Hour two in the car on the drive to Newport Beach along the California coast. I am glued to Twilight, my siblings to their arguments with one another. Dad gets up, stretches, and says, “I’ve been driving so long my scrotum is wrinkled.” No reactions.
Arrival at ultra-wealthy relative’s McMansion behind the gates of Crystal Cove. Slippers laid out by the door so guests know that they won’t be wearing their shoes in the home, in keeping with Korean tradition. Tours are given, and we find in the garage the following: two Teslas, two Paganis, and two Ferraris. The Ferrari is the “old one.” I wonder if cars are what I’d use my money on, if I had so much of it. It is an odd juxtaposition, seeing scrawny children in Disney garb running, barefoot, between these millions of dollars worth of metal and carbon fiber. Some of the kids open doors and slam their butts into seats unceremoniously, trying to “juju on that beat.” I think: these cars may be worth more, monetarily, than my life.
Pre-Thanksgiving-Dinner lunch. Excessive amounts of kitschy health food are laid out on a granite counter. In the corner is a line of Korean food on aluminum platters. When I take a Snapchat of the food and send them to friends, I receive replies like, “Cool! Sushi and fish-n-chips for Thanksgiving!” or “Wow, never seen Japanese food at Thanksgiving dinner!” There is no Japanese food; no sushi. Just bibimbap, kimbap (mistaken by many for sushi), and fried squid tentacles.
Political discourse starts when my father, always the conservative antagonist, teaches a group of 4 to 12-year-old cousins to “fist bump for Trump!” The general consensus is that, yes, he was destined to win. God made it that way. Also, of course America needs The Wall—you have a fence in your backyard, don’t you?
Dinner begins. The food is homey but extravagant. Most of the dishes were delivered from a Bristol Farms or Sprouts-type business and heated by a flock of well-practiced trophy wives.
Dinner conversation at the “kids table” invokes memories of this year’s election. There are jokes made about disability, obesity, and race. A 9-year-old explains to the pre-teens what segregation was and what it means for the present. The others jeer. Eventually, one of the children of the wealthy homeowners brings up the subject of price. How much did all of this food cost? we ask. “That one piece of beef was $750,” we are told.
I regret that a piece of $750 meat has been thoroughly wasted on my unrefined palate.
I am asked about my relationship status, as are other cousins of similar age. One cousin, Sean, I feel sorry for. He spent the last two years trying to “make it” in the Big Apple. He didn’t, lost his job, and is living with his parents without even an associate’s degree. In a week he’ll be 30. He tells us, you need a job to find a girlfriend. We chuckle, but nobody is sure if he thinks it’s funny.
Relationship talk turns to discussion on hookup culture on college campuses. My cousin, Blake (a UCLA student), is quizzed about the issue. I am similarly interrogated. “We students just don’t have time anymore,” I sigh. There is the inevitable pivot to mourning the death of chivalry and the disappearance of the prim, modest woman. “Women who put out without demanding initial investment, through dates or something, disgust me,” says my uncle. “Or maybe I’m just living in the wrong time period.” He continues to earn millions every month; the women’s clothes he sells are apparently very much in keeping with the trends of the time period.
Grandpa Henry, an 80-something Korean man suffering from chronic pain, demands that my cousin hand him her dab pen. He takes a rip and falls out of his seat. He says the marijuana helps him feel less.
Now that the head of the family has engaged in such a nefarious act as pot-smoking, the rest of the family realizes it’s now fair game. Six aunts rush into the living room and begin passing the dab pen between themselves. One aunt, Lilac (who used to be named Lavender, but changed her name when she was spiritually re-born), says to my mother: “Sun, remember in high school how we’d get high with Jane?” and I point out to my mother that she’d lied to me for 18 years of my life. My mother coughs and fails to respond cleverly. “TAKE A HIT, MEGAN!” she screams. I’ve lost weight recently and she is determined to give me the munchies. Always the obedient daughter, I oblige her.
I retreat to my lair to stream low-quality “Twilight” movies. Giggles and demands for water (and eye drops) are audible from the living room.
Karaoke begins, loudly, in the theater room below. There is debate about which songs are appropriate for children, and which dance moves may best be avoided in front of the kids. An aunt and a thirty-something cousin undulate suggestively, rapping to “Low” by Flo Rida. Their children cover their eyes.
After a few drinks, my father enters my lair and begins to tell stories. He emphasizes the illicit and the dangerous. We swat at each other’s politics, but are too tired and too aware of my imminent departure to come to blows. He bids me to rest saying something like, “I love you, sweets. Sometimes you’re wrong, and sometimes I am wrong. But neither of us are idiots,” and I believe him.