Fresh Off the Boat
Another Fresh Off the Boat, another stereotype shattered at the cost of teaching us all a valuable lesson. This week, we tackle the myth of the penny-pinching, eternally cheap Asian, cracking it open to reveal the universal truth contained within. What did we learn from our studies last night? Disappointing the ones you love is never fun.
It’s Jessica and Louis’s wedding anniversary — their 12th, silk and linen, according to Emery. Naturally, she hates the traditional presents that come with anniversaries. Flowers are a good way to watch your money wilt. Pearls are an invitation for a mugging. What Jessica Huang does love, however, is a bargain. And, what better way to celebrate 12 years of marriage than wheeling and dealing for a new car to replace their battered minivan? Negotiating is Jessica’s strength. It’s her favorite thing to do.
Behold, the perfect flashback to their wedding day. Jessica’s dress! Louis’s mullet. That perm, so lush and thick and tightly coiled. Apparently, the Huangs got their current ride after a hot-and-heavy negotiation session at Shaquille O’Neal Motors, the perfect foreplay for what I hope was a sexually fulfilling wedding night. She was happy then. And because her husband is nothing if not thoughtful, he takes his wife back to her happy place to get the new car they need. The sliding glass doors, the wide grins of the salesman, the nightmarish blow-up dancing stick-man, waving his arms in his futile dance: It’s all too much. Before they have a chance to work the lot, Jessica bounces, leaving Louis stranded.
Sitting at the Denim Turtle, the lesbian bar she frequents without understanding that it’s a lesbian bar, with a glass of white in front of her, Jessica shares her darkest confession. While their wedding-night negotiation at the car dealership was fun and all, she didn’t negotiate well enough to get the free floor mats. Here is an important and clear distinction: She’s not mad that she didn’t get her money’s worth. She’s mad that she let her husband down. Buying the car was the first thing they did in their new life as a married couple. She’s not pissed that she didn’t effectively shake down the salesman — okay, maybe she is a little bit — she’s sad that she let Louis down. Their wedding anniversary serves as a reminder of her disappointment.
This, frankly, is ridiculous. Louis leaves Jess in the safe hands of Deb the bartender (“Wiener-free since ’83!”) and hustles back to the car lot to buy the Champagne Pearl Honda Accord of her dreams. When he comes home to deliver the news, Jessica offers flowers, real, so you know she means it, and an apology. Her husband’s not a mind-reader, though it seems it would help him out in the long run. How would he have known how she felt if she never told him? Lest you think that this is the neat conclusion to this story line, here’s the bombshell: Louis paid the full sticker price for the car and not a penny more. This. Won’t. Do.
The fire in Constance Wu’s eyes when she realizes her husband bought the car without a breath of negotiation is a precious jewel. It’s the same fire I feel when I find something I bought at full price when it was somewhere else for 40 percent less.
Louis, the sneaky devil, orchestrated this whole thing as a trick. He bought the car knowing full well that Jessica would lose it when she found out it was full-price. Consumed with the righteous heat of a person who loves her family and a good bargain, she’s ready to get that car back the only way she knows how: Negotiation.
What follows is a master class in the art of haggling, led by someone who is highly skilled. There’s the test-drive to Tampa with salesman Clark in the backseat, watching shipping containers unload brand-new ’96 models. Level one, defeated. Jessica’s excellent use of deductive reasoning defeats the next boss, when she susses out that the “manager” sitting in front of her has been working there for maybe three weeks, tops. The silent treatment, conducted via Chipwich consumption and intense, unbroken eye-contact, produces a total KO. Next is my personal favorite: the old talk-about-dinner-and-the-weather-while-screaming-in-Chinese trick, guaranteed to terrify all white people in earshot. The penultimate boss almost defeats the Huangs, but Jessica smells his nerves after she signs the contract and realizes the final boss is hidden behind the last door. Enter Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal, former Orlando Magic center and platinum rapper. While he puts up a decent fight, eventually, he folds. Jessica neatly defeats the final boss level and they leave in their shiny new car, their marriage intact and stronger than ever.
Meanwhile, the kids are at home, dealing with a disappointment of their own. Eddie wants a Hot Dogger, a lurid Slip ’N Slide–esque thing that is precisely the sort of purchase your parents refuse to spend money on. Slip ’N Slides, for the record, are dangerous and terrifying. Like many children who spent summer afternoons hurtling their bodies onto a slick rubber runway, careening towards a kiddie pool three inches deep, I know.
But, they’re kids. They don’t have any money. After Emery and Eddie show up to Evan’s tea party for his Beanie Babies, Shamus, Wally Wally, Tinker, Can Do, and Tina Pham, a chance encounter with the Walking Blondes makes them realize that they’re sitting on their ticket to dangerous, slippery freedom. Evan’s friends are worth their plastic-bead-filled weight in gold.
First, permission. Eddie interrupts Evan’s painting session with Grandma to get his approval to hock the Beanie Babies and secure the Hot Dogger. It’s not until Emery’s daily rose-pruning is interrupted by the delighted shrieks of his brothers, sliding their way to head trauma and injury, that he realizes what happened. Eddie thought he had the okay to sell the Beanie Babies, but that whole thing was actually a fever-dream. Evan hasn’t painted Grandma in months. Also, there was a spaceman on the couch. Those Beanie Babies were his friends! A note to the writers: Please don’t make Evan sad. It’s too much for my heart to bear.
“I DID IT FOR US!” screams Eddie and my mother and all the people in your life who have seemingly sold you out for the greater good. This transgression goes beyond the limits of acceptable older-sibling dick moves. Eddie knows what he has to do. When his parents return with the new car and a signed Shaq shoe, redolent of pizza, Eddie sells it and gets his little brother’s friends back. What are big brothers for if not begrudgingly righting the many wrongs they inflict on a semiregular basis?
+16 for this exchange: Grandma to Evan: “Add an extra mole, for good luck.”
+700 for the ultimate Chinese-mother car — a broken-down Dodge Grand Caravan with wood paneling.
+999 for the Huangs using Chinese as an intimidation tactic to scare the white people.
+128 for Jessica’s wedding-day perm, which is a style you can point at in every book at every hairstylist in Asian malls across this great nation.