I haven’t had many memorable Valentine’s Days in the first quarter century of my life. There were the ones in elementary school with chalky candy hearts and valentines crafted out of construction paper. In college, there were a handful of singles’ nights involving pizza and poker with the guys. However, Valentine’s Day 2014 blew all the previous ones out of the water because of one particular event. In the following days, I felt like a celebrity in the wake of a revealing scandal. There were paparazzi everywhere; they were stalking outside my office building or hiding in the bushes waiting to ambush me. Everyone wanted to ask me one specific question, “Why 2.25?”
To answer this question, I’ll have to start in the spring semester of my only year at UC Berkeley. I was a few weeks away from earning my Master’s degree. This meant I was about to enter adulthood with its litany of full time jobs, bills, and other responsibilities. My version of this dream involved a consulting job at an engineering firm in Honolulu. One of the responsibilities associated with this was to find a place to call home while I was back in Honolulu.
This presented a slight problem because finding affordable housing in Honolulu is like trying to write without being distracted by the Internet, painstakingly difficult and often impossible. There were several solutions to my housing dilemma. The first option would be to find a studio or one bedroom place and live by myself. But it’s not entirely feasible with the high cost of living in Hawaii and my student loan debt. The second was to move back into my parents’ apartment. However, I enjoyed my freedom over the previous seven years and wasn’t willing to give that up. Plus, I would have to share my childhood bedroom with my brother again, and that was not appealing at all. So the only option left was to find roommates and split the cost of a two or three bedroom apartment.
I was skeptical at the thought of living with complete strangers because I’ve had a string of unique roommates. One was a retired teacher in his sixties with a topless calendar of his Thai “girlfriend.” Apparently things didn’t work between the two of them because I was asked to take his picture for an online dating profile. Another roommate believed he had 20/20 vision after a wake and bake. He was crushed when I explained his improved eyesight was due to forgotten contact lenses, not marijuana. At Berkeley, one of my roommates proudly confessed to making out with a girl for “like four hours.” How is that even possible? Didn’t his lips get chapped after the first hour or two?
These adventures with my former roommates made me want to live with people I actually knew and liked. So I asked a handful of my friends who were already living back home if they were interested in living with me. Apparently it wasn’t a hard sell and I was able to get two of my closest friends to agree to move in with me. We hit up Craigslist for a three bedroom place close to downtown Honolulu. The house had to have three parking spots and also be within our limited price range. It seemed like a hopeless task to get everything we wanted but, with a bit of searching and some good fortune, it happened. We found a duplex, signed the lease, and were ready to move in the summer of 2013.
The first thing I did after being handed the keys was contact the utility companies, especially the cable company. Everyone knows that a house isn’t a home without internet. It also doesn’t feel like home without a distinctly named Wi-Fi network; one that is witty, memorable, and has meaning to the inhabitants. Given how important the christening of the wireless network is, it was somewhat ironic that the name came out of a typical conversation in Hawaii.
Hawaii has a rich history of diverse ethnicities blending together to form an ohana (Hawaiian for family, remember Lilo and Stitch ?). This merging of cultures can be seen on picnic tables at potlucks and parties; Vietnamese summer rolls sit next to Korean Kimbap and Hawaiian Laulau . It can also be seen in the island’s multiracial residents. I know someone who can list off more than seven different ethnicities when asked to trace his lineage. Due to this unique feature of island life, racial backgrounds are discussed quite frequently. So naturally this comes up when we talk about our household. I am 100% Chinese and so is one of my roommates. The remaining roommate is 50% Japanese, 25% Okinawan (yes, there is a distinction between Japan and Okinawa), and 25% Chinese. Together this makes 225% or 2.25 or two and a quarter Chinese.
Being a former math teacher and current engineer, I was all over the idea of using numbers to identify our Wi-Fi network. With a little convincing, my roommates agreed and we adopted “2andaquarter” as the name of our wireless network. This mixed number signified the three of us who make up the house. But in a more meaningful way, it also captured my friendship with people I’ve known for over fifteen years. There have been many great stories and good times in the decade and a half together.
One of those good times involved a late night at one of our friend’s house. We gathered there to unwind from a long week with some good old fashion beer pong. Voices got a little louder and words a bit slurry after a handful of games and numerous cups of beer. Implausible ideas also known as drunk plans were being thrown around at this time. One of those plans involved getting matching tattoos for the two and a quarter household. Each of us would get a different mathematical variation; there was the decimal form, 2.25, the mixed number, 2 ¼, and the improper fraction, 9/4. This appeared to be a perfect idea because there were three variations for the three of us in the household. We even went as far as discussing the location of the tattoos. I had my eye on the side of my ribs right under the arms pits. My roommates were less serious, joking about inking the tattoo on the lower back as a tramp stamp. Like most plans made while intoxicated, the idea was never really taken with much weight.
However, sometimes drunk plans are taken seriously and actually happen. One such time was February 14th, 2014. Being single, I made plans to meet up at a bar downtown with two of my other single friends. The bar was running a special for a bottle of wine and pizza for $25. Needless to say, we got plastered by splitting two bottles of wine between the three of us. Talk of tattoos came up in the midst of the drunkenness and sadness of Valentine’s Day. With liquid confidence in my system and a little encouragement, I decided to get everlasting ink on my body.
The tattoo parlor was right across the street from the bar, which must have been a sign because it was so convenient. The place was brightly lit with sterile powder-blue walls; there were several people lounging around, all of them with their tattoos proudly visible. One of these people, a women in her early thirties with long jet black hair, came up to our group and asked what we wanted. I told her that I wanted “2.25” in a simple font on the side of the ribs. After discussing logistics with the tattoo designer, I paid her $90 and signed a disclaimer stating that I was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I guess they do this as a formality because I was certain she could tell I was more than slightly tipsy. While she was preparing the stencil and needle, the tattoo artist asked what “2.25” signified; that was the start of the never ending questions about “2.25”. It was over within half an hour and wasn’t painful at all. The entire process felt like a small child was repeatedly pinching my side. I was now the proud owner of some lovely, albeit small, body art.
I woke up the next morning in disbelief; I couldn’t grasp that I now have permanent ink on my body. However, I don’t regret my decision at all. The tattoo was something I had my eye on for a while, although it was mostly discussed in drunken conversations. It was also in a location that I wanted. It’s private to everyone who doesn’t know about my story, which I’m guessing is going to be fewer people now. Additionally, it has meaning to me, even if it’s a seemingly silly one. I’m not ashamed of having my longtime friendships manifested as ink on my ribs.
This brings me back to the question in the title: why NineOverFour? Did I really just name a website because it has ties to my tattoo? Yes, I did and it’s not because I ran out of domain names or ideas. This site parallels what the tattoo means to me. It’s a place to publish my stories like the one that just took about 1,600 words to tell. The site, and my writing as an extension, is deeply personal and private. Finally, these stories have significant meaning to me but might seem trivial to everyone else. So for all these reasons, I thought it was fitting to title my site: NineOverFour.
I hate to disappoint but there will be no pictures of said tattoos; the paparazzi were not sneaky enough to snap a picture of it. However, I just provided something more revealing, my completely honest thoughts and feelings.