The Shanghai Professor

We sometimes rent out an extra room, usually to grad students at our local university. Once or twice a year we take applications and show the room to prospective housemates. Fung looked the place over and before he left—because the rental market is tight—he said to me as a kind of parting appeal: “If I am fortunately live here, I teach your children Mandarin—free!” and he nodded quickly, his eyes squeezed shut by an overly bright smile. Later on, in the car, my 11-year-old daughter said from the back seat, “Dad, I don’t think he’s a good choice.”

A Look Behind

“Different”. What kind of judgment is that? Last time I called my father, all I could hear was his complaining about how different the world is now. Hard as I tried, I could not conjure a subject that didn’t inspire the same lament. And every time he grumbled that things are different now, he meant they used to better. It isn’t true, of course, but he is eighty-one years old and I am sure he misses my mother, probably misses a world in which he was a lead character, moving freely through his days, able to manage the chaos of life stumbling forward.

An Uninvited Visitor

I would like to have… The simple conditional verb paired with the present perfect one. I would like to have gone skydiving; I would like to have seen a tornado. I was having a glass of wine with my neighbors Erin and Huc (rhymes with “luck”) and explaining the complexity of my wishes. See, I don’t wish I could go to the moon—too dangerous—but I want the experience of having been there, of remembering the trip. English grammar has a way of making that clear: for example, I told them, I would like to have seen a ghost.