MILAN JIANQI LADMAN-FRYKMAN is a small, cute, nonfictional child. You should enjoy reading about her, because it’ll remind you of when you were small, cute and nonfictional, before you noticed that our otherwise friendly world was being ruled almost exclusively by fucked-up people who enjoy doing fucked-up things. By the end of this story, you’ll feel significantly relaxed, flush with the awshucksly wuvvie-wuvvsies, and thus considerably more vulnerable to seduction by our advertisers.
The gist of the matter is that 11-month-old Gao Jianqi left the Gaoyou Social Welfare Institute, near Nanjing, to live as part of a small, friendly family in a small, friendly house, just a few blocks off Santa Monica’s Main Street. Her adopted parents, Cathy Ladman and Tom Frykman, comedians and writers both, decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to drop the Gao and add six new syllables to Jianqi’s name, so they demoted Jianqi to middle, hyphenated two two-syllable last names at the end, and added Milan up top: Milan Jianqi Ladman-Frykman.
Three years later, Milan still lives with these people. Today, after father Tom picked her up from preschool, she spent the afternoon watching Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs while wearing her special Snow White–watching costume — a bright-yellow gown that doesn’t remotely resemble anything in the movie.
It’s getting close to Milan’s bedtime. Mother Cathy is on her way home with a box of flame-broiled bird parts, BRC burritos, and macaroni and cheese. Tom and I — and, to a lesser extent, young Preston, the family dog — are attempting to quell Milan’s generally rambunctious conduct.
“Honey, listen,” says Tom, softly. “Dave wants to ask you a question.”
“Davey, Davey, Davey!” Milan almost shouts. “Davey, Davey, Davey!”
Tom apologizes that this is Squirrelly Hour, which happens before bedtime on days when Milan’s unable to fulfill the requirements of her formal nap time at preschool.
“Davey, Davey, Davey!” says Milan, regularly.
I’m able to momentarily distract her from Daveying by ignoring her and staring intently at her father’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album-cover T-shirt. Just staring.
It works. Milan doesn’t know what to do. She looks at me. She looks at Sgt. Pepper. She looks at me. “I wasn’t in that picture,” Milan explains. “I was sick.”
CATHY ARRIVES AND MILAN GETS HAPPY again. Cathy places Milan in a special chair with a built-in eating surface and provides her with a dinner considerably healthier than our El Pollo Loco. Tom, meanwhile, tells the cute and/or heartwarming tale of Milan’s adoption:
“It took us a couple years of delays, fingerprints, letters from the police chief saying that we were model citizens, and then more delays. And tax forms and medical checkups and all that. And then more delays, and then we finally received a photo from China with Milan’s picture, and it said, ‘This is your baby. Come get her.’
“They gave us this list of stuff to bring with us: a lot of Purell®, clothing, diapers, food . . . I started to get a little skeptical — like, there’s 1.3 billion people in this country, and they don’t have stores? And I’m continuing down this list, and I get to a line that says to bring rice formula. I thought, That’s it. I am not bringing rice to China.
“As it turned out, we could’ve brought nothing, and done just fine. They had a Wal-Mart, Pizza Huts and all kinds of stuff, right across from the hotel.
“So we flew to Guangzhou, formerly Canton, and then went up to Nanjing, also known as the Land of Horrible Food, and I got sick, and we got a baby.”
“Yeah. Even in the five-star hotel, you had to close your eyes in the shower or you’d get an eye infection. But the food is so horrific. They add bones to whatever you order.”
“Bones from what?”
“I don’t know. But they add bones. You can order a bowl of rice, and they’ll somehow get bones into it. Just greasy, bony . . . And then you drink some kind of Gatorade-type thing — not really Gatorade, but it looks like Gatorade. You never really know. Everyone seems to get some sort of vague illness.
“Anyway, you go to this big gray office building in Nanjing, they hand you the baby and whatever she’s wearing, and that’s what you get. They give you some paperwork in Mandarin, and you sign it, you get a bus ride back to the hotel, and then you’re on your own.
“So we fly back to Guangzhou, where about two dozen other adopting families are getting on the same flight to L.A., with all these babies. Everybody’s sweaty, hot and crying. Even some of the babies are crying. And then they seat us in business class, and all these business people start freaking out — here they spent all this money for business-class seats, and it’s full of crying babies — two dozen or so, all wailing.
“When we got home, we had the potential dog-versus-baby jealousy to deal with. So we left Milan outside in the yard for a second, went inside and said hello to Preston, and then brought him outside so he could ‘discover’ Milan. That way, in theory, he’d have an investment in bringing the new stray in.”
“That’s fucking brilliant.”
“We got that from Dana Gould. He got it from some dog psychologist, or something. I don’t know if it works, but it looks good on paper.”
I FIGURE THAT SINCE OUR highest governmental offices are held by infants, it’s reasonable to talk politics with preschoolers. I ask Milan to compare her experiences with the Chinese and American health-care systems. She presents me with her left elbow.
“Look at this big bump,” she says, peeling back a small, brightly multicolored bandage to reveal a tiny, scabbed boo-boo. “I banged it.”
“I fell, a little bit.”
“Do you mean that your parents beat you, and you’re trying to conceal the abuse? It’s all right. I’m here to help.”
Milan stares at me.
“Milan,” I continue. “Whatever really happened, were you able to get timely, affordable and effective treatment, after you quote fell a little bit unquote?”
Milan’s a great audience. “Davey, Davey, Davey!” she exclaims, and laughs, and begins climbing up . . . me. The Squirrelly Hour returneth.
“Please don’t climb on Dave,” says Tom.
“I’m trying to give him a hug,” says Milan.
“I think you already did, didn’t you?” says Tom.
“Davey, Davey, Davey!” says Milan, continuing her climb.
Tom extracts her. Says, “Pajama time.”