At The Store

She stared at the money I handed over as if she wanted to say something, so I said, “No changes. I don’t want any change.” She said, “All right. But do you have 80 cents?” I hesitated and then pretended to look into the inner crease of my wallet, which held coins more than a dollar. “No, I don’t.” I lied. I couldn’t give her the coins, which are precious right now. Everywhere you go in New Jersey, there are signs of coin shortage. I’d rather give up 20 cents of change. The cashier is the prettiest I’ve ever met. She’s probably half black half white and probably a little bit Asian or Latino throwing in. At first I didn’t notice, but as time passes by, I couldn’t help observing that whenever it’s her shift, some guys would wander in the aisles, holding one or two small items to the checkout as the excuse for the visit. They just want to get a glimpse of her beauty. When I was younger, I would think the girl is lucky to have so many admirers, but now I am older and wiser, I tend to think that it’s such a burden to have people you don’t know–and don’t want to know–to come to stare at you. Well, some people like it. I mean just look at those celebrities. Some would like the attention they receive. It’s all civilization’s fault. I think civilization is driving people crazy. When we were cavemen and cavewomen, things were not as complicated as this.

H Mart’s eggplants are not fresh. Actually they look like they were shelved in another store–probably in New York City somewhere–for a week before being shipped to New Jersey. They are about to lose their shine on the skin and little purple wrinkles appear here and there. Longon is almost 5 dollar a pound–unbelievable. Who’s going to pay 5 dollars for a little handful of this? In my grandmother’s hometown, longon grows everywhere in the wild and when you walk in a path, longon loaded branches touch your head, begging your attention. Just the stories I heard. If my grandmother’s hometown is really so admirable, why didn’t she stay there? Why did she move to the big city and live in a slum like house? If it were me, I’d rather suffer poverty with limitless longon to munch on and a beautiful little subtropical village to stay in. The same question I had when I watched TV programs about Italy. I mean it is so beautiful a place–wherever you look, the bluest Mediterranean is staring back at you. I wonder why those Italians would want to trade such a beautiful place for the cramped immigrant quarter of New York City?

Life is full of unexplained questions. The question I have for myself is: Am I also the person who has given up something beautiful and chased something imaginable?

What Does It Mean?

What does the word “russet” mean? Also words like “orb”, “presage”, “quaff”, “brogue”, “dirigible”, “druid”, “patisserie”? I have no idea. Some of them I’ve already looked up at least several times, but still I forget what the meaning. It must be my disappointing memory, but that’s another story for another day. It sounds rather exhausting for a non-native speaker like me–no matter how many words one learns, there are always more words out there to be learned. I prefer to have a well defined task–a pre-determined amount of words–and once it’s completed, I know every word, but that’s not the case in the world of English, which has an annoying penchant to create new words. For example, russet means “reddish brown”. Can’t you just use reddish brown? No you can’t. You create a new word russet. What’s the point? It’s not like it is a word one uses every day. I mean I can understand the creation of a new word to replace a combo if it is something people use often–saving one’s breath and energy to voice just one word instead of two. If it is rarely used, what’s the point of the economy? It must be for some reasons I don’t know, probably it’s a Latin, an Anglo, a Saxon, a French, or whatever other sources. The ancient English people were eager learners. I wish they were not so industrious.

It was in the later part of the high school when my friends and I suddenly realized the scale and extensiveness of the English vocabulary. Our English classes–the two-hour foreign language each week–were almost peanuts, and couldn’t handle the seemingly limitless permutation of alphabets. Those with good memory instantly embarked on a journey of brute force memorization, but people without a good memory, me for example, could only resort to various techniques, like absurd little stories, image association, grouping, all for the purpose of coaxing the mind to retain something the mind didn’t want to retain.

The habit of looking up something I don’t know continued after high school. The fact that I would forget it five minutes later should have discouraged me, but didn’t, since I harbored the hidden ambition of knowing every word I encounter.

I completely gave it up several years ago. I don’t know the exact reason, but I suspect it was due to my better understanding of slang, which are so … It’s a cliche to say slang is cool, exotic, energetic, earthy. Well, to me slang is something almost revolutionary. Since I learned English as a foreign language in classrooms, and my knowledge of English is rather bookish and pedantic and formal and polite. Slang completely throws my concept of English off balance. The idea of grammar consideration and memorizing a word deliberately sounds ridiculous for slang. It is against the whole spirit of slang.