I had never considered myself a negative person. I thought life was good. I had no kids or property to tie me to my ex. I had a decent, though boring, job as a corporate writer, a cute apartment close to Central Park, and the time and money to take last minute trips around the world. I had friends I could rely on, family I loved, and all my limbs. I was a glass half-full kind of girl.

That spring, Graham told me otherwise.

Things started out well enough. Maybe too well. Our first date lasted eight hours, ending with us making out on his bed. For two weeks we couldn’t get enough of each other. He came up to my office and we made out there. We kissed on the street, at the movies. We hung out at his place on a Saturday and wrote all day, me on my memoir, he on a history book he needed for tenure. He cooked for me, and told me I was beautiful. He said that he had found me.

Then it started to get weird. His ex for one. He really wanted to be friends with her. I mean, really. They went to movies, and when it didn’t go well, he became very depressed.

“There wasn’t much to say,” he said.

He thought I should be friends with my ex, although I preferred not to, thank you very much. After he cheated on me and had a baby with his mistress, I decided he was probably not friendship material.

“It might help you move on,” Graham said.

Keeping someone from my past in my present wasn’t my idea of moving on.

When I asked if he was dating anyone else, he laughed and said, “I’m not kissing anyone else.”

That didn’t answer my question.

“Let’s live in the moment,” he said.

Still not an answer.

Finally he said, “I’m afraid I’m having a negative influence on you.”

Now. We had known each other fewer than thirty days. I doubted I was so malleable that he’d have a personality-changing influence on me. And what did he mean by negative?

The cases in point: we were on the subway, and a girl was leaning against the pole. Her whole body on the pole. You know what I mean. Since she was being so obliviously rude, I obliviously shoved my hand behind her to grab the pole. I looked at her. I did not apologize.

Two: we were walking down the street and caught up with slow walkers. Slow walkers who decided to take up the entire sidewalk. You know of whom I speak. I huffed, sighed, and rolled my eyes before finally speeding around them.

So this was negative.

Still, being a conscientious and growth-liking person, I thought about what he had said. Maybe I was making up for something with my toughness. As kids my brother and I were called chink and chingchong at the bus stop every day, but were always too timid to say anything. Our mother bossed us around. The bossing got worse as I got older. The yelling turned to screaming whenever I said anything back. I couldn’t even sulk without a scolding.

In high school I decided I was angry. An angry poet. I hated everyone, or at least pretended to. Secretly I wanted Bud Warner to pass me notes in class, to give me a rose on Valentine’s Day, to take me to prom, none of which, of course, happened. But being angry was easier. It gave me a nice coating.

In college I became an Asian American activist. Every racist was a kid at the bus stop saying chingchong. I went to a Miss Saigon protest and yelled fuck you to Cameron Mackintosh for not hiring Asian actors, for saying Asian actors were no good.

Then I fell in love.

I fell in love with an angry guy, only he didn’t seem angry at the time. At the time he was sweet and loving, funny and smart. The anger emerged later, after I was in deep and it was too late. We broke up, got back together, got married. He got angrier. I couldn’t blame him really. His parents expected so much. His mom was sick. They never thanked him for all he did, the way he never thanked me. Everyone was against him, everyone that is except his mistress.

So in comparison, was I really so negative?

Still, I would try.

Maybe I didn’t have to make my disdain so clear as some dim bulb yapped loudly on her cell phone. Perhaps I didn’t need to growl, “Watch it,” when a guy twice my size bumped into me. I might try not yelling, “Are you kidding me!” when someone came to a dead stop at the top of the subway steps. It shouldn’t make a difference that this was New York, and I was a petite Asian woman who looked younger than her years. I didn’t need to be a bitch to survive, did I? Survive yet have no soul?

Two tests. One, the NJ Transit on my way back from my parents’. At Newark an older man got on and sat next to me. Not right next to me, one seat over, but it didn’t matter because I could smell him from here. Cigarette smoke. Clothes reeking of it.

Seething, I pressed myself against the window and breathed into my hand.

Then at that very moment, on my iPod: One of Us. You know: What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Cheesy, yes, but true. And I thought, What if this guy is God? What if every annoying person put in my path was God in some form or another, testing me? What if I’ve been failing that test again and again?

I took off my iPod. We were nearing the city. Outside were the murky swamps of Secaucus. Unexpectedly beautiful egrets perched and flew.

Then I heard it: staticky music. Not even a song, a snippet. Cher: Do you believe in life after love? Over and over. Do you believe in life after love do you believe in life after love do you believe in life after love. Where the hell was that coming from?

Oh no. Oh yes. It was “God” next to me playing it on his cell phone.

Maybe he was preaching. Maybe he was saying life indeed went on after your best friend broke your heart.

Or maybe it was just some annoying dude with his phone.

Test two: On the subway to my apartment. A seat opened so I sat. An older woman next to me said, “Do you want to switch?”

Switch? Switch what?

She pointed at the Chinese guy on her other side. “Do you want to sit together?” she asked.

The “positive” scenario played through my head. “That’s okay,” I could have said. I could have smiled and thought, She’s just trying to be nice. She doesn’t know any better. It makes perfect sense that two people standing nowhere near each other would be together based solely on race. Haha, racism’s funny!

“I don’t know who that is,” I said. I did not smile.

She laughed. (Why yes, racism is funny.) She said, “I thought you two were together.”

You’re an idiot.

Graham and I broke up not long after, fizzling out as quickly as we had fizzled up. I quickly gave up on trying to be positive. Being bitchy was way too fun. And just because I got fed up with strangers didn’t mean I was soulless because yes, like Cher, I still believed in love. I believed in happiness even if I didn’t find love again because there were so many small things that made me happy. A peaceful morning with a cup of coffee, wandering museums with my pals, running in the rain around the Reservoir.

So maybe the guy with the phone and the woman on the subway weren’t God. Maybe there were no tests. No negative or positive, no glass half-full or half-empty. Maybe there was just a glass (or maybe there was no glass – whoa). There was just this moment, now; there was releasing the pain of the past but remembering the lesson; there was restraining from predicting the future but embracing whatever it might bring.

But if you get in my way, I’ll still think you’re an idiot.

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A long-time New Yorker, ANGELA TUNG is a writer in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in CNN Living, The Frisky, Dark Sky Magazine, Matador Life, The New York Press and elsewhere. Her Young Adult novel, Song of the Stranger, was published by Roxbury Park Books.

Her latest book, Black Fish: Memoir of a Bad Luck Girl, chronicles the failed marriage between a Chinese woman and Korean man, both American-born but still bound by old world traditions. Black Fish was short-listed for Graywolf Press' 2010 Nonfiction Prize.

In addition, she's a writer/editor at Wordnik.com, an online word source, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. Visit her at angelatung.com.

34 responses to “Bite Me. . .I Mean, Have a Nice Day”

  1. Alexandre says:

    if they were god, then god is stupid and have bad taste in music

  2. Good on you for fighting the good fight (against idiots) and not becoming a Pollyanna.

  3. jmblaine says:

    Sometimes it seems God is everywhere
    other times he’s rolling his eyes and laughing.

    Lots of times
    I am the idiot
    I war against….

    Welcome to TNB!

  4. Angela Tung says:

    i’m not even sure i believe in god but sometimes i do feel the universe is playing a big fat joke on all of us.

    thanks for the welcome!

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Ha! I’m sorry to say but Graham is a dick! I mean, you are totally right – why be ‘friends’ with someone who has treated you badly and obviously has no concern for your wellbeing or heart? I don’t understand this huge pressure to stay on friendly terms with ex’s. You were partners and lovers, not friends and so you shouldn’t have to suddenly be friends because you’ve broken up!
    This was really funny, Angela. I don’t think you’re being bitchy by the way, I think you’re being truthful and the world needs more of that!

  6. Angela Tung says:

    zara, graham indeed had some issues, and i totally agree re: being friends with your ex. why? only to satisfy some sort of guilt or make up for a failing.

    aw thanks! i guess being “bitchy” is all relative.

    • Stefan Kiesbye says:

      Yeah, that’s way too goody goody. I mean, such friendships might be possible, hell, why not, but to make that a staple of one’s existence? Leaving things and people behind is way underrated, and I don’t even mean that in a mean way…

  7. Marni Grossman says:

    “Do you want to sit together?” Really? Really!?! Christ almighty. It’s enough to put a scowl on anyone’s face.

    • Angela Tung says:

      i know, right? it’s like in junior high when kids would think i was related to any random asian kid around. but that was a small mostly white neighborhood, not MANHATTAN.

  8. Phat B says:

    I went through a phase in college here I would bust through packs of people hogging up the sidewalk. If there was a group of people walking 4 wide, I would bust right through em like I was playing red rover. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Then one day the urge just disappeared. Now if I could only tone down the road rage a bit…

    • Angela Tung says:

      oh my god, i would LOVE to do that, especially to the hipster kids who hang out to smoke.

      i think it’s so infuriating because it comes off as inconsiderate and self-centered. couples holding hands who refuse to let go to maneuver crowded sidewalk are equally annoying.

  9. Simone says:

    I enjoyed reading this Angela. I agree with Zara, you’re not bitchy at all.

    I identified with some of the things you went through. We have a guy in our office who smokes. He goes for regular smoke and coffee breaks. He used to sit next to me. I have since moved. But screw me sideways if he doesn’t reek of stale cigarettes and coffee. That smell is enough to make me revisit what I had for breakfast via gag reflex. Did I mention that he is also the office suck up? Pet peeve number two! Ugh! *rolls eyes*

    Don’t get me started on the road rage thing…

    My favourite line:
    “There was just this moment, now; there was releasing the pain of the past but remembering the lesson; there was restraining from predicting the future but embracing whatever it might bring.”

    That’s mighty enlightening. If only I could remember it everytime I walk past the Suck up’s desk without holding my breath.

    • Angela Tung says:

      simone,i try to use that philosophy for just the big things in life, and then only sometimes succeed. there’s only so much we can ask of ourselves.

      ew: stale coffee+cigarettes+suck up. a vomitous combination.

  10. Oh my God! I gasped when I read the ‘Do you want to switch?’ bit. Are you fucking serious? She didn’t. She. Did. Not.

    When I asked if he was dating anyone else, he laughed and said, “I’m not kissing anyone else.”

    That didn’t answer my question.

    “Let’s live in the moment,” he said.

    Still not an answer.

    No, seriously. I fucking hate that. Let’s grab a drink sometime so I can spend half an hour spitting vitriol over how much I hate this.

  11. I am one of those people who huff and eye roll around slow moving packs. So be it. Some of us just walk faster than others. It doesn’t mean we’re angry or any less close to the big G. As a matter of fact we just might be closer because we walk faster. Not wanting to inhale some guys cigarette stank jacket does not make you a bad person. However, the woman who thinks all people of Asian descent are related? My God. The universe has an enormous supply of the moron gene available, doesn’t it? ( do I sound angry?) ha!

    • Angela Tung says:

      robin, i like your take on us fast walkers. 🙂

      as for the moronic lady, she embodies the quote, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” i’m sure in her mind she was trying to be nice, and excused her own ignorance because of her intent.

  12. Matt says:

    Okay, so Graham? Huge asshole. What a fucking shit weasel. I’ve met several people who claim they want to “live in the moment” and it always seems to be code for “I want to screw around and not deal with the consequences.”

    Huge difference between being positive and being a wallflower. (Me, I prefer the path of bastardry). Give ’em hell, Angela!

    • Angela Tung says:

      i know: sometimes it’s better just to know one way or the other – are we screwing around here, or does this have potential? once you have an answer, you can made an educated decision.

      yeah, that’s the difference! positive and wimpy wallflower aren’t the same thing at all.

  13. Greg Olear says:

    First, the slowmovers. Get the fuck out of the way. I once tried to avoid them by stepping into the street and came this close to getting mowed down by a cab (the cabbie said, “You would have been sliced carrots,” laughed, and shook my hand). After that, I bowl them over if they don’t move. (I have a higher tolerance for this in Midtown, but no quarter should be given slowmovers in the Village).

    Second, it’s difficult — nay, impossible — to not be negative in New York. There’s just too many people crammed into too little space. If you’re not a little aggressive, you’ll get eaten alive. If you want serenity, you have to leave (which is what we did). When in Rome…

    One time, this asshole on a skateboard almost ran me down on St Marks Place as he rounded the corner. I yelled “Fuck you asshole!” and this bike messenger, who happened to be riding by, stopped, and was all, “What’s your fucking problem?” And I said, “No, I was telling THAT guy to fuck off.” As if I’d flipped a switch, bike dude reverted back to normal, said, “Cool,” and pedaled away.

    So no, I don’t think Gray-hem had any affect on you. Other than inspiring this great piece. For that, we give him thanks. Otherwise, he can stick it where the sun don’t shine. (Which, I believe, is the bottom of Gowanus Canal).

    • Angela Tung says:

      thanks, greg!

      “You would have been sliced carrots” – hilarious.

      i agree about almost having to be negative to survive in new york. that short time i tried not to be, i kept getting mowed over. crowded subway stations were especially bad.

      the great thing about new york is that you can yell “fuck you!” or whatever to someone who’s almost run you over (like the bike delivery guy going the wrong way against the light who had the audacity to give *me* a dirty look for daring to cross the street), and it’s acceptable. i’ve yet to try it somewhere else.

      • Greg Olear says:

        You should have seen that cabbie. And heard the tone of his voice. Really funny. In fact, if I recall, I had been all pissed off and he immediately made me feel better.

        One time, at the Port Authority, I was pissed off and I intentionally shoulder-bumped this (far bigger than me, but well dressed) guy who got in my way. The contact felt great…and he apologized tome.

        You do what you gotta.

  14. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Your last lines re embracing every new thing(what ever the future may bring) sounds like that may be the problem. I try not to be bitter re the past and do not shut myself out from the possibilities of new people but I would be careful about the embracing. Of course I’m 60 now, you see. I am not wasting time, but if you don’t take that chance how would you know? If its icky cut and run with surgical aplomb, don’t look back and don’t be afraid to look forward again, having gotten burned or not .But flow with the river a while to be sure it doesn’t end in white water leading to a plummeting waterfall.

  15. […] of Gloria Steinem, Shamu the Whale, or the Communist Revolution in China. That’s right, tell me I’m negative right before yelling at some poor woman having trouble at the subway […]

  16. […] And if you think, after reading this, that she’s a negative person, you can bite me. […]

  17. […] TUNG is not always patient with you people. She has a lot in common with Gina […]

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