Center of the Universe (35)
We had a wonderful night, delightfully unexpected, and it happened at the sisters’, and Kang was there, and Wendy was playing, and I wanted to write about it with all the joy it summoned. But reflections on joy and wonder have a way these days of turning into reflections on oh-yeah-now-I-remember and the unbearable reality of stacking bricks around the Least of These to keep out hope and love.
No, joy and wonder didn’t have a prayer. My world — the things I treasure, that make me warm, make me smile, mist me up, that are beautiful to me and transcendent, that are sacred, in a strictly secular way (but inarguably close to what parochial school drilled us about JC), that are all the fundaments (to me) of a peaceable kingdom, the things that are good and right and just and free, multilayered (like Sonia’s lasagna), spicy (like Sonia’s calamari sauce), intoxicating (like Sonia’s Sicilian wine) and fun fun fun, and just what this writing had intended to extoll, by way of enjoying it immensely in the remembering and sharing — is, and always will be, the exact opposite of his.
But fuck it. And him. The world doesn’t end. Nor do stories. And with stories — a counter-tide of stories, full-spectrum facts alternative to gangrenous goldplated “alternative facts,” true stories (even the fiction), our stories — maybe we resist. So, as I was saying before I was interrupted by my own dire thoughts, here’s another from outside the Big Brother Beltway:
Sandy’s cousins came to collect. And I don’t begrudge them. They seem like decent folk, and Sandy, a devout metaphysician, had made minus-infinity effort to organize his post-physical affairs. And why should he? No wife, no kids. Only cousins, far away, terrestrially and metaphorically, who he hadn’t cared to talk to in a demi-century. But the cousins from the east came west and, in addition to scooping the loot — after they complete the untangling of the gordian knot of Sandy’s assets and pay off the lawyers and god knows who else — wanted to meet everyone. Not just us. I guess they’d heard about everyone from the lawyer, who’d heard about everyone from us and was trying to suggest he was inner-circle. And two of the people they wanted to meet were the Wilbees, and that doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.
I love the Wilbees.
Bob and Jimmy, middle-aged brothers, 16 months apart, were Sandy’s neighbors. The business their dad started 60 years ago and they inherited — which sells chutes for tall buildings (laundry or trash) and, probably to a different audience, medical sensors — was next to Alpha and Omega, the recording studio, sometime domicile, musical, literary and pedagogical archive and Sandy world HQ. And though they’d been small-talk neighbors for three decades, in the last six years of his life, they’d kept an eye out, even hung.
Some days, Bob would go with him to Equator in Tam Junction. Sandy loved coffee. As it turned out, Bob didn’t even drink the stuff, never — not until he was trying to be good company to a neighbor. It was Bob who’d tracked me down when Sandy was stricken — which is a Sorellas saga in and of itself.
Bob looks like a Bob — solid, clear-eyed, aw-shucks and all-American, hair lightly slicked, wisely gray, a Robert Young type (if you remember Dr. Welby), a guy who could make a fortune selling old people reverse mortgages on TV, but wouldn’t.
Jimmy, his Irish twin, is actually the actor. Or was, back in the day. Back in the day when he grew his hair — now snowy white — past his nips and first cultivated the fu manchu that decorates a narrow face below twinkly eyes, between dangling, shiny earrings. Bob often says of his bro you’d never know we’re from the same parents. But he always says it with love and pride. Jimmy and his partner Jeff, who wears his hair in an arresting Mohawk-mullet, were the parents of Max, the world’s oldest dachshund, who was 22 when we met him a few months before he died. Sandy loved Max. I’m sure he loved the Wilbees, too.
After the lawyer, we escorted the cousins to the storage locker in the industrial part of San Rafael and then, just around the corner, to the Wilbees. After a few Sandy stories and a look through the tinted windows at his old jammed studio space, now (amazingly) bare, and at his brokedown fleet of cars, still parked out back, I said to Bob and Jimmy, how about this Saturday?
We’d had dinner in the fall. We’d planned to have dinner again. We’d planned to have dinner from time to time, ongoing, because, more than just friends of Sandy’s in extremis, we’d become friends. And that’s how Bob and Jimmy (sans Jeff, who was home sick) came to join Rev. Kang (sans Maria, who was home sick) and us at the restaurant.
I’d reminded them that when we eat at the sisters’, we are accompanied by Rev. Kang, their father. But I forgot they already knew that, that when we’d eaten together in the fall, Kang had been there.
We love Kang, said Jimmy.
And then I forgot another thing.
Before North Korea was ruled by the Communists and Kims, it was part of South Korea — or just Korea — and ruled, starting in 1910, by Japan. I learned about the Japanese Occupation in Kang’s book about his odyssey from a North Korean village, population 200, through POW camp and India and Brazil to California, between San Rafael and Fairfax, and hanging out with me and Roni (who got there from a whole other direction). But I forgot that, among the four or five languages this man from remotest Asia speaks (three or four more than cosmopolitan me) is Japanese. The occupiers insisted.
I also forgot he’d struggled with the edicts of Scripture over homosexuality and the gay rights movement. But by the time of his autobiography, the good reverend — who’d once understood otherwise, who’d been meticulously taught otherwise — could write that “my understanding of this movement has changed very much. And I no longer believe it is justifiable to condemn it as immoral or abnormal.”
Bob, like a Bob, is there when we arrive, with his lovely ex-wife and current girlfriend Diane. A few minutes later, Jimmy, like Jimmy, makes an entrance.
The white hair is down. The silver and turquoise jewelry is out — on fingers, wrists, forearms and dangling from ears. Jimmy’s laughing eyes are in full Saturday night twinkle. And blending with the long, bright hair, flying in formation with it, as he rounds the corner to the back to deliver waves and hugs, are the David Crosby-style eighteen-inch fringes — along the arms, across the chest, from the hem — of Jimmy’s magnificent suede coat.
He greets Kang in Japanese. And they’re off.
I forgot that, too. Forgot that, quite the Zen metaphysician himself, the younger Jimmy had spent three years in Japan working and seeking wider horizons.
Kang is clucking and chortling at some Japanese in-joke (the way you don’t often see him), sitting sideways, lounging in his chair (the way you don’t often see him), basking in the privileged conversation, carried back to the phonemes of his youth — even if those phonemes were forced on him by invaders — back to village and family, before the unimaginable journey that brought him to a table on a fringe that used to be the center.