Han Solo In "Mythomania"

My friend Derek Kirk Kim, cartoonist turned film auteur who's also responsible for the short documentary about the garage (Raina Lee vs. The Infinite Garage) just completed a hilarious web series called Mythomania about the life and times of indie cartoonists. These aren't the guys who draw steroid pumped dudes in capes, but the ones at the small press ghetto at Comicon with Xeroxed and stapled autobiographical masterpieces. Zinesters and other misunderstood artists will be able to relate!

I lent Derek a few nerd props to decorate the cartoonist's living room, such as my life size Han Solo cut out and Bladerunner Laserdisc (mounted on the right wall), the Director's Cut. So I had a minor infatuation with sci-fi era Harrison Ford in high school. Notice my friend Vivian Bang (right), who sported garage fashions last year in her shoot with Vivica Fox. I'm glad the garage gets around!

Anyway, awesome job for a first time filmmaker. Congrats, Derek!


World's Shortest Champagne Tasting Party

Going to dispel the fine wine myth.

Grew curious about the quarter century cases of Riesling and champagne from our beloved Numero Uno Pizzeria. Broke out the bottle of Andre bubbly and knew it was going to be the world's shortest tasting party.

Is old champagne suppose to look like diluted soy? Seemed like I could marinate adobo in it. Sadly, the brut just tasted like vinegar.  

The Gift Undies

I was still uncovering new things before the estate sale, like these delectable (f)undies. NWT (new with tags) from The Limited offshoot Cacique, this navy satin bikini brief has a repeating print of wrapped Christmas gifts!

They're perfect, really. When you put them on, the present is ultimately you.


A Maps of Remainders

There's enough space to rollerskate in the garage, like the goddess Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu. I must say that every time I throw out a few things because I fucking love Xanadu. But this time it's for reals.

To the layperson it may look like a lot of stuff. My good friend Vivian, a Korean minimalist gasped when she saw what I still had left. Unlike the Chinese, Koreans are compulsive chuckers of things. They anti-hoard mainly because like to have new stuff. Chinese people like to keep their old, crappy stuff just like a Depression survivor. Another Korean friend takes clothes to Beacon Closet's every week. But when we're about to go out she complains that she doesn't have anything to wear. Koreans-- you gotta love them.

I think I've done well. I feel as if I'm only carrying a few feathers whereas before I had a giant pile of rocks.

Remainders consist of:
  • Boxes of 1-Up Zine, the video game zine I edit and publish. Keep punk rock publishing alive--  buy some for your local bookstore! 
  • Electric organ. I couldn't sell it. Maybe it was because the ex came over and played it once, and we had a nice time. Or I'm just not giving up the idea of having an Infinite Garage Band, even if I don't have a garage in my next place of residence.   
  • Trash pile.  
  • Donation pile.  
More about the estate sale later. I haven't been updating because I've been busy freaking out about the sale, but I'm back before I start freaking out about the contractors. The sale however went swimmingly. It also did not lack drama. Someone got slapped. Someone got tossed out the front door and crashed with a great thud. Old friends and lovers came by. It felt a bizarro "This Is Your Life" amongst a crowd of people fighting over my things and memories.

So the Garage isn't over yet. How do you punctuate infinity? I'm still trying to find a way.

Waiting for Salvation to load it all up tomorrow.


Fashion Friday: Political Fashion

As a kid I remember a handful of inspirational Chinese Americans ladies in the public eye. Ice skater Tiffany Chin, news anchor Connie Chung, and California Secretary of State March Fong Eu. It was nice to know that I didn't have to grow up to be the mousy, awkward Asian that most of us are raised to be. I could figure skate, work in news media, and even run for political office. I went on to do all three, if you count my appointment as ASB slideshow historian at Peninsula High as political office.

My parents were not particularly political, sometimes swaying Republican because their aversion to democratic taxes, other times standing completely still. What excited them however was the Chinese lady in the California state office. Since all Chinese people know each other, my parents ended up at a political fundraiser for March Fong Eu in the mid 80s, where this photo took place. March Fong Eu was the first Asian American woman voted to state constitutional office and served almost 20 years. She comes from the illustrious California Fong political clan, which also spawned Republican terror Matt Fong.

I love that March took photos with people in front of a Victorian-age portrait of herself. Do you look at the real or fake? She might have thought, "If I put myself out there enough times, as clones or flat likenesses you will have to remember me again and again." 


Golden Shark Fins

Found a box of golden wings and marveled. They are actually dried shark fins, calcified bundles of clear golden fibers that curl like hair at the ends. They glistened. They smelled of the ocean. I hate to say it, but they smelled like the end of a multi-course Chinese banquet, which is shark's fin soup.  

To the Chinese, shark's fins are the penultimate delicacy. The soup can fetch $100 a bowl. It's served as a display of wealth and cultivate at fancy banquets and weddings. But the past few decades the Chinese obsession with shark's fin soup has lead to the gradual extinction of the species. Fisherman "fin" the sharks, a horrific practice where the fins are cut and the de-finned sharks get thrown back into the ocean. In recent years global movements have risen up against the sale and consumption of shark's fins. Yao Ming stated he will never eat shark's fin soup again, and the state of Hawaii was the first in the U.S. to ban the sale. My dad's family loved consuming exotic and obscenely expensive Chinese cuisine (dried mussels, abalone, or dried roe) so this is not surprising. It's just very strange

The fins themselves don't taste like much. After they are soaked they become a gelatinous noodles that is rubbery like calamari but also crunchy. You're in it for the soup. It's faintly fishy, supposedly with restorative health properties. I can recycle these golden shark fins one day for a very special occasion like my wedding or much closer on the horizon, when I finally move out of the house. Yes, these will be the last shark fins I will ever eat. 


Electric Organ From The Infinite Garage Band

My tiger parents had me hitting the ivory keys at age three. We had an upright Yamaha which didn't get as much use as it should have. I played for seven years, long enough to learn Fur Elise, the most widely recognized song in Taiwan. There, you'll hear it in electric greeting cards, music boxes, and as department store Muzak. I learned the piece to please my mother. Only after then did she finally allow me to give up my not-so-great piano career. 

To inspire me even more, my parents purchased this Schafer and Sons Electric Organ. It's been in the garage for over two decades now and I'm stoked that it even works. It has all sorts of instrument sounds like the Hawaiian slack guitar and the banjo, and has canned beats like Bossa Nova, Teen Beat, March, and Dixieland. I'm now equipped to start my low-fi Infinite Garage Band which will only feature instruments from the garage! It's going to be a bitch to go on tour with the organ though.

Here's a demo: 


Music Monday: The Frog Prince

From my grandfather's record collection, the Frog Prince.

There is something weird happening on this record sleeve. Some fight for attention. The pretty girl sweeping her hair back, interrupted by the small man in the corner signaling "Stop! I have my shirt buttoned all the way down! She is nothing!" 

My aunt said the dude is a singer named Gao Ling Feng. He was short and flamboyant in the 70s. He always travelled with two hot chicks. He called himself the Frog Prince, because even though he had toad-y looks he wanted to ladies to know he was a prince on the inside. During his later years he started wearing low cut jumpsuit like Elvis. Fittingly, he was best known for a song called, "Flaming Phoenix."  

How To Stop Worrying And Start Living

Dale Carnegie gets his point across in almost any language. Which is why my parents had a collection of his books in Chinese.

I love how his book titles promise the secrets to living. They promise the dream. They make personal success sound so simple, with a direct path. How To Enjoy Your Life And Your Job. The Leader In You, The Quick And Easy Way To Effective Public Speaking, and my favorite, How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. Easier said in a book title than done. From the looks of them, the books have never been read.

And where is his most famous tome, How To Win Friends and Influence People? It was probably his only book that my parents left dog-eared and marked up somewhere. 


Flower Day

There was that one spring day when the entire planet was covered in flowers. We went outside to take Polaroid pictures so we would never forget. 


FYI, Salvation Army Doesn't Take Rifle Cartridges

A few months ago Regina the professional organizer came over and spent most of her time separating out stuff into neat donation categories. The kitchenwares and sporting goods would go to Salvation Army, the clothes to the Jewish Women's Council (they give itemized receipts, wonderful for deductions) and the buckets of paint to Habitat For Humanity. She assured me there was a place for every kind of item, even the crappy Ernst and Gallo Rieseling vintage '84 or the stacks of pink marble leftover from tiling the foyer. I then showed her the box of cartridges. 

“I have never ever seen these in a house.” This was America. How would no one else have guns? I almost felt proud that our things stumped the professional. 

She texted her organizer friends and Googled on her Blackberry on what to do, to no avail. I suggested giving them to the police since didn’t they take guns for money, pr was that just in the ‘hood? I posted them here as Mystery Object #7, hoping someone would know. Allen, the only Democrat I know who owns guns, said they were for rifles. When I offered to give to them to him he suggested that we go shoot them in the Angeles National Forest instead. 

I’m finding a kind of symmetry using the things my parents left me. It’s an act of recycling, and I don’t have to spend money. They'd be happy to know I wear my mother’s Chanel pumps and used up the stockpile of Whole Foods Napkins (per my cousin’s suggestion, they came in handy for wiping down the kitchen countertops). Doing so, it proves their collecting might have been for some end. 

My dad was really into guns. NRA member, owned rifles, shotguns, a Beretta, and a Colt 45 to name a few. He lived in his multipocket fishing vest which made him always look like he had just come from the range. He went every week with his old Chinese man friends and sometimes my mom. One time he was super excited coming home because he had seen a young girl who was a perfect shot. She was trying out for the Olympics, he said, you should come to the range too! I was 14 at the time and wasn’t into the whole violence of firearms. I wanted to be left alone to sulk to my Cure albums. 

Now I had a chance to redeem myself. I met Allen and our other friend Bradley in Pasadena and drove past the Valley. Allen are Bradley are both scientifically oriented men in the their late 30s with multiple degrees from MIT. I figured I was in good technical hands. Allen explained that what I found weren’t bullets but cartridges, as I had been saying all week. This common misnomer bothered him. Bullets were the things inside the cartridges. They contain gunpowder so when the trigger comes down on them, the powder ignites and it shoots out. I was glad to get his Guns 101 since everything I knew I had learned from video games. 

Left, Bradley. Right, Allen.
At the range we put on giant earmuffs that turned on the mute button to our voices. The shots were intensely loud. The air vibrated. I felt my bones vibrate from the inside.

We walked past five old Korean dads in multipocketed vests and fishing hats, dressed like my dad. This confirmed my belief this that the vest was the uniform of hobbyist Asian dads or all kinds, Chinese or Korean.

I started off with the WWII carbine, the sort of gun that has a slot for a bayonet. Allen showed me how to load the cartridges one by one. I just aimed for a few minutes, wondering if it was going to explode in my face. When you don’t know about guns, you think they will just blow up like Malatov cocktails and kill everyone nearby. Once I pulled the trigger, it wasn’t so bad. There was shudder, a release, and then the back of the gun pushed into the flesh under my collarbone. It felt like a force of nature even though I knew this a manmade device. It felt like I was harnessing a lightening bolt. Sort of thrilling.

I graduated to the AR-10, a minimal black metal rifle that looked straight out of Halo. I finally loaded my dad’s cartridges. Black rubber coated the outside just like on my dad’s Zeiss binoculars. It was mechanical, or dare I saw it, beautiful. I felt guilty thinking it looked cool, like I was betraying my gender and morphing into a Republican. I looked through the rifle scope and fired. Shooting it seemed was all about aiming and looking. It wasn’t about the deed. It’s the meditative state you reach after focusing so intensely that the rest of our world disappears. I could see why my dad would have wanted to do this. My mind washed clean. Of all the stuff, the house, and the past for a moment. Weirdly, it was thanks to guns. 

I tried the assassin's rifle that broke down into five parts, the Windrunner, which fit into a small backpack. I finished off the rest of my dad’s rounds, hitting the center of the plate every time. It turned out we were shooting at 100 yards with rifles meant for 500. That explained why were all awesome at it. Afterwards Allen and I walked across the sandy mounds of the range. The florescent orange skeet plastic crackled beneath our feet. We took photos with our target, a giant manhole cover on a stick. 

The three of us capped off the afternoon with glasses of Old West Whiskey. It seemed the right thing to do after shooting guns in the forest with men. I wondered if this activity made me an instant Republicans. Allen assured us that we could redeem ourselves by starting a Democrats for Responsible Gun Use club. Either way I felt guilty.

The guilt wore off with few sips of whiskey, but I was just glad to finally find the best place for my dad's cartridges.


The Uniform

The blue nautical dress from Talbot's was my mother's favorite for almost two decades. She wore it so often that my young cousin Patty asked her mother if the dress was auntie's uniform, as if she were a private school student or an officer. The dress does have a military vibe with the flags.

When my cousin and aunt would see my mom, they'd exclaim "Auntie is wearing her uniform today!"

The uniform became a family joke. We all found it comical that she was so reliant on this one article of clothing when she had more clothes the average Talbot's store. But at least it was one thing never changed about her.

She loved the dress because of the comfy elastic waist in case she went to Grand China Buffet, and the wrinkle-free polyester which made it easy to pack. She believed the dress was so universal that she bought ones for my aunts and grandmother. But they didn't take to it like she did so she kept them all. I read Karl Lagerfeld also buys four (I think it's four or more!) of every item of clothing but it's because he keeps identical closets in every city where he has a home.

When clearing out the garage with Geneva, I was reluctant to let go of the uniforms. They were my mother incarnate. Geneva suggested I use the fabric to upholster a chair. Then mom will always be with me in a permanent but more silent way.

Seeing the uniforms billowing off the garage door comforts and unnerves. It reminds me that my worst nightmare is an army of mothers in the dress, telling me to put on a sweater and to call more often.


Party Rock and Other Jams

My favorite... mystery boxes! Previous ones have yielded glow-in-the-dark shoelaces, bullet cartridges, and 25 year-old Riesling. This one wasn't packed but something substantial was shaking around inside. And it wasn't an Aragon 004 amplifier.

Records! They are my favorite kind of find. Much better than a case of Numero Uno casserole dishes or a collection of string. I can pretend I'm a college radio DJ again. 

Party Rock with Little Eva and the Shirelles. They do make the party!

My parents listened to "Off The Wall" when I was barely in first grade.


And lots of Chinese hits...


Umbrellas For Sun-Phobic Asian Goths

It rarely rains here in Southern California. But that doesn't mean we don't need umbrellas. I always have one in the car, not because I think it's going to rain but because I've become one of those sun-phobic Asian ladies. You know the type-- the grannies in Chinatown who use umbrellas in the summer sun and the Korean moms on the golf course with the giant UV visor welding masks. I am totally like that now and I'm not even that old. 

While most of my Asians friends understand my umbrella toting, giant floppy hat wearing ways, the non-Asians and male friends think I'm bizarre and even embarrassing. To make them feel more comfortable about hanging out with me in public, I'll first tell them that I'm just deeply goth. I'm allergic to the day and my skin might sparkle like diamonds, and you don't want to see that! Then I'll try to convince them that it's a medical thing. I'll get sunstroke and wilt like the delicate flower that I am. If that seems too hokey, I break down and tell them the truth. I hate getting freckles! My skin is so defenseless that if I stay in the sun I will turn into Asian Carrot Top. Also, freckles aren't cute on Asians like they are on white people. Don't argue with me on this one. 

Even with my sometimes debilitating Asian vanity, I know I don't need all of these umbrellas. I found them in my grandfather's boxes from Taiwan. It rains there all the time. 

Are you an aspiring sun-phobic goth? You can totally have an one. 

Me and Viv at FYF last summer in our Asian lady hats. Everyone tried to get under my umbrella that scorching 100 degree day, even the dudes. No one dared ridicule me after that. Photo by Patrick Pattamanuch.


I'm Not A Hoarder, The Documentary

"I'm Not A Hoarder" could have been the name of the short documentary my friend Derek Kirk Kim made about my garage. He splices together a montage of me saying those words like five times. Gah! I'm obviously sensitive about this.

The short shows garage in all it's former glory and me talking like a valley girl. For the record, the garage is mostly cleared now. So if you dream of walking through the houndstooth labyrinth, the dream is over.

Sorry, the video gets cut off here. Watch "Raina Lee vs. The Infinite Garage" on youtube.


The Incidental Money

In a very safe place I found a packet of cash. I was about to transfer the cash into my wallet when I saw a curious note from my mother.

"Dear Raina, Don't use this cash. These cash is antie (antique?) dollar can sell more value than its face value."

Good thing she told me because I was going to buy an iced latte and do some damage at Forever 21. Under her message was a sticker listing the amounts of European currency the envelope was once contained. Francs, Marks, Sterling, and Lire. 

I took out the $42 in USD. Nothing unusual except the $2 bill and some dollars with gibberish typed on them. Lines of XXXXXs and MMMMMMMs and stamped in caps, "ENCORE INCIDENTALS TAX EXEMPT." 

What makes these ones tax exempt and what kind of incidentals (lattes and Forever 21 purchases)? Why vandalize the money? I did some Googling on combinations of the words tax exempt antique money but not much came up. I wish my mom had written me an explanation. 


The End Of Infinite Christmas

The year my mom got sick she still was able put up the Christmas tree all by herself. I don't know how she did it, being so skinny and weak. It was probably a superpower that Chinese widows develop.

We had one of those artificial trees with the lights built-in from Costco. The itself tree was giant, 8 or 9 feet, and my mom would single handedly assemble it every year. I was out of town for a few days in December and when I came back she surprised me. She had put up the tree and decorated it with all the ornaments that we had kept since my childhood. The mice sleeping in the matchbox, the straw scarecrow doll in a red flannel dress, the plastic Bambi, the clay ceramic music note from my piano teacher, the glitter covered red and green ball ornaments. I was happy to see that we had them all still.

That year we didn't have the energy to take the tree down. We were the sort of people who leave the tree decorated far into January anyway. I at least took the ornaments down, but we left the tree in the same nook next to the pink marble fireplace in the living room into spring, then summer, and then fall. It just become the giant fake tree we had in our the house, the way Chinese restaurants have fake orchids. When friends would come over they'd be shocked.

"Is that a Christmas tree?" one friend asked. I couldn't even see it anymore.

"Yeah, yeah, it's just a fake plant!" I'd reply. It lived there for three years.

Last weekend John came over to help me dismantle the tree. We had to tie straighten out the wire branches, which were as prickly as real pine. I had to put on work gloves. Then we tied each layer of branches with the string my grandfather had collected in Taiwan. I guess I'll never mock grandpa's string collection again.

Below, the hole where the tree used to be.

John asked me why there was a bucket behind the tree. I explained that because the base was broken and the tree was on the brink of falling over. My mother filled a bucket with water and placed it on the base to keep the whole operation upright.  

Notice the stray pine needles I'm gonna have to vacuum! Also, watch John's new awesome show on Cartoon Network.


Infinite Trash To Treasure

One woman's infinite trash can truly be another man's treasure.

"Can you zip me up?" said Mariosh as he fidgeted in my mother's gold charmeuse blouse. Well, it was polyester with a silk charmeuse sheen. A stockier Laurence Fishburne, his muscular arms were too tight to reach the zipper on the back of the neck. It stretched snug across his chest but if he raised his arms he'd burst like the Incredible Hulk. He saw the doubt in my face. I'm not a very good shopgirl.

"I wouldn't raise my arms anyway!" He lifted his arms to reveal a soft abdomen. The gold actually looked good against his tanned skin.

It was a thrill to watch this man preening himself in one of my mother's silky business blouses. She had dozens of business tops to match her hundreds of business suits because she had fashioned herself to be a serious business woman. From sorting through her suits, sequined dresses, and floral Easter dresses in the past year, I've come realized that the clothes we wear are aspirational. Whether we pursue those aspirations is another matter.

Mariosh, the gay Latino actor/ model from Norway told me the blouse would be perfect to wear to parties. His parties were probably the farthest thing from the business meetings my suburban Chinese mother envisioned herself attending in the blouse. Maybe she'd wear them to a church meeting or a trip to the accountant. This is why I love seeing who buys our clothes. It gives me to chance to see both scenarios on a split screen in my head.

Occasionally I work at my friend's vintage store, where I get to see people try on, get excited about, and take home our things. Sometimes I tell them about the Garage, but then I wonder if it's TMI. Strangers might not want the weight of your family history in their impulse buys.

Item: Ralph Lauren Polo Country chambray print shirt
Belonged to: my dad
Purchased by: works at The Hundreds

Item: Forenza cardigan from The Limited
Belonged to: my mom
Purchased by: Kelly, teenage tourist from Vancouver

Item: Francois (?) button down 
Belonged to: my dad
Purchased by: Nathan, works at Scout

Item: Michelle Stuart blouse from Casual Corner
Belonged to: my mom
Purchased by: Mariosh, actor/ model from Norway

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