won was sinking rapidly in the East that rain-filled El Niño winter, and
so were the baht, the ringgit, and whatever bogus currency they used for kleenex
in Indonesia. That February, slumping Japanese sales caused my company to cut
my job and 400 others. It's a put-your-seat-backs-and-tray-tables-to-a-fixed-and-upright-position
But the upside of being downsized is making a lot of money when your company stock soars after the announcement of your layoff. I had a fat severance and good positions in AOL, Amazon.com and Yahoo. Unemployment was no more troublesome than the expiration of my frequent flyer miles. Finding a new job just meant driving to another office-park campus with dopey street names (Disc Drive, Resistor Road, Infinite Loop) to endure more geeksploitation in exchange for dead Presidents, stock options, a flexible schedule, no dress code, and all the junk food I could eat.
But I 'd stopped eating junk food. And I didn't need a GOOD (Get Out Of Debt) job right away. Besides, my identity was never wrapped up in my corporate affiliation. Like the woman says, loyalty's just one mouse-click away. And my loyalty was to myself and the book I was going to write.
Go to the Wal-Mart in Milpitas and buy a steno book with green-tinted pages. On the top of each page, write the dates of the next 160 days. On the three bottom lines of each page, write P, M, and S; to the right of the red line running down the middle of page, write F, V, and T. These letters stand for Protein, Milk, Starch, Fruit, Vegetable, and Fat. You will be writing down everything you eat.
While you're at Wal-Mart, buy lots of aspartame (the artificial sweetener in the blue packets); get the cheapest brand because they are all the same. If Crystal Light is on sale, you might get some canisters of those, too. And microwaveable bowls if you don't have any. Also a measuring cup.
I'm naturally obese. That's what I tell people. My whole family on my mother's side is obese. My mother was a 200-pound vegetarian. My uncles are even bigger, but they eat meat, or as my mother referred to it before she died of breast cancer, flesh. My grandparents were heavy until they started to shrivel up before they died. My father and stepmother are both chubby, and so is my 16-year-old half sister, whose current goal in life is to become the first Caucasian student at Granada Hills High School to win the science award.
My weight sneaked up on me gradually. I was skinny as a child. Then I turned 16 and got depressed and started to eat more. A couple of years ago I began to be afraid that my weight would follow Moore's Law, that my fat cells were going to double every 18 months. So I went to Jenny Craig.
The first day on the diet I thought I would go insane. My body was rebelling against the insult it was getting. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water made me pee every half-hour, and by 1 p.m., after I consumed their one thin slab of slimy plastic luncheon meat on a tiny tasteless roll and all the iceberg lettuce I could get down, I began to get the shakes.
"You're going through withdrawal," said the guy in the next cubicle as he kept watching me jiffling and prairie-dogging. "This isn't healthy. You'd better quit this diet before you go postal and kill the rest of us."
So I went down to our cafe and practically inhaled two macademia nut chocolate chip cookies. It made me feel a lot better. Ordinarily, I ate three or four of them, so this was progress. And that was the last time I cheated.
After I reached maintainence, I realized that I had to change my whole diet. Gradually I developed my own nutrition program.
You can never again eat non-diet pizza, hamburgers, french fries, non-fat-free cake or ice cream, non-fat-free dairy products or salty snack foods except those of the Weight Watchers brand. Forget about this stuff. You can't drink anything alcoholic either. No wine. No beer.
You will be eating the following servings of each of the food groups at the bottom of your steno book's pages: Protein, 5-7 servings; Milk, 4-6 servings; Starch 8-11 servings; Fruit, 3-5 servings; Vegetables, 2-3 servings; Fat, 0-1 servings.
Ideally, you will be eating less than 1900 calories a day. Ideally, only ten per cent of your calories will come from fat.
That same month I got downsized, my ex-boyfriend Andy Ishigura became a casualty of the Browser Wars when Netscape uninstalled him. Andy and I met way back, at UCLA, after the era when they called it JewCLA but before it was the University of Caucasians Lost among Asians. I was with Andy a long time, over two years, and it seems like I've been looking for a replacement forever.
I used to meet new guys with the same kind of wild enthusiasm expressed on Donald Duck's face in the Roy Lichtenstein painting "Look Mickey" where the old quacker struggles with a fishing rod, anticipating the big fish struggling on his line, not realizing he's actually hooked to the seat of his own pants.
Por ejemplo, there was Myron, the Taiwanese-American pixel monkey who worked for Lucasfilm. It was love at first interface, but it didn't take long to figure out he was an RSI martyr who'd go on and on, on a daily basis, about the musculoskeletal bases of different repetitive strain injuries. Every conversation with Myron gravitated to the topic of his wrists, which are not a body part on my list of erogenous zones, till finally I screamed, Hey, koolaid, get over it already!
Next came Chase, who worked at Netscape with Andy. A cute white guy with short sculpted hair, Chase wore shirts with vertical racing stripes or logos of obscure record labels. Chase was in a band which had an atrocious name I've deleted from memory, the kind of band described by fellow workers as "pretty good." Always "currently recording something," Chase kept changing his PC's desktop wallpaper to ever more disturbing images.
And there was billionaire-in-training Jeff, his cell phone permanently soldered to one hand, his Palm Pilot to the other. He dressed like a Secret Service agent and could recite the name of every single start-up ever that got the slightest attention from any venture capitalist on Sand Hill Road. Jeff canceled most of our dates because of last-minute flights to Europe for mysterious purposes. Finally, we hooked up at a Thai restaurant where he looked into my eyes wistfully and said he'd like me to teach him HTML one of these days. Check, please.
There never was a second date with the bi-curious dude with the Mohawk and the studded, crusty-with-stickers leather jacket. He kept scoping out women and saying things like, "Man, check out those nuptials."
I'd long ago given up going to slaughterhouses and trying to approach aspiring Abercrombie & Fitch catalog models emitting radiation from isotopes of unobtainium. After enough "access denied" messages, you don't want to do anything but log off.
For breakfast, you will be having hot cereal every morning, some mixture of the following: old-fashioned oats or oatmeal; farina or whole wheat or Wheatena; grits; kasha or cream of buckwheat; rye; barley; brown rice; quinoa; spelt; millet; and any mixture of grains that contains a little flaxseed. Oat bran will give you gas and diarrhea. For a special treat, you can substitute some dry cereal like kamut flakes, blue corn flakes or amaranth flakes (fat free only!) for some of the hot cereal. The cereal should total about 300 calories at each breakfast.
That rainy El Nino winter, I spent mornings sipping mugs of green tea at Peet's and other coffee bars, eavesdropping on cell phone calls, trying to write The Silicon Valley Diet on my notebook PC.
When I couldn't write, I found plenty to do, and not just on the Net, either. I drove my Blazer over the mountains to inspect the driftwood clogging Santa Cruz's tacky beach and Watsonville's flooded avocado fields. El Nino got around.
I sweated through gigs of tae bo classes and learned what Jerry Springer and Stone Cold Steve Austin looked. I avoided Monica.
I visited my parents so often that the flight attendants on Southwest's San Jose- to-Burbank route presented me with one of their "Don't Be A Bin Hog" polo shirts.
And one morning, I answered Duc's ad.
Put your cereal in a microwaveable bowl with a cup of skim milk (90 calories). Cook for two and a half minutes. Add in slices of a whole banana (about 110 calories) and three or four packets of aspartame. You can add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, fennel or other spices or a flavoring like vanilla or orange extract, imitation coconut, or imitation brandy or imitation rum. Your entire breakfast should be about 500 calories and 5 fat grams. Count it as 3 S's, 2 M's, and 1 F.
Vary your mixtures of cereals and you won't be bored.
"You Vietnamese size," Duc told me when I showed up at The Pruneyard Barnes and Noble to meet him for the first time. Duc was a couple of inches shorter than me. He wasn't as cute as I thought he'd be, but his height was definitely a plus. Somehow I always end up going out with really tall skinny guys who I have to stand on tiptoes to kiss -- when we're standing up, that is.
Duc's ad had been in the Men Seeking Men section of Metro. Every city has the same kind of alternate weekly with its boring cover stories exposing the corrupt local power structure, calendars of events that nobody ever goes to, unfunny cartoons like "Tokyo New York" or "Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer," a back page with ads for credit repair and HIV testing and immigration lawyers, and lots of Romance Personals in the classifieds.
I answered Duc's ad mainly because he was the only one who included a P.O. box number. There was no way I'd call a 900 number and be charged an arm and a leg to reply to any guy, no matter how perfect he sounded. Duc's ad read:
CUTE ASIAN BOY: GAM, 25, seeking GW/GH male, 18-35. Like outdoors, movies, people. For relationship. P.O. Box etc. etc.
When Duc called me, I immediately realized I wasn't talking to the kind of Generasian X guy I'd expected. Obviously he hadn't been in this country long; his English was nearly impossible to understand. Later he told me that most guys he'd call just hung up on him after hearing his accent. I can't understand how some people can be so very not polite.
Go to Safeway or Lucky's and buy plastic bags of the following frozen vegetables: California mix (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots), Italian mix (cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, and lima beans), Oriental mix (broccoli, red peppers, string beans, onions, mushrooms, etc.), Mexican mix (broccoli, white beans, kidney beans, corn, red peppers, etc.), Japanese mix (sort of like Oriental mix but not as colorful); soup mix (broccoli, carrots, okra, tomato, lima beans, corn); various stir fry mixes; and any other mixes they have. Buy individual plastic bags of collard greens, spinach, sugar snap peas, field peas with snaps, yellow squash, bell peppers, baby or crinkle-cut carrots, broccoli (you can never eat too much broccoli), and any other vegetables you like. Warning: None of these vegetables should contain sauces of any kind!
Duc was incredibly hard to understand. Our first meeting, Duc kept talking about "dress people" and only in the middle of our conversation did I realize he was talking about straight people. He also mentioned looking down from the plane on his way to the United States and seeing Spain below him. It took me days to figure out he was saying Japan, not Spain.
I bought him coffee at the Barnes & Noble cafe and had some of their blackberry sage iced tea myself. All I needed were some blue Equal packets and a straw, but Duc took his time at the counter, pouring in lots of sugar and other stuff, and I got to see him from the back while I sat down. I don't usually notice guys' asses, but his was cute. He had broad shoulders, too. I couldn't tell by his Levis, but I figured he had great calves. Most East Asian guys do.
"The only Vietnamese words I know are hoa binh and pho," I said that first day.
Hoa binh means "peace," and I knew that because in college my parents ran this antiwar group called Hoa Binh and they indoctrinated me about Viet Nam and imperialism. So when Duc said he came from outside Da Nang, I knew it was in the middle of the two Viet Nams, near the imperial capital Hue.
Pho, of course, is the Vietnamese beef noodle soup that's everywhere. There's a chain called Pho Hoa, which is franchised all over California. In downtown Mountain View, they're three doors from another pho restaurant, Pho To Chau. "Those restaurants are implacable foes," my old boyfriend Andy once joked as we were walking past them on Castro Street. Mountain View's Castro Street is one Asian restaurant after another. Castro Street in San Francisco is a different story.
I don't eat pho. It's too fattening.
Every day you will be mixing your frozen veggies into a microwaveable container. Just make sure you have enough broccoli in each day's mix. Use twist ties from plastic garbage bags to re-close the plastic bags of vegetables. You can make your daily veggie mix in the morning and store it in your office freezer until you're ready to nuke them for lunch. Put the lid over the container, but leave some space for steam to escape. Set your microwave to 7:77 to save time punching the buttons, then take it out and stir it before putting it back for another 3:33 minutes. Your lunch veggie mix should be 2 V's and about 140 calories and 1 fat gram.
Duc had been in America less than three years. His elderly father, who spent seven years in a prison camp after the Communists took over the whole country, had apparently been working for the U.S. during the war. I did some research on the Net and discovered that pressure from Vietnamese-Americans and retired CIA officials had finally gotten the Clinton administration to bring guys like Duc's father over here "in belated recognition" for their service to our country.
Duc lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Campbell. His parents had one bedroom and his two younger sisters, who went to West Valley College and who both had boyfriends, slept in the other bedroom. Duc slept in the living room, which was a problem because his parents would stay there until 11 p.m. watching television.
He worked "for the newspaper" in the mornings, he told me. First I assumed this meant a Vietnamese-language paper, but later I discovered he actually got up at 5 a.m. to deliver The Mercury News. Then he had some other job, and in the afternoon he took ESL classes at San Jose City College. He went out every evening, to friends' houses. Duc had a lot of friends, but they were all Vietnamese. He had no one to practice English with.
Despite his problems with English, that first day in Barnes & Noble, Duc was almost as chatty as me.. It was as if he'd been keeping a whole file of things to say in English in storage and couldn't wait to release it.
While at the frozen vegetable section of Safeway or Lucky's, stop by the frozen fruit section and buy plastic bags of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, mixed fruit (honeydew, cantaloupe, peaches, and grapes), dark sweet cherries, raspberries, boysenberries if you can find them, and cranberries if you like them. You will have to go to Trader Joe's in Cupertino for frozen mango chunks. At Trader Joe's they sometimes have frozen pineapple and papaya bits, too. You'll be having the fruits throughout the day as snacks.
"I unlucky because I am gay," Duc said twice during our first meeting.
"That's not true," I said. "You should feel lucky because you're gay."
"No, unlucky because I never find true love. Not like my mother and father. My father and mother, they big love story. He go away to prison for seven year, my mother wait for him and talk to him every day even when him not there. When father come back, they stuck together for days. Every night before them go to sleep, I hear them talk to God."
"You mean praying?"
"Yeah." Duc's family were Catholics. "My mother and father, I think they like Romeo and Juliet." He smiled.
"You can have Romeo and Juliet with a guy," I told him. "Romeo and Romeo."
"I not think so," he said. "Not same."
With your frozen vegetables for lunch every day, you will be eating a sandwich. Get low-fat or fat-free bread that's 40 or 45 calories a slice. Wonder Lite Sourdough Bread can be very tasty once you get used to it, and two slices have only one gram of fat.
The cheese slices you will put on the bread will be fat-free, of course. They come in store brands, Kraft's Free, or Borden's Fat-Free. They will all be 30 calories a slice. Put two slices of the cheese on each slice of bread, which you should eat separately. This will fool your body into thinking you are eating more than if you just made a sandwich, and it will take longer to eat. Then put slices of onion and maybe tomato on top. Sweet onions are best, but sometimes a red onion or other kind is a nice change. Enjoy!
Duc said there weren't many gay people in his country, but when he was 14, he saw some and immediately realized there were other men like him.
From his wallet, Duc took out a faded snapshot of himself and a girl about 16, in front of a lush landscape. He looked a lot younger in the picture, a lot less burdened. "This my girlfriend," he said. "I tell her I gay, I no can marry her, her still want to marry me. Her still love me, her say."
"She," I said. "Say she, not her, at the beginning of a sentence. It's okay to correct your English?"
"Okay, that way I learn more quicker. My girlfriend, she marry someone else. Have baby, name Duc like me. Every month her send me picture of baby. She say, 'This picture of your son.' But not my son. We never sleep together. My son in her mind only."
"She must have loved you a lot," I told Duc.
"That why I unlucky, because I am gay."
For variety, mix up the kinds of fat-free cheese you eat at lunch. Borden's and Kraft's have both yellow and orange slices of regular fat-free; I think they are really the same except for the color, but can fool your body into thinking they are different. They also come in Swiss and Sharp Cheddar varieties. There's also Kraft Free Mozzarella slices, but they're more than 30 calories so I haven't tasted them.
When I started this diet, I wrote down 250 calories for my sandwiches. They are probably less, because the bread is only 80-90 calories, and the 4 slices of cheese are 120 calories total, and the onion and tomato probably don't add up to 50 calories, but 250 is a nice round number and if it is an underestimate, you will make it up elsewhere during the day when you overestimate some other food.
Your sandwich is 3 P's and 1/2 S.
It was as if he'd been vaccinated against any memes floating around our culture.
"Do your parents know you're gay?" I asked him.
"I tell them. They not happy. They think I change. But I no change," he said. "My mother and father, they no like gay people."
"But you have gay friends?"
"Not really. Very hard. My English very low, American people don't want talk with me. You first American I talk to too much. I think you no want to see me again, yes? Too much hard talk with me."
My contacts started getting very blurry and then very clear because of the incipient tears.
For dinner you can have any one of a vast variety of low-fat frozen entrees. Weight Watchers has some good ones, like Spicy Szechuan Chicken with Vegetables, Ravioli Florentine, and Honey Mustard Chicken. These are about 200-240 calories with 2 fat grams. Other good selections are Healthy Choice Chicken Fajitas, Vegetable French Bread Pizza, or Turkey Divan. The Budget Gourmet has some cheap entrees, but some of them have more than 7 calories of fat. Except for their Peanut Chicken, Lean Cuisine has too much sodium for me, but you can try whatever you like, so long as you write down the calories, fat grams, and the P's, S's, T's and V's the dinners contain. The good thing about some of these low-calorie dinners is that they tell you all this, although if you follow their "diet exchanges," they'll probably overestimate the number of S's (starches), so if they say it's 3, put down 2 on your daily steno pad list.
"I will call you again," I told him when we left the Barnes & Noble that first time.
He looked as if he didn't believe me, but he gave me his pager number, saying it was better that I didn't call his house. His parents might answer, and they'd become confused because they can't speak English. I also figured they'd know an American calling Duc was one of the people they didn't like.
That made me feel blicky, as if I wasn't good enough to share the same fiber optic cable as Duc's sainted elderly parents. You know how the bag boys at Safeway or Lucky's always put items like soap, air freshener, furniture polish and bug spray in separate bags, away from the food, for fear they'll contaminate stuff you'd be eating? But of course products like bug spray and air freshener are so overpackaged they couldn't possibly spill out. I'm not overpackaged --at least not since I lost all my weight -- and I didn't like Duc's thinking that I might contaminate his parents.
The next weekend I flew to L.A. to visit my own family. My father and stepmother told me Duc's parents were probably right-wing types like the Vietnamese in Orange County. My little sister told me that Duc sounded "about as sharp as a matzoh ball." Teenagers are so cruel.
"Hey, mean people suck," I told her.
"Yeah, but nice people swallow," she said, grinning.
You can also buy Morningstar Farms' Better 'n Burgers, which are only 70 fat-free calories, and with a slice of onion, some mustard and diet ketchup on fat-free slices of bread provide you with a juicy hamburger of textured vegetable protein for about 200 calories. Or you can get two Oscar Mayer fat-free franks (40 calories each) and wrap each one in a slice of diet bread for a hot dog dinner treat.
"It'll never work out," Andy told me. "You're too oral."
"You mean verbal?"
"That, too." We were sitting on the floor of his apartment, a feng shui master's nightmare, listening to some ambient space pudding he'd MP3'd off the Net. Andy's laundry was scattered all over the place. I counted nine items of clothing with the names of hardware or software companies on them.
"You love to talk," Andy said. "If you were as good at other stuff as you are at talking, we might still be together."
"Oh, bite me, Ishigura."
"See, if you say that to your new umfriend, he'll take you literally." Andy opened his mouth wide and chomped his teeth together twice.
I sighed. "Maybe you're right. We don't have the same references. He's so Vietnamese."
"One can never be too Asian or too ambitious," Andy said. So now was he saying there's hope? Andy would always drive me cyrillic by toggling from one viewpoint to the other side. In the heat of sex, he used to say, "Call me slutboy." Then, when I'd whisper, "Hey, slutboy..." in his ear, he'd get all upset and shriek, "What did you call me?"
Anyway, maybe Andy couldn't be too Asian, but he's a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose grandparents were born in San Francisco. "There's Asian and then there's Asian," I told him.
"And there's no there there in Oakland. Big deal."
Andy and I sometimes sound like those two look-alike guys in the fezzes in the Matt Groening comic strip.
"No, you were probably right the first time," I said. "It's game over. Duc and I will never be able to relate to one another."
Andy frowned. "Hey, look at me and Mauricio," he said. Mauricio, Andy's current boyfriend, resembled one of that gutter tribe of homeless teens in Berkeley who live on the sidewalk and beg even though they've got expensive piercings, tattoos, and $300 Doc Martens on their feet. "Mauricio's a total flatliner, but I can relate to him."
Andy expected me to say something bitchy, but instead I told him the truth:: "I like Mauricio. He always says, 'Sup, flaco? when he sees me."
"That's because he can't remember your name," Andy said. "But what he lacks in bandwidth he makes up in inches."
Guys like Andy who were born skinny don't understand how nice it is for an ex-fattie to be called flaco.
You can eat diet ice cream, but make sure that one serving of the product is fat-free. Buy store brands if possible. The calories per serving (half a cup, but you'll find you really need to eat two servings with lunch) can range from 90 to 120 for the fat-free stuff. If you look hard, you can find chocolate fat-free frozen yogurt at 80 calories a serving. Two servings are only 160 calories, which you should count as 3 M's and 1/2 S.
Maybe our first meeting should have served as a Sigalert that there were obstructions up ahead, but I paged Duc again anyway -- though I had an ohnosecond of doubt between the time I hit the seventh digit on my cell phone and the time his pager picked up my call. Duc called right back, ready to see me later that afternoon. The Barnes & Noble at the Pruneyard seemed like the easiest place to meet. It was too difficult to give him driving directions to someplace else.
Meeting Duc the second time, I felt 100% that he wasn't my type physically. He had a wispy mustache, like a 14-year-old boy's. I think he was trying to let his sideburns grow but he barely had any beard there. And his face was more lined, older-looking than mine. Still, I'd been having a salmon day trying to work on my diet book and didn't mind coming out on a chilly, wet afternoon to help Duc practice his English.
This time Duc offered to pay for me, and I let him. After all, it was just iced tea. He had coffee and carrot cake. At the table we smiled at each other for a while and I wrote on a paper napkin the name DUKE.
"Did you ever think of spelling your name this way?" I asked, showing him the napkin. "Duke is an English name. Nickname, anyway."
He took my Pilot EasyWriter and wrote in precise but odd capital letters: DUC TRAN NGUYEN. "That my name. That how you spell it."
"Yeah," I said, "but you could Americanize it. You could even change it to something like Doug."
"Doug not my name." He pointed to what he'd written. "That my name. I like my name."
I decided not to tell him about my great-grandfathers changing their names from ones like Felice and Chaim Pesach to ones like Phil and Charles. Duc was right. That was in the past.
"Write your name down," he told me. "So I see how to spell it."
I did so.
From that time on, Duc usually called me by both my first and last names. It was so sweet, I never corrected him.
Try to buy your diet ice cream or fat-free frozen yogurt in rectangular cartons, not round ones, because it's easier to divide up into servings. Make sure that when you get, say, a container that has 16 servings, the first thing you do is use a knife or spoon to section it off into 8 servings. You can eat two of these at lunch, provided you do not go more than halfway down. There is a tendency to eat too far down on the top layer, so you might want to eat one of the 8 sections all the way to the bottom of the container, though this is trickier for your spoon to maneuver.
If you think fat-free frozen yogurt or ice cream doesn't taste as good as the regular kind, remember: you will never eat the regular kind again. In a few months you will forget about regular ice cream and the fat-free stuff will taste just fine.
Duc was brighter than his limited proficiency in English made him appear. "I know I talk like baby," he told me. "You never to enjoy my company because you don't speaking Vietnamese language."
"That's not true," I said. "I do enjoy your company. And enjoying someone's company is a pretty sophisticated phrase." It registered that he might not understand the word sophisticated.
Duc sighed. "I talk Vietnamese so more better English. I remember before, when I am young, in the school in my country I am number one student write Vietnamese language. For about three thousand students only me number one."
"That's good," I said. "I like to write, too." Then I told him about The Silicon Valley Diet.
"I think you make a lot of money," he said. "American people, they eat too much, get fat. Vietnamese people never, not when they in own country. Here different. I start to eat hamburger, I get fat."
I looked at his stomach, covered by a cable-knit sweater. "No, you're perfect weight," I said.
"Used to be more thin." He pinched his stomach. "Getting little bit soft now."
He looked fine to me.
Duc sighed, picked at his carrot cake with a fork. "You no eat cake?"
"Fat-free cake only," I told him. "Cake that doesn't make me fat."
"Your body nice size."
We looked at each other for a moment with shy smiles.
The more orange foods you eat, the better, because they have a lot of beta carotene. Try to eat a sweet potato every day. Wash it off with a paper towel and then make a lot of pierce marks with a fork before you stick it in the microwave. You can eat it hot or put it in the refrigerator and eat it when it gets cold and sweeter as the starch in it turns to sugar.
We wandered around the book aisles. I guess I was playing teacher, showing him various computer books and classic novels and the gay and lesbian studies shelf. Casually Duc said, "In my country I write book. Stories about people in my..." He searched for the word. "...my community, neighbors. Always people like talking to me, tell me stories, their lives. I write them down. Soon so many stories, there is book."
I told him I could probably use his help writing my own book. Sometimes I sit there and it's as if I'm trying to write in Vietnamese.
"Hey, Justin Phillips," Duc said suddenly. "You like to go to movies?"
"Sure...You mean now?"
"Yes. We could go to movies if you like." It was 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
Okay, I said, and I got the free Metro from the front of the store and looked up movie times before deciding the easiest thing was just to go over to El Paseo de Saratoga, where the new AMC 14 with stadium seating had recently opened. We could ride down Campbell Avenue and be there right away.
Duc wanted to see a Jackie Chan action comedy, but I selected As Good as It Gets. "I only see action movies so far," Duc told me. "Other movies I think more hard for me understand."
I paid for both of us, putting the $15 on my Yahoo Visa, assuring Duc I'd help him with the film. We sat high up in the balcony in those wonderful high-backed chairs with lots of room.
I was a bit worried that Duc would be bored and confused, but I wanted to see the movie and I guess I'm selfish. As Good as It Gets was a fine movie. I could relate to the Jack Nicholson character being obsessive/compulsive, because I'm a lot like that myself. And I could relate to the gay artist Greg Kinnear played.
"Did you like it?" I asked as we filed out with the crowd. "It was about three lonely people who break down barriers to reach one another." The woman next to us rolled her eyes at my comment. I guess I would have, too, if I were in her shoes. But I have to talk differently to Duc.
He nodded. "Good movie," he said.
It was really chilly outside. I was wearing a lined denim jacket; Duc just had on his sweater. I wondered if he couldn't afford a jacket, but he said he didn't like to wear them: "Because I so little, feel I look funny in big jacket."
We decided to race to the car, which I'd parked way over on the other side of the center. People looked at us as if we were nuts, which made running even more fun. When we got to the car, both of us were panting. After starting up the engine, I put the heater on high. We were still shivering.
I sort of wanted to grab Duc to get warm.
Get those precut baby carrots and eat a lot of them when you're really hungry.
Other orange foods you should eat are oranges, of course (California navels are good but Florida navels suck), cantaloupe, peaches, and occasionally apricots. Don't forget your frozen mango chunks from Trader Joe's. Take them out of the plastic bag in the freezer, put them in the microwave for 55 seconds, and sprinkle aspartame on them for a great mid-morning snack.
He was surprised when I called him again a few days later. He always thought I was bored with him. The afternoon I called, he was going over to a (straight) Vietnamese friend's house. He told me, "Last time my friend show me other friend. Him here only two year, not three like me, but him speak English more better. I feel embarrassed."
Then he told me about his two-year-old nephew, the child of one of his older sisters and her husband. She works in a factory -- probably semiconductors -- and the kid gets put in the factory's day care center: "All other workers Mexican, he the only Vietnamese boy there, so he learning to talk Mexican. When I see him, him tell me Mexican words for everything: clothes, pencil, book, color. He speak only Vietnamese and Mexican now. My sister say, 'My child, him will speak three languages -- when him go to school, him will learn English.' Easy to learn language when a baby or when child. For me, twenty-five, is very hard."
"You just told a really great story, Duc," I said. "I think you're doing fine."
Drinking lots of water is essential. Buy two one-gallon jugs of the cheapest water you can get. You're only going to be using this bottled water once and then filling up these jugs with tap water, which is just as good as any bottled water.
An easy way to make sure you're drinking lots of water is to buy 20-ounce party plastic cups and make sure that you drink two of these at breakfast, two at lunch, two at dinner, and four more during the day. The Target store in Sunnyvale has particularly colorful cups of this size.
On April Fools Day, I drove into the city to meet Andy. He was looking for a new apartment and wanted my input in updating his rental resume.
Live 105 was pretending they'd changed their format to "all gay all the time." The whole drive up I listened to "It's Raining Men," "I Kissed a Girl," the Rocky Horror music, "I Will Survive," "We Are Family," and every song ever recorded by The Village People
Waiting for Andy at a corner in the Mission, near the taqueria he likes, I spotted three cholos coming down the street in their super-saggy pants, wool plaid shirts, and shiny jewelry. Two of them had hairnets on. I did the math and quickly put keys between each of my fingers, making a fist in my pocket.
But just then Andy appeared, crossing the street at mid-block. He went over to the cholos. Cool as the other side of the pillow, he chatted up the one without a hairnet. I undid my fist and let my keychain fall down my pocket.
"Nice kid," Andy said as he sauntered over. We headed for the taqueria.
"Yeah. Likes cooking. Likes cuddling. Doesn't like condoms."
"The three C's," I said, giving Andy a look.
Andy pretended he was trying to suppress a smile. Inside the taqueria, we joined the long line. "What's that look for?" Andy asked.
"Nada," I said. "There are just some things I don't get, Ishigura."
"Barebacking. Bug-catchers." I decided I'd order a plain black beans and rice taco and leave most of it over
"The two B's," Andy said. "But you do like blamestorming."
"I'm cautious," I said. "I'm not embarrassed to be HIV-negative."
"Say it a little louder, why don't you." We were almost at the front of the line, so I shut up and prepare to order.
Sitting at a table on the hard benches -- meant to discourage lingering, I suppose -- Andy asked for the latest version of Duc.
"It's not out of beta, " I told him. "I've decided that I just want to be friends with Duc, but that's almost making it worse. I hate it when he keeps talking about Viet Nam. Why can't he just forget it already?"
"So you've made turning Miss Saigon into an American your little sabbatical pet project," Andy said with his mouth full. Andy can put away three tacos and never gain an ounce. "Not only are you making a quicksand angel, but you're doing something terribly racist and presumptuous."
It was hard to ignore my taco lying there on the plate, so I took a teeny bite as Andy brought out the brochure from the Menlo Park apartment complex he wanted to move to. "Three Exciting Floorplans!" the brochure boasted.
Remember the Crystal Light you bought at the Wal-Mart in Milpitas? Add the contents of one of their little packets to the jug of water. Put the top back on (it is better to get a top that screws on rather than one that snaps back on) and holding the jug by the top, shake it till the Crystal Light disperses evenly.
Don't use either the Raspberry Ice or Tropical Punch flavors of Crystal Light, as the red in them will stain the plastic jugs. Besides, they don't taste as good as the citrus flavors of Lemonade, Pink Grapefruit, Orange-Pineapple, and Lime. Or you can drink your water plain if you prefer.
Every time I would page Duc, he would be surprised.
"You can call me, too, you know," I told him.
On our next date he took me to a Vietnamese restaurant, but not the kind of Vietnamese restaurant I was used to. It was in Lion Plaza, one of those ethnic malls in San Jose where all the stores are Vietnamese or Chinese or Mexican. I was the only non-Vietnamese in the place. The menu was in Vietnamese and Duc ordered for me, something I really couldn't eat.
"This isn't dog, is it?" I asked him.
"No. Chicken like you ask for."
"I know. I was just joking. But they do say...I mean, did you eat dogs back in Viet Nam?"
Duc nodded his head. "But mostly because there no food. Everyone so poor," he said. "But my family have dog. Pet. Family dog speak Vietnamese. If us tell him something, dog will do that. Him understand Vietnamese language."
Duc's parents had once been rich back in Da Nang. They had ten kids, spaced two years apart, except for Duc and his next oldest sister, who died of cancer at 16: "We in same class in school. Slept in same bed till just before her die."
When South Viet Nam fell, the government put his father in prison and sent his mother and the kids to the country. She'd been a housewife with money, and suddenly she was forced to find work to survive. When Duc was 10, she was sent him Saigon -- he never called it Ho Chi Minh City -- to stay with his uncle, her brother, because there was no food in the country. While he ate better in the South, his uncle treated him like a servant, and he was always cleaning, cooking, and working in his uncle's bicycle parts store.
When Duc's father returned from prison after seven years, Duc was too scared to kiss him: "I no remember him. Look so different. Used to be strong, having muscle. But after jail, him sick old man, very weak. But my mother hug him for days. They so happy to be together again. I see she have love for him, then I have love for him too."
We discussed Diem, Thieu, Ky, Madame Nhu, and it was interesting to hear his take on the American war and the French colonialists. I knew some of this from my parents but had recently gotten this CD-ROM on Viet Nam from Amazon.com.
I tried to eat as much of my chicken dish as I could, to avoid being rude. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I felt like the other people in the restaurant were very not thrilled with my presence.
It's best to avoid restaurants and eat all your meals at home or at the office, assuming you have a microwave there. When you do eat out, just be sensible. Don't order any of the forbidden foods and eat tiny portions of the low-fat foods you do order. Portions in restaurants tend to be too big, so you should be leaving a lot over. Chinese and Thai restaurants often have diet dishes that are steamed, like chicken or tofu with broccoli. Go easy on the brown rice. At an Italian restaurant, pasta with marinara sauce is a good choice if you get the sauce on the side. But when you are at a restaurant, you should be concentrating on socializing, not on the food. Don't forget to write down everything you eat. Estimate the calories and fat grams, using one of those little books you can buy at supermarket checkout counters.
After the restaurant, Duc and I went back to my apartment and went online. Since I'd subscribed to Pac Bell's D.S.L., I could download four-meg files in snap time. After showing Duc various places on the Web, I went on Hotbot and typed in "gay Vietnamese." The search engine came up with about a dozen sites. One was some social service agency in Orange County sending back a questionnaire on their outreach to the gay and lesbian community with the comment: "Not applicable. There is no gay Vietnamese problem."
Duc didn't seem intensely interested in finding any gay Vietnamese organizations. He didn't want me to set him up a free Hotmail account, either, even though I said he could access the Net at the public library or at the cybercafe in downtown Campbell. So I resorted to teaser photos of nude men in a lame attempt to gauge his interest in sex or me or both.
But that just unleashed his internalized homophobia because he started talking about how gay bars and the Castro depressed him. He was basically giving me an argument out of Larry Kramer and Michelangelo Signorelli for Dummies.
Not that I don't agree with some of it. But my judgmental synapses have a hard time making connections.
So I didn't try to seduce him. The truth was that I wasn't in lust with him -- not the way I'd been at first with Andy, or even with Myron and his carpal tunnel syndrome.
Duc knew he could get sex if he wanted it, from me or from other guys. "That not love," he said. "That same as..." And he made an up-and-down jerking-off movement with his hand.
Don't read or go online while you're reading because you will not be concentrating on the food. Having the TV on for "Seinfeld" or "All My Children" is okay if you don't watch, only listen, and you don't make it a habit.
At his most cynical, Andy used to say that love was a virus which acted slowly, degrading only a little of your data so you didn't notice it at first, but eventually wiping out everything on your hard drive. With Duc, I wasn't in need of Norton antivirus for the emotions. I mean, it's hard to be in love with someone who doesn't get your references, someone you can't use the best part of your vocabulary with. But part of me liked being forced to be sincere with Duc.
And I wanted him to stop talking so much about Viet Nam, how beautiful it was, how great the people were, how much he missed it..
I was thinking about Duc one morning at Boulangerie, drinking herb tea, when this Hispanic girl came in for a job interview. The manager, an Anglo, sat her down at the table next to mine.
"I go to school to learn English," the girl said.
"When do you go to school?" the manager asked her.
"No, I mean mornings, afternoons...What part of the day do you go to school?"
She told him, but he called over a Spanish-speaking worker to finish the interview en espanol.
I decided I wouldn't call Duc anymore.
As for exercise, you can do lots of things, but you must exercise for at least half an hour every day. If you miss a day, the next day you will have to exercise for at least an hour to make up for it. It's easier, if you know you're going to miss the next day, to make up for it the day before by doubling your exercise time. Hopefully, you will have always exercised, even when you were overweight, so this should not be a problem for you.
You can do all sorts of exercise, from speed-walking to working out with weights to doing exercise like stomach crunches, leg lifts, push-ups, etc. If you like, you can go to a health club and take aerobics or kickboxing classes (step classes will hurt your knees) but it is okay just to work out at home. Just make sure you get in your thirty minutes a day.
It was one of the few sunny Saturdays of the spring, and Andy and I and this straight couple we knew from college were having one of our periodic get-togethers in the city. Jenelle wanted to eat in J-town, so we went there over Andy's protest.
"How come you don't want to go there?" Chris asked Andy. "I mean, it's your own cultural heritage, right?" Chris, a lawyer, was the kind of white guy who still thought it was funny to ring your doorbell and say "Landshark!"
Andy looked pissed, so I said, "Nah, if we're truly going to honor Andy's cultural heritage, we'll have to go eat in the Stonestown Galleria." They laughed.
Later at Mifune's in the Kintetsu Mall, I was picking at my udon when Jenelle passed around some old photo she'd found. It's mortifying to see yourself not only on the brink of fatdom but also wearing an Izod shirt with the collar turned up. I'd finished writing The Silicon Valley Diet and was about to start sending the manuscript out. Jenelle had a literary agent friend in New York who I was going to let have first crack at it.
A window in my brain opened up, and the photo of Duc and his girlfriend back in Viet Nam popped into it. I had trouble closing the window and concentrating on the conversation at the table. Chris was talking about day trading.
I excused myself, went to a stall in the men's room, and paged Duc with my cell phone.
If you exercise early, you will feel better because it's over with and you don't have to worry about it for the rest of the day. A good half-hour is when you're listening to "Morning Edition" on KQED-FM. If you sleep late, which you probably shouldn't, you could also exercise while listening to "Marketplace" later in the day.
When Duc didn't answer right away, I decided to turn off my phone. After lunch, the four of us walked around for a while. When Chris and Jenelle went back to their bone-white Victorian on Sutter ("I hate him," Andy said after they'd left), I hung out with Andy and Mauricio and another guy, a black art-student friend of Mauricio's, at the makeshift beach at Mission Dolores Park overlooking downtown. Even though Mauricio had peeled off everything but his Speedos, nobody had sunscreen and I could feel my face getting burned.
I was stuck in traffic on 101 by East Palo Alto when I turned my phone back on. I don't know how long later, I was passing the Stevens Creek exit on 85 when the phone rang
"Hey, Justin Phillips," Duc said. "Why you no page me this week?"
"I didn't want to bother you," I said, not lying.
"I used to call people all the time, now I stop. I want them to call me."
"Do you want to get together tomorrow?" I asked. "Tomorrow is Sunday."
"You can see me tonight?"
"Okay, but I'm sloppy and tired and cranky."
When I got home, I nuked a frozen dinner and took out my contacts because my eyes were irritated. San Francisco always irritates my eyes. I didn't have time to shower, but I took off the Y2K COMPLIANT T-shirt that got grins in San Francisco. It would only confuse Duc. Even Mauricio had misread it. "What's your complaint about Y2K?" he'd asked me.
I dusted my armpits with Arrid XX, put on a Nautica top, and hurried out the door. I don't like my gas tank to get below half full, so I stopped at a Rotten Robbie for the least overpriced gas you can get in the ripped-off Bay Area.
I'd agreed to meet Duc at the Jack in the Box near his house in Campbell, right when I get off Highway 17. It was pretty creepy there, so Duc suggested we go to Hamburger Mary's in downtown San Jose. Duc parked his car back on the block where he lives, and he got into mine.
"You know way?" he asked.
"To San Jose?" I said. "Yeah." And then, of course, I laughed. Duc looked puzzled but it was too much trouble to tell him about the song.
"You wear glasses, you no look good," Duc said.
I glanced at myself in the rear-view mirror and frowned. Did I look that terrible? My face was sunburned and my glasses did make me look fatter.
Then Duc said proudly, "I look very good."
All of a sudden I became horribly depressed. Then I became annoyed. Who is he to be so conceited? And so rude. I veered off to the left side of my lane and we bumped over a couple of Bots Dots before I straightened out the car.
We drove in silence on 880, passing an Ami billboard that said We convert any FPGA 2 ASIC -- www.amis.com/971. I wondered what Duc made of that message. Then it hit me quicker than you can translate Field Programmable Gate Array into Application Specific Integrated Circuit: Duc had been talking about my vision.
"Duc, when you said I don't look good, what did you mean?"
"Your eyes bad, you look bad."
I smiled. "You mean I see badly. See, not look. To look bad means to be ugly. I thought you were saying I was ugly."
He laughed just like an American.
Chew as slowly as possible. Put down your fork after each bite and take a sip of your Crystal Light or water to prolong your meal.
I didn't want to pay for a parking lot, so we drove around downtown for fifteen minutes until I got a space. At Hamburger Mary's, Duc paid my cover charge and I paid for drinks all night (cokes for him, club soda for me). After checking out the dance floor, we settled for a quiet booth in the corner and talked for hours.
Performing the mandatory when-did-you-first-know-you-were-gay protocol early in the evening, Duc said he'd always liked girl things: "I sleep with baby doll for long time." And he demonstrated how he learned to hide his gay mannerisms.
"This how I want to pick up glass," he said, and then reached for it daintily, gingerly, holding it away from his hand with an exaggerated upturned pinky. Since this was Duc, he couldn't be joking. Or could he? I got this weird power surge, imagining he knew English perfectly well all along and had been pretending to have trouble with the language. My logic chips, however, operated as efficient surge protectors. The notion vaporized.
"Now, this how I teach self to pick up glass sloppy like man." Duc grabbed the glass toward him with a tight hand and quickly lifted it to his lips. After he put it down, he rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
"Very butch," I said.
He was good at imitating people: "In North Viet Nam people think I am from North because how I talk. In Saigon them think I am from South because I talk like them."
I wondered if he could imitate me. Maybe that was behind the attraction I was feeling: Duc was downloading my gestures and body language, storing them in a cache, and mirroring my movements. Not possible, said my logic gates.
But as we sat in that booth in the dark bar, he did manage to pierce my security systems and get me to transfer a lot more data than usual.
Still, he kept looping back to Viet Nam:
"I miss my country so much. Over there, I have too many friends. They were good to me. I never feel being sad because there were so many friend by my side. I am very happy there although my hometown is very poor. Over there, very quiet beautiful garden house. You love country, too?"
I nodded. "Yeah, I like the country. I guess I'm mostly a city and suburbs guy, though. But the country is nice."
"I think I never forget my country," Duc said, taking a sip of coke almost, not quite, in that feminine way he'd demonstrated earlier. My country only one beautiful in my life."
It was 2 a.m. and he had to start delivering the Sunday Mercury News in three hours, so I took him home.
He'd parked down the block from his house, not in front of it, so I stopped my car in back of his.
"Thank you for you want to be friend with me," Duc said. "Not boyfriend but friend."
"No," I said, feeling a little sick. I hadn't eaten anything since my frozen dinner. "I didn't really think we could be boyfriends."
"No," Duc said. "I am too Vietnamese."
I nodded. We always ended our meetings by shaking hands, but I couldn't help myself and I leaned over the seat and kissed him on the cheek before he could pull away.
He registered something but didn't say anything as he got out the car.
Back home, I ate an entire third of an Entenmann's Louisiana crunch cake. I couldn't bring myself to calculate the number of calories I'd have to write down when I woke up the next morning.
Don't let anyone at the office talk you into eating "just one slice" of somebody's birthday cake.
I got lost the next Saturday trying to find the Santa Clara Fairgrounds, where they were having a Cambodian New Year's celebration, and by the time I got there I didn't feel like paying the $5 parking charge. I don't know the southeast part of San Jose well and stopped to check my map at a few ethnic strip malls. I got a Diet Coke at a McDonald's where all the help and most of the customers were Vietnamese.
I knew that Duc wouldn't call me back.
And in my brain's "Call Duc?" dialogue box, I clicked Cancel, then Quit, then Exit. My relationship with Duc was history.
You shouldn't use caffeine except as medicine for the effects of sleep deprivation. Caffeine makes you hungrier than you actually are.
As sure as I-280 North runs west and I-680 North runs east, the future got closer, the rain stopped, summer and fall and another, less wet, winter came and went.
Things improved in Asia, the Dow hit 10,000, and I couldn't interest any literary agents or publishers in my book.
Most of the rejections said the diet was too strict for people to follow; one said that the title was the best thing about it. By summer I gave up sending out the manuscript and just uploaded it on the Web site. I've gotten a decent number of hits and a bunch of emails. This one woman in Marietta, Georgia said that she lost 17 pounds on the diet in three weeks.
When you go to the movies, take along a fat-free cereal bar or marshmallow bar or granola bar. Just stuff it in your pocket so they don't catch you bringing in your own food.
Andy recruited me for Gimme, this start-up founded by Netscapees who left after the company got sold to AOL, so lately I've been working long hours -- though not so long that I'm going to keel over from karoshi or anything. The idea of Gimme is that browsers are passe, that even portals are so 1998, and that the big new idea is to use speech recognition technology and natural language processing so people can enter voice commands or questions --"Send me the email from my boyfriend" or "I want to fly to Burbank tomorrow" --and retrieve information from the Web from their computer or maybe a phone.
Microwave fat-free popcorn is fine but tasteless. You're better off eating rice cakes. Entenmann's fat-free cakes are good, but make certain that before you eat them you slice them into the number of portions listed on the nutrition information and only eat one portion at a time.
"If you invent a solution," Jay always says, "you'll come up with the problem later." Jay's our CEO and my new boyfriend. He's half-Indian (Asian Indian, not Native American) and half-Jewish. I'm not crazy about his being a nic-head and his sense of humor gene seems a little defective, but he's basically a sweet, sexy guy. Everything that he knows about India comes from seeing the movie Gandhi or reading the Kama Sutra.
Eating lots of meals is better than eating just three. Don't go more than three hours without eating something. If you can, eating something every 90 minutes or so is ideal.
It had been about a year since I'd last seen Duc when Jay and I ran into him and this other Vietnamese guy in a Thai restaurant in Palo Alto. They appeared to be a couple. Duc's English was still horrible. "Is your pager number still the same?" I asked him.
It wasn't, of course. I wrote the new one on the back of Jay's business card.
The crucial thing is to write down everything you eat. At the bottom of each page, count your P's, M's, S's, F's, V's and T's as you eat them. At the top, you should have four columns: the diet exchanges, the description of the food, the number of calories, the number of fat grams.
A typical day might look like this:
Total: 1750 calories, 13 fat grams, 5P, 5M, 8S, 3F, 2V, no T
Two weeks later, I called Duc and we met right back where we started, at the cafe at the Barnes & Noble at The Pruneyard.
"You look good," I tell Duc.
"I okay," he says. "I was very surprised you page me. I really never think you would. I guess you forgot me already."
"You guessed wrong," I say. "It was nice to see you again. You looked really happy."
"Maybe because I with Thiet then. He gay like me."
"Like me, too," I say, smiling.
"But him Vietnamese man."
"He seems very nice."
"I like him a lot. Once we come to love and be loved. But now him angry because I no move to Canada."
"Oh, you're not...?"
"I put ad in Vietnamese newspaper. Him live in Canada, have business there, he answer ad. Visit here three time, we become boyfriend. But now him go back, say he not talk to me if I no go back with him."
"I'm sorry, Duc," I say. "I know how hard it is to break up with a boyfriend."
"I think I never have American boyfriend," he says. "Because they so hard to understand. My English down."
You know when you're using a 28.8 modem and waiting for a Web page filled with graphics or video or sound to load? It's taking so long and you're facing that stay-or-bail moment.
This is my stay-or-bail moment with Duc.
I lean over, kiss him on the mouth, tell him I love him.
Follow this diet and I can guarantee that you will no longer be fat. If you cheat, you have only yourself to blame.
Of course that scenario was handwavium.
In reality -- virtual reality, real reality, meatspace -- Duc and I never became lovers. We're buds who get together once in a while to practice English. Inshallah, one of these days I'll get the hang of speaking a language without irony.
All of Duc's plans center on returning to what he calls "my country, best country in the world, I think -- not for you, but for me." After his parents are gone, Duc will stay here only as long as he needs to in order to go back to Viet Nam a rich man. He might never become an American, but Duc's picked up the Silicon Valley virtue of not thinking about the past. Most people here have no idea that before the single greatest legal creation of wealth in the history of this overrated planet, this place was originally called the Valley of Heart's Delight.
There's no way I can morph Duc into an American. It's nobody's fault. I didn't make the fries.
Duc has french fries before him at this very nanosecond. We're at the Wendy's on Los Gatos Boulevard. Duc also has a double cheeseburger and a Biggie Coke on his red plastic tray. He points toward the courtesy water and the plain baked potato on mine.
"You very healthy, Justin Phillips," Duc says, not for the first time. "You eat very careful. I think you live to a long time."
I grin, look out the window at a billboard that says It's a big, beautiful analog world.
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