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《干卿底事》__ 古匡昌

“Much Ado About Nothing” __ A Quintessential Case of干卿底事》__ Henry Ku(56)

Dave’s is what Americans euphemistically call a family restaurant, meaning to which you could take the family without having to renegotiate with your banker about the next mortgage payment.   It was where one could order basic fares at a price not too far above McDonald’s.  Needless to say, one also had to adjust one’s culinary expectations, south. 

Last Saturday I spent the whole day by myself and went to vigil mass at 5.  After that I went home and found it dark and quiet.  Then I remembered my wife had told me to take care of my own dinner.  She had gone to a class of some sort on the use of her new toy -- the iPhone 6S.

I had to circle round the block twice before I found a parking spot at Dave’s.  I could have parked in the adjacent lot, but it was a part of a funeral home.  True to my Chinese culture, I liked to keep a polite distance from death and associated unpleasantness.  

As I was a regular I simply seated myself; (unfortunately this also betrayed my standing in the great American financial hierarchy.)  I always sat by the long row of windows looking out to the street.   Bright and clear and plenty of trees.  I looked around the place and found the usual crowd, retired couples and others, all obviously not in the 1% of the population so viciously demonized by Bernie Sanders and his Democrat cohorts.   I ordered breakfast, eggs and things.  If you could order such things at 7:00 p.m. you should be sure that the place was not your neighborhood fine dining palace.  As usual, I brought my dinner companion – a book.   In this case, however, it was a magazine that educated me about American political undercurrents.   It was about a hearty crowd who had fun demolishing the Clintons’ claim that there had always been a vast right-wing conspiracy against them.   I have no strong hatred toward the Clintons; I only think that they are not particularly truthful people  To be fair, Bill did leave his job with plenty of surplus in the kitty whereas we are now 19 trillion in the hock.

I suddenly noticed that there was a couple sitting across the aisle from me, a few feet away.  Their booth was not aligned with mine but was about three feet to my front.   So, I was looking at them at a 45° angle from behind.  I could only see the man’s back but not his face.   His companion, a woman, was facing me.  To me, the man’s presence was auditory, but the woman was clearly visible.  She was oriental, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or even Filipina, who cared?  She was not your glamorous beauty, but pretty and fair.  With the right make-over she would be very attractive.  She had just a hint of make-up which gave her a youthful innocence.  The man was talking all the time.  From an angle I could see his gray hair.  He was also oriental.  His attire was what we locals favored, T-shirt, shorts and slippers.   The woman had a white shirt, a pair of pale gray slacks and comfortable sandals.  She was listening attentively, almost respectfully.  My bet on his age would be from early to the mid-60s.  I would be surprised if she was a day older than 28.

At first, I put them down to be members of a family.  Then I began to take note.  Were they a married couple?   Father and daughter?   No.  Daughters would be putting forth their two-cents.   Have you ever met a daughter who would listen without debating every point?    Grandfather and granddaughter?   I took my granddaughter out to lunch whenever she was home from California.  But, not to this type of cheapie place.   And, my granddaughter would be talking to me about her life, never a one-sided sermon from Gung-gung.   

               I soon winnowed the possibilities down to one of two things, a boss taking his assistant out for a meal after working overtime.   Or, a man trying to convince a woman for some purpose of his own. 

               Here, the fact that the man was a voice without a face reminded me of the movie 大紅燈籠高高掛 in which an educated young woman from a poor family was sent off to become No. 4 concubine to a man who treated his women with a humiliating routine.   His servants would hang a pair of big red Chinese lanterns outside the apartment of the woman to be favored by him that night.  It was like, hey, honey let’s send out for sushi tonight.  A regular rotation.  The director, very cleverly, never showed his face, thus making him all the more callous and unfeeling.   There was no ugly man to be reviled by the audience, just disembodied cruelty. 

               My dinner came and I finished it in no time, two eggs, a bit of corned beef hash and a toast needed no great effort to polish off. Well, it was also not the healthiest of fares for an old man whose state of well-being was under the regular monitoring of a bevy of four physicians.  

I tried to keep my head down to my magazine to learn about the subterranean political world of the left and the right.   However, I could not help stealing glances at the woman again and, uncontrollably, again.   If it was a case of a man wooing a woman then the disparity in ages would be hard to bridge.   And, it was also irreconcilably incongruent.   There was nothing in common between a man who was obviously on a steady slide to decrepitude and a woman blooming soon to her most enchanting maturity.  Please spare us, Lord, of any imagery of physical contact between them, for it certainly would induce a rush to the legendary Roman vomitorium

Then, why brought her to such an eatery?  Wasn’t she worthy of more pampering?  Anyone who hoped to impress a girl with Dave’s would either be the ultimate optimist or a damned fool.  The sin was utterly unforgivable.  If it were me, I would certainly make sure she had a dinner to tell others when she woke up tomorrow.

Could it have been a case of a mail ordered bride?  No more wooing was necessary, cheapie or not.  The poor woman might be adjusting to a disappointing reality, hence so quiet.  Such things did happen in Hawaii.  I had known at least two cases, one man brought a young woman from the Philippines and the other Vietnam.   Hopeless poverty was enough to sap a woman’s will to fight for long and deprivation would push her to take a chance with a strange man, any man, however unworthy of her.   I tried to recall stories I had read before and pictured Simon Hink’s* surprise when he heard who the husband of his new prey was.  His original utterance is in the footnote.  This young lady’s character, for all I knew, was way above Simon’s “new prey”.   

I must stand up and declare to my readers that I was merely a curious bystander without any ulterior intentions.

Their food came and I could see they were basic fares.  Two scoops of rice and some nondescript okazu^ for her.  And, they began wading into it.  Hmm, separate dishes and no sharing.   It indicated a degree of distance in relationship.  Was I, perhaps, dabbing sordid shades onto an innocent portrait? 

Then, another man came up from somewhere.  He was a Caucasian, also old and dressed in the local male attire.  He stood by their table and talked to the man.  An initial hail-fellow-well-met was followed by a long spiel.  I would say the standing man was trying to sell something or curry favor.  The fact that he was not invited to sit down should have told him that he was rapidly wearing thin his welcome.   Some people just wouldn’t take a hint.   Only when he was leaving was introduction made.  The woman appeared to be a little embarrassed, bravely trying to be sociable and stretched out her hand and there was some hesitation for the man to shake it.   I did not know what to make of it. 

               Why was I watching all these?    It was none of my business, and here I was, imagining a whole movie script.  Was there something that was eating me?  Was it envy?  Was there a damsel in distress waiting for a knight on a white charger?  Couldn’t it be just two persons having dinner?   What business was mine at all anyway? 

干卿底事, 莫非是癢在心頭?


* 西門慶聽了,叫起苦來,說道: [好一塊羊肉,怎生落在狗口裏!] -- 金瓶梅,第二回

^Japanese for

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