Lucky Cat

I spent the past week in San Francisco, not attending Apple’s WWDC, but rather basking in the periphery of it. I attended Jessie Char’s Layers conference, and spent the rest of my week being projected like a pinball, sometimes slowly, sometimes at enormous speed, between the various social attractions that dot the South of Market landscape this time of year.

On Thursday, I finally had the opportunity to catch my breath. I remembered my beautiful boys, and my beautiful wife. I like to bring something home to them that will give them a taste of the trip I’ve just taken. I kept up my exercise regimen during the week, and on one of my runs, I had spotted an alluring storefront in Chinatown: “World of Magnets.” In my sweat-induced stupor, I assumed it would be an unusual source for all things magnetic. I pictured Mister Wizard-inspired scientific experiments, magnetic dust, and other novelties. Just the thing to feed the curious minds of my 7 and 4 year-old children.

I walked to Chinatown, after enjoying most of a margherita pizza from Del Poppolo’s food truck, which was situated at Mint Plaza for Thursday’s lunchtime. I proceeded from my hotel, in Union Square, up Stockton Street. Even though I had lived in San Francisco for 10 years previously, I had never had occasion to walk through the Stock Street Tunnel. So, I did.

I emerged from the tunnel into Chinatown, and took a right on Sacramento Street. Before me stood a philosophical statement that might appeal to people both inside and outside of Brooklyn:

A photo posted by Daniel Jalkut (@danielpunkass) on

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I continued my journey through Chinatown appreciating the nuanced aspects of the neighborhood I had never noticed before in my time living in San Francisco. Here was a street where everything was named “Wong”. A common Chinese name, sure, but everything near Waverly Place seems Wong-related, including “Willie ‘Woo Woo’ Wong” playground, “Wong’s TV and Radio Services,” “Bill Wong Insurance and Associates,” and the “Wong Family Benevolent Association.” I suspect many of these particular Wongs are related.

I finally arrived at House of Magnets, prepared to select from an enormity of scientific, magnetic delights. I quickly realized that House of Magnets was little different from any other souvenir shop in Chinatown: filled with a variety of novelty Chinese imports and, wait for it, souvenir magnets. Magnets! Nothing like I had expected.

I left, dejected, unsure what to get for my poor kids who were waiting at home, anticipating a glorious gift upon my return. As I walked, I saw shop after shop offering cheap souvenirs. Inevitably, these included the cheap, plastic, waving cats that are increasingly solar powered:

Image of a lucky waving cat from Chinatown

They are advertised as “lucky cats,” and I thought they were cute. “These are cheap, but my kids will love them,” I thought. I bought them.

I brought them home and gave them to the boys, and my assumption was confirmed. They scrambled to remove them from their package. They observed from the marketing insert that numerous other colors and configurations are available. “We want to collect all of them!” Clearly, these lucky cats are a hit.

It turns out, these lucky cats from Chinatown are actually from Japan. Maneki-neko are suggested to represent a cat not waving, but rather washing its face. It’s cute, that’s what matters.

After I gave the gifts to my kids, I couldn’t help my scientific side admitting that “good luck” might not be real. I told my kids that the cats are cute, but nobody knows if luck exists or not. I felt at once like a great dad and like the world’s most deflating dad.

Luckily my wife, Chrissa, was in earshot. She added that “sometimes believing in good luck is enough to make it real.” Good save.

I believe Chrissa is correct. I’m lucky I married her.

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