He Searches for Samantha Chang and Her Pastel- Polyester Cardigan

At 30, she recounts her life, starting at 19

And loving her name, he is happy to listen

And hears about the lava lamps and

Beyond-creepy laundry room and

Her job selling old clothes at a hip boutique

Wearing a “pastel-polyester cardigan,”

Too-much eyeliner, mauve lipstick

And a “beauty-school shag with

The platinum skunk stripe”

A brilliant start, he feels, he’s all hers now

She talks breezily about old boyfriends

Dreadlocks, odd jobs and blue-tinged skin

The grimy basements and beer-drinking rock shows

Even country-road car rides with bad boys

And “pot-infused sex” in a “patchouli-scented” apartment

He imagines her house – a lime green cottage

In Key West surrounded by mango trees and date palms

From which she provides oriental massage

And writes tankas on the porch with the parrots

At 21, she tells him, she graduated from beer to vodka

And then from pot to powder at parties

In the morning it was different too, with cigarettes

And wannabe men in well-cut suits with jobs

On Wall Street or Madison Avenue – that too

He is sad to hear this but soldiers on

Hoping that some spark of the pastel perkiness

And deep-rooted Asian kindling might reignite29

But the very words she chooses – wannabe men –

And the credentials she mentions are dubious

Now, she says, she is the mother of twins

In “salt-stained clogs” and T-shirts that

“smell of apple juice”

She lives in an “Upper West Side apartment”

Paid for by her very own “high-income husband”

And now he feels the weight of his hope

That felt like ether just moments earlier

Fall from the zenith of his best intentions

To the pit of his bare and hungry belly

And it lands with a deadening crash

So you see, she doesn’t say she’s done and had it all

In fact, when she sees a young girl gliding down the street

These days it makes her smile to know that she was once

That young and now writes stories about young girls

“And a China I never knew”

He wants to lecture her: This is not a great story

But an encomium of your former self,

A tapestry woven in self wonder

Without a stitch of irony – precious

Post precocious and a betrayal of your ancestry

And yet he cannot write her off

The beauty school shag and platinum skunk

Still grip him and there is something else

What is it? It’s her name – Chang

It’s the promise of black hair and eyes30

And some magic that will come from that

So he Googles her name

And finds loads of stuff – articles, awards

Citations, an ivy-league pedigree

The au courant and de rigueur Chinese-American

Immigrant family – impressive and impeccable

Interviewed by some rival, middle-aged author

Who slobbers limp questions at her and lathers praise

She is sublimely unconscious or pitch-perfectly coy

The literary Lolita of his unctuous pandering

That does not help except to excite some envy

The kindling hope, the crackling fire of admiration

All fueled by the combustible name

What is left but to lift the veil and see the face?

He looks for photos and finds but one – but one

That cannot be – and yet it is, the head and shoulders

Of a tall and awkward Jewish girl

Who, he realizes, is named Samantha

And whose high-income husband is a Mr. Chang