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Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

After 20 years . . . and more


Japan is a revolving door when it comes to foreign residents. They come and they go. And when they go, most never come back.

My life — like everyone's I suppose — has been touched by a lineup of characters who once energized my daily routine. We worked together, laughed, argued, and became dear friends. Then hugged goodbye when they decided to depart these fair shores for what they assumed were fairer shores elsewhere.

And then they dropped from my life. And I from theirs.

Yet, thanks to the magic of Google and the Internet, some of these people now come leaping back, at least long enough for a Skype-style telephone dance of remembrance.

It's never quite the O. Henry scenario of one party having turned good and the other evil, but our paths have often split like a pair of bottle rockets aimed at different and distant horizons.

My rocket always seems to have fizzled. While theirs have exploded. Sometimes in more ways than one . . .

"And so how's the wife?" I say. "Still teaching?"

My friend, now from far away, pauses. "Um . . . No."

"Oh, what's she doing?"

Another pause. "Actually . . . we're divorced."

Uh-oh. Time to change the subject.

"And, uh, so . . . how's the weather there?"

Yet now the die is cast.

"It happened suddenly. One day we were happily married and the next day she met this other guy. Just like that."

"Gosh . . . I don't know what to say."

"It's OK. I'm over it now. It wasn't the divorce so much as the trial."

I think . . . "Huh?" And say . . . "A custody trial?"

"No, no. She accused me of smashing her car. And then chasing her boyfriend with a crowbar."

". . . Oh."

"All a bunch of rubbish. My lawyer tied her in knots."

"Well, that's good." I suppose anyway.

"To start, it was a tire iron. Completely different animal."

". . . Um, it's raining here now. Pouring even. How about there?"

"But this guy — the boyfriend — is loaded. He runs this Internet business and he bought the jury. So I had to do a little time."

". . . Yet they say it's gonna clear up."

"So now she's Mrs. Skinnyskinsin.com. Big deal."

"And, uh, so how's your daughter — Debbie?"

Again he pauses. "I don't have a daughter named Debbie."

What? I could have sworn.

"We used to call her Debbie. But now it's Marge. She likes the name, 'Marge' ."

". . . Oh."

"Don't ever call her 'Debbie.' She'll throw a fit."

"I won't, I won't. How is she?"

"Good. The asylum treats her well."

". . . Excuse me?"

"She's had some adjustment troubles. This is her third hospital."

"Poor kid!"

"Mrs. Skinnyskinsin.com says it's my fault, of course. For entering her in those contests."

". . . Beauty contests?"

"Hog Contests. Calling them, I mean. At county fairs. Debbie had a gift. And once she changed her name, she had a career."

". . . Hog calling?"

"They call her 'Mad Marge.' "

"Little Debbie? Mad Marge?"

"And Mrs. Skinnyskinsin.com was all for it too. She even sewed her hog costume."

"And . . . so . . . uh . . ."

"Cutest costume you ever saw. Made her whole body pink. They let her wear it even now."

"Is . . . she gonna get better?"

"I hope so. The season starts in four months."

"Uh, you had a son too, right? Just a baby back then."

"Yeah — Bill. Now we call him 'Leo.' He's at MIT."

"Great!"

"Some sort of experiment. He gets a hundred bucks each time they shock him."

". . . Oh."

"But he likes it. He likes it a lot."

". . . That's good."

"He's married too. With three kids from his wife's first marriage. And two from her second. I'm a granddad, sort of."

"And so . . . What's your job nowadays?"

"Mrs. Skinnyskinsin.com sued me for every penny, so it's been rough. But I'm starting to do a little farming."

"Sounds good."

"I don't got no land, though."

". . . Oh."

"Just some corn in my yard."

". . . Oh."

"Not a yard, really. More like some pots on my balcony. But I got a fine crop this year."

". . . Great."

"We could use some of those showers you got there."

I exhale. Finally, some normal conversation!

"Last year was so dry, I had to put my corn in the car and drive it 300 miles till I found rain."

"So . . . seen any good movies lately?"

"And how about you?" he says. "You still writing that stupid column."

My turn to pause. "Which stupid column?"

"You know . . . the dumb one?"

"Well . . . yeah. I suppose."

He laughs. I can hear him pounding a table.

"That's rich! That's marvelous! And here I thought my life was screwed!"

I find myself wishing I had a kid in the circus.

Finally he stops. "Yeah," he says. "Last year I saw 'Avatar.' It was OK, except I thought the blue people should've been red. It ruined it for me."

". . . Right. I thought so too."

"Hey! I gotta run! Gotta move in my corn. But it's been great talking! Just like old times!"

And just like that he left my life again. Who knows when he'll leap back?

Especially since I've changed my number.



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