“ANTICS,” that is what Kalliyan would one day refer to what happened that weekend and what happened outside the Salmagundi Theatre in Times Square one September. Antics would not be the word I would use for that happened. Weilian Mu, wealthy socialite, novelist and fashion designer at the age of twenty seven, Kalliyan Vichea and I, Julia Hua, - we were responsible for the ‘antics’ that put an end to her. In Weilian Mu’s defense, she took her demise well.
“Listen to this, wisdom from our neighborhood philo-soy-pher, ’Chapter 1 - Don’t try to Wok before you can crawl.′ Do you get it? Wok as in the vegetable cooker?”
“Yea, we get it. Weilian is a riot,” Ariel Tsu rolled her eyes, awkwardly hobbling along on her brand new Manolo Blahniks, freshly purchased from Taobao. “Now put that book away before you walk into a parking meter.”
“And defer the holy text of our next Pulitzer laureate? No, miso impatient to find out what happens!” I was not nearly as well dressed. On my arm was a burgundy Chanel bag. Not a Chanel flap bag as one would probably imagine at the mention of the word Chanel Bag. It was a rigid, top handle monstrosity with a crooked logo that I reluctantly shelled out 800 dollars for at a flea market. I didn’t like brands but that night, I had on my fanciest clothing, most of which was embodied in that handbag. Wearing it in the nook of my arm, I felt like I was playing dress-up.
“Stop it with the sarcasm, Julia.”
“Sarcastic? Me? On a night like this? We’re in Times Square, going to the opening night of Broadway musical where the starring man is wearing a brand made up only four years ago by us.”
“And I’m sure he’ll make it worth our while by making out with lots of juicy actors wearing it.”
“Ariel, wow, I like this side of you.”
She blushed and looked down, a purple strand of hair falling over her face. “Don’t tell my parents I said that.”
“How are we supposed to find Kalliyan in the middle of all these people?” The area was well lit. Under the bulbs of the oversized marquee, there was a swarm of well-dressed theater lovers. Kyrie was a musical set in Little Italy of the 1930s. Everywhere, cameras were flashing. The scent of expensive colognes and perfumes filled the air. Patrons fanned themselves with the trademark yellow playbills. This was Broadway, the boulevard of lights. On that night of all nights it was the embodiment of that name.
“You look for her, Julia. You’re tall. Stand on your toes, maybe you can see over all their heads.” I wasn’t tall, just taller than Ariel.
“Let’s get closer,” I said. We pushed our way past the metrosexual businessmen and then the giddy pubescent girls. We kept moving until we were nearly standing on the street but we had a good view of the red carpet and of the crowd.
“Kalliyan, where are you? Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Ariel sang. “This is sadly funny. Our big night when finally somebody big wears our design and we can’t even get together to ogle at him. Are you sure we even remembered the tickets?”
“Yes, I have them here. Only problem is Kalliyan’s is here too. Where is she?”
“I see her, she’s at the front of the barrier. Thank goodness she brought a camera,” Ariel said with a sigh of relief.
We squeezed out from behind the barrier and ran across the sidewalk. Somewhere in that small distance, Ariel tripped out of her shoe and shoved me into a pedestrian.
“Whoa there, what’s the hurry the show hasn’t started yet.”
I had just banged my nose into the shoulder of a very handsome stranger. Unfortunately my nose responded to that insult with a sneezing fit.
“I’m fine,” I told him before he had a chance to tell me why he was grinning.
“What’s this?” He helped me gather up my purse and my book which I had stuffed up my armpit during our sprint. ”A Man of All Wang by Weilian Mu.”
I wanted to die of embarrassment.
“I read this one before. She gets the guy at the end.”
“I’m so sorry.” I reached for my things. “This book isn’t mine. We need to go.” I pulled Ariel away with me.
“Is it just me or was that guy insanely cute?” Ariel asked.
“He also thinks I’m insanely retarded. Who brings a book like this to the theater?”
“Kalliyan! Kalliyan, over here,” Ariel squealed.
Kalliyan, stylish as always in an understated gray tube dress, turned around and waved us over, much to the dismay of the patrons in front of us.
“They’re coming,” she held her camera up taking nearly no notice of us even as we nearly tripped into her slender frame. She continued to pose on her sky-high Louboutins. They were the limited edition 150mms which were extra expensive because they came encrusted with artfully collected Winter’s Trash found around Paris. It was a style that Kalliyan was able to pull off. She wouldn’t pay any naysayers attention anyway. Being in her own world was Kalliyan’s specialty. She never made it big as a model but she had the effortlessly glamorous look down. “Wait a minute. I know that reporter,” she suddenly hissed.
“Henry!” Kalliyan called out.
“Listen we can’t go on the red carpet. They’ll throw us out.”
My protests went unheeded. Kalliyan had squeezed through the barricade and was now crooning over the shoulder of a cameraman at her newly acquired target.
“This is ridiculous,” I complained to Ariel as we reluctantly followed, myself more reluctant than either of my friends.
“Kali, sure you can come with me,” the reporter named Henry replied with a smile. Men never reacted like that to me. Kalliyan was beautiful and she took every advantage of it. It worked in ways the likes of me could never imagine until I saw it for myself.
“These are my friends, Julia and Ariel.”
“Hey girls. Sure you can all stay,” Henry said, laughing. After all, who could say no to a princess in Loubs? On a more realistic note, he was going to lose his job for this. I was sure of it.
“Kalliyan, how is the family?”
“The same. My niggas are all fine.”
I wanted to die. “We should stop her. Drag her away,” I whispered to Ariel. She merely shrugged.
“She’s pretty dark you know.”
“She’s Indian!” I exclaimed a bit louder than I intended.
Kalliyan lifted an eyebrow at me. That was not a good sign. She wanted me to shut up. This was Manhattan; it was her playground not mine. I was just a plain girl from Queens. Henry was laughing too hard to take notice.
“What are you girls doing here?“He asked.
“We were invited by Adams. He’s wearing my design,” Kalliyan explained.
“You know, I’ll be sure to have my man here get a shot of it. Publicity for an old friend.”
“Old?” Being a former model, as far as everyone was concerned, she was eternally nineteen and too frightened of offending her to suggest otherwise.
“Did I say old? I . . .wait .. .isn’t that Andrew Lloyd Webber?”
Henry nearly jumped. He was suddenly all business and made a line for the famed composer.
A healthy dose of fear of Kalliyan. They really were old friends.
“Well, isn’t it girl with a love of Wang. I didn’t know you were in this production.”
Oh no, not him again. The insanely cute boy I had bumped into was rapidly approaching me. I noticed to my dismay that there was a pink smear on his sleeve where I have mashed my face earlier. I hope my mishap wasn’t giving him a reputation.
“No I’m not, but you obviously are.”
“I’m just an extra. I play the bench.”
I looked at the sharpie marker that was balanced between his fingers like a cigar.
“Are you looking to sign something? I don’t have a playbill.” I paused and handed the book over; anything to get him to move past me.
“And who is this going out to?”
“Done. To my inamorata Julia, from Daniel Anderson.”
He handed it back to me.
“Gee, I hope your girlfriend didn’t hear that.”
“No girlfriend.” He winked and moved on. I examined at the inner flap of my book and saw nothing like what he had just dictated. It looked like a giant funnel cake doodle.
Nearby, Kalliyan was hanging playfully over Henry’s shoulder as he interviewed a female cast member. He looked nervous. I didn’t think the cause was the interviewee.
“You and Kalliyan are really knocking them down. I hope it’s my turn next,” Ariel lamented.
“They’re actors. They are paid to charm people.”
“Well, he didn’t waste any time charming me.”
“You’ll get your turn. Hey look, here’s one headed straight for you.”
He was temporarily detained by a reporter. I saw him was glancing at us out of the corner of his eyes.
“He’s Asian. Oh, damn he’s hot. Hey, it’s my turn. Shoo, go away Julia.”
“Alright, alright. The sacrifices I make for friendship.” I began to stroll away when I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around to come face to face with the hot Asian actor.
“Yes?” I asked. This was too much. Did I have a dick magnet that night?
“Get off the carpet. Both of you. You don’t belong here.”
His hotness level plummeted.
“What is your problem?”
“Go,” he hissed. “Before you get in trouble.”
“Okay okay, geesh.” I walked off the carpet with Ariel who appeared to be in shock from what a jerk that one turned out to be. “He sounded like he was going to break our necks and mutilate our corpses if we took another step on his precious red carpet.”
Ariel was trying to hide her disappointment behind a playbill she had picked up.
“Don’t let him get to you. He’s just pissed they’re having him playing unnamed pedestrian number three or something.”
“He’s actually playing the villain. His name is Kong Lan. He has the role of the leader of an unredeemably vicious gang.”
“Look, I see Adams, his back anyway. Too bad we’re stuck here now. It’s all up to Kalliyan.” One could hear him coming from a block away. The girls were going mad. “Let’s go. Now. It’s our chance.”
“What about the mean guy?”
“He looks like he’s busy. This will only take a second.”
“No, you go.”
“Fine.” I broke through the barriers met with many glares from fellow fans who had overheard our scolding. I didn’t care. I had to get to Adams. I had waited for this moment for four years. This would be the single conversation where all my efforts would be made worthwhile. Kalliyan and Henry had already begun speaking to him when I showed up.
Adams nodded and moved on. Henry thanked him and motioned the camera on to the next celebrity. I didn’t understand. Had I missed it already? Perhaps Kalliyan in some moment of stupification had been too shy or too polite to approach him.
I cut in front of him and meant to approach him when I stopped and frowned in confusion. That shirt, he must have made some personal modifications to it. It was splattered with dabs of paint, and block letters were stamped across it. I made out a U, and an R. Ariel, where was she?
She had to come see this.
I was so confused I didn’t notice Ariel appear beside me.
“Oh my god,” Ariel whispered.
“Do you recognize it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she gasped.
As Adams reached into his pocket and unsettled his blazer I saw it too. Uri’s. Yuri’s. Yuri’s by Weilian Mu.
“Yes, it’s her design,” Kalliyan said tiredly. “We’ve been scammed.”
When I woke up the next morning the after-smell of perfumes and colognes that weren’t mine still lingered in my hair and clothes. I didn’t want to get up. There seemed to be no reason to ever get up. When I eventually did, because my bladder couldn’t keep up pace with my will anymore, I stepped on that infernal book and nearly tripped out the door.
I didn’t understand why I didn’t toss it into the street somewhere a good distance away from home. That would have been one of the few actions committed in a drunken trance that I would have thanked myself for. But the book was still here. It was open to a chapter that began with How Wantons eat Wontons. Oh Weilian, you crack me up. This avid reader just want-tons more.
I threw on some clothes and was out the door. Yes, I was hopelessly late but I didn’t care. I couldn’t imagine ever caring again.
As I crossed the main boulevard of Flushing, I glanced longingly at the Starbucks, or as Kalliyan would spell it “starbux.” I needed my coffee to fight my hangover. But the thought of lingering for a moment longer than I had to across from the public library where colossal banners graced the windows announced that one of Flushing’s own had made it big nationally with her book A Man of All Wang was unthinkable.
I didn’t know why back then I had been curious enough to read the amazon.com reviews for that book. To all you haters out there, as a young Asian American girl, Weilian Mu has been such an inspiration to me. She has shown me that protagonists come in not just black and white but yellow. Weilian Mu she is the voice of our city and our generation.
As I went past the library I noticed a notice posted over the sign that Weilian Mu was to speak at the library. There was a huge sign out front even though the event was more than a month away. Perhaps they had cancelled it and invited a writer who was actually worth our time. Perhaps she had been accused of plagiarism and her book had been rescinded.
I paused to read the note and felt my wildly inflated hope dissipate. It was in Chinese. To all Patrons, please come dressed formally for Lady Mu’s book discussion. All those in casual wear will be turned away. A news crew will be present and we wish to present the best possible impression of our community to our American viewers.
The rest of the sign was in English. I sighed. I assumed that if I was Americanized enough I couldn’t read Chinese I would be permitted into the discussion with a sparkly party hat and an orange jumpsuit with polka dots. The reality of this city was funnier than anything Mademoiselle Five and Dim Sum could come up with. I left the doorway of the library, taking particular care not to trip over the shish kabobsticks, discard World Journal pages and bagged Tsingdao bottles that littered the marble steps.
I forgot about the sign by the time I came to the Empress Mall. My thoughts turned to Kalliyan. I bet she was not handling it well. She had never been defeated before. I hope there wouldn’t be tears. The idea of seeing Kalliyan crying was unthinkable.
When I made it to the mall, past the tea store and Cute Fluffy Paradise, I was completely unprepared for what I saw. Yuri’s Gallery was gone. No not really gone per se but it was like nothing I was prepared to see.
The store had been vandalized. No, it had been hit by an earthquake. There were pedestrians shaking their heads as they stepped over the scattered Yuri’s jeans that littered the sidewalk. Someone had picked the lock of the metal sheath and then thrown rocks into the windows. Rocks! Honestly, someone actually went to the park and found rocks to throw. I hoped they had the good sense to purchase a bag from Home Depot. There was only one group of hooligans who would go through this type of intensive planning.
I stormed into The Empress Mall located across the street from the disaster. Inside, Ariel and Leslie were lounging around playing cards with the boys of Omega Gamer, the video game store across from Dark Designs. All of them were laughing, flinging down cards and joyously screaming “Cheater!” at the opposing team as though this particular morning gave them cause for celebration.
“What did you do?” I hollered into the middle of their party. “How could you do this without even asking me?”
“Calm down, Hua. Who said who did anything?” Ariel asked.
“Whoa firecracker, and I always thought she was the quiet one,” Phillip joked. He was one of the hipster shop boys of Omega Gamer and at that moment, my least favorite one.
“You’re going to be arrested. All of you.”
“Don’t be dramatic Julia. Take another look. It’s obviously the work of a gang,” Ariel said with a playful smile.
I looked through windows of The Empress Mall, at the mess across the street. The police hadn’t shown up yet. There were stars all over, some hidden under black graffiti swirls. Down with the Communists, it said on the one glass wall that had not been broken. So I was supposed to believe Weilian was a communist sympathizer and somehow had ticked off the Chinese mafia. I couldn’t imagine how a woman of her background could do such a thing unless she refused one Falun Gong pamphlet too many.
“Well, it looks like they left the clothes,” I commented. “They broke in but didn’t steal anything?”
“The mafia are fashionable son of a bitches,” Phillip chinned in. The girls broke down into helpless giggling. If that wasn’t enough, Phillip stood up and bowed.
“You seem upset, Julia,” Ariel noted. “Aren’t you happy and it was Yuri’s and not Dark Designs that was vandalized?”
“I can’t believe you’re asking that question.”
“Funny, last night you didn’t seem very upset when Russell walked past us wearing Weilian’s design either and you carry her book everywhere.” I was about to speak up in defense of myself but Ariel abruptly continued. “I won’t go to the police, if I were you. Remember when Lucy stole your jacket and you had us mess up her car with silly string? How about that time we hacked that kid Jeremy’s blog because he was posting those naughty panty pictures?” She meant my tumble from the bleachers when I was wearing a ridiculously short skirt to the school volleyball game. “We have plenty of dirt on you.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. It was true I had always been a part of their ‘antics’ but I never knew it would go this far. Silly string revenge was one thing, destroying an entire store was quite another. There was nothing I could do but turn around and storm out of that Mall with the same fury with which I had entered, having accomplished nothing. On my way down the stairs I saw a long legged dark skinned woman in a wide brimmed straw hat and an oversized white leather bag. She was reading Vogue through her tinted glasses and nibbling on a cinnamon raisin bagel. Around her arm dangled a brand new Louis Vuitton Palermo.
“Kalliyan!” I yelled.
She looked up, waved at me with the one finger she could free from her breakfast and kept walking.
“I need to talk to you.”
“I-I don’t like this.”
“Oh?” She looked at me in the eye marveling at my gall. Her eyelashes were thick and long. Kalliyan was probably a Disney Princess in her other life. “If there is anything wrong you can always tell me. We’ve been friends for what is it, seven years?”
“I know you did it,” I blurted out. “Why?”
She smiled at me but only briefly.
“I want out.” I whispered.
“Are you sure? For what? A blubbery little girl who drinks bubble tea?”
She began to walk away.
“Not everyone can look like you, why am I telling you this? You used to understand that. You told me that once. You weren’t like this when I met you,” I blurted out. I stared at her as she continued walking, disappearing behind the doors of the Empress Mall, her printed skirt swishing against those flawless coffee thighs.
Weilian Mu, she was the Bubble Tea Girl to us. Somehow she had gone from the fish gut, longyan skin littered streets of Flushing to the wide boulevards of Times Square. Kalliyan didn’t like it but in a perverse way, I did. She gave me a strange kind of hope, the traitorous kind. As I walked away, I realized the girls were right in a way; I might not have been such a good loyal friend to Kalliyan after all.