Saturday, June 24, 2006


June 16-17
Now embroiled in a hectic schedule of eating and drinking with The Asian-American In-Laws (TM). There is barely time to eat lunch before drinks and dinner show up. This is the family that will happily sing karaoke for seven hours, then hit the tables in Vegas till dawn. This is a family that drove great distances across the Mid-West of America to buy dried squid. And this family is in full celebratory mode. These are The Asian-American In-Laws (TM), and though FIFA may be more powerful and wealthy than many nations and command audiences with heads of state around the world, they should have written their World Cup schedule around the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday Party.

The result was always a forgone conclusion: The Asian-American In-Laws (TM) and the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday Party have defeated the FIFA World Cup. In fact, they’ve crushed it.

By a suitable irony, my only respite from remorseless consumption of indigenous flora and fauna is to have suffered a sudden, painful flare-up of an ancient disc and spinal condition. This causes me to lie on the floor of the hotel room frequently, and at some length. From here I get to watch fragments of FIFA’s Increasingly Marginalised World Cup.

I watch these fragment games with Japanese and Korean commentaries, since ESPN’s coverage is erratic and unfathomable: apparently the games are available on ABC, ESPN, ESPN HD and ESPN HD2, but I can’t find any of them. This may be because I grew up with a black & white television that had an on-off button that you pushed in and three available channels, one of which was banned by my mum because it contained ads and humour involving farts. Frankly, I think that’s as much TV as I will ever need, and I’m not about to take an evening class in “How to Read TV Guides and Use US Cable TV.”

Instead, I flick through the channels with the remote until I find a game. Then I stick with that channel until we finally check out of the hotel. The fact that the commentary is in Korean and Japanese is irrelevant, in fact it’s better than ESPN, and I can barely understand a word: on ESPN I have the alarming experience of understanding what people are saying.

I crank up the volume, roll on a tennis ball to loosen my muscles, and imagine the commentary using my extraordinarily minimal grasp of Japanese and Korean. Argentina destroy Serbia 6-0, a one-sided event memorable only for the manic performance of former Argentine great and reformed coke-fiend Diego Maradonna, who is bouncing around in the stands. Indeed, the cameras seem to focus on him heavily, and I imagine that the Japanese are commenting on his performance. I imagine that they say he clearly seems to believe that not only is he Argentinian, but that he is also Argentina; and not only is he the hand of god, but the willy and testicles as well. This, they say, is a man who has returned from the valley of death because the valley wasn’t big enough. Clearly the Japanese are not bound by the same social codes, and are free to talk nasty about former sporting greats.

During an extended reverie of this sort, I ignore a series of phone calls. I know it’s my wife calling me, but figure that back pain will be a suitable excuse. This is a mistake because there are no excuses, beyond death, for failing to take a call from the wife, particularly during the celebration of the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday Party.

The schedule of events for the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday Party has been planned down to the minute for an entire year, and involves us always being somewhere at a fixed time in order to eat some celebratory dead beast with the thousand immediate relatives, friends of relatives from high school, and calabash cousins, who have all gathered to celebrate the slaughtering of the beast, the existence of life, and the fact that they all know each other. During this time it is customary for people to fall out with each other and pretend they haven’t fallen out, and for everyone to whisper about it to each other. The pretext for my wife’s calls is discussion of the schedule of events, but the reality is that she wants to discuss a falling out between two aunties.

This is a far more powerful drama than the Increasingly Marginalised FIFA World Cup: this is the “Scandal of the Haku Leis.”

Two aunties have fallen out over a Haku Lei, a Hawaiian floral headdress worn on special occasions. The first Haku Lei was ordered months ago for the Mother-in-Law to wear by the auntie who coordinated all the events: now, another auntie has dashed in at the last minute and ordered a different Haku Lei. This new Haku Lei will be made by the leading Haku Lei designer on the Hawaiian islands. So, the first auntie has had to accept a new Haku Lei, then dash around cancelling and altering orders for Haku Leis that were put in place months ago. As you can imagine, all hell has broken loose, and I have not answered my wife's calls.

As husband my duty is to be embroiled in any scandal immediately. Duty requires that I do not say anything. I do not take sides. My role is to be there, to pick up the phone, and share the drama. I was absent when called on. (I will pay the price for this later. In a happy mood, I am reminded of my telephonic infidelity when I check my messages, and hear my wife yelling at me for a second time.)

However, it now becomes clear why the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday Party has defeated the FIFA World Cup. There is no greater drama on earth than watching two Asian-American aunties conspicuously ignoring each other while pretending not to ignore each other, constantly moving into each other’s vision at strategic moments over dinner or drinks in an attempt to force the other to flinch and thereby acknowledge that the other is there. All the time the audience watches silently: we must not acknowledge the game, and must continue our celebrations while keeping the drama constantly in focus. It is subtle, provocative, and endlessly entertaining. It is a game that unites and divides us at the same time. It celebrates our common humanity and our difference. It is more powerful than any other sport. It is the Asian-American Mother In-Law’s 70th Birthday.


JM said...

By a suitable irony, my only respite from remorseless consumption of indigenous flora and fauna is to have suffered a sudden, painful flare-up of an ancient disc and spinal condition.

How extwaowdiawily conwenient Mr King. ...