When I was a young child, I’d often fantasize that my parents were not really Asian immigrants who busted their asses to provide an idyllic upbringing for me and my younger brother. Instead, I had visions that I was simply a misplaced member of an obscure royal family and that, at any moment, my real family would find me and I would rightfully assume my title as the Crown Prince of Cashmeria.
I never mentioned this to the couple who considered themselves “my real parents” because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. However, my mother must have innately picked up on it because from a very young age, my family nickname was “The Prince.” Naturally, this only confirmed my suspicions that I HAD been switched from birth at the hospital.
By the time I reached my teens, I deduced that my royal parents were having difficulties locating me so I set out upon the world to make my own fortune.
Every empire must start somewhere and mine began by working the night shift as a busboy at Bobby Rubino’s Place for Ribs.
For those of you who don't know of that fine dining establishment, Bobby Rubino’s is like the wife of T.G.I. Fridays that always has bruises on her face and claims she's just "clumsy.”
Located on a desolate highway in suburban New Jersey, the restaurant was a magnet for pot-bellied salesmen, lonely housewives, cops, and refrigerator repairmen. Every night, at the end of my shift, I would bicycle home reeking of cheap barbecue sauce, collared greens, and desperation. Did I mention that I was only fifteen years old?
The sole highlight of my employment there was the night Eddie Murphy came to visit “the premiere place for ribs and BBQ.”
Let’s remember that back in 1985, Eddie Murphy was enjoying an unprecedented run of success that has rarely been repeated in Hollywood. Still shy of his 26th birthday, he was already coming high off the heels of “Saturday Night Live,” “48 Hours," and “Trading Places.”
Yes, Eddie ultimately embarrassed himself by releasing the Rick James-produced single “Party All The Time” and had yet to deploy his star power to write, direct and produce his dream project, the ill-begotten comedy-drama crime period pic known as “Harlem Nights.” And sure, it was years later that his drunken one-night stand resulted in a positive paternity test with Spice Girl Melanie B and he got arrested for soliciting a transvesite prostitute. However, at that precise moment back in 1985, Eddie Murphy was the fucking MAN! Has anyone ever had the remarkable 5-year-run that he had back in the mid-80’s? At the moment, the only ones who come to mind are Wayne Gretzky, Elle MacPherson, and Notorious B.I.G.
As soon as Eddie Murphy walked into our rib joint, he started throwing hundred-dollar bills in the air like confetti at a parade.
Clearing the Murphy entourage’s greasy plates and doling out pre-packaged lukewarm Wet Naps, I netted about $500 that night. For a fifteen-year-old wanna-be-tycoon, this was a veritable fortune. A brave new world had suddenly opened up before my very eyes and I astutely realized that there were easier ways to make a buck.
By the time I arrived on the west coast as a naïve but ambitious college freshman at Berkeley, I was determined to earn enough money whereby I could effortlessly afford ski weekends in Squaw Valley, oysters in Point Reyes, and Bloody Marys at Sam’s Café. Essentially, I wanted to be a Marin County housewife.
A brief summary of jobs that I had in college:
(1) Watching coma patients and recording any changes in their status.
(2) Tending gardens as an assistant to a landscape architect. I was quickly revealed as a city slicker upon clearing weeds by hand and excitedly yelling, “Holy crap, escargots!” Up until then, I had previously believed that snails originated solely from the scenic waters of Bourgogne and were indigenous in the U.S. only on the plates of wealthy Park Avenue matrons dining at La Cote Basque. Have I mentioned that I was the Fresh Prince?
(3) Crawling through empty dormitories at the end of every semester to scavenge discarded text books that could be re-sold to the student bookstore.
Eventually I got a highly-lucrative job teaching tennis to housewives at a country club. While my peers were making $5.00/hour toiling at the library or making avocado-and-sprouts sandwiches at Café Med, I was booking a relatively cushy $35/hour working on my tan and cooing the phrase “lightly grab the racquet and shake hands with it gently.” Could life get any better?
After leaving college, I moved to Washington, DC where, after several fruitless job endeavors, I found work doing something I truly enjoyed...writing.
I loved writing for a living. Not only was it intellectually stimulating but I also found that I enjoyed the solitude of the work. Whether penning lifestyle pieces for local magazines or dissecting government policy for think tank journals, I felt as if I had found my true calling. Yes, I thought to myself. This is the life for me.
After several arduous and back-breaking years, I began thinking that maybe it wasn't the life for me. As anyone who has spent any time as a freelance writer knows, it's incredibly stressful trying to figure out where or when your next paycheck is coming. It's disheartening to spend two weeks writing a piece only to be paid less than one might have received working at a fast-food restaurant. Writing requires such an indomitable spirit and a steadfast dedication to craft that I sometimes believe that the low wages exist solely to weed out the disingenuous.
Harlan Ellison, in an interview published in Writer's Digest, once said that anyone can become a writer. The trick is not in becoming a writer, it is in staying a writer. Day after week after month after year.
Ultimately I chose to abandon writing as a career because I not only had doubts about my ability but also because I found my personality ill-suited for the personal sacrifices required to pursue the craft. After all, I wasn't nicknamed the Prince for nothing. If I could pursue another career, make enough money to eat sushi every night and travel the world, yet still pursue writing as a hobby that was probably good enough for me. Once I came to that realization, I never looked back.
Tonight, as I was getting the Peanut ready for bed, we sat down and I asked her what she wanted to do for a living when she grew up.
"I think I want to be a writer when I get older, Daddy. Or maybe an artist."
"Well, kiddo. You know that you're immensely talented and you can be anything you want to be when you grow up."
"How about you, Daddy? Would you want to be a writer too? Wouldn't it be great if we could both be writers together?"
"Maybe, sweetie. Right now, I'm more focused on working so that we have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Maybe someday, we'll both be writers and we can write in the same room together."
"I'd like that, Daddy. I'd like that a lot."
Shortly thereafter she fell asleep and I was left feeling an enormous sense of pride. In some ways, I felt like one of those soccer/football/hockey dads who never quite get over their glory days and wish nothing more than having their child fulfill all of their own dreams and fantasies. But really, it was something more than that. It was this incredible feeling that this little kid whose diapers you changed and whose boogers you wiped suddenly, for the first time, has her own set of dreams and fantasies.
Recently, the Peanut wrote a poem about love that moved me beyond belief.
Clearly, she's already a better poet that I have ever been.
I'm not posting this as one of those overly proud parents boasting "Look and see what my progeny has done!" I'm posting it because as an adult, one always forgets the depth of emotion of which little children are capable. I'm posting it because I'm a little at a loss on how to best foster her talents and dreams of being a writer. And I'm posting it because I continue to be in awe of the constant surprises that come with parenthood.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the day when the Peanut's first book is published and I can start pimping out her Amazon page to all of you.
Maybe then, I can finally retire to the good life.
You know, until my "real" parents find me...