There is a game played by conscientious, sensitive East Asians. This game is called, “Who’s the better friend?” Gerentt was winning right now, since he’d picked me up from the aiport when I returned from Seattle. When he told me he was going to DC for the weekend, I immediately saw a chance to rack up some points.
“So,” I said lightly, understanding for the first time what people meant when they said, “butter couldn’t melt in my mouth.” “So, are you going to take a Super Shuttle, or park your car at the airport?”
“Oh, I don’t want to do either. It’s so expensive.”
I knew he was going to say that. It is the fate of all indentured servants to dwell in poverty, even if their indenture is to a prestigious Stanford laboratory.
“Too expensive, eh…what if I drove you to the airport in your car, and then picked you up later? I could have a car for the weekend, and you wouldn’t have to pay for parking or a shuttle.”
“That sounds great! Let’s do it.” Yes, and then we would be even. The game gets unstable if it gets too uneven for too long.
Gerentt’s flight left at 5 a.m. I asked him to come by at 2, so I could stagger into bed at 3:30 and not near sunrise. I don’t remember what we talked about as we drove up Highway 101, whose sprawling suburban ugliness was greatly softened by the night.
I’m always a little nervous driving, ever since I failed my behind-the-wheel test five times, and even more frightened when driving a new car, but I was too sleepy to care after I dropped off Gerentt. I thought instead of the Chinese goodies I could get from Ranch 99, now that I had a car. Another twenty-pound sack of brown rice, of course, maybe a jar of those lychee jellies…
In between one sweet dream of green tea mochi, and another one of pomegranate aloe juice, I started turning onto my street. Now I would have to park. Tired as I was, my spine stiffened and my fingers clenched. Parking was why I had failed three out of the five times.
But I was saved as my cellphone rang. Gerentt.
“Hey Jane! Where are you?”
“Home. I’m about to park and then sleep.”
“So, I was trying to check in, and it wasn’t working.” Oh God, was he calling just because he was bored and wanted to share a story about some airport computer malfunctioning? “And I kept trying, and then I realized…it’s not working, because I’m at the wrong airport.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“No! I’m not! And since you wanted to drive up early, you have just enough time to drive back to SFO and drop me off at San Jose.”
“Are you sure there’s enough time? That’s like, an hour and a half of driving at least.” I was praying he’d say, “Oh no, there isn’t enough time after all. Please, go to sleep, and pick me up in a few hours. I will hang out in the airport as penance for my monumental stupidity.” But because God, despite having a vast and mysterious universe beyond all human reckoning to tend, still has the time and energy to hate me, Gerentt said, “No. There’s enough time if you leave right now and hurry.”
I had no choice. I’m just too well-bred. I drove back.
When I got to the airport, I opened the door for my troublesome passenger, and I said, “Gerentt Chan. This night is the night that all debts and favors between us are erased. Henceforth, when we meet, it shall be as strangers.” (I had rehearsed my little speech as I was driving up and I was thinking of putting in, “when we meet, it shall be as ships passing in the night,” but things were already getting too bombastic.)
And that is the story of how I defeated Gerentt so badly, I escaped playing the game altogether.