was reading JustBeingV‘s blog which raised a few questions concerning friendship and it got me thinking about my own group of friends. And it occured to me:
I have no friends around me.
One in NY, and maybe 4 in LA and a few of you here on Xanga. But that’s about it. Perhaps I should explain. I have acquaintances. Lots of them. And I interact with them as friends. But then, I am friendly with the bartender at Glory Days. So friendship isn’t based on how you interact. To me, friendship is defined by honesty, openness and trust… maybe reliability. A friend is:
- someone to whom you can tell your deepest thoughts or secrets without fear of being judged.
- someone you can trust to keep these thoughts or secrets private.
- someone who believes you and believes in you.
- someone who is equally honest and open with you.
- someone you can turn to when you are in trouble or are in pain.
These sound pretty straight forward, but I must admit that I did not know–or at least practice–these tenets of friendship when I was young. I was not a very good friend. Just a selfish sorta sod.
Back in high school, I was pretty much a nobody. Really. There were those who were really popular–i.e. attractive or athletic–and then there were the brains, and the comedians, and the “best friends” of the popular ones. And then those who were none of the above, like me.
Still, like anyone else, I wanted to be somebody. So I tried my hand at music, as pathetic as my abilities were. I do believe that I had a little talent for it–after all, most of the music I can play is self-taught, I can sing on key, and I can grasp the rhythm of most music. Just a little talent, maybe. In any event, I used to hang out with a guy who enjoyed music as much as I did. Angel played piano and he liked to play drums and we would get together and “jam”. In hindsight, we were pretty lousy–perhaps I should be speaking for myself–but at 16 in the early 70s, we were just having a good time.
One day, he told me about a girl he had met, a really cute girl. DKLA was in my grade–I was a year older than Angel–and she went to a local public school. She was, apparently, very popular and the target of many guys. Angel wanted to get to know her batter, and eventually go steady with her. He asked me if I would accompany them shopping or something, so he could introduce her to me to get my input. And I said okay.
Sadly, the details of that day are pretty much blurred. We met somewhere after school and DKLA brought her friend as well. I was pretty naive back then, I wasn’t sure what was going on–maybe she brought her to set her up with me. She finished her business–I forget waht it was–and we got on the bus–I had to get to work by 5. On the bus, we sat separately, boys in front and girls in back, like the nerds we were. DKLA was whspering and giggling with her friend, with Angel turning around on the seat to join them. He laughed with them.
“What are you girls whispering about?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, but started giggling again after locking eyes with her friend as if recalling a shared secret.
Angel looked very happy, but I was bored. DKLA was attractive, to be sure, but she was as tall as I was and she looked way out of my league. Her friend was also cute–she was a half. But the day was Angel’s and I just tried to be polite. So as the three giggled, I just looked out the window, admiring the Christmas decorations on the streets of downtown LA in late November.
“What are you thinking about, O-man?” DKLA asked me.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, trying to imitate their voices. This got them giggling again, as I smiled wanly.
The bus reached the corner of 1st and San Pedro and I got off, waving at them. DKLA yelled something at me, but I just nodded in mock acknowledement, neither hearing nor caring what she had said.
The next day at school, Angel asked me what I thought, and I told him that she was attractive, and I wished him luck in his attempts to snag this girl. A few days later, when I had completely forgotten about her, DKLA strolled into the confection shop where I worked….
few days later, when I had completely forgotten about her, DKLA strolled into Mikawaya, the confection shop where I worked. I was quite surprised; I had seriously put her out of mind as I had little, if anything, to do with her. My first reaction was to treat her as a customer. I mean, Angel was interested in her, and I presumed she was interested in him, at least a little, since they did go out shopping.
“Hi,” I smiled back, wondering why she seemed to be giggling a little too nervously.
“Tuesday was fun.”
Tuesday was fun? What happened on… “Oh, yeah. Shopping? Well, I just tagged along ’cause I didn’t have anything to do,” I lied.
“We should do it again,” she said. She seems kinda jittery.
“Uh, yeah, okay,” I said rather hesitantly. What’s she doing here? She’s never come here before. “So, you here to get some manju?” I asked as I nodded toward the showcase filled with rice cakes.
“Oh, no,” she continued to giggle. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d say ‘hi’.”
“Okay, ‘Hi’,” I said rather lamely.
She giggled some more, then said she had to meet a friend, and just like that, DKLA was gone. What was that all about? I shrugged my shoulders and went back to work. And as quickly as she had come and gone, I forgot about her…
* * * * *
hanksgving came and went and Christmas shopping occupied my every thought. I worked a lot of hours at the confection shop, six days a week, 5:00 to 9:00 Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and 5:00 to 10:00 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. These were the days before mandatory minimum wages, and I received a monthly salary of $120 when I had started six months earlier. By this Christmas, it was about $140.
While the salary was low, I didn’t mind. It was lower than some part-time jobs in the area. like being a teller at Sumitomo Bank. But surprisingly, it was pretty normal for these mom and pop shops in J-Town. Besides, the job was low stress, and Mrs. H made dinner for us every night. “Us” included the unmarried FOB employees who worked in the back and one other part-timer. We usually stuffed ourselves at Mrs. H’s insistence. It was a casual life and I enjoyed it immensely. But for the first time, I felt in control of my life, and it was empowering…
But we were talking about DKLA, weren’t we…
Well, with Christmas shopping on my mind–and budgeting myself to afford gifts for family and friends–I had little patience to even entertain the thought that DKLA might harbor intentions contrary to Angel… until my sister told me something completely unexpected.
“Do you know DKLA?” She asked.
“You’ve never mentioned her before.”
“I know her through a friend at volleyball. She kinda introduced herself and started talking to me. It was wierd.”
“Yeah? WHY?” What is it with sisters?
“I think she wants to get you something for Christmas. She asked me what kind of cologne you use. I told her you don’t use any. It was wierd.”
“………..” I didn’t know what to say. But it finally dawned on me that she might be interested in me. In me! Me, who was totally out of her league. Me, who never had a steady girl friend. Me, Angel’s friend.
This was, to say the least, a dilemma for me. I mean, God, this girl was hot and she was interested in ME!
I saw Angel the next day at school and I didn’t know what to say. We had our usual chats about homework, Chicago’s newest album, bowling…
“I’m going to ask DKLA if she wants to go out. You think she’d want to see a movie?”
“How you gonna take her? You don’t have a car. You can’t take a girl like that on a date on a bus.”
“I know. That’s why I was wondering if maybe you’d, like, drive us,” he asked hopefully.
“I don’t have a car either.” I said.
“But you have K’s car,” Angel replied.
He was right, of course. Technically, I didn’t own a car, but my boss, K, regularly asked me to drive her mother home. They lived nearby in Monterey Park, so I’d drive Mrs. H home and then they’d drop me off at my parents house. On weekends, my boss didn’t go to the shop, so she would tell me to keep the car on Saturday nights so I could drive her mother home on Sundays, as well.
K was almost like a sister to me. After school, I’d go to the shop early and bum around, maybe do some homework in the dank basement amid 100 lbs. sacks of rice and sugar stacked on pallets, and maybe not. When K went out for coffee or a snack, she’d often come find me and take me along. When I needed extra cash, she’d slip me $20 and tell me to get popcorn and soda, too And she trusted me enough to drive her mother home and to keep her car over the weekend. She also told me that I could drive the car if I wanted to go out. “As long as you don’t drink and drive,” she said. And I promised I would never betray her trust. And I never did. I had never had an older sibling, so being taken care of this way was more than pleasant. Indeed, I felt very lucky.
But when Angel asked me to drive him and DKLA on their date, I refused.
“Sorry, gonna catch a flick with Cary and Tomahawk. Maybe next time.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. I intended to ask them about going a movie anyway. Cary and Tomahawk were true friends. We had been together for quite awhile, through thick and thin in elementary school, and we were always together in high school, too. These were guys I was always open with and we had no secrets between us. I wondered if perhaps Angel wanted to be a part of that.
For me, however, friendships developed over time, it wasn’t something you did consciously. You don’t just think, I’ll be so-and-so’s friend, and become one. Cary and Tomahawk and I often found ourselves in situations–good and bad–and we had developed a bond over time. By 1972, we were 16 and had known each other for 11 years already.
Angel, on the other hand, was a recent “friend”, a year younger than me in my sister’s class at Maryknoll. While we had a few things in common, our friendship had not developed to that level yet, so we were not that close.
Or so I tried desperately to convince myself…
Seed of Suspicion
hile Angel and I had a few things in common, our friendship had not developed to that level yet, so we were not that close. Or so I desperately tried to convince myself. I seemed to be justifying my feelings, my selfishness. An attractive girl interested in me? And I hadn’t done anything to invite this attention? This was a completely new situation for me. I should just back off, I thought, and let the chips fall where they may. If DKLA and Angel got together, great. If she wanted to pursue me, maybe greater. So I acted passively, avoiding Angel’s situation by not driving them on his date, but in a way I was aggressively preventing him from advancing his own agenda.
I won’t make excuses. What I was feeling in my heart was wrong. And I guess I knew it even then, since I didn’t–couldn’t–tell anyone what I was thinking. I couldn’t even tell Cary or Tomahawk (played by detachable), my two best friends, for fear of accusations. Yes, I knew what I was doing. And yet, I couldn’t help myself.
December came and things seem to escalate rapidly in ways that defy explanation. My boss, K, was going to Las Vegas with her husband for a few days, and so she left the car to me so I could drive her mother home after work. I took the car to school, with her permission, and having learned of this, Angel automatically asked me to give him a ride as well. Reluctantly, I said yes.
On a chilly morning, I went to City Terrace to pick him up and then headed toward school. I was planning to get on the San Bernadino Freeway then to the Santa Monica to get to our school located on LA’s Westside. But Angel had another idea.
“Let’s go through Boyle Heights.”
“What? Fuck you. That’ll add twenty minutes to our trip,” I protested.
“No, really. We can go by Roosevelt High. Maybe we’ll see DKLA.”
“Oh, man,” I sighed. “I would really rather go straight to school.”
“C’mon, man. You gotta car! We won’t have these kinds of chances that much.”
“Alright, alright,” I relented. Angel succeeded in getting me to drive him to where he wanted to go. I was irritated at first, but as we drove through the streets of East Los Angeles, I grew strangely comfortable with the idea that Angel was every bit as selfish as I was. The thought of seeing DKLA didn’t hurt either.
Angel directed me down Evergreen, then right on Brooklyn where Evergreen Cemetery was.
“Why don’t we just go straight down to 3rd street?” I asked.
“Turn left on Fickett,” he happily ordered.
“What? Why are we zigzagging to get to Roosevelt?”
“‘Cause this is the way she walks to school,” he answered matter-of-factly. All I could do was roll my eyes. What didn’t he know about this girl?
We went one block down Fickett, made a right on First Street, then another immediate left on Mathews.
“Slow down,” Angel whined as he looked at everyone walking the last block to Roosevelt. “There, there,” he pointed.
And sure enough, there was DKLA walking on the right side of the street, her arms wrapped around the books she held up to her breast. She was wearing a burgundy letterman’s sweater, her brother’s. (Why do I remember this?). I pulled up to the curb and Angel opened the window.
“”Hey, DK!” he yelled, motioning for her to come over.
She walked deliberately towards car. “What are you doing here?”
“Onigiriman’s got the boss’s car and so we thought we’d see if we could catch you,” he explained.
We thought? You mean, YOU thought…
DKLA hunched over to look into the car and saw me in the drivers seat.
“Hi,” I smiled as nonchalantly as I could.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, as if I might have a different reason as Angel’s. I just shrugged my shoulder. “So you going to school now? Cool. What time does school start? What classes do you have today?”
She looked directly at me with her questions and I smiled as I gave her short but accurate responses. Angel didn’t seem much too pleased at not being the target of her attention.
“The bell’s going to ring soon, so I have to go. Bye,” she said to both of us. “Then she looked at me and mouthed, “Call me.”
I pulled the car back onto the road and headed toward school. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw her receding figure standing on the corner. Why isn’t Angel sticking his head out the window waving at her? Why isn’t he even turning around to look at her? Could he have noticed her “secret” message to me?
The tension in the car was thick. As I turned onto the Golden State Freeway south toward the 10, the sharp keyboard intro to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” started to jerk out of the car speakers. But even it couldn’t loosen the mood.
Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past
This was a new song that Angel liked, but he didn’t sing along as he often did. He just sat silently looking out the window at the rundown houses and storage facilities lining the freeway. I veered west onto the Santa Monica Freeway, a virtual bridge over central LA for about five miles, and saw the city stretch before us. Ah, man. Did Angel really see her? What the shit is he thinking? What the shit am I thinking? What the fuck am I gonna do now? I thought as I glanced over at him.
Angel just sat there, staring out the side window distantly at the buildings of downtown LA. I thought about DKLA and what she had mouthed. Did she really say “Call me”? Call her? Now how am I gonna do that? Then a random bit of truth crossed my mind and I relaxed. I didn’t have her phone number, so how could I call her? In a twisted kind of logic, I figured that she couldn’t blame me for not contacting her since I didn’t know her number, and if i didn’t call her, I wasn’t betraying Angel. No harm, no foul, I grinned.
When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way
But DKLA called me that night.
inter 1972-73, I was 16 going on 17. I was naive and still a virgin, but it was my time to grow up, to taste the complexities of a burgeoning adulthood. I was never very good at doing what I was told. Mom told me that as the eldest I had to be reliable, my 8th grade teacher discussed being faithful to friends, country and God. But it rarely sank in. I was one of those stubborn kids who had to actually experience things before understanding them, before practicing them. So I learned values such as responsibility, loyalty, and obligation by trial and error. Of course, it sometimes seemed that the greater the error, the better the lesson.
“Hello?” I answered the phone.
“Hi, how was school?” It was DKLA.
“Okay. How’d you get our number?”
“I asked Angel.”
“Um… I’m not sure if…”
“I told him that I needed to get a hold of your sister.”
“Oooh… I mean,” I paused briefly, trying to figure out how to handle this situation. “Do you realize what’s going on?”
“Uh-huh. Angel’s been pretty obvious,” DKLA said.
“Then you know that you shouldn’t be talking to me.”
“Why? I can’t live my life based on someone else’s feelings. I have to do what I want to do, not what someone else wants me to do.”
“Besides, Angel’s not my type. You are.”
She said it. You are… I mean I am. I’m her type.
No sooner had she uttered these words that I had forgotten my dilemma. Angel? Angel who. This was my very first experience of having a girl tell my they like me. It was like an narcotic–not that I would know the effects of an illegal pharmaceutical product, mind you, but if I did, I was sure that it felt like this. I became light headed.
“Yeah, you’re my type, too,” I said, starting to giggle like her, like a girl. Among other things, I had yet to learn the value of remaining cool at times such as this.
We talked for an hour about everything, about nothing. The only thing that we knew was that we were interested in each other, and it became obvious that we wanted to pursue our feelings regardless. Although, I suspect now, in hindsight, that our reasons were different. While she perhaps was genuinely interested in me, I was more interested in experiencing the feelings of being wanted. I wanted to bathe myself in the euphoria aroused when one becomes the target of another’s desire. For too long I had been on the other side of yearning.
When I was 13, our 7th grade class went on a field trip to Knott’s Berry Farm. As a bunch of kids suffering through puberty, all any of us could think of was spending the day with a person of the opposite sex. Some of the guys in class already had predetermined partners. I hesitate to use the word “steady” or even “girlfriend” because back then the most we could do was hang out together at lunch or after school. Once we got on the school bus to go home, we re-entered reality and had to lead lives that did not allow for open girl-boy relationships, particularly in our Japanese American sphere. For two weeks, the topic of conversation was who was going to “date” who at Knott’s. I too wanted desperately to date a girl I thought was pretty cute, but I knew she was already set. I asked two other girls who I had heard did not yet have a date, but they rejected me. I ended up going with a skinny girl who rode the same school bus as I did–the sister of a Boy Scout patrol mate.
In high school, at 15, I once attended a mixer. I went to a private Catholic school–all male–and the girls who were invited came from other private schools in the area. My friends would never go. Why go? they’d say. There ain’t anyone you’d know. This was true, but I went anyway, because I wanted to hear the Flying Burrito Brothers play. (I dare anyone to say they’ve heard of this group!) At the mixer, I soon learned why my friends would not go. Everyone at the dance was white. There were a few Blacks and Hispanics, but 95% percent of the students there were white. At school the white population hovered around 65% I’d figure, but when it came to social events, this school turned white. I must have asked five or six girls to dance and every single one of them looked at me as if I was a Martian. I espied one Filipino girl and asked her, but she rejected me as well. Needless to say, I did not have a good time.
My first real job was at the confectionary shop in J-Town. I had worked since I was 14 doing maintenance work at my elementary school over the summer. They paid me cash–$1 an hour!–but it was enough to let me buy my own Panasonic radio-cassette player. But for the job in J-Town, I had to fill out an application form and submit a social security number. I was joining the ranks of tax payers. I had inquired K about the job over the phone and she told me to come in on Tuesday and ask for Billie. It was my first day of my first real job, and I was a bit excited. I walked into the store and told one of the lady clerks that I was new and was supposed to meet Billie. She nodded and went to the back room, and out came a cute girl in a white uniform. She introduced herself as Billie. After allowing me a moment to recover, she led downstairs to pick up a large bundle of boxes, then she handed me a stack of labels and a jar of glue.
“Here. Paste these labels on the lid. The black label little from the top and the green address label about a quarter inch from the bottom edge. After you finish, bring another bundle up…”
I was in love.
Billie and I got along well enough as work colleagues. But after a month, she quit. She had just graduated high school and was about to start college, starting with summer school. She had no time to work at the shop anymore, and certainly no time for me. I was crushed but did not give up. I asked her out to a concert, and she agreed to go see Dave Mason at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, as long as someone else came. So Angel came along, too. We had a great time, and even went bowling after that. But the evening ended with a solid “thanks” and a wave “good-bye”. While I had a serious crush on her and was still infatuated–I would pine away to anyone who would listen–I was not an idiot. I could take a hint.
So this heretofore unknown situation, of being the pursued rather than the pursuer, had a narcotic effect on me. And DKLA was the pusher.
“My parents are having a Christmas party next week, but, uh, you wanna come?”
“Who’s coming?” she asked, perhaps not so innocently.
“Just my parents’ friends. No one my… our age.”
“Hmmm, your house?”
“Yeah, say you’ll come?”
“Well, if I have to…” she said feigning helplessness.
That Saturday, I went to pick her up and we ate dinner at my house with my parents friends. The situation was almost perfect. Since my parents had to entertain their guests, they didn’t pepper me or DKLA with questions. We listened to a few songs in my room–a room that I had actually cleaned up willingly–and then we went bowling. (Yeah, it was pretty popular back then.) Around 11 o’clock, she said that she should go home–she was, after all, 16, and I had just turned 17 the day before. The whole evening, I had done nothing untoward. I was the perfect gentleman, mostly because I really didn’t know what to do. I was so naive.
But as I drove her home in my mother’s Camaro, she placed her hand on my sleeve and I instantly got nervous. Shit, what am I supposed to do when we get to her house? I laughed nervously, trying oh so hard to stay composed. Right, walk her to the door. But do I kiss her? Shit. Why don’t I have an older brother? I was turning into a wreck. Okay, I’ll kiss her… but what if she sticks her hand out when I try? Damn, do I just shake it? Oh, God, fuck, what am I supposed to do? When we reached her house, I parked in front and was about to get out of the car, but she stopped me.
“No, don’t get out.”
Oh shit, she wants to avoid the scene altogether, I thought, crestfallen. Was inviting her a bad idea? Was bowling a bad idea? Do I have bad breath? Oh man, here we go again. All these thoughts flashed through my mind in a nanosecond.
“Well, I should at least walk you to the door,” I protested meekly. “I think it’s the polite thing to do.”
“Look at the second window from the left,” she said, motioning vaguely to her dark pink house. I looked and saw the drapes pushed aside just slightly and the silhouette of a head peering through. “That’s my mom.”
Ooooh. DKLA reached into her bag, and took out a box wrapped in blue paper and a red ribbon. “Your birthday was yesterday, right? So here: Happy Birthday.”
I was speechless. I looked down at the box to accept the gift. I felt so flattered, so excited, so happy. “I don’t know what to…” I looked back up to thank her when she leaned over and kissed me full on the lips…
his time, I was truly speechless. But before I could gather myself, she opened the door, got out and skipped up the concrete steps. The porch light immediately turned on and she waved at me. I waved back, and when the door opened and I knew she was safe at home, I left.
She kissed me. I squeezed the steering wheel firmly with both hands as I drove down First Street. She kissed me! My heart raced. I could feel it thumping at my temples, on my fingertips. How old was I? I had just turned seventeen, an age where many others have already experienced kissing, petting, geez, even sex. But not me. This was a brand new sensation.
When I got home, my parents friends had already left. Mom asked if I had a good time, and I told her it was “okay“. I went to my bedroom, turned of the night and laid down on my bed, staring up at the dark ceiling.
Now what should I do? I can’t keep this hidden. Who do I tell? Cary? Tomahawk? Nah, What would they say? I had betrayed Angel.
I was wary of being judged by my peers. What made it worse was that it seems like I was being so secretive about it. I had to open up, falsely believing that if was honest and up front about it, things would mellow out.
I’ll tell Angel next week at school, I thought. But the right opportunity never arose. There were just too many other people around, too many eyes to judge me. Then on Thursday, Angel dropped by the confectionary.
It was nearing the winter solstice and by 5:00 in the afternoon the sky was already black. It had been a drizzling, miserable day in LA, even for December. But Angel walked in rather perkily asking me what I was going to do this weekend.
“Got any plans?” he asked.
“Well, I was gonna ask DKLA if she wanted to go out,” he said as he straddled one of the stools at the counter.
“Actually, um, she’s going to be sorta… busy this weekend,” I sputtered, trying to express this as frankly and reasonably as possible.
Angel just laughed. “How would YOU know?”
“Well…” and I told him what happened the previous Saturday, except for that little detail of her kissing me. Angel kept looking down at the floor as I talked, spinning quarter circles on the stool.
“And that’s what happened,” I concluded, preparing for God knows what.
After a few moments, Angle looked up and laughed, “Hey, that’s alright! Good for you! She’s quite a catch, mind you.” He stood to leave. “Be good to her,” he said in an unexpectedly gay tone, as he turned and left.
I wasn’t sure what I had just experienced. Was he really happy for me? Was I worried for nothing? I wasn’t sure, but eventually I concluded that he was putting up a front. He really had a crush on DKLA and it couldn’t have gone down that easily. I mean, no way, right? He’d have to be superhuman. Still, pretty sure that he was torn up inside and just too proud to admit it, Angel seemed pretty magnanimous about the whole thing.
That Saturday, I spent the afternoon at DKLA’s house. It was just before Christmas and her brother had gone to Vegas while her parents were out shopping. The shades were drawn and we were alone. We cuddled on the sofa in front of the Christmas tree. The TV set was on when I arrived, but DKLA turned it off and turned on the radio. This particular winter, it seemed that every station played one song. Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones”.
Me and Mrs. Jones
We got a thing goin’ on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong
To let it go now
On the sofa, I had my arms around her shoulder as she rested her head against my chest. I breathed in the scent of her freshly washed hair and enjoyed the warmth she generated.
“Did you tell Angel about us?”
“Yeah. I mean, we are friends, sort of, and I couldn’t not tell him, you know?”
“I guess,” she replied rather lazily.
We gotta be extra careful
That we don’t build our hopes up too high
Because she’s got her own obligations
And so, and so, do I
“Do you still work with Billie?” she asked unexpectedly.
What an odd question, I thought. Here we are, spending a quiet afternoon alone and she brings up a name that has no place in our conversation, the name of a girl I still… used to have a crush on.
“Um, yeah, well, we used to work together for a month and she quit. I see her around sometimes but that’s about it.” You are such a fucking liar. Why? What’s up?” I tried to sound so calm.
“Oh nothing. I go to school with her brother and he mentioned that she worked at the same confectionary as you.”
“Oh, is that all?” I felt temporarily relieved.
“Why? Is there more?” she asked, almost seductively.
“Oh, no, no, no, ” Shit, is this some kind of trick?
Well, it’s time for us to be leaving
It hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
Now she’ll go her way and I’ll go mine
Tomorrow we’ll meet
The same place, the same time
Suddenly, the phone rang. DKLA got up to answer it, as I contemplated what was going on. Why would she ask about Billie? Did she hear something? But what? And There actually is nothing between us, Billie made sure of that. My uneasiness grew as DKLA handed me the phone. “It’s for you.”
“Who the…” I took the phone cautiously as DKLA simply turned her back on me and walked to the kitchen. “Hello?” I said slowly as I stood up, no longer comfortable on the sofa
“O-man, is that you? We’ve been calling all over looking for you.”
“How’d you know I was here?” It was a girl who worked weekends at the confectionary.
“I called Angel and he told me to try this number,” she was almost screaming. “Anyway, Billie’s had an attack of kidney stones and had to go to the hospital. And we’re shorthanded. You have to come down right away.”
“Is she alright?” I couldn’t mask my concern. “Which hospital did they take her?”
“Nevermind that, we need you here at the shop, so come right away.”
“But, but,” but the line went dead.
I turned around to hang up the phone and DKLA was standing there with her hand extended to receive it.
“What was that all about?”
“Um, Billie, you know, the one you asked about? She’s sick or something and I have to go to the shop right away. They’re short-handed and I have to fill in. It’s kind of an emergency.”
“I thought you said she quit.”
“No, I mean, yes, I said that, and she did, but K asked her to come back for the weekends during Christmas and New Years, that’s all,” I tried to explain tripping over my tongue.
“Which hospital is she at?”
“I didn’t get the…” I stopped in mid-sentence and looked at DKLA as she stared right back at me with her arms crossed in front of her. Why did she ask that? Was she going to visit her? Of course not. Then, why ask? What fuck does she know that she’s not telling me? But before I could sort out these various questions, she showed me the door.
“Well, I think you’d better go. Sounds like they’re pretty busy at the shop.” And she virtually shooed me out. I walked down the steps and turned around only to get a glimpse of her as she shut the door.
It was the last glimpse in 8 years. What had developed in a blink of an eye, disappeared just as quickly…
Not Even a Goodbye
hat night, I called her house. It was just before 11pm. But no one answered. Is no one home? Is it too late? What’s next? I worried as I hung up the phone.
The next morning was Christmas Eve, Sunday. I called again and she answered. “I have to go now,” she said hanging up the phone.
As I gift wrapped boxes of rice crackers and rice cakes for last minute Christmas shoppers, all I could think of was DKLA. A person who was basically a non-entity just a few weeks earlier now wouldn’t vacate my mind. She’s the one who showed an interst in me. She’s the one who approached me. So I run with… and what? Now she doesn’t want to see me? I wonder if it had to do something with Billie? I hadn’t really lied to her about Billie. We weren’t seeing each other; we didn’t have a thing going on. Although somewhere deep in my heart, I still had a thing for Billie, it was a one-sided affair, and shouldn’t really matter. What was I supposed to do? I thought. Tell her, “Yeah, I think your a cool chick, but I gotta thing for another girl, but don’t worry because it ain’t going nowhere”? Yeah, right, that would go over great. But I still couldn’t figure out why DKLA had asked me about her. It was so out of the blue. Did someone told her about my feelings for her?
No one’s asleep now, it’s only 8 o’clock, I thought as I dialed her number from home after long day. But no answer. Okay, maybe I dialed the the wrong number, so I dialed it again and let it ring–nine, ten, eleven, twe…
“Hello?” a sleepy man’s voice said.
“Hi, um, I was wondering if DKLA was home?”
“Uh, who’s this,” he asked perturbed. I told him who I was and he replied with a calm but threatening voice. “I don’t think you should be calling my sister… again.” And he hung up on me.
And that was that.
I heard what he said. I know what he meant. Don’t bother my sister anymore. What started with a bus ride, what turned into something promising with a single kiss, had turned into a train wreck. What the hell went wrong? I thought over and over again. Christmas was the next day and… Shit, I hadn’t even bought her a present. Everything had gone up and down so fast that I hadn’t even thought about a simple thing like getting her a present. Is that why she doesn’t want to see me anymore?
The following week, I saw Angel at work. He had asked me to get him a part-time New Year’s gig at the confectionary shop and I had come through for him. He was just as chipper as he was the day I told him about DKLA and me.
“How are you guys doing?” he asked.
“We ain’t doin’ nothing,” I confessed. I didn’t go into the particulars. “She didn’t give me a reason. She didn’t even say goodbye.”
“Ah, that’s too bad. You still got Billie, right?” he smiled and went back to work.
During the week leading to New Year’s, we worked together at Mikawaya. It is a particularly busy time of year and we hire a number of part-timers to help out. On of them was the son of my boss’s hairdresser, Diddly.
We talked about J-Town and school and music. After hours, we’d get a bite to eat at Denny’s and hang out. We talked about Angel and I jammed together with others on weekends for fun and he told us he used to be a drummer for the Koyasan Boy Scouts. He said he wanted to hear me play the piano and perhaps jam a bit at my house. Angel, of course, was all over this.
Epilogue: What Goes Around Comes Around
In 1980, I worked at a travel agency, MitsuiLine, located in J-Town. I delivered tickets as far away as Costa Mesa and as close as downtown LA. Once, on my way back from a downtown delivery by bus, I noticed L.A. Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, and sitting right next to him was DKLA. I said Hi and she said Hi, giggled a bit, like she did on that first bus ride we took eight years earlier. She told me she had graduated from a local university and now worked for the Councilman. Councilman Lindsay’s district encompassed J-Town and DKLA was designated Lil’ Tokyo Liaison to the Councilman. As a result, she had to work closely with the Lil’ Tokyo Chamber of Commerce which was headed at the time by K, my boss at the confectionary. They became friends and every time I would visit the shop, she would be there. I never stayed long.
In 1982, I met a girl that I thought was really nice. We got along well enough. We’d eat lunch together and sometimes study together at UCLA. I told a good friend of mine all about her, how I felt, and I wanted him to meet her. Guess what happened? She fell for him, and he succumbed. A guy who I thought was a good friend, a solid friend, hooked up with the girl that he knew I was interested in. If I hadn’t an inkling regarding how Angel felt before, I had a pretty good idea now. Their relationship lasted longer than my little whirlwind with DKLA–of course that wouldn’t be hard for anybody.
While hurt and dumfounded, the irony of it all was not lost on me. And I learned a couple of things. One, in life, there is balance. If you are good to others, good things will come to you. If you screw others, others will screw you. It may not be the same person, but it will happen, I firmly believe this. I’m hoping someday, a student or two of mine will become wildly rich and/or famous and remember little ol’ me… *sigh* I wish! I alos learned that friends–really true friends–are few and far between. It is something that can be easily made perhaps, but not so easily maintained.