On Valentine’s Day weekend last year I found myself at Paddles, the local dungeon in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, for the first time. I was perched at the alcohol-free bar when a man politely introduced himself as a human carpet. He asked that I tread on him and lay on the floor to demonstrate. A professional dominatrix-in-training stepped onto his chest and buried her stilettos deep into his belly. His eyes were closed, and he looked calm — blissful, really. As a medical student, I winced, imagining the arrangement of his delicate organs in relation to her vicious heels.
“What is the meaning of life?”
A perfectly reasonable question, albeit a strange one considering that I was in the third grade, it was recess time, and I was having a philosophical conversation about death with a grasshopper I had just caught.
Mid-November, and Christmas music is already blaring from speakers camouflaged in silver holiday tinsel. Frank Sinatra’s croons reverberate throughout the barren expanse that is Somerset Mall at 8 a.m. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” It’s raining outside. I begin to laugh and try to explain the apparent irony to my grandmother, but my attempt gets lost in translation. My Chinese is poor. Her English, poorer. After 12 years in the United States, Pópo has accumulated a modest vocabulary, most of which she’s forgotten.