It’s Nov. 9, 2020, a Monday. Every Monday afternoon, Lu, Pammy, and Armei met at Armei’s little cosmetic store, specializing in Asian cosmetic brands. It’s not really Armei’s store. She’s just a shop assistant. Monday is slow and a perfect time to meet her friends. If the owner of the store happened to come in, which she never did on a Monday, Lu and Pammy could always pretend to be customers.
There used to be a little area for makeup tryout with three high chairs by the counter and two sofas by the window, the ideal place for their afternoon conversation. However the sofas were pushed to a corner now, together with the three high chairs. The coffee table looked rather strangely forlorn and out of place by the window, now the only furniture not relegated to the side.
“Not even a place to sit.” Lu complained immediately after coming in.
She went to grab the high chairs from the corner, but Armei stopped her.
“We can stand here to talk. How about leaning on the counter to make yourself comfortable? Boss said the coronavirus number is up again in New Jersey. No sitting down and no free makeup session for the next two months.” Armei said apologetically.
“75 cases in Edison township alone for the last two days.” Lu said. She likes to flout her knowledge. Armei and Pammy listened with admiration, but that’s just for show. Behind Lu’s back, Armei and Pammy talked about her with condescending sympathy. Lu should be more practically minded and her choice of anthropology as a profession is ridiculous. How can an immigrant find a job in anthropology? Armei and Pammy don’t know what anthropology actually is, but they know enough to understand that no Asian immigrant in her right mind will choose it.
Fortunately Lu’s husband got a research position in Rutgers University, but it doesn’t pay much. Without getting any job at all, Lu started to work for the after school training center right next to H Mart on Route 27, but Lu’s not a good teacher. Not that she doesn’t know the material. She does, but she doesn’t have a way with children. She has no skill to get the kids listen to her and she compensates her lack of skill with her indulgence of them in all kinds of undisciplined ways. Then when things get too out of hands, she started to scream at them. Most of these kids are teenagers and the only reason they come to her is because they are not self disciplined enough to complete their homework and their parents either too tired to help them or not knowing enough English to be able to help them. The parents complained about Lu’s method. First they complained about her not being able to be tough with the kids to get the work down; then they complained about her using her scolding and her scream as a disciplinary tool. “Smart people can make stupid decisions. Just look at poor Lu.” That’s Armei and Pammy’s consensus.
“You know she’s so smart, but she doesn’t know how to manage her own career. She doesn’t even know how to deal with several lazy kids at the training center. Remember when she talked about her husband? She doesn’t know how to manage her husband. She’s working herself to death while not getting any thanks from anybody. I tried to persuade her, but she’s not listening. She’s so stubborn.” Pammy said and shook her head.
They said these things when Lu’s not present. Today however, their chat veered here and there. To answer a question, Armei started to talk about Pammy.
“You can certainly manage your fussy, whining, complaining husband. I don’t think any woman can do it like you. You can juggle your parents and your in-laws; you can hustle enough work out of them to take care your children. You…”
“You make it sound like I am exploiting my in-laws. That’s furthermost from the truth. Actually when my in-laws die, their house in Hanoi will certainly go to my husband’s brother and his sister. My husband won’t get a penny out of it. Can you believe it? And here I am, paying my in-laws thousands of dollars a year to take care of my kids here. They store all their retirement money and not using any of it when they stay with me. I also have to drive them around during the weekend to amuse them.”
“Why can’t your husband get a penny? If the house is sold, your husband can get one third, right?”
“That’s the problem. The house cannot be sold. The whole family of three generations are living there. Hanoi is getting so expensive now. You can’t imagine. Not only my husband won’t get a penny out of the house, he is going to contribute one third–most likely more–to buy a cemetery plot for the whole family. You can’t imagine how expensive that is. The scarcity of land around Hanoi has made the cemetery plot outrageously expensive.” Pammy was quite agitated whenever she talked about the unfair practices in her husband’s family.
“Is your husband going to be buried in Hanoi one day? How does that work?” Armei asked.
“We argued and argued. I told him that. He is not going to be buried in Hanoi and he shouldn’t contribute to the cemetery plot at all. However my husband imagines that he is definitely going to be buried back in Hanoi. I don’t see how? I don’t think he can retire in Hanoi. What is he going to do with the health insurance? He’d better stay in here to get his Medicare. Still he is as stubborn as a mule. I told him that he should not expect me to carry his dead body back to Hanoi. That’s not going to happen. I am just going to bury him somewhere around Edison. Can you believe that we discuss death every day? We are hardly that old. It’s all because my in-laws. They want to be buried in a good place and they just come to plague their very filial son.”
Lu was not listening to their conversation. She went to the TV like computer on the side of the counter, closed the video program that’s showing a beauty routine, and opened youtube livestream NBC news about the election.
“Can you believe this?” She said.
Armei and Pammy looked at Lu as if she’s a impertinent child. Lu’s like that. She can interrupt other people’s conversation to talk about her own interests.