Saturday, November 28, 2015

Raising a Stink

No one in living memory has ever accused Saffy of lacking in self-confidence. No self-control in the face of a plate of rojak, perhaps, but self-confidence? She’s got so much of it that Amos Yee would cross the street to avoid coming in contact with her.
            When she was first introduced to the new chairman of the board of the company she works at, Saffy told him that her eyes were “up here and not down here!”. According to witnesses at the scene, she actually pointed at her face with one hand, and made circular motions around her fabulous bosom with the other.
            By the end of the week, she could be heard in his office cracking the filthiest jokes this side of a navy ship.
            My point, in case it’s not already clear, is that Saffy is no shrinking violet, though Amanda says Saffy is so short, she’d probably qualify as a tulip.
            Meanwhile, for as long as anyone can remember, our mornings invariably involve at least one sharp exchange between the girls. Why?, you ask. Because that’s what happens when two or more women live together. There’s probably a law of thermo-nuclear dynamics somewhere that explains it.
            A few days ago, Amanda walked into the bathroom a few seconds after Saffy had emerged from it. She shot straight out.
            “Oh my God! What did you do in there?”
            Saffy paused at the entrance of her bedroom and turned around with a surprised expression. “I have no idea what you’re talking about! Why are you so grouchy?” she said, going immediately on the defensive. She later told me that’s a useful trick in life. When in doubt, attack first. It tends to throw people off, she said.
            “How should I put it?” Amanda said. “Your number twos? They stink!”
            Saffy’s bosom inflated. “They do not stink! They do not! I wish you’d stop saying that! They’re only lightly scented!”
            “Saffy, no one’s number twos are lightly scented! Not even Amal Clooney’s!”
            Saffy, for whom Amal Clooney is the living incarnation of God on Earth, gasped. She stabbed a finger at Amanda. “Welcome to Meansville! Population: you!”
            Amanda pressed on. “Excuse me! But how many times do I have to say this? When you do a number two, you light a match! That’s why there’s a box of matches on top of the flush!...Hey! You did not just slam the door in my face!”
            Every day, I thought to myself in the kitchen as I poured some breakfast cereal. Every day.
            The other thing about Saffy is that she has the memory of a ball-bearing. By that evening, she had completely forgotten all about the fight. On the way home, she’d stopped by Old Chang Kee and bought a big bag of Amanda’s favourite hot curry puffs.
            As Amanda pointed out, “She’s like a human Golden Retriever. How do you stay angry with her?”
Meanwhile, I was browsing through Aesop when my eye fell on a bottle. I spent a few minutes reading the label and promptly bought two bottles.
“What’s this?” Saffy said that evening when I presented her with a bottle. She squinted at the label. “Post-Poo Drops…” she read slowly. “What…”
“The girl at Aesop said it’s a bestseller!” I said hurriedly. “It’s made of tangerine and mandarin peel and ylang ylang!”
“Well, get lost get lost!” Saffy snapped. “I can’t believe you wasted money on this!”
“Just try it!” I begged.
Saffy paused. Her eyes slid sideways at the bottle she’d shoved carelessly away. You could tell she was intrigued. “Is this what our relationship has come to?” she asked reluctantly.
Encouraged, I picked up the bottle and read the label. “In instances where vigorous activity has occurred in the bathroom, disperse several drops of this carefully crafted Aesop product into the toilet after flushing. Additional drops in your hand basin will intensify the aroma, to the benefit of all subsequent visitors!”
Saffy looked at me.
“That would be people like Amanda,” I pointed out. “Just think of it as a scented candle but in liquid form. I know how much you love scented candles.”
“I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous,” Saffy said, even as she took the bottle from me. She unscrewed the dropper and took a cautious sniff. Her eyebrows lifted. “Hmm, it does smell lovely.”
“I got one for my bathroom, too,” I said.
“Post-Poo Drops. I’m not sure I like the name though,” Saffy mused. By now, she had relaxed completely into the idea. “It just sounds so…in your face.”
“Well, I guess Chanel No. 2 won’t quite work!” I said.

Saffy says if that’s not a genius name, she doesn’t know what is.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Post Haste

Time plays funny tricks on your memory. And the older you get, the less funny they become to experience 
A few days ago, my mother FaceTimed me all the way from San Francisco where she and Father were visiting my brother Jack. 
“We were going through some old boxes,” my mother’s static image told me. “Do you remember that time you were ten and we sent you to summer camp and you came down with the mumps?” 
I looked up from my computer and frowned into the distance. I remembered neither event. 
“I’ve never been to summer camp!” I said. 
“Of course you have!” It was odd seeing my mother’s lips move while the words came through the speaker a few seconds later. “You were ten! And you were in a very expensive winter camp in Tasmania and you got mumps and you had to be quarantined but you were just dying to get out and come home!” 
My mother might as well have been speaking Greek. This is what it must be like to have Alzheimer’s, I thought to myself. This is how it all starts. 
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “You must have me confused with Jack. And anyway, why are you bringing this up at all?” 
It turns out that a letter I had written when I was at this imaginary winter camp had surfaced from the box my parents had retrieved from Jack’s attic. Why my brother had that letter, I didn’t want to ask. He would probably say, “You gave it to me, don’t you remember?” 
“I’ll scan it and email it to you,” Mother continued calmly. “I will say this though, you were such a manipulative monster! I have no idea where you got that from! 
Saffy later said that it’s amazing that I hadn’t grown up with more issues. I told her she should speak to Michelle who’s spent a small fortune in her lifetime on therapy.  
“So, what’s the letter say?” Saffy asked. 
It’s a two-page letter. The writing is mine and the tone is obnoxiously precocious, but even after reading the closely spaced words several times, I still have absolutely no memory of the events they recount. I really should have played the lead role in ‘Still Alice’. If I had, I would have been the one winning the Oscar and not Julianne Moore. 


Dear Mother and Daddy, 
Am I going to come home or not? This place I am in is driving me crazy. All the books I brought with me I have finished and I have nothing to do. The nurse brings me my food and that is the only person I see or hear all day long. No one comes and I have nothing to do but sleep. Every day I hope that you will send for me but you do not. The food is horrible and tasteless. The room doesn’t get any sun at all and is very cold. There isn’t room to do anything but sit or lay on the bed. At least there are not any rats to keep you awake. 
My glands are about half the size they were, probably because they have gotten frozen at night. I am given a pill at night which is for sleep but it is too cold for pills in this dump. No thank you. 
I have finished four books and all the others are packed. I think about you every minute of the day. 
Send for me to come home. At least there will be someone to talk to. 
All my love, Jason (in isolation)” 
Under that, I had scrawled in big letters, “HELP ME”. 

“Oh my God, you were adorable!” Amanda said, wiping the tears from her eyes. She’d laughed from beginning to end.  
“For a ten year old, you were a really good speller!” Saffy observed. 
“I just don’t understand why I don’t remember any of it!” I complained. “It must have been such a horrible experience I completely blocked it out.” 
“Either that, or you really are getting Alzheimer’s,” Saffy said helpfully. 
Your mother is right though,” Amanda told me. “You were incredibly manipulative.” 
As I write this, I have that letter by the laptop – an unexpected relic from my dimly lit past. A memory preserved from a time when people still put pen to paper and wrote letters. So much easier, I thought, if we’d had FaceTime back then, in which case there’d be no record of my embarrassing whining today. As it is, a lifetime has gone by, now nothing more than well-written cry for help from a ten-year old boy that, try as I might, I no longer remember 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Good Will Hunting

The imminent approach of death does funny things to some people, especially to the relatives of the person dying.
            According to family legend, when my paternal great grandfather was lying in his bedroom breathing his last, in the next room, his children were squabbling over who was getting the Rolls-Royce. Apparently, things got so heated that no less than three of the five adult children stopped speaking to each other for the next twenty years.
            Meanwhile, the body of my grand-aunt on my mother’s side was barely luke warm when one of her daughters discovered a Cartier diamond necklace was missing from the jewellery box. Before you could say ‘How many carats?’, accusations were hurled, insults traded, barely concealed sibling rivalry dating back decades were uncovered, and two sisters began, literally, throwing pots at one another in the kitchen.
            “Pots?” Saffy asked. “They were fighting in the kitchen?”
            I shrugged. “I guess. This all happened long before I was born. My mother says the sisters never spoke to one another ever again, not even when they discovered that one of the house maids had stolen the necklace.”
            Leave it to Amanda, resident forensic scientist and aspiring gold-digger, to ask the obvious question. “So who’s got the necklace now?”
            “They broke it apart and distributed the diamonds. My mother wears one of them as a ring.”
            “Isn’t it sad how people fight over the most silly things?” Saffy wondered, shaking her head.
            “It was an 800-carat diamond necklace, Saf,” I said.
            Saffy blinked. “Oh.” You could almost see the dawning realization that she too would have been up for a fight if she’d had a stake in the necklace.
            “It always just amazes me how people don’t make clear wills,” Amanda observed, putting the full force of her Harvard education into the statement. “It would save so much heartache and drama!”
            I don’t have a will,” Saffy said.
            “That’s because you have no possessions and no money,” I pointed out.
            “Yes, that is true,” Saffy conceded. “But somewhere out there, I might have a wealthy relative who decides to leave everything to me! Isn’t that what happened in ‘Annie’?”
            Amanda looked pained. “Not to point out the obvious, but life isn’t a Broadway musical, Saf.”
            Saffy giggled good-naturedly. The woman has the temperament of a Teflon pan. Very few insults stick. “You just never know. It could happen. Look at Amal Clooney! Do you have a will?”
            “Of course! I had one done up as soon as I started working!”
            “Am I in it?” Saffy asked.
            Amanda paused. “What do you mean?”
            “Did you leave me anything?”
            Amanda looked surprised. “Why would I leave you anything?”
            Saffy’s legendary bosom inflated at the obvious absurdity of the question. “Because. I. Am. Your. Best. Friend?” she articulated slowly.
            As Amanda later remarked to me privately, what do you say to something like that?
            “Actually, that whole conversation was just so depressing. I’m not ready to die yet! And why should anyone get a hold of all hard earned cash when I’m still in the prime of my life?”
            I assured her that she wasn’t going to die any time soon.
            “You don’t know that!” Amanda said, raising a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “Freak accidents happen to people all the time. My third aunt nearly choked to death on a leftover siew mai at home while the stupid maid just stood there screaming!”
            “How do you know she was screaming?” I wanted to know.
            “It was all recorded on the nanny cam! And the only reason she didn’t choke to death was she struggled out of her chair, tripped over the dog, and fell down, and during the impact coughed up the siew mai.”
“Well that was lucky!” I said.
“She broke her hip though.”
“Does she have a will?”
“Yes. Apparently, she’s leaving it all to the stupid dog! Her children are so upset.”
What Saffy is dying to know though is just who is in Amanda’s will.
“Surely we must be in it?” she speculated this morning.
“Must we?” I asked.
Saffy’s bosom trembled. “Well, I don’t see why not. We’re closer to her than any of her relatives! Speaking of which,” Saffy said, pausing as she looked at me with mild speculation in her eyes, “am I in your will?”
“What makes you think I have anything to leave behind?”
“Oh, please,” Saffy told me. “I’ve seen what car your father drives!”
All of which has gotten me thinking about my will. My mother says it’s not who you leave your money to, but who you don’t.
“It’s so much more satisfying!” she told me.
Saffy says I should be worried.