Chapter Fifty Seven III
Pain in training is nature’s way
of telling you you’re making progress.
Suffering over it is voluntary.
It’s relatively early, around seven thirty, Chan is up in the meditation loft and comes down when I make tea and coffee, start him with tofu vegetable soup and brown rice. There’s a stack of buttered multigrain toast. Janah and Chan eat together, Nikko cuts and shares fruit with me at the counter. She calls Susan, Lacy’s suggestion had been a good one, Susan is just getting up. They’d talked and been silly until one, after finishing a fourth bottle of wine.
“God, I’ll bet it got outrageous,” loud enough for Sis to hear.
Susan, “Well, Sonia’s not a child anymore. She’s been loyal to Black, they’ve had, uh, relations. No details, we were goofing, not investigating.”
“I’m so happy for Black, if I wasn’t a committed lesbrain, I couldn’t ask for more in a mate.”
“Lesbrain attention princess.”
“My retinue is almost ready, the carriage is outside, Janah is putting my glass slippers on now. We’re going to Chinatown and the temple for my coronation.”
“Uh huh. Call me later, Cindequeerla.”
Our pack, four girls and Chan, walk to the temple. I drop off at Fong’s, Nikko stays with Janah. While Janah visits the Masters, Nikko watches Gung Fu practice, Sonia chats briefly with Black, then sits with Nikko. David has gotten taller. Long thin young man now, bald like all the men, more graceful than most. Apart from his weapons skill, David is a contemplative monk. He couldn’t imagine actually using his weapons against anyone. It’s something he’d been blessed with and he enjoys. He isn’t temperamentally a warrior. Janah thinks, based on his comments to her, that he is bound for touring monasteries, staying and learning, moving on. He would most likely wind up back here, doing scholarly work.
Janah and Nikko walk to Fong’s, Sonia hangs to chat with Black. I’m actually sitting at the table having tea with Mrs. Fong, with not so much as a mild remonstration.
Mrs. Fong, “Good to see all girls, been too long, I could be dead by now and you would be very sorry you never see me.”
Janah, “I would be devastated to find out such a horrible thing. Please excuse us, there has been traveling. We are trying to catch up with our obligations, particularly to our venerable grandmother.”
“Forgiven this time, do not insult frail old lady again. Two weeks at most, like old Sung, who tries to skip out of his duty to me. He comes at least every two weeks, White Angel must come too. Don’t come after a month with a mouthful of excuses.”
“Master Sung sends his regards and thanks you again for filling him up with your wonderful food, he is most grateful.”
“Sung is not so bad for sitting around Shaolin. Big deal Abbott, like any boss, got to do what they say or they give you a hard time. I tell him he’s not boss in Fong’s. He must come here to comfort old woman, I have many responsibilities, too much to do for one old lady. Shaolin! Why are you sitting around? You have guests, get tea and be useful!”
I stand, bow, head to the kitchen, “Now the world is back to normal.”
“I let Shaolin sit for a moment, she wants to sit all day, lazy girl. I am too kind to priest. She helped Mrs. Fong with criminals, she is a good priest, as priests go, guards White Angel, works in kitchen, helps with sick old people in herb shop. Shaolin! Where is tea, don’t go to sleep back there!”
I return with a big pot and a tray of cups, pour everyone a cup of rich Oolong, then back to the kitchen.
Mrs. Fong, “Tea is good. Everything Shaolin touches is good, she has talent with food.”
Janah, “She is a food artist. She tells me how grateful she is that you have taught her so many things. I get a touch of Fong’s at home now, which always reminds me of you.”
Mrs. Fong’s mouth doesn’t smile, her eyes do though, “Good to flatter old lady. Silent Japanese, listen to White Angel. Show respect for elders, not like children today, never listen, do what they want. Elders have seen much, have wisdom, children never want to listen, always believe we are too slow and stuck in old ways. You don’t get to be old lady by being stuck.”
Janah, “Nikko takes very good care of us, she is learning business from her mother, from Daphne’s mom and Mrs. Epstein, who I think you know.”
Mrs. Fong’s eyes widen, “She learns from Epstein? Ahhhh, very shrewd. Japanese nobody’s fool. Mrs. Epstein says good things about her, or just being nice?”
“She says Nikko has razor for a mind, sees the thing instantly. I know from experience, she doesn’t hesitate, shows no fear and is ruthless with enemies.”
Mrs. Fong is thoughtful, then, “Nishiko will stay here when you go to herb shop. I want to talk.”
Janah, “That’s up to Nikko.”
“If mistress will excuse me, I would be honored to speak with Mrs. Fong.”
Mrs. Fong, “Good, Shaolin will be happy to permit, or I will make her wash dishes all day.”
Sonia appears, Janah introduces her to Mrs. Fong, “This is our good friend Sonia, she was a Chapmans student and is studying for her Master’s degree in social work.”
Sonia, “I’m so happy to meet you. I can see why Janah calls you the legendary beauty of Chinatown.”
Mrs. Fong covers her mouth with her hand, almost giggles, “White Angel is full of baloney, but is still most precious to me. She and Shaolin saved my life, they are obligated to care for old lady now.”
Sonia, “We have something in common grandmother. They saved my life as well.”
Mrs. Fong, “Sit next to me, here,” she pats the chair next to her, “tell me your story and I will tell you mine.”
I bring platters of stir fried vegetables, one with chicken, another with shrimp, fried wonton and brown rice with tofu, and another pot of tea. Sonia and Mrs. Fong swap tales of rescue by the priest and Master J.
Mrs. Fong tells Janah, “Now you have another obligation, you and priest. Your first obligation is to beautiful girl, who is still young, not at death’s door like Mrs. Fong. Still, you must look after both, neither can be neglected. It’s your fault, you keep saving lives, you accept more responsibility. Now I have a new precious child who has been saved by you and monk. We are under your protection White Angel!”
Janah, “How could we neglect such obligations? Don’t think of it for a moment. For Sonia, we have the extra help of the moms. They are great friends, and keep a close eye on her. I think the moms have started to visit Fong’s as well, is it not so?”
Mrs. Fong shrugs dramatically, “It is only proper. They come to see old lady when White Angel, precious Nishiko and lazy priest are traveling. They are honorable mothers.”
Janah, “Susan tells me she learns many management skills from her new friend. You have been busy, old one.”
Mrs. Fong almost blushes, she tells to Sonia, “I am a sucker for Janah’s flattery, but I can’t help myself.”
Sonia smiles, “She loves you, as does Daphne, but don’t tell her I said so. She has grown to appreciate your instructive encouragement.”
After clean up in the kitchen, I hear Janah in my head saying it’s time to go to the shop. Sonia asks if she could hang around and watch, so we three go down a couple of doors. It is just after one and almost four before Janah can get away. Sonia, “Good Lord, I knew you did things down here, this is unreal. I never heard so many long stories, I didn’t understand a word. I noticed you talking over what looked like prescriptions.”
Janah, “They don’t always trust the doctor. They want to hear that it’s okay to take it, to tell the doctor how it makes them feel.”
Sonia, “So they ask you. You speak their language, and they know you from the temple. It’s a matter of trust.”
“They’re being cautious. Most of them are already taking the medications. If they get a new prescription they want me to look at it, tell them what it does, confirm why the doctor gave it to them. Lots of times, the doctors just write a prescription, hand it to them and leave, no explanation. Usually it’s very straightforward, blood pressure, arthritis, some heart medications. Every once in a while, I find one I’m not sure of, I know what it is but not why this person is taking it. I call dad and he usually explains it. He’s questioned one or two, so I send them to his hospital and they talk to a Chinese speaking physician there. Not often, but sometimes, they change the medication or tell them not to take it at all. I don’t get involved in that. If what they have makes sense, I tell them it’s okay to follow the doctor’s advice ninety-nine percent of the time. It has to be really strange for me to question it. I’m not the substitute physician, I’m trying to make sure they do what they need to do.”
Sonia, “Well, whatever it is, they sure want to see you. All that bowing to Daphne, I wanted to bow to her myself.”
“Janah does that all the time.”
Sonia, “Uh huh. So, what’s the deal with Nikko and Mrs. Fong? You’ve explained to me why she picks on you and fawns over Janah, I get that. What’s the whole business thing with Nikko?”
I explain what Mrs. Fong really is, a property owner, landlord and general business clearinghouse in Chinatown.
Sonia, “Oh. I thought she was a bossy old lady who ran a restaurant.”
“Well, that too. The restaurant, successful as it is, is a sideline. You want stuff done in Chinatown, best to run it past Mrs. Fong.”
Sonia, “So why Nikko?”
“Mrs. Fong likes strong women. Women who don’t let people outmaneuver them, who can hold their own in the nasty world of New York business, particularly real estate. You can find your soul stolen and sold back to you if you aren’t smart and careful. She knows Nikko’s mom, respects her. She sees Nikko with Janah, she puts all that together and decides Nikko has something on the ball. She’s investigating it.”
“If she wants to, she can teach Nikko a lot, about real estate, how the city works, the endless regulations and how to deal with them. She’s deciding. Actually, she must have decided or Nikko would have been back with us by now.”
Sonia, “So Nikko is going to the Chinatown Business School.”
“Looks like it.”
When we arrive, Fong’s is almost empty. Mrs. Fong usually holds court at a table near the cash register. There is an office in the back, connected to the kitchen. I go through the kitchen and spot them in the office.
Mrs. Fong, “Ah, it is Shaolin. Good. Where does time go, already after four? Nishiko is very lucky find for you Shaolin, very smart. I teach real estate business, give old lady something to do besides yell at priest. She insists I ask you. I don’t ask. You send Nishiko to me every week when you come to work in herb shop. No need Shaolin permission. It’s good for Nishiko to learn, yes?”
“Very good. Ah, here’s Janah. Mrs. Fong has invited Nikko to be Chinatown Business School’s first and only student.”
Janah smiles and looks at Nikko, “What do you wish?”
“I can learn to help the family. I am honored to be asked.
Mrs. Fong, “So, it’s settled. Nishiko will come here. I may need her for things from time to time. How do I contact you?”
Nikko gives Mrs. Fong her cell number, “I’ll put it in your contact list as well, under Nishiko.”
Mrs. Fong, “Now everyone go. Many things to do, not teach school all day, even to beautiful student.”
Nikko bows, we leave for the condo.
“Let’s see, we have White Angel on my left, and on her left, we have Nishiko, beautiful student. I, on the other hand, remain useless Shaolin. Where did things go so wrong?’
Janah, “Nikko’s charming personality,” Sonia laughs.
“Yeah. Nikko has a most interesting and complex personality, one she shows to the family. To everyone else she has no personality.”
Nikko, “Mrs. Fong is family, yes?”
Janah, “She’s got you there Shaolin.”
“On a technicality. Still, she’s right, sneaky Orientals. After class tonight, I’m going to have to deal the beautiful Nishiko some punishment.”
Janah, “She’s improving rapidly priest, best be on your toes.”
Sonia catches a taxi to her dad’s condo. We decide it’s too late to go to the apartment then turn around and go to class in an hour, the three of us go straight to the dojang. Nikko and I can wail on each other before class, then go home and chill. Janah hits the weight room and tears up some muscle while Nikko and I tear up each other. By the time Janah finishes her workout, Nikko has a bloody nose, I have a cut lip and a limp.
Janah, “Okay, cut the crap, enough for today. Get a shower and change into clean doboks. You need to look reasonably presentable to teach class. Here, let me see your ear.”
I’d been careful with my healing ear, the bandage is still intact. We limp stiff legged into the locker room, strip and hit the shower, steam fills the room. Neither of us move from under the hot water until the knots began to loosen, then we soap and rinse. Janah covers us with liniment and massages what she can. We dress in fresh doboks and are sitting on the floor giggling with Janah when the moms come in to open up. My lip is swollen, Nikko has a partial black eye from having her nose busted.
Chris, “Fall down in the grocery store?”
“I slipped and fell on Nikko’s foot.”
Chris, “And Nikko?”
“She slipped on my backfist. Purely accidental.”
Chris, “I can see how that might happen.”
Sis walks up from the office, “My God, what have you two been up to?”
She kneels by Nikko and puts her hands on her cheeks, “What has Daphne done to that perfect nose?”
“Don’t worry about my lip, it’ll recover.”
Sis, “You promised Janah no more face damage.”
Daphne, “That was before I trained the Japanese girl too well. Tomorrow I start untraining her. In a year or two, she’ll be back to a white belt.”
Sis, “Victim of your own expertise. Sounds like what Master Kim experienced, he’ll love it.”
I pull Nikko up, “She’s becoming an overqualified opponent. You should see Chan. He’s impossible. Good thing he’s on our side, or Nikko and I would just have to shoot him. Fighting him is out of the question.”
Sis, “I never thought I’d hear you say that about anyone.”
“I’m not conceding. I’m saying I’m very happy I don’t have to find out.”
Nikko, “I sparred lightly with him. Just to practice dealing with a stocky man, more weight than Daphne. No good. He feels nothing, he flicks a finger and I’m flying across the room.”
Sis, “Come on, he’s clearly solid and must be very strong, but still.”
Janah, “Nikko isn’t exaggerating. He’s been with Tan for two years now. Chan cannot be defeated, even by Daphne.”
Women begin drifting in for class, glances at Nikko and me. The class knows us well enough to know what happened, it’s hardly the first time.
Mercy Wannamaker joined Janah leading some of the women in stretching, “Hey J. What have your women been doing to each other? Or did some guy do something to you he shouldn’t have?”
“If it was just that, it wouldn’t be them that was beat up.”
Mercy, “That’s a point. So they do it to each other. Funny I thought they were good friends.”
“They are better than best friends. That’s why they wail on each other.”
“Okay, uh can you shed some light?”
“No one else can deal with them, so they practice on each other to stay sharp. If there’s no pain, it’s not fighting practice, it’s playing around. At least that’s Daphne’s notion, I guess Nikko agrees, she doesn’t say.”
Chapter Fifty Eight III
You can be an agreeable landlord, just don’t be a schmuck.
Mrs. Epstein, advising Nishiko
Mrs. Fong has been long considering biting off a larger chunk of Chinatown. She has a fair sized portion already, and she needs help to manage things. The silent Japanese appeared through the mystery of Janah, and she has a mind for numbers not unlike Mrs. Fong’s. Consequently, there had been a careful conversation between them, Nikko agreed to talk it over with Susan.
She relayed the details to Sis, they discussed it with Mrs. Epstein. Mrs. Fong has her eye on retail space with apartments on the upper floors. There isn’t going to be any more island. It doesn’t mean prices could go up forever, it means reliable tax sheltered cash flow. Nobody objects to income on investment. Nikko asked if her parents might be included. It isn’t easy to get Mrs. Murakami to part with cash for a long term investment. Nikko wanted her to at least be invited. Susan said she would talk to her on the next Friday visit.
A new entity will be formed, a partnership. Each partner puts up what they feel comfortable with and would have that percentage of the risk and reward. Sis thinks it is mostly a gift from Mrs. Fong to us, but she will need help in management if she expands her empire. It would take perhaps ten million in cash, ten percent, they’d be on the hook for the ninety million they’d get from the bank. Mrs. Fong estimated the property at a hundred million, maybe she could gripe and moan them down to ninety eight. At one hundred it carries a ten percent CAP rate, the operating return after fixed and variable expenses, but before depreciation and mortgage interest. It sounds all sexy, ten percent on a hundred million. It doesn’t come for nothing. Things need fixing, taxes need to be paid, bank wants its interest, tenants bankrupt and bail. People think real estate is just buy and let it go up. That’s fine if you can hang on a long time. If income gets short, the mortgage still needs to be paid, pipes fixed, there are inevitable tenant disputes and lawyers. Tenants act like they’re the owner when they want something, then like they’re somehow aggrieved when they have to pay. If you aren’t a hard case before you own rental property, you become one fast or you became broke.
Still, the old lady, Mrs. Epstein and Susan all have property, none of it is mortgaged. That cash flow doesn’t need to be shared with the bank. This is the first time they’d go on the string for a building, two buildings side by side really. They are all so solvent the banks are stumbling over themselves to be the lenders.
The icing on the icing is that Mrs. Fong is going to use the new investment to train Nikko in all aspects of property management. She’d get leasing experience in retail commercial, residential and warehouse, learn to deal with the banks, the tenants and the city. Mrs. Fong will get a highly industrious property manager. Mrs. E is going to do her homework and get back to Susan on what she finds. If it’s a go, Susan will invite Mrs. Murakami in for a piece of the deal.
A couple of days later, Susan hears from Mrs. Epstein. She’d called Mrs. Fong after she looked over comparable property. She talked to several landlords in the city and her own lawyers about the current owner. What she heard confirmed everything Mrs. Fong said. The family, which extends to Kara and James, Sis and Chris, Mrs. Epstein and Mrs. Murakami if she wants in, will figure out who wants how much of the ten million in cash. Mrs. Walker, the attorney Janah helped long ago, set up a partnership, the entity that owns the property.
Friday morning, Nikko and I are in training with Hanshi, Sis covers the property deal and Nikko’s involvement with Mrs. Murakami. She is delighted, anxious to tell her husband about their daughter's good fortune. It had been made possible by her friendship, partnership, with Janah and me. In the end, since there are five family groups, they decide on twenty percent each, which is a healthy two million cash commitment.
Kara got her gallery to private sale two works, placed in a week to delighted buyers. The price was fixed, three quarters of a million each, slightly higher than the last sale average. Sarah Silverman called a total of five potential buyers and they were snapped up. She didn’t charge a commission. Kara had given her what was not likely now near a million dollars worth of art and she’d made nearly a million for herself on the last auction. Five phone calls couldn’t even be considered a favor, much less repayment.
Checks are written, paperwork signed, lawyers bitch because Mrs. E told them that if it was Mrs. Fong she didn’t need a lengthy and expensive review of partnership documents. They’d worked out details over tea at the restaurant and shaken hands. Mrs. Walker wrote up a short agreement. Mrs. Fong even called to ask where the legal work was. Mrs. Epstein told her the two page agreement was one page too many as far as she was concerned. Mrs. Fong, long used to arguing over every line in a contract, was almost stunned into silence. She managed to say she will be sure they are pleased with their investment.
Janah and I walk over to Fong’s, Nikko is visiting the property, reviewing the leases and meeting the tenants.
Mrs. Fong, “Nishiko is learning, she is focused. No problems, very bright.”
Janah, “Yes, she is. I have a question. If there are difficulties beyond normal tenant matters…”
Mrs. Fong interrupts, “Not proper for Nishiko to be involved in such business. She is diligent, moral Japanese girl. Do you think I would let her stoop to be involved in such petty matters. I send local men who owe me many favors. Delicate, reserved and proper granddaughter cannot be dirtying her lovely hands with such things.”
She looks slyly out of the corner of her eye at Janah, who is thinking of the guys delicate reserved Nishiko had hospitalized.
She smiles at Mrs. Fong, “You are the best possible grandmother, and your girls will look after you when you get old, many years from now.”
Mrs. Fong giggles like she always does when Janah is teasing her, “Go away White Angel, you make old woman silly with your foolishness. Come here next week, old lady needs granddaughters, not many years left, I’m sure to die soon.”
Janah is pretty sure the crusty woman be around to see us in our wheelchairs. If Nikko and I kept at it with each other, she thinks, it might be sooner than later. We say our goodbyes, go to meet Nikko at her new office, then walk back to the apartment.
I hug my Japanese counterpart, “You are doing a good thing for your family and our future. You honor us with your diligence.”
“I am thankful for your blessing. You only had to say you couldn’t spare me and that would have been it.”
“I can’t spare you. You have to find time for everything. You don’t get off the hook, you are my student. You are expected to train, fight and travel with us, and allow Master J to, uh, help you relax, which is how she relaxes. We’re still her girls.”
“Giving it up for Master J is hardly work.”
The understanding is complete. Nikko is so delighted she almost smiles, then again, it’s Nikko. Smiling would only be confusing.
I make pasta with vegetables and tofu, grilled fish in butter and lemon for Nikko and me, we share Janah’s vegetables. I watch my other. Despite the curve of muscle in her legs, she’s folded up in the chair in full lotus. Janah asks Nikko to pass her the shredded Romano. Palm open, the fingers of her outstretched hand literally point back towards her elbow. Janah is a limber brick. I’m still trying to figure out how that works.
Chapter Fifty Nine III
If you go to thinking, take your heart with you.
If you go to love, take your head with you.
Love is empty without thinking, thinking hollow without love.
Carl Jung, Liber Novus
Chan’s apartment is almost finished. Unknown to the boys, they are testing in a week. The timing is good.
After lunch, we walk through Chan’s new place. Janah asks Nikko to take notes, things to check on. There isn’t much furniture, Chan wouldn’t want much. The moms selected basic spare furnishings, the bedroom floor is tatami mats. He will use a Thai mattress on a raised platform. He has a full kitchen, a generous bath and toilet area, a second bedroom with a full guest bath, and the living area is left virtually empty because Chan will spend the bulk of his time either in meditation or training. I buy him one of Kim’s pressure point training dummies, plus a heavy bag, both of which can be rolled into place from cables in the ceiling and rolled out of the way when he is done. The floor in the living/training area is like ours, the original bare wood, sanded and buffed. There is a generous supply of towels, linens, toiletries and a laundry room. Anything else he might need, Janah would figure out and get for him later.
“The moms did great. He’s going to be, well, it’s Chan, thrilled might be the wrong word, he will be pleased. Nothing’s over the top, it’s functional, comfortable. As least as comfortable as Chan would be comfortable with.”
Janah, “He’ll be thrilled, he just won’t show it much.”
Nikko, “What about when he gets a girl?”
“Any girl who Chan falls for will be happy in this place, have to get a real bed. We have enough space left to add a room if they want to have a child. Chan will meet a girl. He will be here, then here with his love, then when children come, we’ll figure it out.”
“Little brother will be good to have with us. He’s sensitive, he cares for Ange Blanc far beyond the juvenile way people use love.”
“From the moment he saw her. It seems like yesterday we were sitting on the steps, waiting for the monks to allow us in. Janah comforted Chan and David. Neither of them will ever forget that. She could ask anything, any time, and they will come.”
Janah, “That works both ways, they’re our brothers. Let’s go chill, you’ve been working hard. It’s a day off, we need to be silly, or just nothing. The boys are testing, starting tomorrow. So, for three days, we might help by being quietly mindful.”
We watch a couple of episodes of The Wire, then snuggle in to bed. For the first day, there is respectful silence in the apartment. We don’t go out, we don’t entertain ourselves. We meditate, eat, sip tea cross legged on the mat.
Three tests over three days, a temple first. Although Sung remembered once when they had tested two. The rules haven’t changed, the gauntlet, branding the tiger and dragon, out into the real world for at least three years. I am at the end of my three, the boys beginning theirs.
The wheel turns, we don’t make it turn.
They show up at the apartment, Chan first, then Black the next afternoon, then David a day later. Janah looks over the brands, changes the dressings, adds anesthetic cream. David had been clocked in the shoulder by a blunt tipped wooden dart, cut on the leg by something, and has a badly swollen knee. Black has bruises on his arms and chest, hard to tell against his skin. They are tender and one is knotted up like a golf ball. He has a gash across his face and a limp. The top of his foot is puffy and tender. Chan unmarked, except for the tiger and dragon.
Janah doesn’t let them do anything. They lay on the mats, with pillows to prop their heads on. I play Seinfeld DVD’s and they lay watching the show about nothing. The characters absolutely self absorbed, which made perfect sense to the Ch’an monks. Of all television, perhaps Seinfeld and Monty Python are the most Ch’an in design. I have the entire Python television series and all the movies. My personal favorite, The Life of Brian. I love the insanity, religion satirized to perfection.
Janah recounts a story of when we were students at Chapmans, “Once, after a weekend of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Daphne spent a few days following me around Chapmans clapping coconut shells together, driving everyone insane. The girls in high school wound up doing the knights who say “nee” and the insulting Frenchmen for days, each girl trying to top the other with some bubble headed badly accented insult.”
Black and David laugh, Chan even grins, she continues, “Lacy got calls from parents complaining that, ‘their daughters were irritating siblings with goofy insults in preposterous fake French accents or hurling stuffed cows at anyone in range and just what in hell was going on at that school for lunatic girls she ran.’ It finally ended when Daphne brought a shrubbery and offered it as a truce to end the Pythonian mental disorder. Despite the truce in ridiculous insults, the RSGs made a small catapult and sent little beanbags shaped like cows sailing across the cafeteria. Lacy keeps the catapult and cows on her desk. It makes for an interesting conversational dichotomy when at the same time she’s telling parents of potential new students it will cost over forty thousand dollars a year to enroll their little darlings in Chapmans, she sends a beanbag cow sailing across her office. It seems to help when she explains that if it wasn’t for the cows, she would definitely go to fifty thousand.”
Black, “Doesn’t that irritate the parents?”
Janah, “Parents decide to leave the insane woman alone and write the check. It doesn’t matter what she does. Their daughters are clamoring to be admitted. Lacy can beat mommy and daddy with a stick. They are thrilled to get the kid in.”
Like me after my exit from the temple, it takes two weeks of nothing, sleep, food, long walks down Hudson or Bleeker, meditation in Washington Square park, for the boys to get caught up from years of active temple life. The moms either come over or the group goes to the condo for dinner. After the second week, Black says he is going to see Sonia at school, thanks the moms and bid his farewell to David.
David is going to study in China, then Tibet, then Japan, then India, as Janah anticipated. Susan is covering his travel expenses and the family arranged to send him money every month until he got situated. Janah explains that it is no strain on the family. It is a gift given freely with no constraints or obligations. He graciously and gratefully accepts their generosity, packs his few belongings and flies off to his new life.
For the next six weeks, our lives are busier than ever. Chan comes with us to Chinatown, stays with Nikko while she works. He silently waits when she talks with tenants, examines every space on every floor.
Chan particularly likes watching his sisters practice under the stern instruction of Mr. Murakami. He has no interest in learning the sword, Chan’s abilities aren’t suited for the grace and style of kendo. His are more practical, and he doesn’t really need a weapon, he is a weapon. He can stick his hand through your heart, fly you across the room with a push. Watching his sisters’ intensity and style is his kind of relaxation. He admires the elegance, the speed and precision of the movements, the flash of bokken cracking too quick to follow.
We hand to hand using him as a practice block. We try, but can’t do the slightest damage. Hitting Chan is something like a running back feels when he slams into the artificial turf of today’s indoor stadiums. There is some give, not much, the turf and the concrete underneath never feel any pain. He also does weights with Janah, his workouts also consist of a lot of impossible stretches for a guy his size, Chan can do full side splits. Load the bar with ridiculous amounts of weight, he does a squat or two, then a bench press or two, then he helps Janah with her normal routine. If you can squat 500 pounds for a couple of reps and bench press 400 without breaking a sweat, more repetitions don’t mean much.
Chan doesn’t anticipate having to be very aerobic when he fights. He doesn’t plan on moving around. He’ll get a hand on, or just near, someone and the fight will be over. He isn’t going to get winded just standing there. He does practice jumping from the meditation loft, about 15 feet down to the apartment floor, then running up the circular stair case and doing it once or twice more. This tickles us because he sort of floats down and lands with not so much as a thump. He has a way of extending his legs, then, like a shock absorber, controlling the landing with the muscles of his calves and thighs, his arms outstretched, like a flying refrigerator. He could jump and stick the landing, jump and front roll, back roll or wind up in a sort of catlike all fours. We applaud whenever he does it, which might have embarrassed him, except embarrassment isn’t in his psychological repertoire. Neither is anger, or frustration, or even nervous irritability.
On one of our Chinatown visits, Chan and Nikko at the buildings, me in Fong’s kitchen making lunch, Janah has a word with Mrs. Fong, “Keep an eye out for a companion for Chan. A good Chinese girl, strong and sensible. Not a silly chattering girl, as many young girls are. She will have to understand Chan and his sisters. She will not be put behind us. She will have Chan’s love completely, and he will tenderly care for her and have a family with her. Still…”
Mrs. Fong, “Enough. I’m old, not blind. He is a young man with young man’s needs, even if he is a priest and an honorable man. He may not even know his own stirrings, and for you he would ignore them and never think of it. If you give your blessing, it will mean much to him. You’re right of course, he’ll be a wonderful strong husband, and he’s not going to listen to some silly nattering girl who is jealous of his sisters. He would never for a moment consider her.”
Janah, “You know many Chinese families. Most would be honored to have a Shaolin priest unite with their daughter. I know my brother. There are women at the temple, serious, attractive girls, who might have suitable qualities. He has a sister who is Shaolin and her student who is like Chan himself. Enough martial artists. For my brother a girl who is not a part of it all, to be only for her husband and her family. If she’s Buddhist, even better.”
“Ah, it will be a blessing for me to search, remind myself of the days I was a young girl pretending to be a blushing young thing for my beloved husband. There was romance and tenderness between us. My dear husband knew my serious side, for him I was his loving wife. We didn’t have children, unfortunately, he was not able. There are a few families who have been like my children and grandchildren, that’s what I call them, they have been helpful to me and I have sent them to school, paid a few bills. Husband and I worked, he spent all his time making this restaurant go, buying property, I was by his side every step. Perhaps children would have suffered by our constant work. It’s not important, all far in the past. Now, I have fun. Once the people know Mrs. Fong is playing matchmaker I will have a line at the door requesting me to visit homes. Daughters will serve tea and make small talk. There are still many Chinese families with young women who are not so Americanized, who have the traditional values of home and family.”
Janah, “And Chan will honor and serve his wife. He’s not looking for an afterthought to serve dinner and bear children. It is such a pleasure to do this for him. We will talk about the importance of a companion who serves with him, and that I am looking forward to beautiful happy nieces and nephews. Chan should also have a life beyond serving us.”
Mrs. Fong, “So, you will talk this over with Chan. When you tell me, I will begin to look. He doesn’t mind this process?”
“It’s how he would expect it. He’ll never consider dating, he’ll never consider anyone who doesn’t understand our family. You can simplify the whole business. You understand Shaolin, you understand Chinese women and families. He and she, whoever she is, will be grateful.”
“She’ll have to be able to hold her own with three gorgeous sisters.”
“There are many lovely Chinese girls in Chinatown. We don’t need a girl with a college degree who wants a career.”
“No, I know what you see for him, you’re right. Mrs. Fong will find such a girl. I have four families in mind already.”
“I knew I’d come to the right place.”
They laugh together, this would be Mrs. Fong’s pièce de résistance. Business deals were a walk in the park. Marriage partners, now there is a project worthy of her skills.
Chapter Sixty III
It’s Buddhist. The process tedious, the outcome glorious.
Chan accompanies Janah and me on a short refocusing in Indiana. Nikko would have gone too, but she understands that the families have substantial investment here and that it is as important as refocusing, just maybe not as much fun. Chan went for the experience, it was something just Janah and I could have done.
Chan probably could have done it with his left index finger. It was another wife beater, this time the woman had already moved out but the douche just couldn’t get it in his mind that she wanted to be finished with him. He was making a pest of himself stalking her. Phone calls to her office, calling her family, there are no kids at least. He shows up when she’s out with friends, generally makes a nuisance of himself, pretty much ignores the restraining order.
In this case, it isn’t a matter of moving the woman, she has a good job, friends, her family is nearby. There’s no big brother to explain the rules to her former boyfriend. Chan’s going to substitute.
We corner the pest in his apartment, I cold cock him square on the nose when he opens the door. Bad enough with my hard knuckles, worse with them covered in titanium.
I smile, “Good morning, Stupid,” Chan shuts the door, we stand in his understuffed living room.
“You might want to pick up some furniture that matches, when you move to your new place.”
Stupid is trying to find his nose, “What are you fucking doing? I don’t have anything to steal.”
“Stand up, shithook.”
He stands slowly, fingers tentatively testing his tender nose, I offer him an alternative lifestyle, “You are going to leave town, and you are going to forget the name, address, phone number, e-mail address and place of employment of your former girlfriend. In fact, you are going to forget you ever knew her.”
Stupid, “Fuck you. I’m not afraid of a cold cocking bitch.”
He does a stupidity, an amazing stupidity. With a human bulldozer standing alongside, he reaches for me…duh. Chan grabs his hand in mid reach and crushes it. It sounds like mashing bubble wrap, just wetter. Stupidity falls to his knees, clutches his wrist and screams, staring at his mangled hand. Chan takes his good arm by the wrist and begins to press, the target is suddenly very attentive, tears of pain run down his cheeks.
“You’ve been jacked up to Stupidity, not merely stupid, but the thing itself, Stupidity, the manifestation of all that is stupid. Here’s your situation. We’re keeping a close eye on the girl, and her friends, and her family, and her employer, and every motherfucker she comes into contact with. If one of those fuckers is you, Stupidity, then I come back with the final solution. The Mother of all Solutions. That solution will not include words, as you will have demonstrated you are so dysfunctionaly stupid, Stupidity, that you can’t grasp words. Instead, you’ll need a microscope to find your dick, one of those microscopes that can see little teeny tiny things, the size of an atom. You’ll be a girl. Then, you can stalk yourself. Are you clear? Really clear? Crystal clear, blazingly clear, clearer than a Scientologist whacko.”
I pull out old faithful, my serrated double edge flick knife. Since Chan is still bending his arm, I take the simplest approach and whack off half of his little finger. He screams into Chan’s palm, then he passes out.
It is a good time to staunch the bleeding, which I do with a very hot utensil and a pressure bandage. Then it’s ammonia cap time, his eyes pop open, he is terrorized. I am officially a terrorist, at least to Stupidity.
“Out in three days, Stupidity. Today is Monday, that means Thursday you are on the Interstate to someplace at least a thousand miles from here. Don’t bother me with how much you have to do, or if you’re lease isn’t up, or you have to find a job. No two weeks’ notice, turn off the lights and take out the garbage. If I even suspect you have breathed the girl’s name, I will return. Next time I won’t knock on the door, you’ll never see me coming, you’ll never see me at all. When you wake up, your name will be Miss Stupidity.”
Stupidity is trembling, tears fall, he shudders. He looks at me, turns away, nods.
“Good, you’ll be monitored until you’re an old man. We like to keep in touch. I won’t say how, you’ll know it when you see it. Better to be a good boy and live a peaceful life. Then I’m not irritated, which is now your most consummate concern. Too big a word for you? Consummate means most important, foremost, I am your foremost concern. Bye now.”
I wipe off face paint and undo my hair. Chan puts his hat, sunglasses and jacket in a garbage bag. We dump it after a hundred miles.
Janah, “Be nice if they were all this simple.”
“We really haven’t done anything too elaborate by action adventure standards. Not a single mad car chase through a crowded shopping mall, Nikko hasn’t gotten to be lowered in a wire through a skylight to avoid pressure sensors on the floor, and we’ve totally missed the thing where one of us is surrounded by sixteen karate guys and we wipe them out in a dramatic display of our incredible skills.”
Janah, “I always wonder why the bad guys stand around looking menacing while the hero deals with one or two at a time. It’s like they took a number and can’t get beat up until their ticket’s called, like at the deli. Anyway, I’m more than content to settle for little dramatic action. If that’s not possible, then a little dramatic action. You two can kick each other for your kicks.”
“If little brother gets any more dangerous the targets are going to faint when he walks in. I’ll have to wake them up just to explain the rules.”
“Good. Fainting would be good, or wetting their pants. I suspect that it unfortunately wouldn’t be as convincing as the lingering problem of dealing with a crushed hand and a fingerectomy. I wish it didn’t have to happen. Some people just don’t understand anything else.”
“So far, we’ve gotten our point across. Nobody has been reported as regressing to their old behavior. It leaves their former victims in a much better position. We don’t ask these slimy little snots to bully it out with us, just leave other people alone. They can’t do it, they have to swagger and fume and show off their spotty butts. Then we have to ratchet up the action.”
“I don’t recall Billy boy doing anything to you before you nailed him in the sternum with a nine ball, or Demetrius for that matter, when you crushed his nuts with one of those gloves you wear.”
“Billy was a proven woman abuser, Demetrius was selling kids to perverts. That kind of subhuman needs something hard to get their attention. You don’t seriously think Demetrius was going to insist the girls he pimped finish high school, then come to work as his whores after they were registered to vote. There was no point in chit chat, we were in pool halls full of dickheads. We’re learning to go at this in the gentlest way possible that does any good. This last maggot went to clock me and Chan reacted. He’ll get his hand fixed, it’ll work about as well as he needs it to. Chan showed great restraint, didn’t crush his wrist after all.”
Janah, “I’m so glad for having him. He’s not about to let his tall sister get close to taking a punch, that’s not allowed.”
We get home late, shower, I show Nikko how much I missed her while Janah vibrates herself to bliss. They take turns doing me with strap ons. We crash comfortably wrapped in each other.
The next morning after breakfast, Janah says, “I need to talk things over with Chan. You and Nikko go down to the gym or something.”
Nikko never has a problem going to practice, we’re out in five minutes. Janah pours tea and sits on the mat facing Chan.
“I want to ask you for permission to find you a suitable wife. This isn’t how things are done in America. How things are done in America doesn’t apply to us. You have a man’s needs, and you surely aren’t the type to go on dates. If you don’t want me to pursue it, all you have to do is say so, or you can think it over, or you can tell me to proceed. If you agree, Mrs. Fong will introduce you to a Chinese girl who is industrious, attractive and intelligent. One who is in tune with more traditional values, not into American girl foolishness.”
“I’ll take that as a yes. When you’ve met the girl, you will decide for yourself of course. See if she’s the type you don’t mind talking to, you can’t be perpetually silent. With the right companion you won’t want to be. You talk with me, not Daphne too much because you understand one is the other. No point in having the same conversation twice is there? You talk with Nikko, so it’s only a matter of finding a compatible temperament. A girl who wants a family and appreciates how you will care for her.”
Chan, “And care for my sisters.”
Janah smiles, “Yes, she will be clear on your family here. The moms will easily make her feel welcome, all they need to know is that she is good to you. I have no idea how long this will take. Mrs. Fong will see it as a great honor and take her job seriously. I’m also sure the old lady already knows several families with daughters who might be suitable and whom you would suit as well. You will have to meet family, just be yourself, respectful, a Shaolin. It will be enough.”
Chan stands with Janah, he hugs her, “White Angel reads my heart, as always.”
“You going to make me an aunt?”
Chan, “Perhaps best to get a wife first.”
Janah giggles, “We’re on the case little brother. In due course, everything will be made plain.”
Mrs. Fong is having a grand time. Having no children of her own, this is a blessing late in life, to search out this girl. She dropped comments to several families that she is the intermediary for a young man, a Shaolin priest, that is eligible and wants to find a Chinese girl in the old fashioned way. She had been given this high honor by one of the temple masters. It was like having an opening at Chapmans. Mothers and grandmothers from around Chinatown call on Mrs. Fong, who holds court in her restaurant, listening to glowing stories and looking over photos of every type of girl imaginable.
She snorts, “Silly women bring me pictures of fat lazy girls and tell me what industrious students they are, how smart and beautiful, and they are sure to lose a few pounds before their wedding. Which they are equally sure to put on triple after!”
Janah grins, Mrs. Fong is indignant, “I don’t have time to waste with these girls. Actually, I have one in mind already. I want her family to come to me. I wait like a spider in my web.”
Janah, “They haven’t made any attempt to see you?”
Mrs. Fong, “They are doing things properly, not show up the first or second week with pictures and grades from school, like a job interview or some stupid American television program. Mrs. Fong is not picking over a bunch of sneaky girls all lying through their teeth for time on television. My quarry is not a family of idiots. We both have to put on a respectable performance.”
Janah knows some posturing is part of the game, she has other concerns, “The girl?”
“Ah, a vision. Soft spoken, but not shy, dutiful. She cared for old grandmother who has since died, graduated from high school recently, works very hard now in family business, dry cleaning. Old grandfather had original typical Chinese laundry. Now all automated, big business all over five boroughs. Closely run, no foolishness, Buddhist.”
Janah, “Chan is only five-nine, that’s shading it in his favor.”
Mrs. Fong, “Girl is tiny, very elegant, like lady friend of your family.”
“Yes, Miss Lacy, maybe taller, dark hair, she is lovely soft eyes, most beautiful smile, perfect white teeth, movie star.”
“I think she’ll do.”
“I’ll keep making big production. Mother will come around in a week or so, ask casually about the situation, then ask casually about the man. She’s full of MSG of course. She knows all about Shaolin and his sisters, the girls who heals, her Shaolin companion. We have to do this dance, it’s cheaper than a year of dating for Chan, better results too.”
“What happens when they, what? Meet?”
“Chan goes to the home, bows, sits and answers questions. Girl will be there. She will say nothing. It’s to look each other over. That way if one wants out, no harm, just don’t meet anymore. After that, Chan goes to house, sits with family, girl talks a little, serves tea. Eventually, three or four visits, family mysteriously leaves room, girl and Chan alone. This might happen once or twice more.”
Janah, “How lovely. Chan should or should not wear a robe? My guess is not, too intimidating for the girl. It will show his consideration to come in regular clothes, not like he’s wanting to show off.”
“No robe, but no blue jeans and t-shirt either. Get nice slacks, good shoes, collar on shirt, sport coat even.”
Mrs. Fong guides the proceedings, Kara and Lacy take him shopping and Janah refreshes him on decorum; it takes just under two months. Part of temple training is how to act when meeting people, being a guest, being a host, helping others feel comfortable. Janah practices asking questions, what things Chan might ask the family to demonstrate his interest in them.
Janah is thrilled, Chan completely smitten from the start. Ning is adorable, big black eyes, the cutest shag hair, and a heartbreaking smile, quiet, not shy, more like her namesake, which means ‘tranquility.’ She runs one group of cleaners, about 6 stores, the family has 20 outlets, her father and an uncle handle the other stores. Ning won’t work much longer. It is time for children as far as her family is concerned. One brother is finishing medical school, just casually dating. The other is gay, just out of engineering school. No grandchildren was not making Ning’s mother very happy and the blessing of this honorable man coming along delights her.
Ning, too, is taken by the stoic young man, serious to a fault. After they’d gone through the preliminaries and began to talk, he poured himself out to her as he had done over the years only with Janah. He told Janah that when she looked at him she pulled his heart into hers.
Ning had been approached at school, then by young men in her neighborhood, for dates, outings, friendships. She dated one or two, found them silly or crude, no one made a dent. When Chan sat on her father’s couch after bowing to the family and distributing small presents, she knew immediately. She barely looked at him on the first visit, then only glanced shyly on the second. When they were finally alone on visit three, she told him all about herself, what she liked, that she wanted children, that she wanted to be at home with them. Chan didn’t care if she wanted one or a hundred, or if she never left their home, he just wanted to be with her.
On visit number six, Chan received permission to take her to the condo. Since they are going out alone for the first time, he appears at her door with his three sisters, to reassure her parents. They don’t need any reassurance, it is just an old school gesture on Chan’s part, one that endears him to them even more. Ning giggles standing between Nikko and me, six inches shorter than either of us, Janah takes her arm and they walk together flanked front left by Nikko and right rear by me, Chan directly behind us.
The moms take over on arrival, poor Chan doesn’t stand a chance. He sits with Janah at the big table, while the moms and Ning sit across the room swapping life histories, Janah and Daphne stories and all about Nikko, Chapmans and Dr. Svensson. Ning holds her own, with stories about her brothers, the ups and downs of business, and her extended family, some still in China. Her father’s other brother here in New York, in the plumbing supply business. Ning’s relatives are basic small business people, their companies take constant attention. The family all worked in the business, until college for the brothers. They understand hard work, loyalty and support.Ning turns a dozen times while sitting with the moms to look at Chan, to see he’s okay, gives him a gentle smile. He had been loving and considerate of her people, she would be equally so with his. It didn’t escape her that we all saw Chan as a family member. Even with no blood ties, no marriage ties, he is a son and a brother nonetheless. This comforts her, her children with Chan will have many aunts and grandmothers, lots of loving arms to hold and nurture them. Her decision was ninety percent made on Chan’s first visit, now it was one hundred ten percent made. We’re going to be her family too.
Chan walks Ning home, we stay at the condo. Mrs. Fong has hit the love ball out of the park.