Great food is…..great.
When we left you in the previous book, the Royals had departed, Janah subsequently swapped email with William regarding school curriculum and policies. He reads and replies, often with questions, his interest in education isn’t just for press release purposes.
At the moment, Janah is chatting with Mrs. Epstein, and I’m doing Amaya’s toes in dark red with sparkles. The kid is really annoying, she even has perfect feet. Mine take a ton of work to be reasonably presentable. Amaya doesn’t have to stomp around dojangs barefoot, at least at the temple, we wear shoes. It was such a good idea, Nikko and I started wearing Adidas martial arts shoes for our other practice, don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago. Now all the RSGs (Chapmans taekwondo students call themselves Reform School Girls, after an exquisitely bad movie, an irony as Chapmans is as far from a reform school as one can get.) They don’t have reform schools anymore, gone before I was born. Now they just let disruptive bullies mix with kids trying to learn something. I suppose some education dweeb thought it a good idea to mix the diligent with the slackers. Failure to grasp that good students don’t bring up bad ones, the bad just get more frustrated and ultimately bring everyone else down.
While her toes dry, I start in on fingernails, she wants the same dark red, no sparkles. Sometimes we do each nail in different colors, or I draw mini-calligraphy on the background. Normally, she goes to Jeniette Day Spa on 13th St. near Union Square, about a mile away. We also have our hair cut there, the place has been in business since before I was me and simple haircuts aren’t five hundred dollars, they aren’t even one hundred. Thank God not everyone in Manhattan has lost their minds.
Amaya is one thousand percent girl. That means fashion, hair, nails and jewelry. At least she doesn’t crave Tiffany and Harry Winston. I’d purchased a few expensive pieces for her, earrings, a jade necklace and one in fine platinum with a rectangular sapphire pendant. She makes then look better, fine pieces or costume jewelry. The Jamaicans developed a specialty business in Amaya’s choices. Once she buys something, similar stuff starts selling. Nobody knew quite what happened, Juju’s theory is the best, that she’s a Voodoo Queen. She isn’t into gyms, no spin class, no running. She’s a yoga beast, and Janah taught her gymnastics light, Lacy helps with dance; as an entertainer, she wants fluidity and grace, not huff and puff. Yoga, handstands and ballet keep her rock toned, and she doesn’t have to get any bruises. The ballet Lacy and Amaya do is not the crushed toe and sprained ankle version of professional dance. The objective, muscle tone, flexibility, doesn’t require standing en pointe, beautiful and difficult, needlessly hard on toes and arches for what Amaya wants.
Amaya, “I have Nikko and Daphne to bludgeon my enemies, why should I break a nail?”
“You don’t have enemies, everybody either likes you or you figure out how to manipulate them into your world view.”
“Well, in case my charm wears off, I have you watching my back. I want to focus my attention on stylish and glamorous. My calling.”
“It’s a big ego calling.”
Amaya harrumphs, “Look who’s talking, Red Queen!”
“Please be still and let things dry, here’s the remote, play music or watch TV for half an hour. We need to be ready to leave at six-thirty.”
Nikko settles in next to her, kisses her head, they lean back and flip through channels until Harry Potter and the Warts came on. I bring them a Coke Zero, no point making snacks for women who won’t eat them.
Janah, “I, on the other hand, need to gather strength to shower and dress. What’s do you have to fortify me?”
“Do you want fruit, or yogurt?”
“Both, a cup of vanilla yogurt, and mixed fruit, and….”
“Tea. Kick back on the couch, I’ll bring it in a second.”
I catch Amaya staring at me, then Janah, then I bring Janah’s pre-dinner snack, Amaya smiles at me, leans against Nishiko’s shoulder and they watch Emma Watson cast a spell. Now that’s she’s grown up, Emma casts a spell on most of us, sooo adorable.
“Glamour-puss is catching on.”
“We’ll explain soon. No point in confusing her. She acts like she knows something, and she sees we communicate silently. She hasn’t grasped the whole of it. I think she should know.”
“Okay by me, what does Nikko think?”
“I like it that Nishiko doesn’t over-explain.”
Janah giggles, Amaya turns to look up at her, a perplexed half smile on her face.
“White Queen is using her confused girl aura, hoping one of her sucker moms will fall for it.”
Janah, “We will de-confuse her tomorrow. I don’t want her getting off quite that easily. She gets her way most the time now.”
“What’d you expect? She has me for a role model.”
“She has you for a slave.”
It is true.
We walk to the condo, the moms and dad are outside, with cabs waiting. We get dad, they converge around Amaya and off we go to Chef Villaume’s.
We’ve developed a strict ritual with Chef, we sit, he feeds us. Over the years, he’s learned our tastes, from opening drink to closing dessert. He puts things in front of us we might not order if we saw it on a menu, and he knows us well enough to try out new creations. He even asks for my suggestions, quite flattering considering his own incredible skill. The familiarly leaves us free to chatter away aimlessly, without the interruption of studying menus and wine lists.
Mrs. Epstein is between Janah and I, dad next to me, Dr. Epstein, then Nikko next to Sis, Amaya, Chris, Kara next to Janah. We don’t spread out the men, they prefer to share observations without having to voice them across the table.
Mrs. Epstein, “Do you remember our first visit long ago? You in a short skirt, creating havoc among the diners, and the kitchen.”
“Fond memories. Now Nikko has us in long skirts or silk pants, Janah is about antique dresses, I’m still smitten.”
“Really, you only gaze at her once a minute.”
“I must be slowing down.”
Mrs. Epstein, “I see Amaya has no trouble filling the short skirt diva vacuum.”
“Isn’t she incredible? Even though she knows her effect, she carries it splendidly. Janah says it’s why she’s so devastating. She’s a heart attack on legs, but flows, doesn’t pose.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Nikko imparted some of the equanimity, that rest is being handled by Ari, Janah says.”
“Nikko’s mom says she’s a natural. Poised poise. She has to slow her speaking pace, but her physical delivery of the tea and food is pure nuanced art. We are delighted for her. Given her past, a bit of precious perfectionism is expected, she spent her young years in front of a camera.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Bernie says it was just the right thing at just the right moment. She was more fragile than she let on. Allowing her to blossom in her own way let her to gather her resources. I know she held it together well, but James and Bernie were concerned it was a more superficial toughness than it appeared.”
“Janah talked to her, I mean the Janah talk, several times. Yes, it was shakier than it looked. There were moments, then fewer, shorter. Nikko doesn’t allow ‘poor me, I was abused.’ It’s been over two years, near three, without any flashbacks, she sails along.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Well, that’s what Janah does. Uncovers the real, and depending on the circumstance, breaks it apart or helps it heal.”
“And I assume tomorrow, we will be discussing break it apart.”
“You assume correctly.”
Amaya is holding her spot as the center of the center of the universe. Chef Villaume creates a special dessert for her, as he had for Janah years ago. It’s called Night Rain, creamy vanilla mousse inside a flaky buttery profiterole, covered in dark chocolate shavings. Did I mention, the profiteroles sit on two half scoops of handmade ice cream, one vanilla, the other chocolate? Yeooow!
Amaya stands, nearly as tall as Chef Villaume, “Magnifique, parfait dans tous les sens. Je suis très honoré, monsieur."
Chef, “Mrs. Epstein brings the most stunning and articulate guests.”
Amaya kisses his cheek as I had years ago, Chef takes her hand and air kisses the back, "Puis-je ajouter ce dessert à notre menu, mademoiselle?"
Amaya, "Ce serait un honneur, monsieur."
Chef, “Then it is done, merci, mademoiselle. Tomorrow, Night Rain will appear on the dessert menu as the featured item.”
She gifts him her most blinding smile, his smit is smitten, he bows, winks at me and floats off to his kitchen.
Sis, “Cripes, another Daphne.”
“He never named a dessert after me, he named it after Janah.”
Chris, “She’s got you there.”
Janah, “And tonight, you are the main course for my midnight snack.”
Nikko, “And I am going to devour White Angel Parfait afterwards.”
“And the Queen looked over the land, and saw that it was a damn fine thing to be the Queen.”
Balthazar in Soho, jammed tables, so-so food, sky high prices, that’s how you know it’s Balthazar.
Ten thirty, time for young fashion icons to go to bed. Amaya isn’t complaining. She stands still to be undressed, I hang her clothes, put her shoes in the rack, she brushes, flushes and snuggles in.
I kiss her forehead, “You dazzled tonight, wonderful company. Ari is taking your natural charm to an entirely new level.”
She gets a half grin half grimace, “She makes me work it, like you talk about Hanshi, she is Hanshi of the tea ceremony. Mrs. Murakami gives me lots of stern looks, shakes her head, says, ‘begin again, and pay attention…to everything,’ but I can see a tiny sparkle in her eye.”
I grin, “Maybe they practice stern looks with each other between sessions,” I imitate a growl from Hanshi Murakami.
Amaya giggles and yawns, “Goodnight Red Queen.”
“And you White Queen.”
I start to get up, “You may kiss me.”
I lean to her, she raises her face and our lips meet, hold a couple of beats, she says, “I like you to kiss me, you like it as well I think.”
I stand and go to the door, turn and smile demurely, “A delight not to be missed.”
I flip off the light on the way out, the night light pops on, I close the door.
Nikko, “She is good?”
“Better than good. Got to dress up, be the star, and further endear herself to our moms and her mom.”
Janah, “I’m hungry,” she’s not referring to food.
Nikko and I supply everything her heart desires and some things she didn’t know she desired, but desired them a lot when we did them.
Janah is out, I slide over to Nishiko and give her a long slow…you can figure it out. She melts like butter on a warm day. Then I move to my side of Master J, hold hands across Janah’s tight tummy until we drift away.
We’re due at Mrs. Epstein’s for nine. Amaya to Ning’s. After breakfast, Ning and the girls are grocery shopping. It had been protocol for one of us, or Chan, to be with the girls when they go out. Satisfied they now have enough of our friends keeping an eye out, we loosen the reins. Besides, coddling them is pointless. They have to learn to navigate the city eventually.
Janah, “When we get back from the Epsteins, let’s take Amaya to Balthazar, have lunch, when we get back, we’ll discuss us.”
“Good with me, Nishiko?”
Nikko, “It’s time.”
At the Epstein’s enjoying Beluga blinis, thin Russian pancakes, rolled up around sour cream and Beluga caviar. Super yummy and some. Janah the vegetarian has to suffer with just the blini, butter and confectioner’s sugar. She doesn’t appear to be suffering. Refreshed, we watch a video, guys hanging around and pictures of abuse.
It’s one of the old fashioned refocusings. A couple of dipshits that think women and children best learn obedience with black eyes and split lips.
Janah, “That is why I got into this. We got sucked into the terrorist stuff, I suppose someone has to take it on, jerks with ideology behind their maliciousness. These child abusers are just pig ugly mean. And the arrogance of deciding who should be obedient, like their wives and children are dogs.”
“J, an ideology doesn’t make it better.”
Janah, “No, it’s just easier for me to grasp how they get caught up in it. All the religious are brainwashed in essentially the same way. From birth until blow up. Christians do it, Muslims do it, Jews do it, Hindu’s do it, even the Buddhists have their moments. Someone could argue that what we do is the result of our ‘religious’ training.”
“Baloney. What someone could argue and what’s actually going on are frequently two different things.”
Janah, “Oh, I’m not backing away from us. I’m deeply disgusted with bully boy psychotic scum, and have no qualms or regrets. I want them dealt with, in the strongest possible terms.”
Nikko, “Music to my sensitive ears.”
Dr. Epstein laughs, “More details are on the website, Janah can do a quick download. When do you want to leave?”
Janah, “Day after tomorrow. It’s Sunday, we leave Tuesday, refocus Wednesday, get back Thursday, the girls are in kendo training Friday.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Transportation will be in touch later today.”
We hug the good doctor, kiss Mrs. Epstein and go to collect the applette of our eye. You may conclude we are needlessly spoiling Amaya. You conclude correctly. She doesn’t require spoiling, she’s talented and beautiful, I spoil her needlessly because she doesn’t need it. If she needed it, we would take a different approach.
Lunch at Balthazar’s is predictably lovely. Yeah, it’s overpriced, too trendy by half and touristy, the food’s only decent, but it hasn’t killed us yet. Since it’s Sunday, there’s brunch until four, even more overpriced than the regular menu. Oh well, it isn’t like we’re homeless. Where else besides London or Tokyo can you pay nineteen dollars for a small basket of bread and pastry?
“Based on these prices, Mrs. E’s breakfast this morning should cost around four hundred dollars.”
Janah, “Beluga is nearly two hundred an ounce. So I think the cost of breakfast was a bit over two. It isn’t like you pile the caviar on like it was a taco.”
Nikko, “I must say, the caviar was exquisite. An indulgence best left to once in a great while.”
“I appreciate the gesture from Mrs. E. I could live with the blini and a bit of maple and cane syrup. Down home Russian pancakes.”
Janah, “You are Ms. Alva’s child.”
“Well geez, J, polenta is just grits with a fancy name. You can’t charge much for grits, but call it polenta, and watch the price rise.”
I won’t bore you with menu details, if you want to look at Sunday brunch at Balthazar’s, Google it. All the menus are there. Suffice it to say, we didn’t leave any food, just a healthy tip, or maybe at Balthazar’s you have to call it a gratuity.
Janah, “Balthazar’s could use a serious sprucing up. It’s beginning to resemble the old oyster bar at Grand Central. If they put one more table in the space, you’d have to walk across the other tables to get to yours. I don’t want to say it aloud, spoil Amaya’s lunch trip, but we’re not going back anytime soon.”
Amaya, “The food was good, but, if I may say so, I can live without the noise in that restaurant. It could use a thorough remodeling as well. I prefer not to be quite so close to the next table. The outrageous prices ought buy some space.”
The three of us laugh.
Nikko, “I think all of us were thinking the same thing.”
Amaya, “Oh, good. I wondered if I sounded unappreciative.”
“Not at all, Queens have the right to speak their minds or keep their counsel. We answer to no human.”
Nikko, “What about Janah?”
“I specifically said no human. Janah is a Bodhisattva, a perfect being, unconstrained by human traits or even humanity itself.”
Nikko, “And you are Janah.”
“Yep. I answer only to myself.”
“What I meant was, I answer to Amaya because my Self delights in it.”
Nikko, “Sheesh. Daphinity. Whatever illogic you want to apply is truth.”
“That’s what I said.”
We take a long walk, get tired of dodging crowds on Broadway, head over to Bleeker, schlep up and down, still a line outside Magnolia Bakery for foamy icing and dry as dust cupcakes. Go figure. It’s mostly parents indulging little kids. The lesson is, put enough sugar on anything and kids will want it. The second lesson is make the place small enough to insure a line out the door and people will invariably make the line longer so as not to miss out. It’s the secret of velvet rope clubs everywhere. Frequently, missing out is the best thing to do, but people having suffered the indignity of restricted access will never admit it. They’ll justify it if they get in, desire it more if they are rejected.
Amaya, “Daphne, Nikko does not eat much of anything, you eat normally, and Janah eats a lot. But none of you gains or loses weight. How does that work?”
“Genetics and metabolism. Janah burns a lot of calories, she’s got a fair amount of muscle for her size. I’m four inches taller, but she weighs a shade more than me.”
Amaya, “And Nikko?”
“Is more efficient at using calories. You notice, she doesn’t move around like I do. Her heart rate qualifies for clinically dead.”
Amaya, “You both look the same, Nikko is slightly slimmer. Is it slimmer or more slim?”
Janah, “Doesn’t matter.”
“I’ve found that, diet-wise, there’s really only one trick that’s consistent. Cut back on sugar, way back from the current American diet. People go on about Mediterranean diets, Japanese diets, raw food, vegetarian or even Atkins, the meat and fat diet. What all those diets have in common is less sugar. Unused sugar goes directly to fat. It does not pass Go, it does not collect two hundred dollars. It does collect tubby pounds.”
Amaya, “Hold up. You mean all the information out there, all the sales pitches, come down to sidestepping sugar?”
“Appears to be the case. There are outliers, people who can eat a lot of sugar and not gain weight, and people who have hormonal imbalances, but for the vast majority of people, just drop as much sugar as feasible. Read the labels. If there’s more than ten or fifteen grams of sugar per serving, watch it.”
Amaya, “You eat sugary desserts sometimes.”
“The key is sometimes. Our average daily intake of sugar is minimal, even with ice cream or the odd chocolate extravaganza. Even chocolate on its own doesn’t have that much sugar, it’s the stuff people surround chocolate with, or pour chocolate over. In addition, people don’t pay enough attention to how much sugar is added to everything. Cereal tabbed ‘healthy,’ dips, sauces, condiments are loaded with sugar. They even delude themselves that cane sugar is healthy sugar. Sodas are full of sugar, but so are juices. Substituting orange juice for sodas is a wash. If you want vitamins, take a pill. You body doesn’t know the difference between vitamin C in juice or in a tablet.”
Amaya, “So there is a lot of baloney in diets, what is healthy and what is not.”
“That’s an understatement. Diets are only the start, there’s a lot of baloney in everything, politics, law, religion, the glories of a college education, real estate and stock market investing. The world is built on bullshit, and it’s piled high around the built part.”
Amaya, “Not much of a solid foundation is it? What is a girl to do?”
We have enough of hiking around and hit the apartment. It’s a wonderful respite. I love the energy of the street and I love the calm of our apartment.
We settle on the couch, Nikko plays a recording of classical Japanese music, softly soothing in the background.
Amaya, “Nishiko, can you explain now? The…what…harmony?”
Nikko, “A musician would use harmony, a good word to describe us.”
Amaya sits in the middle of the couch, Janah and I on either side, Nikko on the chair facing us.
She continues, explaining two girls who met before they met and, since age twelve, have never spent a day apart. Even though they can mental each other across the world, they won’t relinquish physical proximity. She explains mentaling, explaining as well as possible the inexplicable. That harmony is the closest approximation of the indescribable. Then how she found that note in herself, and now resonates with us. Amaya asks a few questions, we discuss how it feels to be in someone’s head, the initial confusion of seeing out of another’s eyes, the mistakes, then slowly learning to differentiate. That it is painful to learn, that nothing in the world is as beautiful as perfect, instant, communion.
Amaya, “I had an inkling, I could not put it together. I think it was because of David Li’s ability to talk to animals, then Janah’s. Daphne talks to the owl and eagle. I did not make the leap to the three of you.”
“It would have come eventually. We decided to help you understand since you demonstrated maturity by not asking. That was the test, you passed.”
I cover the caveats, it cannot be discussed outside the family, better not to discuss it at all. It serves no purpose to speculate on how. We’d done some of that, leading nowhere. It’s more fun to have it and not understand it. We don’t understand the brain and consciousness, doesn’t keep it from working.
Janah, “Consciousness itself remains beyond explanation, but it’s there and we use it. We can mental, can’t explain that either.”
Amaya, “I do not need to know how an airplane flies to go someplace. Even that is not the best example, somebody knows how an airplane flies. Nobody knows how my mom, teacher and friend work.”
Janah, “Not even us.”
“Can I do it?”
“What’s the rule?”
Amaya thinks for a minute, “Ah, we do not say we can or we cannot, we find out.”
We don’t get into merging. Mentaling is bizarre enough for one afternoon. And another more important reason, she might see it on her own, which is preferable. She would have the pleasure of seeing, not simply hearing about. A few Shaolin masters figured us out, they weren’t thirteen years old when they did. Now, she would understand why I bring things to Janah without asking, or how three of us turn in the same direction at the same moment, like a flock of birds suddenly shift direction without colliding.
Amaya doesn’t ask for demonstrations. She wants to watch, see for herself if she could pick up clues. Maybe she just knows from being with us that we wouldn’t do it for anyone’s entertainment, even hers. Any of those are mature reasons, we are pleased by her restraint.
Nikko, “Tomorrow is Monday, school day. It’s still early, do you want to go to the roof with Miyako?”
Amaya, “I would like to be with my family. The music is nice. I wish to practice Japanese, then I would like to make tea for you.”
They sit on the mat and have a simple conversation, correcting pronunciation here and there. Nikko asks her to describe the ceremony, and helps with phrases, she can already name the implements from her study with Ari.
An hour passes, Nikko says, “Enough for now. Time for tea.”
Janah arranges the low table and pillows while I undress Amaya.
She wants to apply the wax and rice powder paste that creates a white face, eyes shadowed, I help her put it together, then I dress her in the kimono. I leave and sit with the others. Amaya enters, wow, stunning, her fan flutters.
She bows, places the bowls, teapot and tea while the water heats, she sings, plays the shamisen, like a three string banjo, with a long neck and no frets, single notes, you’ve heard the sound in Japanese music.
We have the ritual examination of the tea bowl, make the required compliments on its beauty and craftsmanship. Pass it from one to the other.
She pours tea, we drink from the cup, wipe it with a spotless cloth, pass it along. She tells us a story of three strong women who save innocent children from suffering, who start free schools and study ancient martial arts. She pours individual cups, we enjoy while she completes her performance with the flute. It’s splendid.
We stand and bow to her skill, her eyes look down demurely, she bows and exits.
I clear the table, go to her room, she is waiting for me.
While I put away the kimono, she removes makeup at her vanity, then stands in front of her full length mirror. I wait while she checks herself out, looking at her body, turning left and right in front of the mirror, enjoying her beauty. She leans over and kisses the mirror. Her eyes watching me watching her. I smile, I’d done the same thing as a young girl, to tease Janah. I dress her in stretchy cotton shorts, espadrilles and a soft t-shirt. We join the others, I start in on dinner.
The phone rings, Janah picks up, “Sure, come over. Dinner will be in a half hour or so. No, we have lots, Daphne would have cooked the pulled pork and roasted chicken, except it came mysteriously prepared from the deli, along with a pan of mac and cheese, broccoli with garlic sauce. I think there’s vanilla bean ice cream around.”
Lacy pops in two minutes later, “Look at Amaya, how stunning!” She turns to Janah, “She’s annoyingly perfect.”
Nikko, “She’s annoyingly aware of it.”
Amaya, “Daphne likes me to like me, she is a perfectionist, I live up to her image. We are simpatico.”
“She gave us a tea ceremony, complete with entertainment. It was pure pleasure.”
Lacy, “I see instruments, who played? Nikko or…don’t tell me?”
Nikko, “While we wait for Daphne to finish up, perhaps the shamisen?”
Amaya curls onto her knees, takes the instrument, then makes Lacy cry.
Janah brings her a large Chianti to fortify her against complete emotional breakdown, “She’s quite good, yes?”
Lacy, “A singularity, a phenomenal phenomenon. Have the moms been introduced to this?”
“Not yet. We were just introduced. She has been working with Ari. We didn’t know how far she’d come. Today we found out in the best possible way.”
Amaya finishes us with her coup de gras, eyes again lowered behind the fan spread across the bottom half of her face. You wanted to scoop her up and protect her from every ill, or even mild disappointment.
Nikko, “Perfect finish, I will delight in telling your instructor of the performance.”
Amaya grins, “Instructor will no doubt find my many mistakes without even being here.”
Nikko, “It could be worse, you could be studying the sword with Hanshi.”
Amaya looks at Lacy, “I love watching him growl at Daphne. She’s wonderful, precision itself, he still glares at her.”
Lacy, “Well, Daphne, I promise to be completely complimentary and not glare even a little. You are feeding me after all.”
“That’s a relief.”
Janah, “We travel Tuesday. Amaya will be with Ning, and the moms will be over. Please look in, and keep an eye on our maiko in the making.”
Lacy, “I’ll be lucky to see her in school once the moms get here, I won’t get a word in edgewise.”
Amaya, “When will you return?”
“Maybe Wednesday night, no later than Thursday. If it’s Thursday, we’ll be here before you’re out of school.”
“You will call?”
Amaya tells Lacy, “That is the mom glare I get when I ask an obvious question. Plus, they don’t allow me to be needy. Janah and Nikko are impossible to manipulate, and I am really good at it. My skills require constant polishing, I practice on Daphne.”
Lacy, “You don’t really want suckers for moms?”
Amaya, “They saved my life. Suckers wouldn’t have the guts. I do like to have them on once in a while. I can hardly ever pull it off. They do not bite on my baloney. Daphne plays her role and pretends to”
Lacy, “Good. Don’t make baloney. It’s beneath you.”
Amaya, “That’s what Nikko says, sort of. She says, ‘cut the crap.’ I think it means the same thing.”
Lacy, “She won’t let you be sneaky?”
Amaya, “Sneaky is different. They encourage sneaky. In the way that means not letting others know my thoughts. Ari and Nikko both teach me to talk, show interest, and reveal nothing, or create illusion. That is geisha.”
Lacy, “Sounds like a form of baloney, what am I missing?”
Janah, “One is lying for personal gain. The other is guiding another to a place without them knowing they are being led. A far more difficult skill to master.”
Lacy, “Do you guys just ever get up and think about normal stuff, you know, lunch, redecorating, what movie to see?”
We all look at her.
She explodes laughing, “Okay, duh, I answered my own question. Before I go completely idiotic, is it time to eat?”
It is, and we do.
After dinner, we climb off our high plane of conversation and descend into a movie, True Grit, which we’d seen but not Amaya or Lacy. At the end, Amaya plays Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross, with a cameo of Tom Chaney, the bad guy.
We applaud and whoo-hoo, have to, she has them cold.
As I’m tucking Amaya into bed, Lacy says her goodnights and goes home down the hall.
I stroke Amaya’s soft hair, pulled her blanket up, leaned over and kiss her on the forehead, cheeks, nose and lips.
She smiles, “I’m deliciously kissable, yes?”
“Better than silky vanilla crème.”
She snuggles into her pillow. I cut the light and go to our room.
I’m not sleepy yet, I make myself a cup of chamomile, find a book and lay on the couch. Nikko and Janah go to bed. I’m reading Niceville by Carson Stroud. At first, I thought it was going to be overly complicated. The story involves a lot of characters, many introduced early. I counted something like twenty five in the first three chapters. And they keep coming in later chapters. I’d begun to think I’d need a program to remember who is who. The dialogue and situation won me over, so I plow on. I still can’t keep the characters straight, but the weirdness of the people in Niceville makes up for it.
I wake up at two, on the couch, book draped over my tummy. I manage to shuffle off to the bathroom, then to bed.
We’re up early, meditate, Nikko and I are going to practice forms, Janah yoga, first get Amaya fed and off to Chapmans.
Amaya, “Since I’m beautiful and talented, isn’t attending classes an undue burden?”
“Cue the violins, are you set for regular school?”
I laugh, as if Janah wouldn’t have her ready. By the time she gets out of Chapmans, she’ll be ready for graduate school, except there’s no chance of her going. They can’t teach her ability in any school. She is a performance artist, can’t imagine being anything else. The math and science of school is to ground her in the business of everyday life. If we aren’t around, she won’t get suckered by agents, bankers, insurance snakes, stock or real estate brokers, certainly not lawyers. She will know how to read contracts, how to negotiate, what her end should be, what services are worth. She’d know about renting, buying and investments, more than enough not to get jerked around. Ninety percent of education is learning to avoid bullshit.
Math, statistical skills, business fundamentals, legalese, the crap people use to baffle the ignorant. And there are plenty of educated ignorant. They know all about Chaucer, French, wine and being hip, but they get ripped off left and right. That’s not going to happen to anyone in our extended family. Even the monks have to understand business accounting, financial statements and investments, statistics and probability. Chapmans girls and the kids at our schools get fired up planning businesses, creating investment portfolios, watching the hypotheticals ebb and flow, their well planned businesses fail, then start all over again. They learn about chaos and randomness, the futility of despair and the futility of thinking you have it all planned out. This is the only education worth having.
Most schools have no clue. The problem is rather obvious. Teachers can only teach what they know, and they don’t know much about the things that ultimately drown people. Unfamiliarity with Shakespeare hardly ever drives anyone bankrupt. Unfamiliarity with Freud is an actual benefit, you don’t waste time on cockamamie theories of human behavior. There are numerous subjects that high school and colleges could simply wipe off the map and the world would never miss.
The day goes along, we’re home when Amaya comes in and walk over to the Village Diner for a snack. Amaya stops and visits the Jamaicans, picks out several bracelets and two rings. Similar items are moved to the Night Rain specialty table, the prices knocked up twenty percent and by tomorrow afternoon will be sold out. How Night Rain became a brand, and why people gravitate to her choices is vague.
I’d asked Juju back when the phenomenon began, “De girl, she was shopping, put some ting’s on, bought dem’. Dat day, lots of customers. When she go, de people all want to know who she is. Of course, Juju don’ say. He say, ‘She is Night Rain. Buys from us exclusively. She has exquisite taste, only our best items,’ de ones around, dey see beautiful girl pick out something’, dey want it too. Dat day, all her selections sell out. When she come by again, I make a second table wit’ a sign, ‘Selected by Night Rain.’ Everytin’ sell out.”
“So now you have a table of Night Rain stuff? Do you just offer things she’s elected. You aren’t laying junk out and saying she chose it?”
Juju tries for offended, I say, “Cut the crap Juju, it occurred to you.”
He smiles sheepishly, “Oh yes. We are in beezness after all. But de girl, we also got to protect her reputation. We don’ neva tell no one who she is, makes for a better mystery anyway. She does us a favor, gives her blessing to certain items. She don’ ask for no deescount, no cut. She buy, we sell. We markup her choices after she buy, dat’s de way of it.”
“Got no problem with that.”
Juju, “We got a free expert. People see de girl, her raw beauty, how de jewelry come to life on her, dey want some of dat life. She got de touch. Buying it don’ make dem Night Rain. But it lets dem dream. She give dem dat, a beautiful dream.”
And that’s how Night Rain became a brand, at least on one corner of Greenwich Village.
In the diner, I ask, “Do you want to try the costume jewelry business?”
Amaya, “No. I want to stay focused on performance and writing. The Jamaicans watch out for us. I am happy if I help them make money. It means they stick around the hood and keep an eye on things. More than that, they are our friends. It is what we do.”
I can’t argue with that.
Janah, “She continues to make good decisions.”
“My influence no doubt.”
“I don’t suppose Nikko and Ari have anything to do with it?”
Janah smiles, Nikko stares out the window, Amaya is busy bedazzling Mini.
“Mini, I should have a snack. I would like a Diet Coke, and fries please.”
Janah, “The usual, tea, I’ll help with her fries.”
Nikko and I get coffee and a toasted bagel, schmear.
The food appears before we get the coffee stirred, a typical New York time warp diner. The order shows up before it’s physically possible to assemble it, Chuck refills our coffee after the first sip. I give Nikko half the bagel, she cuts that in half and passes the quarter back to me, Janah makes it disappear, then helps Amaya drag crispy fries through ketchup, extra pepper.
Amaya, “Daphne says less sugar is better. I had my eye on cheesecake, but I am going to cut sugar in half.”
Nikko, “Good to show discipline, not be the slave of every whim of the mind.”
Amaya, “I am not asking for details, but you are going to be nice and safe on the trip, yes?”
Janah, “I’ll be. Daphne and Nikko don’t do nice and safe, you know that.”
Amaya, “If they did, I would not be here. Except now that I am here, I want them nice and safe.”
“Thank you, it doesn’t work that way though. Do you think Nishiko would not return to you? Or me? Or Ange Blanc? We go, we come back. Sometimes in a bit worse shape than when we left. We get over it. What’s the rule?”
Amaya sips her Coke, “Do not make problems where none exist.”
“Ready, White Queen?”
“Following you, Queen of Hearts,” we wave to Mini, Nikko pays the tab, we stroll to the apartment.
Janah begins packing, Ning comes with dinner, at least the ingredients that will be dinner. She’d made fried rice already, there are vegetables to be chopped, and fish to be pan fried. I pull out a pot of hot and sour soup and start it heating. The kids are on the roof with Chan, Nikko joins them.
Forty five minutes later, I mental, “Dinner’s in twenty, kids need to be presentable.”
Nikko gets Miyako cleaned up, she’s the only one in need of major scrubbing. She’d been hopping all over the parkour course, quick shower and hair wash. I buffet dinner, the kids get what they want and hit the mat in front of the TV. Amaya slides in a vampire movie and they laugh their way through two plates of fish, fried rice and vegetables. I guess blood drinking makes them hungry. They have frozen fudge bars for dessert, made with Splenda. I’d created a sugar cop in Amaya, who studies every label in the grocery. Finding low sugar ice cream was better than the Powerball for her, although one has to pay attention. Some brands, Weight Watchers comes to mind, lower the sugar and fat by making the servings smaller. You can do that on your own by putting less in your bowl and not pay extra to Weight Watchers. Travel day tomorrow, the Li family goes home, Amaya asks me to sleep with her, I assume a bit of separation anxiety.
We go off to bed, Janah to the shower, and I clean up the dishes, then join Amaya. We’d had a busy day, we snuggle, I kiss her face a dozen times, wrap her up and she’s a goner.