Sunday, October 24, 2010

People I can count on

Growing up in a big family must come naturally to most people fortunate enough to have had the experience. Me? I distinctly remember asking myself one day—I believe I was about two—who all these people were.

I understood, of course, about my Mom and Dad. But as for those others milling about, all bigger than me, it was time to take charge and settle this question for good. They had to be here for a reason other than to tell me “no.”

What I wanted to do was get them all home, these people I figured were my brothers and sisters, home at the same time. I would herd them all into the three-bedroom apartment’s hallway, the part that opened into the dining room. I would have them stand up against the wall in a line, from oldest to youngest. And I would walk down the hall, stopping at each: “Okay, there’s Vinnie; there’s Regina, yeah; Stephen, yeah; Patty, yeah. There’s Kathy, and…me. One-two-three-four-five—I make six. Now I have it!”

I never got to it. Aside from the reality that two-year-olds didn’t give the orders, at least ones named Eddie, it was also hard to get everyone together. Dinnertime was the exception, though with so many people sitting so close together, I often left the dinner table in tears over some slight. (I guess it’s time I stopped that.)

As I got a bit older, I learned I wasn’t the only one who had trouble figuring out who was who in Apartment 10F. The other one was Stanley Dabrowski, who lived with his mother in 10E. I realize now that, despite our youth, we called a man in his 40s by his first name was odd. But “Stanley,” we reasoned, was preferable to Mouth, our other name for him.

We could also have called him Eyes, since we often caught him looking into our windows. Whenever we spotted him spotting us, though, one pull of the shades was all there’d be of Stanley. No, he earned his proper moniker mostly because we lived so high up. Long elevator trips became even longer when Mouth would corner me—as the youngest, the easiest target—and speak words I dreaded. “Let’s see now,” he’d begin, “First there’s Vincent. Then there’s Regina. Then there’s Stephen. Then….”

Looking back, I suppose this litany was better than the other line of conversation…the one where he’d ask about various objects on our windowsills. And the posters in his line of vision.

Stanley, I guess, might have been less lonely, less weird, if he’d had brothers and sisters. And I eventually learned that families were all different sizes. My Uncle Ray and Aunt Betty in Maryland had eight kids. Most kids my age had one or two siblings. And then there were married couples who, for any number of reasons, had no kids at all.

But times change. Fewer couples seem to be having kids. And who, moreover, says that a married couple needs to be a couple? Chen Wei-yih of Taiwan doesn’t think so. Unimpressed with the crop of available men and feeling pressured to tie the knot, the 30-year-old Chen has invited friends to a lavish reception celebrating her marriage—to herself.

At first blush, I feel sorry for this woman. On second thought, I suspect she wasn’t trying hard enough. Taiwan, two years ago, had about 2 million males between the ages of 25 and 34. If that island nation’s marriage rate is 40 percent, that leaves up to 800,000 possible candidates.

All she needed to do was line them up. It would take the better part of a day, so she’d need to start early. “Okay, first there’s Chao, then there’s Yong, then Déshì….”

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