something ridiculously high. As my luck would have it, a TV news crew showed up to interview people in line! I managed to hide my face and my boss never found out. Or maybe she did but decided not to say anything. (BTW, we did NOT win that jackpot)

23. She LOVED going to Atlantic City. She loved slot machines, period. A few New Year's Eves were spent at Bally's Casino. We'd start by eating the buffet, then having a champagne toast at midnight. Then, it was time to play the slots until the sun came up. She was pretty lucky, too. She usually won a good chunk of change. One year, she bowled in a tournament in Reno, Nevada. Every time she called home, we could hear slot machines in the background. She'd excitedly tell us she was playing slots at the supermarket. At the airport. At the gas station. And at the bowling alley!

24. She had a calculator in her head. She could add and subtract columns in her mind.

25. My mother was a tough, strict, determined woman. But she could not beat the illness that shut her liver down. She passed away on May 8, 1991 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where she'd been flown to undergo a liver transplant. Unfortunately, she was too sick to undergo the surgery. Visitation for her took place over Mother's Day weekend. We didn't think many people would come on Mother's Day, but the funeral home was packed. What a great testament to a woman who left her country and lived the life of an Army family and raise 5 kids. I like to think we all came out all right. <3

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Birthday Present

My sister gave me the most awesome birthday gift: a pair of VANS sneakers. I have coveted these shoes since the new boy showed up in English class wearing a pair. He also wore ripped jeans, listened to punk music and was from Southern California. Back then, in the stuffy classrooms of Kaiserslautern American High School in Germany, those shoes represented more than the hippest of “hip” in style. To this awkward girl raised by a strict Korean mother, they represented freedom; a type of freedom I dreamed about when closeted in my bedroom, listening to KISS and Judas Priest and Duran Duran.
I already knew about the skateboarding craze lighting up Southern California; knew about the tremendous feats of guys like Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta (Note: if you want to learn more, I highly suggest you check out the documentary “Dogtown and Z Boys” – very aptly put together by Peralta).  I even dragged my friend Pat to see the cheesy movie “Skateboard” because, well, it featured the guys named above, plus it starred Leif Garrett (don’t ask). I learned how to skateboard. It wasn’t easy but boy was it fun (Hint: it’s all about balance).  I learned about the punk rock movement; about bands like Black Flag, TSOL, X, the glorious Sex Pistols and PiL.
I moved to New York City at 19. Saw the movie “Surburbia” and longed to live like the homeless kids depicted in the movie, who squatted in abandoned homes and buildings by day and haunted the LA punk scene by night. I managed a little of that lifestyle when I lived in an abandoned apartment in Alphabet city for a few weeks with my friend Rebekah, who lost her apartment. We lived on free coffee and day old bagels that the guy who worked the counter at the Astor Place diner gave us.  I eventually found other places to live, and Rebekah went back home to the Midwest.
I dove into the heavy metal scene and never looked back.  Sang in bands. Went to see bands.  Wrote about bands. Worked at record companies. I truly did live a life of freedom for several years, then moved on. Had to, really, but that’s another story.
I moved south and got myself a career and a family. We moved and moved again to further my career. Somewhere during that time, I grew up. Responsibilities and all that. You know how it goes. Where I once reveled in a brush with homelessness, I now strove to make sure my son has a roof over his head and food in his stomach. Where I once reveled in a carefree lifestyle, I now stressed over quitting my job without a new one waiting in the wings.  I stressed over budgets, groceries, gas, new glasses for Ian. I stressed more than smiled. Hid in the house, going out only when I needed to, to conserve gas. My sister and I went out to lunch for my birthday, using a gift card I received from Schwartz Brothers Restaurants.  Later that week, she called and excitedly urged me to come to her house so she could give me my birthday present, which had just arrived.  When she called, I had been stressing about something (I don’t remember now) and didn’t want to leave the house, but I did. She made coffee and thrust a big gift bag into my lap. First, I opened two birthday cards (one funny, one heartfelt).  Next, I opened the “smaller” gift – a beautiful book filled with the wisdom of Bruce Lee, accompanied by beautiful photos and artwork.  Then, I pulled out a big, oblong box with the familiar “Vans” logo, and stopped. Not only had Kimberly gotten me Vans, she had gotten me special, limited edition “Iron Maiden” Vans. Slip ons, just like I’ve coveted for a long, long time.
I stripped off my socks and jammed my feet into the shoes. Immediately, the years melted away. I’ve worn my Vans grocery shopping. I’ve worn them to go pay bills. And even though my situation hasn’t changed (I still haven’t found a job; we still have budget issues), my problems don’t seem so insurmountable anymore. I know I’m smiling more. There’s definitely a spring in my step.
Today, while standing in line at Starbucks, a woman looked at my shoes and gasped, “Are those Iron Maiden Vans?” “Yes. Yes they are!” I proudly replied. “Where did you get them?” she demanded, keeping her eyes trained at my feet. “My awesome sister got them for me for my birthday,” I answered.  The woman finally looked at me. She seemed to be my age and as our eyes met, I knew exactly what she was feeling. She was coveting my Vans… and dreaming of freedom.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Mother I Couldn't Help

It started out innocuously enough.
Elizabeth, our assignment editor, called out, "Su, do you speak Korean?"
"Yes," I answered. "Why?"
"The woman on the phone needs someone who can speak Korean."
So… I picked up the phone.

The woman on the other end introduced herself and gave me her background.
She had raised two sons alone, after her husband left years ago.
She was proud that she'd never needed welfare. 
She'd never used food stamps.
She'd worked several jobs at once to pay off a house. 
Her sons were fine young men.

Until her eldest, just 19, left a note and vanished.

What kind of note?  I asked.
A suicide note, she said frantically.
At which time, someone else picked up the phone and yelled, "It's not a suicide note!"
The other son had joined the conversation.
He was nasty to me.  I understood.  He had a hatred for all things media.
But I was not going to take his tone, especially toward his mother, so I admonished him.
"Do not disrespect your mother like that, especially in front of a stranger."

He hung up.

She called back. 

Talked some more.
I asked her to read me the "suicide note."
It turned out to be one of the most eloquent letters I've ever heard, written by a 19 year old.

It paid homage to his mother's love. 
To her amazing work ethic. 
To the love she gave him and his brother as she worked to keep a roof over their heads.
Her voice cracked and she started crying as she read it.
I could feel the tears in my own eyes.

After she finished, I asked to speak to the other son again.
I wanted to get a sense of this family. 
He refused at first, then he got on the phone.
I told him how amazing I thought his family was; how well-written his brother was; how loving their mother is—so desperate to keep her son out of harm's way.
I told him that I would not be splashing their story on TV, that I recognized in his mother  my own mother, from similar backgrounds.  Both worked hard to raise families, but in my case, my father DID stay around.   
I told him his brother sounded like a wonderful person, and that her heartbreak broke my own heart.

"You don't know anything about my mother!" he shouted, after a long silence. 

His mother got back on the phone.
Sadly, I told her that there was nothing I could do to keep him out of the Army.
He was legitimately recruited.
He was 19 years old.

She sobbed, "Going into the Army will kill him."
I could not reassure her that that was not the case, since I had 2 stories in my show  THAT VERY NIGHT about two young soldiers killed – one – just 19 years old.

When I told her I could not help them, she grew quiet then thanked me for listening.
Then she hung up.

I cried helpless tears of heartbreak for her; for all the faceless mothers who feel that same desperation about their sons and daughters, joining the military, only to face dangerous and uncertain futures.

And I wondered if I will one day join their ranks.

The "F" Word

Four little letters.  One syllable.  For me, the "F" word is NOT "FUCK".  It's "FEAR."  And I have been controlled by that word for far too many years.

When did it happen?  When did FEAR move into my heart and hold me hostage?
It wasn't in my 20's.  Then, I was FEARLESS.  I moved into New York City with a box of records, a 25lb bag of rice and a huge jar of kimchee.  I lived with a roommate who turned out to be kind of psychotic.  I made $250 a week (before taxes) and still had money to eat and go out on weekends. 

I rode the subway at 3am.  I walked many places I would cringe to pass in a taxi now. I wore sunglasses at night.  I got mugged twice. It didn't make me scared. It made me mad enough to carry a can of Raid around.  I went to the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, even Staten Island on my own.

I auditioned for bands.  I made friends with singers and ended up on stage, week after week. (One sweet man, Al, called me up on stage with him, 6 years after I left NYC and went back for a visit)  

New York City was a giant playground and I enjoyed every second of my time there; the good, the bad and the indifferent.

It wasn't in my 30's.  Alabama.  A change of scenery.  A return to sanity, so to speak.  I needed to clean up my act, but even that thought didn't scare me. I called my best friend Pat (who saw me through so many drug-induced nights when I would call her at 3am and ramble for hours.  She even called in sick to work some days, because she had been on the phone with me).  Pat lived in Huntsville and said, "Come down."
I researched Huntsville.  Rented an apartment and lined up an interview at a temp agency before I even left New Jersey.  I drove down, pulling my worldly belongings (2 boxes of records, 3 boxes of books, some clothes, a battered stereo, a 25lb bag of rice and a giant jar of kimchee) in a U-Haul trailer hitched to my 1978 Chrysler Cordoba.  My dad and my friend Claudia drove with me.

Once there, I set up- my apartment across from Pat's.   I loved my one-bedroom apartment.  I experienced joy there. I nursed heartbreak.  I made a life-altering decision that I carry around with me still. But FEAR? FUGGEDABOUDIT.

Huntsville was a different playground, but once again, I climbed aboard for the ride.  Community theater, temp jobs, unusual boyfriends (one had another girlfriend on the side who started calling me at all hours of the night, high on cocaine.  I took her calls.  I remembered a time, not so long before that, when I was the rambling voice on the other end).  I broke up with Ryan, but remained friends with Tara until she vanished into a world of stripping and drugs.

I made friends with musicians. I ended up on stage, singing with some very fine people (Thank You, David, Antony and Andrew). I learned about tarot cards, crystals and Spirits That Should Not be Evoked.  I learned about Wicca, Paganism and the need to nourish the earth.  I started my TV news career.

Where was FEAR then? Nope, the only "F" word for me then was still "FUCK".  I carried it around every day in my car- a button dangling from the rear view mirror that read: "FUCK YOU VERY MUCH".

I got pregnant.  Got married.  Got a job in Miami. Traded that one for a job in Seattle.  Moved to Seattle. Got promoted. Again, then again. Won my first Emmy award.  Won my second.  Successful, right? But...somewhere during what should have been a time for celebrating success, FEAR moved into my life.  

Now, I'm afraid all the time.  Afraid to go to work.  Afraid to show my feelings.  Afraid to speak out. Afraid to believe in my own talents.  Afraid to believe that should I fall, caring hands will catch me.

Each day, FEAR wakes me.  "Well, good morning, Su!  What can I make you fear today?" 

Pat used to tell me that should a helicopter drop me in the wilderness somewhere, I would have a place to live, a job and daycare within three days.  She said she never doubted that I would land on my feet, no matter what Life threw at me.

I'm not so sure now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Ring

When I got ready for work last night, I did everything I usually do. I showered, did my hair, slathered on moisturizer, got dressed, spritzed perfume, put on my necklace. But I left one thing sitting on the bathroom vanity counter. I went to work without my wedding ring.

This was the first time in 14 years that I had intentionally not slipped the ring on. And my hand felt pretty naked without it. But this is also the first time that I've heard the words, "I don't love you like a wife. I don't want to be married anymore." Those words, while not really surprising, came as a shock nonetheless. And even though deep down inside, I understand and feel kind of the same way, the tears came. He kept apologizing. That only made me cry harder, even as I tried to say I understand.

Later, alone in bed, trying to catch a few hours sleep before having to wake up for work at 1am, his words came back to me over and over again. And I started wondering what happened to turn him away. Was it because I gained so much weight when I was pregnant and never lost it? Was it because I worked nights for so long that we didn't have much time together? Was it because I switched to the overnight shift and was too exhausted to do anything when I got home? Was I too selfish? Did I neglect him? Did he meet someone else? I asked him if there was anyone else and he said no. But don't people always say that? I don't know. I know that I could never have an affair, but that's me. But then again, I don't think anyone would give me a second look. And now, I face a future alone. As I wrote those words, the tears came again, hot and heavy. I'm afraid of that future. I'm not young. I'm not attractive. And boy, do I have a lot of baggage. No one will want to take that on.

So I brace myself. I have traveled this road alone before. I can do it again. Of course, I'm not truly alone. I have my son, who will split his time equally with both of us. For that, I'm grateful. I'm grateful that I don't face a long, bitter fight. We're not enemies. We're just not lovers. We're more like roommates who care about each other very much. I was willing to live with it. It wasn't bad. In fact, it was comfortable. But he can not live with it. And so he must go.

He says he's not in a hurry. In fact, he wants us to stay in the same house until the end of the year, at least. Maybe even longer. He doesn't want us to change our Facebook relationship status. The only sign that this marriage is over - the lack of jewelry on the third finger of our left hands. He says he lost his wedding band a couple of months ago. I believe him because he's never lied. I know exactly where my wedding ring is. It's sitting on the bathroom vanity, the diamond glittering in the silver setting. Icy, like my heart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Steel Goddesses": A novel about 80's heavy metal... and groupies

Last month, I saw a lifelong dream come true when I became a published author. The road to publication was not as traditional as most authors', but the result turned out the same way. "Steel Goddesses" is available for sale on Amazon.com and I'm working to get it into bookshops around the Seattle area.

"Steel Goddesses" focuses primarily on three women and the paths they took to achieve their dreams during the early 80's, when heavy metal was in full swing and L'Amour was THE preeminent rock club for up and coming metal bands to play in the New York City area, and possibly, the US. White Lion was a fixture on the stage at the time. So was a little band called Metallica. Raven, Anthrax, TALAS (Billy Sheehan's first band), Exciter, Anvil, Yngwie Malmsteen, Loudness, Blue Oyster Cult (as "Soft White Underbelly"), Stryper. The list goes on and on. Bands that were big at the time (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motley Crue) didn't play at L'Amour, but bandmembers sure hung out there.

I was lucky to be part of the scene during that time and took in my share of bands, some more than others (I've seen Metallica so many times, I've lost count). I also met my fair share of "interesting" people, including some of the most hardcore groupies I've ever seen. I've taken all of those experiences and rolled them into a novel that is aimed at being both nostalgic and entertaining.

"Toni" is kind of like a Queen of the Groupies. I introduce a pimp-like character called Marius Man, who runs a sort of "heavy metal harem". As their leader, Toni pretty much gets her choice of any guy who plays at L'Amour. Business being what it is, Marius orders Toni to recruit more groupies, in order to spend one night with a man who has been out of her reach - a hunky guitarist named "Don". This is where the fun begins.

Toni begins grooming "Rusty", whose sole dream is to land a rich rock star as a boyfriend. Naive and extremely stacked, Rusty makes it a point to follow Toni's every instruction to a "T", with bittersweet results. Toni also tries to groom "Kris", a legal secretary trying to pursue a dream to be a rock journalist. But Kris has no intention of becoming a groupie, even as she harbors a secret crush on "Marty", singer for one of the biggest metal bands around.

Toni schemes desperately to get both girls on board, but seems to hit obstacles everywhere and each girl ends up taking a life-changing detour.

If you want to read more, here is the link to "Steel Goddesses" on Amazon.com:


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Supermarket Karaoke - A New Game Show!

I've found myself doing something a little strange lately, and I must admit, it's improving the quality of my grocery shopping. I park in the parking lot, hit the Starbucks next door and arm myself with a latte containing lots of caffeine, grab a cart, buckle my purse in, and away I go!

It happens as soon as I aim my cart toward the produce aisle. The music piping in from the overhead speakers permeates my brain, which blurts out, "Hey, I know this song!" Brain communicates with mouth and soon I am singing along. By the time I hit the cereal aisle, I've crooned 2 and a half songs. The other half of a song was ruined by announcements about fresh bread and a deli special. On that song, I kept singing and as soon as the announcement finished, the song resumed at the precise point where I was. The more comfortable I became, the louder I sang. I even broke into harmony on several songs.

As I unpacked the groceries at home, an idea struck me. This would be a great game show! We'd call it "Supermarket Karaoke". Contestants would win free products for every song they sang correctly. Extra points (or products) for those brave enough to harmonize. I think David Lee Roth would be a great host for this show. He's already shot one music video inside a small grocery store. I cant remember the name of the song but the video is very stark in my brain.

I was shopping the other day when that song, "What if God Was One of Us" came on. I started singing along enthusiastically, when something odd happened. As I finished one line, another voice joined in! We sang in unison until the chorus, when I broke off into a harmony. As the chorus ended, I rounded the corner and came face to face with my duet partner, another middle-aged mom like me. We finished the song, gave each other a high-five and moved on.

David Lee Roth, where are you?