I spent the earlier part of my day running back and forth from the PennDot DMV, on a quest to renew my state ID so that I can open a new bank account (long story). Upon my first visit, I was told by Willis, the extremely friendly man behind the counter, that I needed to send my money order for ten bucks and completed license form by mail in order to obtain a photo certificate, which would then enable me to have my ID made. Willis noticed my crestfallen expression after he had finished explaining and added, “Unless you feel like taking a little walk on the wild side.”
Those are the magic words. Given the option, I will always take the walk on the wild side.
The wild side, in this case, was an address in Chinatown that led me to the Happy Success Driving School. This was a tiny storefront almost obscured with bright lettering in Chinese and English explaining what-all went on at the Happy Success. Money orders, parking permits, IDs, driving lessons, travel planning, notary services… reading over the window, I wondered if I could also possibly get a happy ending when I was done sorting my life out.
Inside, there was an ill-matched assortment of old couches and office chairs, two desks, and a little window in the back cut out from a wall that consisted of another series of comprehensive signs. I took a seat in one of the chairs and waited. Being conveniently in the middle of reading The Joy Luck Club, I watched the women behind the desks with new interest, idly wondering if any of them had shamed their ancestors recently. One of the girls was about my age, in heavy eye-makeup and a brightly printed don’t-give-a-fuck sundress. I decided that of the group, she was the most likely ancestor-shamer. It was the kind of stretchy-top dress that probably shouldn’t be worn outside of the house unless you’re really fat, which she wasn’t. I started forming a half-baked thesis about America being a culture in which shaming one’s ancestors is so organic and inevitable that it almost becomes its own tradition, possibly to the extent that proof of the willingness to shame one’s ancestors might as well be a visa requirement. I also thought about whether my personal ancestors would even give much of a shit what I was up to. I pictured them senilely smiling and nodding at everything that was said to them because they had left their hearing aid off on purpose, a strategy commonly attributed in family folklore to my great-grandpa Sy.
“Listen here, pops, I’m telling you that when I grow up, I intend to drink, smoke, wear Shalimar, and be the biggest whore this little town’s ever seen!”
“That’s nice, dear. Be a good girl and get me another beer.”
Since my lineage includes both Benedict Arnold and Nathan Hale, I kind of figure the ancestry is generally not in agreement amongst themselves as to what constitutes family honor. It’s never been a secret that the ancestors in my family are just as, if not more, screwed-up than any of the rest of us. To invoke them in any sort of ethical process is basically to pull a crazy card. This suits me fine. It means I can continue doing whatever I want, which is what I was going to do anyway.
Somewhere between the Happy Success girl photocopying my old ID and handing me my receipt, I decide that I, too, need to own a tacky-ass, stretchy-top print sundress of the variety not usually worn outside the house except by the very obese.
On my way home, I stop into a Lot store and find a rack of these very sundresses for $6.89 each. By fate or luck, I have exactly seven dollars in my purse. I select a screaming-orange one printed with not just hibiscus and seagulls, but also palm trees, sailboats, and what look like stucco condominiums. It’s god-awful. I put it on the second I get home. It is in no way flattering, but I don’t care because I just found out that it has a pocket, buried inside the skirt on the right hand side. My shoulders look even pastier than usual rising from its tropical bounty, and my pointy, suspicious-eyed face makes me look like a very uncomfortable missionary who thought that trip to the South Pacific sounded like fun until she got there.
I can already tell that I’m not going to be able to stop myself from wearing this thing every day for the next week. This is the problem with being a little obsessive-compulsive; it just feels so much better when you know it’s all wrong. I justify this by telling myself that after spending most of my life in sleek black and navy blue, it’s high time I learned about life on the screaming-orange side. Complete with hibiscus, seagulls, palm trees, sailboats, and strange stucco condominiums.
If anyone asks why I’m wearing it, I’ll just tell them that the ancestors make strange demands, especially when they’ve been drinking.
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