Tom and I spent the remainder of the day tarrying here, tarrying there: a lesson in how to chill. The climbing was, as Tom would say—awesome—even though the only vista I experienced was an intimate look at that conveniently high warehouse ceiling. Tom said I was a native climber and just didn’t know it. Maybe he was right, or maybe he was merely setting me up. I was so drunk on all the new experiences that my defensive systems shut down leaving me naked and vulnerable to Tom’s charm. After the Rock Gym, our stomachs dictated the next move: pizza. Tom encouraged me to partake of the large selection of Oregon beers on draft. “I’m not a beer drinker,” I replied.
“You said you weren’t a climber; look how wrong you were. Bottom line: you can’t come to Oregon and not try the beer. That would be like going to Texas and not having BBQ.” He winked at the girl who was listening to our conversation from behind the bar.
“There’s too many possibilities. I wouldn’t even know where to start,” I complained.
“Make that two of the Fresh Squeezed,” he told the girl. “That way we can hold onto summer for just a little while longer.”
“Whatever did he mean by that,” I wondered until I took my first sip tasting of fresh squeezed oranges and grapefruits, and so refreshing.
We sat there for hours interviewing one another, oblivious to the Ducks game proceeding from a half dozen screens, the booth becoming an intimate craft capable of conveying us at Mach 1 back and forth between the worlds from which we had drawn our separate realities, capable of bringing us together in a single shared reality. With each sip of ale, my tongue loosened. Former embarrassments became humorous vignettes. Pretty soon I was freely discussing the day Oji visited.
“Oji and I went to school together. The moment she stepped foot into first grade, the high esteem in which she held herself went viral. The infection lasted for 12 years and made her the most popular girl bar none. She did belong to a prominent Japanese family which fact I was getting ready to run headlong into although it took me two years to prepare the stage, to develop a tenuous friendship sufficient to invite her to our apartment. I’m embarrassed to report that I was so proud to have achieved this elevation in my status that I showed up at the door in the authentic kimono plus obi that my father brought back from one of his many business trips. I clogged up to the door in the matching geti, and bowed most prettily in the way Daddy had taught me. She was unimpressed. I could see that at once even though she said nothing, not immediately anyway. I ushered her into my room for a tour of my memorabilia of places I had never been, experiences I never had. And then it happened: “Do you wear a kimono like this when you’re at home?”
“‘That isn’t a real kimono,’ she sneered.
“‘It is so,’ I replied. ‘My father brought it back from Japan, and he said it is a real, silk kimono, and he knows everything.’
“‘Maybe, but he doesn’t know about kimonos. That’s a yukata,’ she replied with disdain in her voice.
“‘It is not a yukata,’ I screeched just before jumping on her. I knocked her down, pulled her hair, pummeling her with all my young might, yelling over and over: “My daddy knows everything!” Needless to say, she never visited again, what’s more, my beautiful red and gold kimono was ripped.”
“Good job,” he laughed. “I knew you were an ass kicker the moment I laid eyes on you. Did little Vermillion get into trouble?”
“Dad was on one of his really long business trips, so he didn’t have anything to say about it, but my mother, she spoke to me in Cantonese.”
“I thought Cantonese was what people normally spoke in Hong Kong.”
“Mandarin is Mother’s native tongue. When she loves me, that’s what she uses; when she hates me, she castigates me with Cantonese. The very next day, the school called on account of Oji’s parents were trying to get me expelled; Mother refused to go in; that’s how mortified she was by my behavior. The following week, Dad showed up and took care of the whole nasty episode. He never said a word to me on that subject.”
“Parents; what would we do without parents to screw with our minds. Do you think you’ll punish your children the Cantonese way. I suspect that approach wouldn’t work on boys.”
“Not planning on having any . . . more beer; I won’t be able to walk out of here.”
“You really are a baby.”
“Focus, that’s what I am, not a real person. What about you, what situation are you grown out of?”