Beginning of Night & Day
of Forthcoming Books
“There’s an oh such a hungry yearning burning inside of me
And this torment won’t be through
Until you let me spend my life making love to you
Day and night, night and day.”
“Night And Day” by Cole Porter
Before you love,
learn to run through the snow
leaving no footprint.
a Turkish Proverb
Cast of Characters
(in order of appearance)
Nick: he’s been chair of the Theatre department for over 20 years and rules it like a benign, slightly grouchy dictator. As he approaches 60, he longs for retirement on a beach somewhere with a dog, a glass of red wine in his hand, and the time to read all the books lining his walls.
Miyo: a bride of 30 who is so beautiful our eyes hurt to look at her. But there is an elusive quality to her that makes some men want to possess her.
The Japanese matron: a woman in her 50s that handles various events for the minister.
the flower girl: the 10 year old grandchild of the minister
The Japanese Minister: a man who mixes Christianity with Shintoism in such a traditional way that there is no room for air conditioning.
Jeff: though a former student of Nick’s, he joined the faculty of the Theatre Department after earning an MFA in Acting. Now approaching 40, he maintains the friendship because of a shared tendency toward social activism which manifests itself in his choice of plays to direct each year.
Yugi: Miyo’s husband. A sushi chef. Gentle and accommodating, he doesn’t talk much more in Japanese than he can in his extremely limited English.
Hector: 30, Doug’s technical assistant in charge of all the tutoring labs. He has finally come to realize that he doesn’t know what he wants except that he wants what he can’t have.
Sara: 20 and, like many young, beautiful women, knows exactly what she wants and what she must do to get it.
Vivian: 30, a classically trained pianist who also loves jazz piano. She bounces back and forth gracefully from Rachmaninoff to Count Basie. Dreams of attending Julliard but survives by giving private piano lessons and playing gigs with Jenny for whom she is strangely possessive.
Jenny: mid twenties, Taiwanese, a singer with a varied repertoire but whose tastes lean toward Ella Fitzgerald. She possesses an ethereal beauty and has enough compassion for others to qualify for the term angelic. Shy around men, her closest friend is Vivian, though her possessiveness unsettles her at times, and, at other times, reassures her.
Doug: a contemporary of Nick’s and his best friend. They met at a conference in San Francisco on the Beat writers in the 1970s and Doug left his native Midwest to join the English Department at the college and now chairs the English as a Second Language (ESL) department as well as edits the college’s literary magazine. Was quite a ladies man in his younger days but losing a child in childbirth and half his assets in divorce has crippled him emotionally. His health, too, has suffered from decades of substance abuse and now he rarely has more than one drink and has shifted from cigarettes to life savers.
Ali: a published poet in Turkey whose passion for literature is only equaled by his socialist politics. He’s not a communist but…And though he’s still composing poems to a lost love in Turkey, he is unwittingly opening himself up to fall in love once again. He’s extremely devoted to Doug and though he hates to do it, is responsible for the budget and runs the office.
Sevda: Ali’s ex-girlfriend back in Turkey and since he has not found a replacement, his muse.
Misook: 29, slender as a model, she has a mischievous sense of humor. Loves collecting odd shaped bottles and makes collages from print ads and pictures from magazines which she uses to decorate her walls. Lives on the bottom floor of Nick’s rambling house and is constantly rearranging his living room and placing plants (especially bamboo) and her paintings wherever she can find room. She paints barefoot in a short, pink silk dress while listening to Louis Armstrong or the Rolling Stones. Has the habit of juggling oranges when taking a break from painting and shares Nick’s fascination with wind-up toys. Her eyes are alive with life’s possibilities and she loves to sit in diners or cafeterias and listen to people talk. Works for Nick as an assistant to the scene designer and calls Nick “Poppa” but thinks of him as more than a benefactor, more than a friend.
Gloria: Nick’s office manager and everybody’s mother hen. A heart of gold, the tenacity of a terrier when faced with a problem confronting any of “her kids”, and passionately concerned with the arts. A retired third grade teacher from the public schools, this is her second career but she insists she will not stay a day beyond Nick’s retirement.
Rosalind: the senior set designer in the college theatre department but secretly longs for a more manageable family dynasty of her own.
Stan: Rosalind's husband, an accountant for Price Waterhouse
Jackie: the former costume designer at the college who recently left for another job in California. She was replaced by her assistant, Miyo.
Gabriella: Gaby to her friends, a dance instructor/choreographer in the Theatre Department for the last several years. Late thirties, sexy, from Buenos Aries who came with her North American husband Todd back to his native New York. Her personal history is marred by tragedy—her father and two uncles were among Argentina’s missing in its Dirty War and her husband was killed the previous year by a drunk driver while crossing the street early one Sunday to buy milk for their morning coffee. Though in shock for six months afterwards, she is slowly reemerging into life with the help of her mentor Jeff. A great cook, a lover of jazz and opera, she has terrific legs and the sexiest laugh on campus.
Hiroshi: 42, Japanese, the owner/sushi chef of the restaurant Yugi works in. Is Yugi’s cousin and though essentially sentimental, can be mean-spirited when drunk and has been known to be irrationally jealous and physically abusive to his wife.
MinKyung: Hiroshi’s wife, mid-thirties, Korean/Japanese who once wanted to study art but now spends her days/evenings as head waitress/cashier at her husband’s restaurant. Desperately wanted children but after two miscarriages has given up on that dream. Is thinking of going to college for a bookkeeping certificate so she can help manage the restaurant.
Emiko: the second waitress at the restaurant. Mid-twenties. Her only ambition is to have a good time and never to return to Japan
Toshiro: the kitchen chef at the restaurant. Mid-thirties. A Buddhist with no ambition whatsoever.
Gia: 22, Italian, passionate about everything and extremely jealous when it comes to her boyfriend Eduardo. A wonderful writer who wants to study law because she loves to argue and won’t stop until she either wins or wears her opponent down. Works for Doug as a tutor but thinks of him as her mentor and confidante.
Eduardo: Gia’s boyfriend and so good-hearted that he gets in trouble trying to help everyone. Works as a tutor, too, and a waiter at two restaurants and though he makes a lot of money, and most of it off the books, he can’t seem to keep a penny in his pockets. Is crazy about Gia but can never seem to do anything that pleases her. And though he says he isn’t interested in other women, he is a hopeless flirt.
Leila: Brazilian, 21, sensitive, kind hearted. A good cook if sometimes a little bit too experimental with the spices and one helluva dancer.
Zia: late twenties, from Bangadesh, a graduate student who works as an advisor for Doug. Was a former student at the college and is extremely loyal to Doug.
Shima: 23, from Iran, a tutor and perhaps the most organized person working in the labs. Finishing up her degree in graphic arts at a city college, she is responsible for the ESL department’s brochures and webpage.
Ramiro: 22, from Colombia, a fine arts major who can’t decide what color his hair is. Though young, he has been on his own since he was 16. He works in the computer lab and is constantly having bad luck with cars.
Susan: early thirties, an instructor in ESL who also helps advise in the office. From a conservative family but is inexplicably drawn to the world of immigrants.
Catalina: 19, a student from Colombia studying dance at the college. She has been taking lessons since she was 13 and dreams of starring in Broadway musicals.
Hsu Chi: 18, a student from Taiwan studying dance at the college. She has been taking lessons, mostly ballet, since she was 3 and plans to transfer to Julliard after her freshman year.
Irene: Doug’s ex-wife, early 30s, trouble all the way.
Linda: Nick’s ex-wife, a memory.
Steve: Nick’s best friend from college and the best man at his wedding over 30 years ago.
Eric: a graduate student in the MFA Program in Film at Misook’s college. Tall, blond, an American dream.
Ji Young: a friend of Misook’s from the MFA Program in Art studying photography.
Anna: a voice on Eduardo's voicemail which leads to dire consequences for him.
Sachiko: age 20, an undergraduate at the college and a new waitress at the restaurant having been recruited by Miyo in the ESL Office. She is here to study fashion design but, like Miyo before her, knows no one and needs to earn additional money for living expenses. She is young, bright, eager to learn, and free on weekends. A perfect candidate for the job of waitress.
Simon: one of two full-time designers in the Theatre Department at the college and one of Misook’s supervisor’s.
Valerie: the second part-time designer besides Misook in the Theatre Department at the college.
Doug Nick Miyo
Gia MinKyung Gaby Jeff Misook Yugi Hector
Eduardo Hiroshi Todd Jenny Eric Sara
“For aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth.”
The wedding ceremony is in Japanese, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t have bothered Nick so much, but since he is playing father of the bride, he feels a little bit at a disadvantage. But the woman who seems to be in charge of what could only loosely be called a procession—Nick, the bride Miyo, and a flower girl—smiles a lot, bows frequently and keeps repeating his name with reverent tenderness, “Professor Grosso, Professor Grosso, Professor Grosso.” He thinks of the trinity and though that doesn’t dispel any dark thoughts, it does keep him grounded in religious etiquette.
So we watch him try not to stumble down the aisle as he accompanies Miyo to the bridegroom. It’s then he notices the groom’s hair: so thick and wavy. He shudders slightly with nostalgia, remembering that he, too, once, long ago, had hair like that, and Nick resists the temptation to pat his balding head in a vain effort to relocate it. Sensory recall, he would call it and he’d continue to explain how they do those types of exercises in the Acting I classes over in the Theatre Department he chairs. But explaining it wouldn’t alter the fact that he is, at present, too busy grieving over that lost head of hair and musing over the fact that life was not fair.
Instead, though, of dwelling on this, we see Miyo smiling sadly Hector’s way. And Hector, being the good sport that he is, smiles tentatively back. She tries hard to read hidden meanings in his smile but cannot, for the life of her, discern any. It is an embarrassed smile, as if he is not sure exactly what he is doing here, or at least just what his role should be: friend, colleague, fellow immigrant, ex-lover, current reminder of a life almost lived. She shudders slightly remembering the way he looked in the mornings, with the light slowly seeping into the bedroom and her eyes opening to him as his hand slid down across her breasts, along her abdomen, and finally came to rest between her legs, which also opened to him and that smile, that smile, that same sad smile lounging on her lips, that lounges there now, as if she were giving up all the secrets of her country to the barbarian horde. And she wonders, we see, what kind of smile she will offer her husband now since he is not foreign but Japanese, too, and thus more familiar with the sighs, the words murmured, the smell of ginger in the air. And Miyo's smile turns rueful as she surveys the other guests from the college and finds herself speaking vows in her mother tongue which brings her back from what almost was to now.
But meanwhile, back to Nick who surveys the guests other than Hector out of the corner of his eye, while trying hard to appear as if he is paying attention to the ceremony. There is Sara, a young tutor who is acting, more or less, in the capacity of Hector’s date, and who can’t be more than just a few years out of high school herself. And she is looking at Hector out of the corner of her eye and hopelessly pining away. She can't understand why he doesn't look her way when she thinks she is so right for him because, as we all know, they both come from neighboring countries in South America and thus would easily understand each other. Besides, although he thinks there’s an age difference and doesn’t consider her to be much more than a child, she is almost 21 years old and back home most girls her age would be, if not married already, at least proud mothers. Not that she wants a baby yet, since she wants to finish college first, but it does prove she is not too young to love and to be loved in return. So our hearts quite naturally break for her as she tries so hard to keep hers from cracking right there in the church.
And speaking of cracking, we must now turn to Vivian who cracks a smile at Jenny as they both begin the song “Ave Maria” requested by Miyo for her wedding. Vivian’s hands caress the keyboards as Jenny’s voice floats over the assemblage and time stands still in this tiny congregational church.
Nick notices Jeff, his protégé in the department, who is smiling thinking this is why he came, to witness these two perform, they are so perfect together, like a matching set, two halves of a whole, but he also can’t help but remember Jeff kidding him earlier by saying he is really there to watch Nick walk down the aisle as father of the bride even though he is light years from ever being a father of anything. Of course, so is Jeff since neither ever became fathers. Too absorbed in work to have kids, Doug would say, and yes, Nick would nod his head as if that were true. Too absorbed to even look up to see a possible world outside the world they were so passionately engulfed in.
And yet, and yet as Jeff sits in his black suit and power red tie and gazes upon these two angels at work—Vivian on the keys and Jenny’s voice among the clouds—Nick continues to survey the gathering and thinks here all their worlds meet. There is music and song and ceremony. Dozens of languages spoken among the spectators of this, a Japanese wedding on Long Island attended by citizens of countries from both Americas, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and lands in between. The foreigners outnumber the Japanese, who outnumber the native New Yorkers who view themselves as inhabitants of a third world nation within the boundaries of the United States. And Nick smiles at what is, to him, true theatre.
The minister then begins a sermon, part in what could be construed as faltering English but mostly in Japanese, and all the guests, including those who cannot understand him, which, in our eyes, is quite a few, listen attentively. No one, except Jeff, who continues to gaze wistfully at Jenny, and Sara, who can’t help but furtively glance Hector’s way, lets their eyes waver as he speaks. Nick even finds himself nodding on occasion, though he isn’t quite sure what he’s nodding about or to, and wonders if he should ask Miyo later or, better still, wait to ask Misook who, after all, did study art in Japan for a few years before coming to the U.S. and thus, even though she is Korean, knows Japanese as well as, if not better than, English. And thinking of her then makes him wonder where she is right now and, as is often the case, he continues searching the gathering looking for her smile.
And as he peruses the crowd for other familiar faces, he sees Ali sitting next to Doug who, he is glad to see, sits next to Misook who sits next to the theatre department office manager Gloria who sits next to a newly pregnant Rosalind who is silently debating whether to tell Nick about this new development in her life today or wait until tomorrow at school. Her husband Stan was, quite naturally, elated but Nick is dependent on her, his senior set designer, and this soon to be new addition to her life will undoubtedly cause problems in the departmental workload. And Rosalind, who has been working for Nick for nearly 10 years, feels a conflicted loyalty here.
Ali, of course, is not paying attention really, though Nick cannot surmise this, but is composing a poem in his head to his long lost sweetheart Sevda back in Turkey. There is something about the way Miyo is standing, the weight slightly shifting to her left side, that reminds him of Sevda and he can’t help keeping the memories flooding back, the smell of coffee in the morning, the sunlight through the curtains, the sound of Istanbul stirring in his soul. He would like to forget all that and stay grounded in America, but these memories, that woman, keep intruding on his new life here. So he starts composing a poem, that he recites over and over again in order to commit it to memory for scribbling down later, in his head and temporarily forgets where he is.
Doug, though, knows exactly where he is: he is sitting next to Misook who is the most beautiful woman in the world as far as his best friend Nick is concerned. He is breathing in her perfume, which he knows she collects, as he tries to concentrate on the ceremony unfolding before him. But his mind, his thoughts, his conflicted emotions, are forever going back to Misook and what she represents: femininity. He wonders if and when he might be graced by someone like this in his life or if he will continue to walk unsteadily toward a solitary old age. He could, perhaps, be saddened by these thoughts, especially since he is a spectator at a wedding, but instead he inhales the perfume and lets his mind wander back to glory days when scents such as this permeated his pillow and were his first sensory stimuli in the morning. And those thoughts account for the smile that plays on his lips.
And Misook, what thoughts are whirling inside that head of hers? Nick wonders. So many images bump and collide, colors run, emotions swirl. She is in turmoil in her mind while her face tries hard to remain focused on the bride, the groom, the ceremony. But really, all she wants to do is kick off her sandals, shed her black silk dress for the short, pink dress she paints in, mix up some tubes of paint, grasp a knife to use instead of a brush, and begin to paint. But no one really sees this. All they see is a glacier face, so beautiful in its serenity, or at least what everyone takes for serenity, but which we know is a mask. Only Nick knows her and suspects the raging spirit within.
Gloria, meanwhile, fans herself while, Nick guesses, she rearranges the ceremony in her mind. The seats first, he thinks she would think, need to be replaced. They are just not comfortable enough. And the lack of air conditioning in this small, confined space is really outrageous. Those two fans are just a joke. But Miyo could not look more beautiful, it just takes the entire congregation’s breath, as well as ours, away. And her husband, Yugi, is a very handsome young man, but unfortunately most of Miyo’s friends have no idea what he is truly like since the only English he seems to know is “yes, yes” and “thank you so much”. He does have a lovely smile, though, if not just a wee bit too childlike and benign. And lips that are perhaps as full as Miyo’s own.
Which brings us back to Miyo who is kissing the groom while Hector’s face flushes slightly, but no one notices, least of all Miyo, since they are all watching the bride, the groom, the first legal kiss. Besides, it’s the heat that flushes his face, is it not, so hot, so stuffy here and only Nick, who sits with the wedding party by the minister’s altar has the benefit of what is possibly cross ventilation. But the kiss is over—so short, so polite—and the singing of a hymn begins.
Jenny’s voice floats across the small crowd like a soothing rain. Watch Vivian’s hands glide over the keys, hear Jenny’s soprano caress the lyrics—“Here, There, Everywhere”—a Beatles’ love song from the sixties for a Japanese couple in the 21st Century in America. And it is here that Nick, though he does not realize it yet, gets the idea that would haunt him, then later consume him so, right here during this ceremony and not later at the reception as he will one day tell it. But here, now, gazing at all those ethnic faces as Jenny’s voice caresses the air, is the seed of all that will follow.
And Gabriella, sitting next to Jeff, would later use Miyo as her inspiration for Tatiana rising in dance from the wedding night slumber with Bottom.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and stay with Gabriella but go to Doug instead who watches her and finds himself wondering about her eyes. He had never really noticed them before: so watchful, so amused, so sad. They seem to settle on parts of the room and take in every detail. And then those very details seem to encumber them with a melancholy. It is as if what they see they understand, and what they understand saddens them in her very soul. The transient quality of life. And this sadness he understands since life for him is one long funeral procession broken up intermittently with moments of joy like this wedding. But here, in those eyes of Gabriella’s, he senses a kindred spirit and thinks he might have found a pair of eyes he could stare into without blinking.
Misook, meanwhile, is wondering what Nick is thinking. He probably would rather be wandering around his house in bathrobe and slippers, drinking his fourth cup of coffee and contemplating what tie will go with what shirt with what jacket before calling out to her to come and help him decide. His fashion expert, he calls her, and she smiles thinking how she actually likes dressing him and takes partial responsibility for the improvement in his overall appearance since she began living in his house three years ago. She is also proud of what he is doing: being a stand-in for the father of the bride. Another burden of his office—head honcho of the college’s theatre department: father/godfather/uncle/big brother/friend as well as advisor/confessor and occasional banker/employer/teacher to the staff and students that pass through his program, who build his scenery, adjust his lights, act in his plays, charm and amuse him both on and off the stage of his life.
But right now what passes through Nick’s consciousness is Jenny’s voice as it finishes the last notes of the hymn and Miyo and Yugi leave the room to climb the stairs and wait by the door to greet people. He, too, is carried along, gently ushered by that matron attached to the minister who says something in Japanese to the followers and him and then waves her hands saying, “Professor Grosso, Professor Grosso.” He nods, smiles, walks this way, that way, climbs stairs, stands dutifully next to a radiant Miyo and bows, smiles, shakes hands as guest after guest file past to the front yard outside.
Miyo, of course, is beautiful. That almost perfect smile, marred only by a crooked row of bottom teeth so characteristic of Japanese dental care, but which Hector found so endearing because it made her, for him, so more real than she could have ever been otherwise. But, of course, it is that ethereal quality of hers, as if she were not quite of this world—so tranquil, so charmingly hypnotic that we gaze at her as we gaze at a Michelangelo sculpture—her physical form is that pure. A slender figure but perfectly proportioned, skin like alabaster, black hair that softly cascades to her shoulders framing her face. She is so beautiful as to be almost unreal except that she breathes and she smiles gently our way as the guests kiss her cheek and wish her well.
But back to Nick who stands numbly staring past the line of well-wishers approaching, looking in vain for Misook who should be next to Doug but is not because Doug is there, kissing Miyo on the cheek and shaking Yugi’s hand and looking ever so bemusedly at Nick as he says, “Well Poppa, how does it feel to be giving away what you’ve never had?”
“It could be worse,” he says, smirking. “I could be paying for all this.”
Doug laughs and is soon replaced by Jeff who, though he is shaking his hand, is not looking at him but back over his right shoulder past Gabriella and back toward Jenny who is making her way slowly toward the door. But before that quite registers with Nick, Jeff turns to say, “Aren’t you the grand old man?” and they both smile at each other, Nick nodding, someone chuckling, it must be Jeff because Nick knows it is not him.
But Gabriella caught sight of Doug’s eyes and knows instinctively that this man is somewhere else even if he is standing next to Jeff. And she wonders about that but decides to not dwell on it here, but to log this insight in the back of her mind and resolves to find out more about this man as the day, the week, the semester continues. Now, though, she moves from Miyo to Nick, grasps his hand and says, “Well boss, this time you are an actor, not the director of the show.”
“Ah yes,” and he smiles. “And was I convincing?”
“Very,” she says. “Now everyone, not just Misook, will be calling you poppa.”
Nick rolls his eyes and sighs dramatically. “God forbid.”
And Gabriella laughs as she moves off to the front yard with Jeff as the line continues.
And now we can see Hector approach Miyo in the line. Though he shakes Yugi’s hand, he only has eyes for Miyo, only sees her teeth reflecting light, blinding him to all else. And as he takes her hand in his to wish her happiness, he leans over to kiss the bride, wanting those full lips on his, that tongue exploding in his mouth, but only grazes the proffered left cheek. And as he straightens, their eyes meet and much history flows between them. It could be us, he says with his eyes and she answers yes, but it isn’t, and both are unsure just who’s at fault here. Her, him, timing, language. Surely not the sex, and his mind flashes on her arching back, her slightly parted lips, the heavy breathing, and something he hoped would lie dormant stiffens there between his pants pockets. Lord, he thinks, let it lie still.
But God is not on his side this afternoon and it pains him to move away, hoping no one will notice his bulging eyes, pants, the lump in his throat. Not his boss, not Doug, or her boss Nick who watches Misook coming down the line and tries hard not to smile. And as we watch Hector limp slightly off to the side, we see the others blocking Nick’s view, Gloria and Sara and Rosalind. Gloria and Rosalind fawning over Miyo’s gown, her veiled hair, the beauty of her smile even though it has tinges of regret darkening like shadows under her eyes as she loses sight of Hector who passes from our view. But Gloria and Rosalind both are full of compliments while Sara glides gracefully by in pursuit of the disappearing Hector.
But oh, Gloria says, “You look stunning,” to Miyo who doesn’t quite hear her and Rosalind nods in agreement. “Absolutely divine.”
And Miyo is, of course, beautiful, perhaps even more so now that there is a touch of sadness about her eyes, which both Gloria and Rosalind attribute to her maturing, though we can, can’t we, speculate on other causes. Gloria meanwhile comments to Rosalind on how much Miyo has grown since she first came five years ago to study in the newly created English Language Institute and began working in the theatre department as a student aide. “She was so shy,” Gloria says. “You couldn’t get a word out of her.”
“Yes,” Rosalind agrees. “She would just smile and nod as she helped Jackie in the costume shop.”
“And now she has replaced Jackie as our costume designer.”
“Well Nick can always either spot talent or inspire it,” Rosalind says.
“It certainly was true with Miyo,” Gloria says and her gaze returns to the beatific bride as our gaze does, too. And here, on her wedding day, on a day that should be the marking of a new beginning, Miyo can’t help but feel a tug on the sleeve of her memory that keeps turning her head back toward the past. Could this, would this day have been different? Might this, may this day not change her life forever? Has this, had this day another possible beginning? And could this, should this day have another possible ending? Ahhhh, Miyo. Those melancholy eyes that haunt that beautiful face are filling with tears of happiness, of sorrow, of fear, of regret, of resignation, of foreboding, of love, of lust, of the joy and pain of life. Ahhhh, Miyo. It breaks our hearts to see the conflict raging within you today.
“Are you crying because you are sad, Miyo, or because your heart is bursting with ecstasy?” Misook, who speaks fluent Japanese since she studied art and calligraphy in Japan for three years before coming to the U.S., asks her in Japanese as she holds her friend’s hand. “Or are those tears for us who do not know the emotion in your heart?”
“For you, Misook dear,” Miyo says and hugs her best friend tightly. “And for me. For all of us here and all of us absent.”
“Oh Miyo,” and Misook is surprised at the ferocity in her grasp. “Oh.” And they hold each other for a long moment before letting go. Misook looks at her carefully and then says tentatively, “Should I be worried about you?”
“Not today,” Miyo says. “Not as long as friends like you surround me.” And she hugs her again and smiles as radiantly as she can. “Am I not the happiest woman you know today?”
“I certainly hope so,” Misook says and finds herself smiling radiantly, too. “Though I feel pretty happy myself.”
“For me, I hope.”
“Yes, for you and for Yugi and for everyone here and even for myself.”
“Yes, for you, too,” Miyo laughs. “And won’t we have fun at the reception?”
“I hope so,” Misook says. “It should be a party, shouldn’t it?”
“If it isn’t,” Miyo winks, “we’ll go somewhere else and find one.”
And they laugh and kiss and Misook moves down to see Nick watching her with a bemused glint in his eye. “And now I find you,” Misook says, “being a poppa to someone else besides me.”
“I’m the father to everyone,” he says, “but a poppa to only one.”
“And who is that one?” she asks.
“The one that holds the key to my heart.”
Misook’s eyes widen, then shift to the side as if trying to spy this mysterious personage. “Is she here?” she mock whispers.
“Oh yes,” he nods.
“And how do we know her?”
“She’ll be the one who can make me smile.”
“Ahhh,” and those eyes widen again. A conspiratorial whisper. “A clever girl?”
Nick nods. “She can juggle three oranges and has a painter’s eye for composition.”
“She is special to you?”
And here a look of begrudging admiration. “I would like to meet this girl.”
“If you’re very good today,” he says, “I’ll arrange it.”
“Thank you, poppa.”
“You’re welcome, daughter.”
Misook winks, Nick smiles, and off she goes to join the others milling about on the lawn. And we join them, too, as Ali follows Misook around, Gloria fans herself with a borrowed hymnal and Sara watches Hector watch Miyo descend the stairs. There are photo opportunities galore and much oohhhing and aahhhing in several different accents until everyone piles into various cars to make the 20 minute drive to the Japanese restaurant Yugi works in as a sushi chef for the wedding reception.
If we go to the restaurant before the guests, we will see that the owner, Hiroshi Sugi, has closed the restaurant for the entire afternoon so that his cousin Yugi can have a proper wedding banquet/party. This is, though, not purely an act of kindness since Yugi came to this country to work for him two years ago and is his second full-time sushi chef (Hiroshi being the head chef) so it has its practical, somewhat self-serving, side as well. Besides, Tuesdays are normally a slow lunch crowd day and the restaurant will reopen for dinner. And Yugi will not be taking any time off for a honeymoon. Even this day, Tuesday, is his usual day off, so Hiroshi, though appearing magnanimous, is really not losing very much. An afternoon’s lunch hour, food for the dinner (but not the complete dinner since ethnic dishes are being provided by other friends of the couple), and a few dozen liter bottles of cheap wine and New York State champagne. The goodwill he receives, Hiroshi thinks, will more than compensate him in return.
Besides, his wife MinKyung insisted he do something and this is better than giving Yugi time off for a honeymoon. Where would he go anyway? And how could he afford it? This is the obvious solution to the dilemma caused by young love. And even his wife came to see that. So Hiroshi presided over getting the kitchen ready while his wife organized everything else.
MinKyung, for her part, is happy for the couple, though she has forebodings of trouble for Miyo. The wife of a sushi chef is not easy if she herself is not part of this world and Miyo has never even worked as a waitress before. The hours for Yugi are long: six work days from 11AM to 1AM with only Tuesdays off and one week vacation in July, the slowest month. It took her a long time to adjust to that and she has been working as a waitress in restaurants ever since she married Hiroshi. It is not an easy life and she wonders how a woman with a masters degree in fashion can adjust to it. And though she has been thinking of taking college courses this fall herself, it is only to get a certificate in bookkeeping so that she can help with that part of the business. But Miyo, she understands, has no such interests.
The restaurant is not very big but big enough when full to capacity to seat 36 people at 12 tables, plus six more at the sushi bar. Of course it isn’t filled to capacity every day but the weekends are busy enough to keep MinKyung and the other waitress Emiko busy, plus there is, being America, a very busy take-out business most nights, as well as a respectable lunch trade. Today, though, it’s strictly a private party for one of their own. It’s a small staff-—two sushi chefs, Toshiro the kitchen chef, and the two waitresses who also double as cashiers—so there is excitement in their lives to see Yugi finally getting married. There had been some speculation when he first came that he might end up with Emiko, but she is perhaps too lively for him and did not share his enthusiasm for Christianity. Like many young Japanese, she has no religion but Yugi clings to the church even more tightly now that he is in a foreign country surrounded by people who speak a language he barely understands. The church is familiar and he takes comfort in it. And it was there that he met Miyo who had started attending looking for some meaning after all the agony Hector with all his secrecy had caused her. She felt she was living in some bad spy novel—subterfuge, surreptitious meetings, no open acknowledgments about how they felt about each other to anyone. Only Misook knew of her torment and though Miyo took some comfort there, she still ached inside. So one day when a classmate she casually knew invited her to a church outing, she accepted and found herself among friendly Japanese young people with such simple dreams and aspirations that she became seduced into a kind of tranquility that was opposite to how she felt with Hector. Gradually she started to attend more outings, even church services, and soon found herself gently pursued by Yugi, and the rest, as they say in this country, is history. Her history, their history, the outcome of which brings us to this restaurant on this Tuesday afternoon with these people to witness this event.
It also brings Gia and Eduardo here to help prepare non-Japanese dishes like baked ziti and chicken marsala, also with Leila who has made her Brazilian style lasagna and baked a ham with potatoes. Tall and willowy Gia, who is from Italy, wearing a Versace dress that dazzles the eye with its brilliant colors, is, of course, somewhat skeptical of Leila’s lasagna but Eduardo, always the peacemaker, has persuaded her to be kind. Gia is kind but also very opinionated, which she insists is the birthright of every Italian, and harshly critical, of herself more than others which is why she thinks of herself as essentially kind. Eduardo, though, who loves her wholeheartedly, suffers so from her criticisms that he often complains to Doug of her inability to be, for lack of a better word, charitable towards others, and, most especially, towards him. Doug tries to console him but also defend her because he understands her clear-eyed judgment of the world and its inhabitants. Doug tries to get her to temper that in her dealings with others while also encouraging her to exploit it in her writing. She respects Doug and though she looks to him as a surrogate father figure, he is also her literary mentor so she tries to appease him. And Eduardo, even though she loves him, she feels he has poor judgment when it comes to people, so she doesn’t listen to him at all. That creates moments, no hours, of melancholy for him, but because he’s Latin, she thinks it’s just the way he is and so feels no guilt whatsoever.
Leila, meanwhile, is sensitive to criticism and would be hurt if she knew how Gia felt about her attempts at Italian cuisine but thankfully she doesn’t suspect a thing. Which means, of course, she is her usual buoyant self—smiling and swaying as only Brazilians can to a beat only they hear. She’s young, she’s alive, and there’s a celebration today among people she has studied with, works with, cares about. She has spent all morning cooking in her tiny apartment and now she can’t wait for the party to begin. She would have liked to be at the ceremony but someone was needed to help set-up and so, as always, she volunteered. But her feet, if we watch her feet, they are beginning to move to a samba beat, and soon, very soon she will toss back her long wavy hair and let those feet, those hips take control. It’s a good thing people are beginning to arrive because if they weren’t, she would have to begin this party without them.
And arrive they do. In twos, in threes, in groups of five and more. They carry gifts, or envelopes with cards and checks, big, warm smiles and open hearts. There are many from the church—mostly young Japanese in their twenties and early thirties—some with kids but all filled with Christian love. The other guests are, of course, multiethnic and filled with various forms of love from Christian to Muslim to Buddhist to Jewish to Roman Catholic to Greek Orthodox to some, like Nick, who lack religious affiliation with their love but have love in their hearts nonetheless. So the restaurant is packed with people overflowing with love and this is always a good way to celebrate a wedding. The guests crowd the restaurant and extra chairs and folding tables are set up to accommodate them. The people who were at the ceremony are there, as well as some late arrivals.
And there is Doug who wanders in looking somewhat rested from his big day yesterday puttering around his garden. Even though he is Welsh, he still likes to think he keeps an English garden and spends as much time as possible, especially since fall is steadily approaching since summer is almost officially over now that Labor Day is only a week away. Soon there will be a new semester beginning and he will be hiring new adjunct instructors, scheduling tutors in the Writing Center and soliciting poems, articles, stories for the literary quarterly he edits while trying to instill in students who think literature is best viewed on a celluloid screen rather than on pages between a cover of a book an appreciation of the written word; as well as make sure they grasp the fundamentals of English grammar and syntax so that they can pass out of ESL and into the college’s required basic composition class of English 101. But this afternoon is before all that and he is not yet cantankerous but in, what he likes to call, “a jolly mood.”
“Why did I know,” Doug says as he takes a seat opposite Nick, “that I would find you two in typical pose. You,” and he indicates Nick, “with a glass of wine in your hand and him,” and he indicates Jeff, “surrounded by young, beautiful women.”
“I hate to think what that implies about each of us,” Nick says.
“There’s nothing to hate about what it implies about Jeff, just much to envy. But you, on the other hand,” and Doug shrugs, “are supposed to be the father of the bride.”
“And?” Nick asks.
“That means you should be setting an example for us all.” And here Doug indicates all the college people. “Needless to say, for all these young, impressionable people as well.”
Nick sighs and takes a sip of his wine. “It’s a good thing I have thick skin to match my thick head.”
“Hmmmm,” Doug goes. “No comment needed there.”
Jeff can’t help but smile. These two have been bickering on and off for over 20 years and it’s always given him pleasure to watch them. If he could, he would stage it but somehow real life always seems more artificial than theatre.
“What better example could I be than I already am by just being here, I’m always here, for them,” Nick says. “I don’t come strolling in after the hard part is over just for the food. I’m here the whole way.”
“Ahhh, but you should be,” Doug says. “That’s part of your responsibility as the director of the theatre program. But it’s not a question of your putting in the time, the hours, but how you get others to perform that counts.”
“And you’re implying that I perform that job badly?”
“No, you’re great at your job,” Doug says and helps himself to the wine. “But this,” and he lifts the glass high, “is about a certain moral standard and,” he shrugs again, “might I say, it’s possibly questionable.”
Gabriella turns to Jeff and asks, “These two are always like this?”
“It’s a little dance that they do,” Jeff replies. “Like a vaudeville act.”
Nick then drains his glass and pours himself another. “To err is human, to forgive divine. And I’m giving everyone who knows me a chance to be divine.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Doug says and clinks Nick’s glass. Then he looks over at Vivian and Jenny and says, “And you two were superb.”
“Thank you,” they nod their heads in unison. “We used your arrangement on the Beatles’ song.”
Doug gives a satisfied smile and another element to Nick’s scheme flashes through his mind for digestion later.
“You arrange music?” Gabriella asks.
“If I could have,” he says with a sigh, “I would have been a rock star, but…” and a helpless gesture to indicate life’s poor planning.
“Yes,” she says. “I would have had my own dance company.”
“Perhaps we would have played Radio City on the same bill.”
“Do you think we would have had the same audience?”
“We would have been so unique that the world would have been our audience. We would have united people, regardless of race, creed, or language, under one tent, in front of a common stage, swaying to music and dance that spoke to their collective soul.”
“What a lovely image,” Gabriella says.
“That’s one thing about me,” Doug says. “I’m full of lovely images.”
And Nick is struck by that image, too. Not now, though, but later, much later, we will see how it will dominate his nights, his dreams. And the image will become his vision of the project that will consume him.
But here, at this table, talk centers on more immediate concerns. And Nick, in his role of father or overlord, rises to give a toast to the couple before the feasting, the dancing, the merriment begins.
“We are all gathered here today to honor this couple—Miyo and Yugi,” Nick begins and pauses periodically while Misook, standing beside him, translates his words into Japanese for half the population who smile without understanding a single word he is saying. “I don’t know Yugi very well since his English is as poor as my Japanese,” and Misook grins broadly as she translates that, “but since he is marrying Miyo I have to think he’s not only smart and lucky but very special, too.” And he looks over at Miyo as he says, “Because Miyo is a very special person.”
Misook again translates and Nick can’t help but notice how much more animated her translations are than his speech. He wonders if he is indeed livelier in Japanese than English. And as he continues his speech by relaying anecdotes about Miyo, he also notices the difference in length: sometimes much longer (to which he asks Misook, “I said all that?” and she winks and nods reassuringly) or much shorter (to which he asks, “You sure you got it all?” to which she solemnly says, “Every last word”). He doesn’t know if he’s being translated properly and occasionally looks over at Miyo who smiles adoringly and then just gives up. When he is finally finished relaying stories and waxing poetic, he turns to Yugi and says, “Welcome to our college family.”
Misook says something in turn and Yugi smiles and bows in his seat and says, “Thank you so much,” so Nick forgives Misook for any and all transgressions and shakes her hand. “Thanks, partner,” he says.
“All in a day’s work,” she replies. “I am still on payroll, right?”
“You are enterprising.”
“That is good, right?”
“For you anyway.”
“One must be resourceful in America.”
“I noticed, though, that sometimes you didn’t seem to be saying as much as I did.”
“I got the gist,” she says and wrinkles her nose and asks, “That is the right word, no?” He nods. “I like that word, gist.”
“You also seemed to be saying more than I did at times.”
“Ah yes, perhaps I did.”
“You were embellishing?”
Misook looks puzzled. “Embellishing?”
“Adding to,” Nick explains, “to make it better, fancier.”
“Ah, well, maybe,” she says, and then gives a big smile and nods. “Yes.”
Nick nods, too. “Well, I seem to be funnier in Japanese anyway.”
Misook’s face scrunches up a bit. “Well, it’s not that you were funnier,” she says. “It’s just that I am.”
“Ahhh,” Nick goes. “In Japanese anyway.”
“If it makes you feel better,” she says, “I’ll agree.”
He sighs. “It makes me feel better.”
“Then,” she smiles, “I agree.”
The feasting begins now and people are getting dishes filled at the sushi bar which is acting as the buffet table and then sitting down and trying not to talk with their mouths full. Other guests keep arriving, some from the church who seem to be congregating on the right side of the restaurant while the college crowd seem to spread out over on the left side. Ramiro comes in, late as usual but appropriately apologetic, his car, it seems, or what he tentatively refers to as his car though the ownership of said vehicle is somewhat in question, has given him heartache again. But his smile is so warm, his hair dyed a bright blue for the occasion, and his hands are full carrying a big platter of El Salvadoran papooses that everyone forgives him. Susan, Zia, and Shima come in, too, straight from the ESL office having volunteered to man it for the morning before shutting down to join the party. So many come to pay tribute to Miyo because she is, after all, a favorite among them, having started out in ESL before going to Theatre to work and thus, like Misook, joining both worlds.
Nick, watching it all, keeps feeling a tug at his theatrical sensibilities. He turns to Gabriella who is listening to Doug discuss the merits of using cilantro in guacamole as opposed to not using it at all, which he, priding himself on his vast knowledge of Mexico and things Mexican, considers sacrilegious, and asks, “Don’t you think the energy here is fantastic?”
“Yes,” she says. “It’s the closest I’ve felt to being comfortable in this country in a long time.” And she waves a hand through the air, “All these languages at once. And all this English in accent. It’s wonderful.”
Nick thinks yes, yes, it is, and how to harness all this nags at him. He looks over at Misook pulling up her dress slightly above her knees, tossing back her hair, and dancing with Ali who joins her with abandon, to Eduardo trying to keep up with Leila whose footwork mystifies him, to Zia twirling Shima around the floor in what must be a Bangali version of the salsa, to Ramiro instructing Susan in the proper hip movement to Spanish dance. And out of the corner of his eye, he sees Vivian whispering in Jenny’s ear while MinKyung tries to teach Gloria the proper way to hold chopsticks to Sara serving Hector who seems to be only partially aware of the food on his plate. The accents, the languages, Gaby is right, he thinks. A multicultural musical, that’s what this is. And then we can see a light bulb flash above his head and a smile spread over his face. For now he knows, we know, he will use this somehow in a theatrical production because this is theatre, living theatre, right here before him.
But to Miyo, as we know, it is more than that. It is the beginning of another chapter of her life here in America. It is the start of something new and an ending to something familiar. And as that realization begins to sink in, she sees Hector’s mournful face and a shudder runs through her spine.
So we pull back now and see the crowd mingling to some extent. Ali is handing out business cards to church members, MinKyung is asking Susan how she could possibly still enroll for bookkeeping courses for the fall, Shima is explaining how to make Persian rice to Gloria who doesn’t intend to learn to cook ever. There is much trading of information here. So much to know, so much to store away for use some other day or to forget ten minutes after you are out the door or to make part of your life forever. Experience spilling over into life spilling over onto this canvas we are viewing of these people intermingling in this tiny corner of Long Island. And now let us leave them as they make their way to work, to play, to home. We will leave them now to only follow a few for if we observe a few, we will know the many. It’s just a law of the universe.
First we follow Doug home who envisions a quiet evening dipping into Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter but instead gets a call from Gia. “You busy?” she asks.
“I think that would depend on how you define the word ‘busy’.”
“Yeah, okay, but before we get into that, are you busy now?”
Doug sighs. “No,” he says. “I’m not busy now.”
“And did you eat?”
“I don’t think dinner is on my agenda, not after all that food this afternoon.”
“So you’re not doing anything special now?”
“Just reading,” he says, resigned to the possibility that that won’t happen anymore tonight.
“Can I come over then?” she asks. “I’m in the neighborhood.”
“Where in the neighborhood?”
“Actually like two blocks away.”
“Oh,” and he nods absently to himself. “That’s definitely in the neighborhood.”
“So can I come over?” she persists.
“Sure,” he says. “I am, as we established earlier in the conversation, not busy.”
“Great,” she says. “I’m almost there.”
Doug hangs up and thinks this is the curse of the cellular phone. People can call at anytime, from anywhere, and disrupt your day. They can be at your doorstep within minutes. It’s like Hannibal at the gates, only worse since it is his gate or, in this case, front door. And as he thinks this, Gia pulls up into his driveway and her long legs are carrying her across his lawn and up to his front door. “Hello,” she says. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Delighted,” he says and waves her in. “Where’s Eduardo?” And as he says this, he knows, of course, that Eduardo is not coming and that that is the reason she is here, but he must ask the question to avoid the small talk that will inevitably lead to this question anyway.
“I threw him out,” she says. “He’s such an asshole, I had no choice.”
“What did he do?” He doesn’t, naturally, add the phrase “this time” because he knows it is unnecessary. There will always be a “this time” and whether it is now, tomorrow, next week, or next year, the time is not important, just the event.
“Didn’t you see him at the wedding?” she asks. “He was so stupid to do it there.”
“You didn’t see?” she asks incredulously because to her, whatever he does is so obvious that the world can’t help but notice, too. “You didn’t see the way he was all over that girl?”
“Leila,” Gia says, and the name comes out like a spoken curse.
“But they’re not interested in each other,” Doug says.
“I know that,” Gia says. “That’s what’s so idiotic about him. He flirts even with people that aren’t interested in him. That he is not interested in. But he does it anyway. And he does it in front of me.” Scorn drips from her sneer. “That’s why he’s such an asshole. And that’s why I threw him out.”
Doug shakes his head and watches as she takes a cigarette out of her purse and steps to his front door. “I’ll be back,” she says. “But he makes me so mad I have to have a smoke to calm down.”
And though Doug wishes he could join her, to taste smoke in his lungs again, he knows his damaged lungs could not take it and one cigarette would be just one more step closer to death. So instead he pours himself a coke and waits for her to return. There will be much to discuss: her on again/off again romance with Eduardo, her jealousy, and, most likely, her writing. Doug will listen, will console, will advise. That’s his job and he’s good at it. And Gia, with all her Southern Italian passion, is one of his favorites. And favorites in this lifetime, as always, win out over Graham Greene. That’s just the way it is.
But instead of staying for Gia’s return, let us visit another household where a younger woman who is a favorite will distract another older man from his rereading of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. For Nick, in sweatpants and slippers, a glass of brunello in his hand, is trying to lose himself in the words of one of his favorite author’s when the voice of Misook calls up from below asking, “You awake, poppa?”
“Yes,” he calls back and hears her wooden clogs clump across his living room floor as she comes to the bottom of the stairs leading to the third floor of his house where he is sitting in his favorite rocker in his second favorite room, the library/den, trying to read.
“Can I come up, poppa?” she asks, knowing full well that he’ll never say no. And, of course, is halfway up the stairs already by the time he has placed a bookmark between the pages and is standing at the doorway just as he finishes buttoning his flannel shirt. “Am I bothering you?”
“No, no,” and he smiles just looking at her. She has slipped out of her short black dress and wears tiny denim shorts and a skin tight white t-shirt. “Come in.”
“I think I’m feeling sad, poppa,” she says as she comes into the room and sits cross-legged on the armchair that has become her usual perch in this room. “I should not be sad,” and she sighs, “but I am.”
“I think,” he says carefully watching her, “it’s understandable. Weddings sometimes have that effect.”
“Do they make you sad?” Misook asks.
“A little,” he nods. “Yes, they do.”
“Me, too,” she says a bit forlornly. “I was so happy at the restaurant, but now…”
It’s moments like these, when the normally lively, spirited Misook is flirting dangerously with melancholy, that Nick feels pangs of tenderness swelling inside him. “Would you like to join me in a glass of wine?” he asks. “Or better yet, a brandy?”
“You won’t get upset if I add Sprite?” she asks, some mischief surfacing in her eyes.
“No,” he says.
“Are you sure?” she asks. “You promise not to make that face I don’t like?”
“I promise,” he says, “but you know one can’t always control one’s face.”
She tilts her head to the right, to the left, studying him the way you would a science project, and then says, “I’ll go get the Sprite. It’s downstairs in my refrigerator.”
And before he can rise to get the brandy glasses and his favorite brandy, she is off clumping down the two flights of stairs to her rooms on the first floor where she has her own bedroom, living room, bathroom, studio, and refrigerator filled with Sprite, ice cream, yogurt, cranberry juice, and lots of fruit. And by the time he pours two snifters of brandy, she is clumping her way back upstairs to join him. He hands her the brandy and looks away before she mixes in the Sprite. She watches him, suppressing her giggling while waiting for that look of disdain he gets every time someone ruins the taste of good liquor in his eyes. But it doesn’t come. He shows remarkable self-control and she has to hover over his chair, craning her neck and moving her face from side to side trying to discern the slightest trace of criticism on his part. But he laughs instead and so does she and soon she is commandeering the CD player in the room and the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” is blaring out and she dances all over the room trying to coax him to join her. But he would much rather sit and watch her hop, bounce, twist, turn, jiggle, shake, rock, roll. It gives him immense pleasure to see her sadness dissolve into mirth and by the second glass of brandy, he is dancing with her. The two of them dancing and drinking for an hour or so, playing disc jockey with cut after cut of good old rock and roll before finally settling into the quiet of early Miles Davis playing ballads. And by that time, Nick is in the easy chair, Misook is snuggled in his lap, drifting off to sleep and midnight has drifted by unnoticed.
“Oh poppa,” she murmurs into his shoulder, “how come you are my best friend?”
“Just lucky, I guess,” he replies.
“You won’t be mad if I fall asleep?”
“No,” he says and strokes her hair.
“I just don’t want to be alone tonight,” she whispers, sleep settling in quickly, her eyes refusing to open.
“I know,” he says softly, so softly no one hears but her. “Shhh now,” he whispers. “Shhh.”
And she slides off to dreams of color and light and music and dance. She slides off to heaven on earth. And he is left holding her sleeping form on his lap, in his arms, his eyes closed, his mind awake, with a pain right in the middle of his heart.
And speaking of pain in one’s heart, we find Hector sitting in his car staring up at the bedroom window of Miyo’s apartment watching as the light turns off. Of course he cannot see Miyo or what goes on there in the dark just as Miyo cannot see him, is unaware of his presence lurking outside, for she is too busy in her new marital bed. For her slender legs that once wrapped around his waist are now wrapping around another’s, her husband’s, Yugi’s waist now, and that breathing, her heavy breathing as he penetrates, Yugi’s own heart’s beating, filling her ears. This is not wild, unbridled passion like she experienced with Hector, but slow, tender, reverential love, the kind a future is built upon, a life, a family is planned. It will not drive her crazy but it will finally, hopefully, bring her the peace she has been waiting for the whole night long.
And now to Doug watching Gia’s car drive off, smelling the smoke and her perfume still in the air, wishing he had something stronger than coke in his glass but refusing to allow himself that crutch. And then he sits in his chair and picks up his Graham Greene and begins to read. But the words blur and his eyes for some reason are wet. And youth, he thinks, youth will give him no peace but will kill him yet. Will kill him with its dreams, its pain, its joy, its life.
So he sits on his deck in the back yard holding a cup of tea in his hand that grows cold as he gazes wistfully up at the moon. He is remembering this same sky 30 years ago, filled with stars in his native Midwest, and a backyard there, a woman’s voice, the smell of perfume in the air. He hears music, John Prine, he thinks, singing of sweet revenge, and he wonders just whom and what it was directed at, the way life has a habit of bringing things back home again that you thought were forever gone. A man, a woman, talking of betrayal, deceit, whether real or imagined, but an inkling of the roving eye of youth and what path it will lead one down and how far from home one goes. And he feels remorse for some of the things he’s done, and regret for others never attempted. And he can’t help wondering, as he stares up at the moon, just where those stars are, whatever became of that sky.
And now to check in on Nick who sits in the rocker in his bedroom in the dark watching Misook turning over in her sleep, that slender body twisting itself in the sheets as she fights off image after image bombarding her mind. And Nick feels young and old at the same time and wishes he could keep his mind in the present but it keeps straying back to Misook’s warm breath on his neck as he carried her next door to the bedroom and laid her to rest in his bed, keeps drifting back to the smoothness of her skin as he lifted her legs under the covers and tucked in the sheets, the blanket, the overhead fan whirling above his head and the way her long, silken hair tinged with red highlights spreads out over the pillow just before he turned out the night light, and the sound of her voice in his ear whispering poppa, my poppa, and Cervantes writing of madmen tilting at windmills, tilting at windmills in his mind.
And finally we find Nick with Shakespeare on his mind. There is singing, there is dancing, there are couples falling in and out of love, there is an intermingling of races, of ethnicities, people are stumbling, fumbling in and around each other. And the play must accommodate all that. Must allow for that mixture, for comedy, for drama, for tolerance, and lessons learned. And it begins to take shape in his mind.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he thinks. An updated, multicultural retelling of one crazy night in the forest with elves and fairies and lovers and kings and queens and clowns. A sprawling, romantic romp in three acts. Yes, he thinks. Yes, I can do that, I will do that, I must.
And he lets his mind run free, run wild with the images. He falls asleep in his easy chair in his den/library and he dreams his new dream.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
For you in my respect are all the world:
Then how can it be said I am alone.
when all the world is here to look on me?
Gabriella wakes up in the morning with her husband’s arm around her and his breath on her neck. It feels so good, so safe to wake this way that she doesn’t want to open her eyes to find him not there. It’s best to keep them shut as long as she can to extend the illusion. For to feel Todd against her like this, to be in their favorite position—the spoon—for another half minute, an hour, a lifetime, would be all she could ask for to start her day. To hell with the sun rising, birds singing, children going off to school. They are not her children, those birds are not the ones she grew up hearing, this sun is no friend of hers. And Todd, she thinks. My Todd.
And this is not the first morning she has awoke to sobs that, though they seem to belong to someone else, are hers. It is just another day.
Misook’s dream: she is walking in a forest towards a man she does not recognize but knows intimately. As she approaches, there is a rustling of leaves and she turns toward the sound, startled to see a tiger, its eyes glaring red, its mouth set in what appears to be a frown, and she frowns in turn because that seems to be what one does to tigers in the woods, and yet it does no good, for the tiger begins to crouch and then springs forward, pouncing on her legs, its mouth open, its jaws clamping shut on her calf, and yet it does not hurt and she awakes instead smiling, and thinks of her mother and fortune tellers back in Korea and omens about money, good fortune and tigers in dreams.
And then, as she drifts off again to sleep, she is vaguely aware this is not her bed, but Nick’s, and that she thinks is maybe why the omens are so powerful, for she is safe here, secure, and tigers cannot harm her, but only can bring good prophecies and rest.
Doug wakes not knowing where he is, his breath short, his mind in a gray zone. Don’t panic, he thinks. Don’t panic. His heart races, pushes against his chest as if to escape into open air. He grabs the sheets, his mouth open, and forces himself to be calm. It takes maybe half a minute but his heart slows, the panic subsides, the morning becomes his, a familiar one once again.
And though we watch him rise and make his way, a little unsteadily, toward the kitchen, we do not wait for the cough, the piece of himself he gives up to keep on going. He will survive. He is not beaten yet.
Nick wakes feeling somewhat stiff in the neck, his mouth dry, but his mind clear, his spirit renewed. There is a purpose to his mornings now. A vision that propels him. He has the play in his head. The characters, their faces taking on shapes, characteristics, the lines having voices echoing in his head. He starts to see color, costumes, a multipurpose set of platforms, ramps, a staircase, perhaps, in the middle. There could even be a swing.
And music, Nick thinks. I must have music: a piano, a harpsichord maybe, some strings. And a voice, one voice in particular, Jenny’s voice floating in the air. And Puck, a female Puck, he imagines, light on her feet, spreading fairy dust across the stage.
He would like to tell someone, to walk down the hall to his bedroom and wake Misook from her sleep, to tell of the vision he sees, to spin tales, to invoke spirits, to dazzle her as he himself is dazzled by the pictures in his mind’s eye. But, of course, he does not, not wanting to disturb her slumber and the pictures he imagines fill her painter’s brain.
So instead he stands there in the middle of his den and speaks in a whisper to himself. “Lord,” he says to the shelves of books in his den/library, “what visions fill my head."
Jenny wakes to Vivian watching her. It happens so often these days that it doesn't bother her anymore. "Did you sleep well?' Vivian asks.
"Yes," Jenny says. "Yes, I did. And you?"
"I never sleep like you," Vivian says. "You sleep so soundly. There is nothing on your mind when you sleep."
"My mother used to say I sleep like the dead. That once asleep, it was impossible to wake me."
"You can do anything to you when you are asleep and you would never know," Vivian says and then a sly smile sneaks across her face.
"I would know," Jenny says. "I would know especially what you are planning."
"Would you?" Vivian asks softly, seductively, slowly entrapping her between her bare legs, her arms, her hands. "Would you know?"
"Yes," Jenny says, barely breathing, her mouth engulfed by Vivian's, her tongue enmeshed. "Yes."
And Miyo wakes to prepare breakfast. Yugi is still asleep, his face innocent, like a child’s. She almost feels like a mother, not a wife. She once heard somewhere that that was what all men wanted—to be taken care of. Or else to have daughters to take care of themselves. That the passion of love is replaced by that—a mother, a daughter, a father, a son. Roles we are most familiar with. She smiles to herself thinking it’s true of Yugi anyway. Always a little boy looking up at her. Always a child in need of care.
But her eyes don’t go to the window. Don’t see past the curtains to the street below. And what would she see there, if she looks, but a car pulling away from the curb. A car that passes by at least twice a day. To say good morning, like now, or to say good night. To watch her window like an adoring child or is it a lovesick man, a spurned lover, a soul adrift in a sea not of his choosing.
Ah Miyo, it’s best you don’t see yet. Busy yourself with breakfast. Let your world not know of the shadows lurking about.
Doug is at school long before the parking lot fills. It is his custom to arrive early, especially the first week or two of classes so he can visit each class with his fourth cup of coffee in hand, and to introduce himself to the students, to let them see the face that goes with his name, his title, to give his office number, where to find him if they have a problem. He is the only chair of a department who visits each class that his department offers the first week. But these students are his charge and he takes that responsibility seriously. Their struggles to learn the language is his struggle, too. And he makes sure they know they have an ally in him, his door always open to listen to complaints, offer advice, console frustration.
Today, though, he is feeling tired. The coffee just isn’t giving him the jolt he needs to keep moving and he finds his body drooping in the kitchen at work as he pours himself another cup and thinks about sleep. He thinks it might be the coffee so he forgoes the milk and drinks it black. Hector comes in then for a cup of coffee himself and Doug stares into eyes that seem more fatigued than his own. “You look tired,” he says to Hector. “Aren’t you getting enough sleep?”
“Not lately,” Hector says and smiles weakly. “I think I must be getting like you.”
“Great,” Doug says. “Two sleep deprived people running the show.” His eyes, though, look at Hector as if for the first time. They see the way his hands tremble slightly pouring milk into his coffee and the way his body leans against the counter rather than stands erect. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes,” Hector says. “I just haven’t been sleeping so well lately.”
“Ah,” Doug goes. “I can understand that.”
“I think I think too much,” he says and sighs. “Is there any cure for that?”
“None that works very well for long,” Doug says. “There are, in my experience, some good short term cures, like drinking or even intense periods of work, but,” and he sighs, too, “if whatever you’re thinking about doesn’t get resolved, it doesn’t go away for long.”
“Resolution,” Hector says. “That’s what I need, I guess.”
“That’s what we all need,” and Doug puts his arm around his assistant’s shoulder. “But it doesn’t come easy.”
“No,” Hector sorrowfully agrees. “No, it doesn’t.”
Neither knows the cause of the other’s sleeplessness but not knowing doesn’t affect their ability to identify with each other. Hector has always assumed Doug’s troubles run deep, but he has never bothered to concern himself with just what those troubles might be, thinking that even though he has known Doug for over a decade and has worked for him in some capacity that entire time, he had no right to pry into areas of his private life that were out of bounds to him. Hector is essentially a private person and not necessarily open about his life off campus. He is also considered somewhat remote even from his friends so it is only natural that he respects another’s privacy. However, they both seem to share a bond now that they both suffer from troubled sleep. And though no effort is made on either part to divulge the source of those troubles, they sense an affinity.
“Maybe you should take some time off,” Doug says. “You put in too many hours here. Take some personal days or a vacation. The language labs can run without you for a while.” Doug smiles. “You have trained a good staff, you know.”
“Yeah,” he nods. “Maybe I will.” But how does he say, if I do, how will I see Miyo who comes to work every day? What chance will I have to see her? And he leaves to check in on the tutoring in the labs. Walks listlessly through his day as he waits, somewhat patiently, for an excuse to find a way across campus to catch a glimpse of Miyo.
Doug, meanwhile, finds himself faced with the same campus politics he thought he escaped last June, only he’s been at this long enough to know political battles over turf never really end on a campus, because, as Nick would say, if they did, what would we talk about at departmental meetings. So after a phone call from the Dean, “A heads up” as he calls it, he is once again sending Ali off to prepare yet another report on the success of ESL students in credit bearing classes. Another round of meetings, conferences, back room politicking, report after report of statistics, colorful charts, projections, etc. etc. etc. This is what Doug likes least about his job and yet it takes up more and more of his time, his precious, diminishing energy. And so he finds himself tired before the day has really begun. Only the thought of teaching again cheers him. And he finds himself looking forward to meeting the new students in his classes. That, more than the coffee, boosts his spirits.
Nick sits in his office, his feet propped up on the table he uses as a desk, a lunch counter, a foot stool, an impromptu bar, and reads A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the sixth time that day. He had gotten ready as quietly as he could, dressing in clothes from his spare closet so he wouldn’t disturb Misook who was still sleeping soundly in his bed when he left. He knows she won’t come in to the office until later in the day to work her four hours in the scene shop before going off to graduate school for her first evening classes of the new semester. Normally she would have painted late into the night, the sound of Louis Armstrong putting on white coat, top hat, and tails drifting upstairs to him as he read while she painted furiously till dawn. She has no conception of time when she paints. She is a demon possessed.
But last night she had a little too much brandy to drink and so her irregular sleeping habits are temporarily altered. Nick, though, shares her irregular sleeping habits for his mind won’t turn off, either. It’s a restless mind that roams from one thought to another, one problem to the next, with constant regularity. And often his mind would dwell on her, on her asleep in his bed, like now, or in her own downstairs, her slender body twisting and turning as the colors, the shapes, the sounds that inspire her race through her restless mind. He normally would ponder her in repose and his heart would ache as it has so often ached over these last few years he has fallen hopelessly in love with her. And the little rest he requires would be lost yet another night, the dull pain in his heart following him into the morning, through the afternoon to quietly, mercilessly torment him even now, hours and miles away, but never absent for long from his heart.
But now instead he attacks this problem with the play by underlining phrases, making notations in the margins as to possible blocking, motivation, revisions, insertions of songs, dances, and then sitting back, looking up at the ceiling, and smiling. He has not been this excited about staging a play in years, possibly not since the seventies when just out of graduate school he felt a tremendous desire to change the world through drama. That was so long ago, he thinks, and looks over at his wall of pictures from past shows, of programs, of his life here at the college in one huge collage. Our eyes peruse these pictures with him and we see his hair length change, as well as his position in the pictures: from the center as the director while faculty, and often, as chair and thus producer, to not in the frame at all. And the shows: musicals, dramas, comedies, classics, all staples of theatre departments everywhere. And this collage covers most of his wall. It is the most dominant feature in the room, apart from an old worn leather easy chair and a couch with this utility table in front of it and his scarred oak desk with matching swivel chair. It is an inviting office, a comfortable office, one in which the person who occupies it intends to spend many hours working/living in it. Here Nick pores over scripts, plans his budget, confers with staff and students and casts of his plays, and, on rehearsal nights, catches a half hour or so of undisturbed sleep between classes and run-throughs. It is his office, his home away from home, his sanctuary on campus. And here, surrounded by memories and mementos from the past, he plots his future.
And for this reason, even though he occasionally drives himself into a frenzy, he is very much at peace. For now, he thinks, he is resurrecting a multi-layered love story and, quite possibly, within those layers somewhere is his love song to Misook, covertly playing, unconsciously heard.
Doug finds a hollowness inside his chest where he once thought his heart belonged. Somehow, he thinks, he lost what once filled his chest, his life, with hope, with desire, and he does not know where he misplaced it or how to get it back. He can, he knows, go through his day and function well: attend meetings, observe the faculty in his department, teach his two classes, walk that fine line between awake and asleep, be half alive. He does this well and often feels it is all that is left to him at this stage in his life. He is lucky, of course, blessed with a job he loves, surrounded by people he cares for, living in a house that is as comfortable as a pair of worn slippers, and yet to share all this with someone special does not seem too much to ask for, though it does seem too much to expect.
So he sits in his office lost in space, unaware of the buzzing of a dozen languages outside in the hall, unaware of all but the loneliness in his bones.
Hector finds peace only when Miyo is in sight. Of course he has to physically go out of his way to see her since she works in the costume shop across campus from his language labs but he parks near the theatre to watch her get out of her car in the morning and then leaves the labs in time to watch her get in her car at night, to follow discreetly behind as she drives home and to sit outside on her street watching her windows till all the lights turn off, torturing himself imagining what is going on in her bedroom, his hands tightly grasping his steering wheel, his heart pounding in his chest.
Miyo, for her part, is not even aware of the ghost that hovers about throughout the day, accidentally crossing her path. She is much too busy flipping through design books, researching different time periods for ideas for costumes for the upcoming plays. She is Nick’s costume designer now and she takes her job very seriously, constantly sketching her ideas for the different directors’ approval. So it is to be expected that she remains mostly oblivious to Hector’s specter presence. She does, though, as we all do, too, take notice of Misook who enters the office in a whirlwind.
“You would not believe,” she says in Japanese to Miyo, “what I did today.”
“You painted,” Miyo says and has to laugh when Misook looks at her unabashedly overjoyed.
“Yes, yes, I painted, but what I painted, oh, that is the thrilling part.”
“A picture?” Miyo teases. “A still life of oranges in a bowl?”
“No,” Misook says unperturbed by her teasing. “But in your honor, I shall call it ‘Oranges.’ And, of course, dedicate it to you.”
“You are so generous,” Miyo says. “How can I ever show my gratitude?”
“By buying me lunch. I am starved.”
“Isn’t it a little late for lunch?” Miyo asks, amused at what she knows is her best friend’s inability to keep track of mundane things like the time of day. “It is almost four o’clock.”
“Lunch is whenever you eat between breakfast and dinner. That is the rule in this country.”
“It is?” Miyo says in mock surprise. “It’s funny that I never heard it defined in that way.”
“That’s because you don’t live with an American. If you lived with an American like me, and not with another Japanese, you would know all the correct definitions and terminology.”
“Ahhh, I see,” Miyo says. “And I suppose I have my father to thank for that.”
“He may be your father,” Misook says, her eyes aglow, “but he’s my poppa.”
“Yes, and he seems to be more a poppa to you than a father to me.”
“Ah, but you have your husband and I only have my poppa.”
“Hmmm,” and Miyo laughs. “It’s only fair then, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Misook grins. “That is something we Asians understand, is that not correct?”
They both laugh then and Miyo says, “Speaking of what is fair, do you want to ask my father and your poppa if he wants to have lunch with us?”
“Of course,” Misook says. “Isn’t it a saying here that the family that eats together stays together?”
“Oh you would know better about sayings like that,” Miyo says. “That is the reason why you must go find the man responsible and ask him to join us for eating.”
And watch Misook then go off down the hall to find Nick in his office listening to Jeff explain the relevance of Clifford Odets to a modern audience today. “You must realize that he was dealing with the working classes’ problems then and they haven’t really changed very much today.”
“Okay,” Nick says, “I’ll buy the timeliness of Odets. But which play are you thinking of doing? Golden Boy?”
“I’m thinking of Awake And Sing,” Jeff says. “There’s a disillusioned vet, strong women, a young man on the cusp of adulthood, economic hardship, plenty of passion, and the line ‘’cause there ain’t no bones in ice cream.’”
“Well there’s the reason to revive it right there.”
“I’m serious, you know,” Jeff says.
“Oh, I know you are.”
“There’s plenty of social outrage in Odets. And poetry, too.”
“And I’m all for poetic social outrage.”
“So you agree?”
“Have I ever said no?”
“Are you two arguing politics again?” Misook asks as she comes in.
“Not arguing,” Jeff says. “Discussing.”
“Yes,” Nick agrees. “Unfortunately, Jeff always brings out the best side of me in these discussions.”
“That’s because you are both socialists inside,” Misook says. “Or do you say you are both socialists in heart?”
“At heart,” Nick corrects. “We are both socialists at heart.”
“In heart, at heart, with heart,” Misook says. “You both always agree.”
“Yes,” they both nod. “We agree.”
“Good,” Misook says. “And how about lunch? Do you both agree to have lunch with Miyo and me?”
“Lunch?” Nick asks. He looks at Jeff who makes one of his I-don’t-believe-this-crazy-person looks and says, “Isn’t it more like dinnertime?”
“Lunch, dinner, breakfast,” Misook says. “What difference does it make what you call it? Are you hungry and do you want to eat with Miyo and me?”
“Oh,” and Nick looks at Jeff who gives one of his You-can’t-fight-that-logic looks and says, “Put that way, I’d have to say yes, I could eat now.”
“Now comes the hard part,” Misook says, and both Nick and Jeff exchange one of their I-knew-this-was-coming looks. “What do you want to eat?”
And here begins the polite debate of well, what do you want, I don’t care, what do you want, followed by the endless listing of possibilities—Chinese, Turkish, Thai, Korean, pizza, sandwiches, deli specials, roast chicken—before Misook decides for them all. “We shall eat Korean food,” she says emphatically and both Nick and Jeff think it prudent not to try to change her mind. So Korean food it is which Jeff finds acceptable since he gets beef and Nick gets eel and the women get vegetable dishes with rice and cellophane noodles, though Misook has, as is her custom, a little bit of everyone’s dish and insists, as is also her custom, to give everyone some of hers. It is her natural curiosity that takes over and, as is also her habit, she takes out her camera and records the lunch for possible inspiration later. Nick, of course, can’t help smiling appreciatively at her during all this but tries to mask his admiration by pretending he is really smiling at everything else. Misook, though, knows the truth and this gives her great delight and she really can’t help but be more theatrical in her behavior as a result.
And Miyo, who sees it all, can’t help but smile and would like to dedicate the meal to someone but cannot decide whom to dedicate it to—her beloved boss or his Korean muse who is her best friend—and so ultimately dedicates it to them both, a compromise she thinks she can live with, which is what, as we all know, compromises are made for.
“Relationships,” Doug says, “are a series of compromises.”
“Yes, I know that,” Gia replies, “but how come I always have to be the one who compromises? I ask you, is that fair?”
“Well, no,” Doug says and sighs, knowing full well that this is not going to be the conversation he would have liked to have. “But sometimes, in the balance of things, things are not always balanced evenly.”
“What kind of answer is that?” Gia asks. “I’m not sure if that’s even correct English, that answer.”
“It’s correct,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean it has to make perfect sense, though, I might add, I do happen to think it does.”
“How can some things be balanced if they’re uneven? That I don’t understand.”
“Well, not balanced in terms of a scale of weight but in human terms. It’s different.”
“Don’t you mean another word besides balance?” Gia asks. “When people are like opposite, or different, and yet they go together. Is that what you mean?”
“Complement,” Doug nods. “They complement each other.”
“Yeah, right,” Gia nods, too. “Do you mean complement instead of balance?”
“I could,” Doug says, “but I mean balance, too. I like the image that balance conjures in my head as to relationships. I see two people grossly disproportionate but yet somehow on an even plane together. And for me, that’s a different visual image than complement.”
Gia regards him with a critical eye. “You’re strange sometimes, but you know that, right?”
“Yes,” Doug sighs, wishing he had a cigarette in his hand right about now so he could take a long, hard pull. “Yes, I know. I know that all too well.”
And Gabriella watches her students try to limber up. There are so few who really have the grace of dancers, but what does she expect here, in this country of hamburgers and French fries. She cannot relate to these young women. When she was their age, she lived and breathed dance. Her body was like an instrument and she constantly practiced at playing it. But her students lack that discipline, all except maybe two new foreign students: Catalina from Colombia and Hsu Chi from Taiwan. They seem almost as serious as she was at their age and are lean and lithe the way she was, still is, today. Only now she lacks the intensity she possessed. Life perhaps has robbed her of that. But her hard earned discipline, at least, sustains her.
Watch Misook paint. She stands barefoot, her slender body clad only in a short flowered print silk dress, left hand resting on her hip, right leg slightly bent forward, a knife held loosely in her right hand, her head tilted to the side. She eyes the canvas, like some tourist studying an unfamiliar road map, uncertain in which direction to go and yet bound and determined to go somewhere. Art for Misook is a path beyond self—to some enlightened stage where the haze and ambiguity of life is dispelled by a clarity of vision that astounds the world. Misook isn’t so much looking for understanding as she is looking for a way to make others understand what she sees. And yet she cannot always determine what to paint first, for she sees so many shapes, so much color, such a world in transition before her stunned eyes.
Nick sits at his desk in his office staring at a drawing on his wall. It is one of Misook’s, a sketch, really, of the poster for Finian’s Rainbow done two years ago, with a leprechaun half hidden by a tree gazing lovingly, longingly at a young girl dancing in the foreground. He has always liked this sketch, the sense of wonder, of awe on the leprechaun’s face as he watches unseen a dance of vitality and joy. And Misook had playfully given the leprechaun a face that resembled his, as if foreseeing what would be his role in her life. At first it had amused him, but now it saddens him. And though he will not be taking it down, his eyes grow heavy, and they begin to close, there in his office, seated there at his desk.
Jenny runs the scales while Vivian eyes her throat, her lips, the way her chin tilts forward. If it were polite to drool, to show signs of a palpitating heart, she would do so. But here, in the company of others, she shows remarkable restraint. But later, when she gets her home, she will not be so polite. She will spend hours exploring, caressing every part of Jenny's body. And there will be cries of delight in the night air, some of which will be Jenny's, some of which will belong to her.
MinKyung sits perhaps a little too stiffly, primly may be a better word, as Doug reviews her essay with her during conference. She tries not to look at him as he explains his corrections, but she can’t help but sneak an occasional peek at that handsome Anglo-Saxon face. He is so American, she thinks. What could he be possibly thinking as he reads her thoughts, her feelings? How could he understand the entanglements of her life?
And yet, as he speaks about sentence structure and verb tense, she finds comfort in the sound of his voice, the Chopin “Ballades” playing softly in the background, the Matisse prints on the wall. And as his fingers glide across the red marks on her paper, we notice the stiffness ease, her body relax, her weight shift comfortably in her chair. And after he has finished, she can’t stop herself from asking, “You don’t remember me, I think.”
Doug looks slightly baffled as his eyes search hers for a clue, a hint of their last encounter. “We met before?”
“At Yugi’s and Miyo’s wedding,” she says.
“The restaurant?” and his face frowns momentarily as he tries to recall.
“It is my husband’s restaurant,” she says. “My husband is Yugi’s cousin.”
“Ah,” Doug says and his face is smiling now, such a handsome smile, kind and reassuring. “You were in charge.”
She averts her eyes in a show of modesty and nods assent. “I did what I always do there: I made sure everyone had food to eat.”
“A blessed talent that is,” he says and then asks questions about the restaurant, the mechanics of her role, he seems so interested that she is once again at ease. They could be friends discussing lunch. He finally adds smiling, “What a coincidence you ended up in my class.”
“Miyo did it,” MinKyung says. “She recommended me in all my classes.”
“Ah, of course,” and he laughs. “I should have guessed.”
“She said you were not only a good teacher, but that you were kind.” And her eyes lower again, not quite making contact with his. “And with my poor writing ability, I need someone kind.”
He laughs, but in such a soft, good-natured way that she knows it is not at her but at the remark instead. “Your mechanics may be weak,” he says, “but there’s nothing wrong with the content. It is obvious you have much to say. Now we just have to work on helping you develop the skill to say it.”
“Miyo was right,” she says. “You are kind.”
He seems almost flustered then, even maybe a slight trace of a blush appears on that oh so white skin, and MinKyung finds that endearing. She thinks she likes this man and that adds to her sense of comfort here. And the fact that he fumbles when complimented makes her smile.
And we watch as Doug steers the conversation back to her, her goals at school, her interests, her life outside, her essay. He gets her talking about herself and as she talks, he finds connections from her past, her present, to what she envisions as a future. And finally he brings her closer to the means to achieve it.
“You didn’t attend college before in Japan?”
“Actually I did. I was an art student, like Miyo and her friend Misook.”
“Did you want to paint like Misook, or did you want to go into fashion design like Miyo?”
“I didn’t really have a clear idea back then. I just loved to draw and so I studied it but I did not have any thought about what to do with it.” And a wistful look causes her to almost dissolve. “I was so young then. There was so much I did not know.”
“That could be said of all of us. We are so foolish when we are young.”
“But do you get more wise with age?” MinKyung asks. “Sometimes I do not think so.”
“Well, I think we still do foolish things when we get older,” he says, “but we know we’re being foolish then. And maybe that awareness is what we mistakenly call wisdom.”
“Then it truly is better to be ignorant,” she says.
“Yes,” and he nods. “You sleep better at night that way.”
She laughs but there is sadness in that laugh that Doug recognizes though he doesn’t know the cause. But the sound is so familiar that he feels he knows this person better than he could have at first imagined. “And how did you go from art to waitressing in a restaurant?”
“It is not the life I would have planned,” she says, “but because I really had no plan, it is the life I have.”
“And I guess I understand that.” He feels such a surge of empathy for her at this moment that he almost reaches out to touch her, to physically reassure her that he was not judging her in any way. Instead, though, he adds, “Sometimes life has the habit of not doing what we expect it to, and if we’re lucky, we survive the changes.”
It’s here, in his office, staring into those sad, ironic eyes that she at first realizes she not only likes this man, but that she could, under the right circumstances, abandon her restraint and like him very much. And though that should frighten her, or at the very least disturb her, it doesn’t. And instead she begins to tell him the story of her life. Her family, her carefree teens in Korea, her plans to paint, to study art in college, her meeting Hiroshi, the courtship, the marriage, coming to America, the restaurant work, her life now. And though normally she would not have divulged so much so soon, she feels so at ease doing it, talking to him in this way, that she almost wishes there was more to tell. But luckily for her, she gets it all out before she can change her mind or before any other students come to interrupt her. And so finally, when others appear for their appointed conferences, she is ready to leave. But as she does, she leaves with the knowledge that not only does he want her to return, but that she does, too.
And Gabriella returns to Nick’s office after her last dance class of the day to finish listening to his grand idea. And we, too, get to hear him explain his concept of what will substitute for the spring musical this year.
“I want to do a multicultural version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he says. “You know, it’s a perfect vehicle for that. We make the different groups—the Court, the lovers, the fairies, the clowns—different language groups, different cultures. We even use different languages on stage and have subtitles projected above the action like at City Center or the State Theatre. We have music and dance, different forms, different rhythms, like tango for the lovers and ballet for the fairies and jazz for the clowns. And we use different costumes, different color schemes for each group, lots of clashing colors. A wild celebration of love.” His eyes light up, a man possessed, and he begins to show her his notes, he fleshes out scenes, he talks about casting, his ideas for a set.
Gabriella is, as usual, swept up in his enthusiasm. His eyes aglow, his hands gesticulating, flying through the air, his voice changing as he plays the different roles, he is up, he is down, he is all over the room demonstrating how it will play, how it will look. And Gaby begins to envision dancers in her head. It starts, in this way, to come alive for her.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Nick, but I’m pregnant,” Rosalind says later that day and then feels a tremendous burden lift from her chest, the air soaring back as Nick smiles.
“That’s great,” he says and then he stands and walks around his desk. “This calls for a big hug.”
She laughs, blushes, hugs him tightly and almost cries. “You’re not mad?” she asks. “I thought you’d be mad.”
“Why?” he asks, slightly taken aback. “Why would I be mad?”
“Well, it might cause some problems in the shop. It’ll only be Simon full-time now after I leave,” and she gives an embarrassed laugh.
“Ahhh, well…” and he shrugs. “But that’s my headache. You, though, you’re going to have a baby.” And he grins like a kid, something Rosalind hasn’t seen for quite a while. “That’s truly wonderful.”
And the talk then centers around the details: when she found out, what her husband thinks, who else knows (“Only my family,” Rosalind explains. “I couldn’t tell anyone here until I told you.”), possible names, how it will affect her life. She is just so happy that Nick can’t help but be glad for her. And as he listens to the plans to decorate the spare room, the family dynamics changing as the first grandchild will appear on the scene for both sets of in-laws, the adjustments both she and Stan will have to make in their work schedules, Nick is suddenly overwhelmed with melancholy. For another child will be born to learn the family history of another set of parents, another line will be unbroken for another generation, but his line, the stories he has to tell, will fall silent one day sooner than he would like. And now, how he wishes he had a life to pass on. It isn’t retirement his mind turns to, it’s rebirth. And he can’t help but wonder how he’s missed that opportunity again and again in his life.
Oh, to be young, he sighs. Oh, to have an open sky above and beyond your eyes. Oh, life. It doesn’t pass us by but we pass it on, if we’re lucky, to new hearts, new minds, the young.
And the young, the young, they crowd the halls, sit in the classrooms, dance their hearts away. And Gabriella looks out from tired, wistful eyes remembering her own youth, the boundless energy that once flowed through her limbs that now only ache for the one body that held her so long and so lovingly throughout the endless night.
And the young are people like Sara who tutors in the writing lab. She helps her group of students with the descriptive essay by explaining what a cliché is: "something so old it has no value anymore." She wonders if that applies to her--for isn't she a walking cliché of unrequited love? And doesn't she feel valueless? And as she passes by Hector's office, she can't help thinking he doesn't even notice me.
Poor, poor me, she snivels. I am less than a shadow on the ground. I am dust. I am invisible.
And Hector is part of the night. He is a shadow among shadows, inseparable from the darkness around him. And his eyes burning bright like some wild beast's stare out from the blackness and burn holes in the windows, through the bricks on the walls, pierce the night and see in their lurid imagination that slender body engulfed by another body that is not his. Oh, the pain in his heart, the pain stabbing between those burning eyes. And the questions tormenting his soul: how has this happened? Where will it lead? What does it mean?
“So,” Nick says at lunch, “that’s my idea. A modern Midsummer Night’s Dream”
“Well,” Doug says, “it certainly is ambitious.”
“Ambitious?” Nick laughs. “That’s the understatement of the year.”
“Yes, it is,” Doug nods.
“But I see this so clearly. I have to do it, you know.”
“Well, if you have to do it, don’t let me dissuade you.”
“I won’t,” he grins. “Instead I’ll let you help me.”
“Ah,” Doug goes. “This must be the catch, and I didn’t even see you throw the ball.”
“As Caesar said at the Po, the ball is cast.”
“Was it a ball?’ Doug muses. “I thought it was a die.”
“Die, ball, fishing tackle,” Nick says waving his hand to show how insignificant the difference is. “It’s all just a figure of speech anyway.”
“And leave it to you to make an historical reference with your figures of speech,” Doug says. “But getting back to balls and catching, just what do you want me to do?”
“You have the source of talent in terms of ethnic and language groups from which I can draw,” he answers, “and you can also help me with updating the text.”
“You don’t mean rewrite Shakespeare, I hope,” Doug says. “That would be sacrilegious.”
“No,” Nick says. “Reshape.”
Doug looks quizzically Nick’s way but his blank look doesn’t help him. “I’m not sure I understand the difference.”
“Well,” Nick says, “I mean to tighten it up a bit. To edit.”
“Ahhh,” Doug’s eyebrow rises. “I’m not so sure I’m going to like this.”
Nick chooses to ignore his doubts and concentrates on a positive spin in his answer. “It’s more like changing things to allow this ethnic mix.”
“Some dialogue, maybe.”
“You know, update some jargon maybe.”
“Oh boy,” Doug sighs. “I think this is just a peek into Pandora’s Box.”
“I’ll pay you, of course,” Nick says.
“It’s not the money,” Doug says. “It’s the thought of butchering a wonderful play.”
“It’s an adaptation,” Nick explains. “We’ll say in the program it’s based on the text.”
“It’s sounds like more than reshaping to me,” Doug says. “Those two little words ‘based on’ imply major overhaul. And I’m beginning to think I may be getting in over my head here. Because if I’m getting in over my head, I will regret this for many years to come.”
“When were you planning on retirement?” Nick asks.
“Because it’ll only be while still on campus that you’ll have to worry about the slings and arrows of outrageous critics.”
“Cute,” Doug says. “Just what I need for encouragement.”
“C’mon,” Nick laughs. “It’s a joke. This’ll be fun.”
Doug looks at Nick. Nick looks back. There is a long pause before Doug says, “I think we’re going to need another glass of wine now.”
And Nick is off again, painting pictures in the air of how he sees it. And while he paints his pictures and Doug strains to catch his enthusiasm, we pull back and leave them to their pasta dishes, their wine, garlic bread and olive oil for dipping. A meal. And the beginning of their great adventure.
Jenny sits opposite Jeff in his office. She is unsure of what she wants other than just to talk to someone she knows will listen. For her, now, a crossroads looms in front but she has no idea what to do with the choices and has no one to turn to to ask, except Vivian who will let emotion sway any advice she can give, and Jeff, who will listen as always to her constant dilemma. So she talks about what graduate program to transfer to when she is done next fall.
"They're all good choices," Jeff says, "but if you can, you should go to Julliard."
"But my status," she says. "I don't think they will take me. And even if they will, how could I afford there without any aid?"
"Right," he says. "I forgot."
And the hidden subject, her lapsed student visa, rears its ugly head again. If only she had not let her visa expire, if only she had not made that fatal error, roads now closed would be open. And the future would be brighter than it is today.
"There are a few schools that will accept me but the best ones are private and so expensive. And I don't make enough singing or in the nail salon." She sighs. "Vivian helps, but I don't want to keep depending on that."
"There is no solution to this problem?"
"I can apply for reinstatement but," and she sighs deeply again, "they tell me my chances are not very good at this time." She looks off somewhere for an answer that proves evasive. Her eyes, those dark treasures that captivate him so, cloud over and turn opaque on him.
"Well, it's worth a try," he says. "How long will it take?"
"Months," she says. "And it's certain I will be rejected, and then I will be ordered to leave."
"And you've been to a lawyer?"
"Yes," and she laughs helplessly. "His advice was to marry an American." Her eyes can't hide her bitter amusement. "And he charged me two hundred and fifty dollars for that."
A thought flickers through his mind but he suppresses any articulation of it. Instead he looks at her forlorn figure, the shape of her thighs in her tight fitting jeans, the crevice between her small breasts, that lovely neck, those full lips, those eyes, and bites his tongue. But surely, he thinks, it would not be hard to find an American who could fall in love with her. But would she, could she fall in love with him?
Jeff sits in Nick's office and talks about what is troubling his heart.
“I don’t know how it happened,” Jeff says. “I really don’t. But I can’t get her out of my mind.”
“Jenny,” Jeff sighs. “I’m smitten with Jenny.”
“Ah, well…” and Nick goes but goes no further for nothing else really needs to be said. At least not by him.
“But her status,” Jeff says. “That seems to be a problem I didn’t count on.”
“Her status?” Nick asks. “What about her status?”
“I’m not sure I understand the problem,” Nick says. “She’s illegal?”
“And have you talked with Doug? This is his area of expertise, you know. Can’t he help?”
“It’s beyond him now,” Jeff says. “Only marriage with an American will help.”
“Marriage?” Nick asks. “Are you planning on marrying her?”
”I could,” Jeff says, “but she’d have to love me first.”
“And she doesn’t?”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Oh,” Nick says. “That is a stumbling block.”
“She’s in love with Vivian instead.”
“Vivian?” Nick blinks. “The piano player?”
“Yes,” Jeff nods. “But I know she likes me a lot. And well, maybe I can win her heart away.”
“If I have to.”
“Ahhh,” Nick goes. “I’m afraid this is a little beyond me, too.”
“I know it is,” Jeff says. “I just had to tell someone.” And then he goes on, pouring his heart out, there in the office, confessing his love, his torment, while Nick, his old teacher, his mentor, his employer, his friend, listens, and secretly thanks whatever god is listening for making his own affairs of the heart a lot less complicated, a lot less disturbing in their own way.
And Irene calls in the early evening as Doug is sitting down to dinner in his kitchen alcove, watching the sun disappear from his yard. “Am I disturbing you?” she asks, just as she always does each time she calls.
Doug thinks yes, yes, of course you are, because you of all people can disturb me more than anyone, anything else. But he does not say that, does not even say it’s his dinner hour, it’s his moment of quiet reflection here in his favorite place to eat, his alcove overlooking his deck, his backyard garden, his little piece of Eden here in New York. “No,” he says instead. “How are you?”
“Oh,” and he hears her sigh that infamous Irene sigh that precedes the reason for her call. “I don't know. I guess I'm not feeling so great.”
“Well,” he says and resists sighing himself because he knows this will cost him something besides time and a delayed dinner, an emotional price tag hanging in the air between them, “what’s wrong?”
"Nothing specific," she says. "I'm just feeling blue." Then after a very long second's hesitation adds, "Do you ever feel blue, Doug, when you think about us?"
And he closes his eyes anticipating what will follow and thinks it’s times like these that he knows exactly why he divorced her, but he has trouble remembering why he married her in the first place. And he braces himself to endure what will follow, hoping he will still have an appetite left when this ends for the very cold dinner that awaits him.
Nick stands in a tuxedo, a white carnation in his lapel, his best friend from college, Steve, standing next to him, looking our way but really seeing down a church aisle, waiting for his bride. Music starts, an organ maybe, and his eyes widen expecting the woman approaching in white to be Linda but instead she stops midway down the aisle, lifts her veil, and says, “Are you there?” And this woman, this bride to be in white, this young Korean woman calls him again, “Poppa, are you busy?’
Nick pops awake, having dozed off briefly in his reading chair. At first he is slightly disoriented, her voice calling, mingling with her voice in the dream, a dream that seems to overlap with reality as often as reality overlaps with his dreams. And Misook resides in both worlds for him, a thought he could find unsettling if he stopped to think about it, which happily, at least for now, he does not.
“Can you hear me?” Misook asks from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yes,” he says, his mouth dry all of a sudden. “Yes, I hear you.”
“Are you asleep?” she asks tentatively. “Did I wake you?” she says, as she climbs a few steps up the stairs.
“No, no,” he answers, shaking himself out of his lingering memory of the dream. “Come up.”
And Misook is there, in shorts and a t-shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting in the rocker, one slender bare leg tucked under her, the other bent with her foot resting on the cushion, her chin resting on her knee, her eyes looking perhaps a bit too pensive, maybe even slightly mournful. Nick knows something is troubling her but being accustomed to his sometime role of Father Confessor, he waits patiently for her to tell him what that is. And she sighs and says, of the Ralph Vaughn Williams recording playing softly on the stereo, “That’s lovely.”
“Yes,” he nods. “I felt like listening to something lovely tonight.”
“But it is also a little sad,” she says. “Are you sad tonight, poppa?”
“No,” he says.
She looks at him with that tilted head of hers, that painter’s eye, so keen on detail, and says, “You are always a little sad.”
“No,” he protests, though not loudly. “I’m just tired.”
“Yes,” she nods. “You are always tired. And a little sad, too.”
“You think so?”
“Yes,” she says solemnly. “I have known you for over five years now and have lived here for three years, and you are my poppa, my special friend here in America, and so I know these things. I pay extra attention,” and she has such a serious look on her face that he can’t help but smile. “You cannot hide it from me,” she says, “with that smile. I know too well.”
“You do, huh?”
“Yes,” she says. “You are always tired because you do not sleep properly and you are always a little sad.”
“You don’t sleep properly, either.”
“Yes, that is true,” she nods, acknowledging a fact there is no point in denying. “But I am younger and so I do not need as much sleep. But you, you need more rest.”
“And you’re sad sometimes, too,” he says.
“Yes,” she nods again. “Yes, I am. But not all the time like you. There is a difference.”
“You’re sad right now,” he says.
“Yes, but you are changing the subject.”
“The subject is sadness,” he says, feeling expansive all of a sudden. “Yours, mine, the eternal condition of all humanity.”
“Oh boy,” and she sighs, something she finds herself doing often with this man. “You turn everything around.”
“Yes, you do. You take my concern and you turn it into a worldwide epidemic.”
“Hmmm,” he goes. “That’s what I’m supposed to do. To go from the specific to the general. To view the big picture.”
“You could give a girl a headache,” she says. “It must be very difficult to love you.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“This is not good, poppa.” And her look becomes even more serious, more concerned, as if the diagnosis returned was fatal. “If you are so difficult to love, who will take care of you after I am gone.”
“Well,” and he smiles as best as he can under the circumstances, “I guess I’ll have to put an ad in the paper before you leave and have you interview all perspective applicants.”
“You are not taking this serious.”
“Should I be?” and suddenly he finds it a little harder to ask the next question than he had imagined. “Are you planning to leave so soon?”
“Not now,” she says, “but I will finish graduate school next fall.”
“Well, I have time to worry then,” and he gets up and pours them both a brandy. “Here,” he says as he hands one to her. “Let’s drink to my year’s reprieve.”
“You are hopeless,” and she sighs again. “I may just have to stay in New York to watch you.”
“God forbid,” and he laughs. “I can’t have that on my conscience, too.”
And she throws one of her slippers at him and hits him on the chest. He feigns death and she laughs in spite of herself. Then she throws the other slipper, too. It hits him on the head and he jumps up and throws it back. She grabs it for another toss but he growls like a wounded bear and leaps for her on the rocker. She squeals as he picks her flailing body up and swings her around in his arms. They both collapse giggling in his chair.
“Oh poppa,” she says settling down into a comfortable embrace in his arms. “What am I going to do with you?’
And Nick elects not to try to answer. He just holds her for as long as he can the whole night through.
of Other Books