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   f r i t z    g l a t m a n

--- L I N H   D I N H

Mariechelle, Norie, Loida, Sylvana, Emie, Dulce, Maria, Marites... The catalog, Origami Geishas, is laid-out like the cheapest high school yearbook. Twenty-four out-of-focus black and white photographs to a newsprint page. Thirty-two pages. Six-hundred-plus brown women desiring a white man who will take her into his home.

LBFM-168 Geniva (19) Philippines/ 5'3; 103; domestic helper (some college) "Frankly I long for male friend with no vice, a strong sense of humour, believe in Our Saviour. I am kind-hearted, simple-minded and sincere. I like bowling."

LBFM-352 Consorcia (28) Malaysia (Filippina)/4-10; 95; Agri-forester/zoologist; "I like soft music, Thoreau, dancing, cooking. I like a man who is easy to go along, no back talking. I am interested in soul mates, some drinking, not too much."

LBFM-577 Goldnar (21) Hong Kong (Filipina)/5-0; 100; student; Catholic. "I am lovable."

I am Fritz Glatman (43), American, of English and Austrian extractions/6-1; 227 lbs; Of Counsel at the Center City law firm of Gontarek & Enfield. I am divorced, with no children. My ex, Jane Kulik, was recently made a partner at Cohen, Javens, Petaccia & Kulik. We've been exchanging Christmas cards every year for the past 14 years.

Within the past year I've been toying with the idea of securing for myself an Asian woman, a mail-order bride. I've been brooding over this prospect, sober or drunk, on many sleepless nights. A hoary wet dream, I'd think, emitting a little laugh. A last ditch recourse. Aegri somnia.

This solution plunged me into the deepest shame initially, but I am now increasingly resigned to its feasibility. There's even a dull excitement daily creeping up on me.

Before this idee fixe, if you will, took hold, I was never partial to Asian women. Never even thought about them. But with mental exertion came a gradual, grudging appreciation. Stare at anything long enough, I suppose, and beauty will rise to the surface.

The girls in Origami Geishas are mostly plain, their faces plain, their hair plain. Some are outright ugly. But my future wife must be unequivocably beautiful, though not too beautiful. Son of an immigrant, I was taught to be modest, to shy away from luxuries, and to shun all ostentatious displays. Indeed, even with a six-figure salary, I drive an old-modeled Ford.

But I should quantify that she must be at least several notches better looking than I am. Like any man, I cannot be satisfied with merely an equitable return for my pecuniary investment. I want a little extra.

She need not be too smart, obviously. If I want to feed my brain, I'll buy a book. What it comes down to is this: I can only exchange what I have, money, and the fact that I'm a citizen of a First-World country, for what she has, what every woman has.

My wife will undoubtedly be a social incongruity in my life, a foul ball and a blip on my record. I'm a lawyer, not a sailor for Uncle Sam. But since it would not be feasible to conceal her existence from my colleagues, to lock her up, figuratively speaking, in a carriage house or a wine cellar, sentence her to life without parole, or to introduce her as an au pair--or, rather, as a maid--to my neighbors, I must steel myself for the negative publicity, from the invidious snickers to righteous smirks to actionable slanders. Caveat emptor.

To facilitate her assimilation into this society, perhaps it is advisable that I send her to The Community College for a semester or two of remedial English, art and music appreciation, and to let her wallow in the secure ambience of a college campus.

My father, long dead, would not have objected to my marrying an Asian woman. A kind-hearted, simple-minded and sincere man, he was a concrete contractor for 40-odd years, specializing in driveways, patios, handicapped ramps, and stucco. Although he never finished high school, he was an enthusiastic reader. He pronounced "Orientals" "Orienals." He would lecture to his five children: "The Orienals are an inward people. I have a lot of respect for them. They have an inward orienation because of their physiognomy. The epicanthic folds on their eyes block out much of the sun, and hence much of the world. They have a wispy physique, and do not gorge themselves on red meat like we do. They live on top of each other, in gross discomfort, which drives them further inward. Because they have no outer space," he would hush his voice at this point, squint his eyes, "they must seek inner space. They live close to the earth, build flat houses, and are small of stature."

He had a peculiar concept called "perpendicularity." Angles and curves had to be minimized. All the furniture in our house, beds, tables, were lined up at a 90 degree angle to the wall, hugging it, with the middle of the floor kept empty. Thrown rugs were banished, since they could not be maintained at right angles. At dinner, forks and knives, when at rest, had to be placed perpendicular to the edge of the table. Likewise, if our chairs were not perpendicular to the edge of the table as we were eating, he would wack us on the head. Do not lean against the wall, he always reminded us. "The Orienals sit at round tables," he said. "They have no sense of perpendicularity."

A minor problem: I've been advised that the Filippinos cannot enunciate the "f" sound. They call their own country "Pilippines." It is perhaps the only country in the world which cannot pronounce its own name. Instead of "Fritz," my wife would have to call me "Pritz."

Naturally, in thinking about my future wife, I've become more alert to all things Asian. At least three times a week, you'll find me at some restaurant in Chinatown, happily stuffing my face with sashimis, happy pancakes, spring rolls or wontons. I'm conditioning my innards for her cooking. I asked Justin Park (nee Duk Chong Park), a new associate at our firm, for book recommendations. We were standing by the Mr. Coffee: "Justin, I've been thinking a lot about Southeast Asia recently, the Philippines in particular. I want to take a trip there next year. Never been to Asia. Can you recommend me a book to read?"

"I'm Korean, Fritz."

"I know, buddy, I know! Duck Pork is a Korean name! Pusan City. I've seen your resume. But if anyone here knows anything about Asia, you do, so don't be so defensive."

"Alright, alright, there's a novel by Jessica Hagedorn called 'Dogeaters'"


"Yes, 'Dogeaters'"

"Is it any good? What's it about?"

"It's pretty good," he furrowed his brows, tried to remember the book, "but it's hard to summarize it. There's too many characters. It's about Manila. There's a guy named Joey Sands, a half-black, half-filippino hustler, and a fat German film director, a Fassbinder-type whom the hustler called 'Rain or Shine.'"

"That's pretty clever: Rainer, Rain or Shine!" He was trying to get back at me for being a Kraut, I could tell.

Justin has been with us for just over a year. Fresh from Harvard Law, he does fairly good work but is perceived by the other attorneys as being a tad too cocky. As the firm's first minority hire, however, his job is reasonably secure. He wears a loud tie not only on fridays but on every other day as well. While standing in the elevator lobby, he would often shoot an invisible basketball at an invisible hoop, throw an invisible football at an invisible receiver, or swing an invisible bat at an invisible baseball. He would pull these stunts even in the presence of clients. But, in spite of this showy proclivity for sports, he declined to join our softball team. After he became adjusted to his new surrounding, as his confidence grew, he went out and got both of his ears pierced. He was sleeping with one of the temps, a petite 22-year-old named Traci Mintz, a clone of Shannon Miller, the gymnast who broke her ankle on TV. They were often seen leaving TGIF together. It is none of my business, of course, but our firm is fairly small, with only twelve attorneys... After Traci left, he started to pork our beloved, long-time receptionist, Julia LaPorte, a buxom widow in her late 30's.

A week after our chat about the Philippines, Justin said: "Fritz, I don't mean to be nosy, but, ah, are you thinking about getting yourself a mail-order bride?"

I stared at him in disbelief. What chutzpah! Doesn't this punk know what privacy is? "Whoa! ha! ha! That's pretty funny. Why would you say that?"

"Just asking."

I looked him straight in the eyes, tried not to blink too fast: "I'm going to the Philippines because I want to see Asia: a guy like me, 43 years old, never seen Asia. It's the biggest continent in the world, you know, all those people, ha! ha! I can't afford Korea. Or Japan. Or Singapore. And Vietnam: all those bad associations. And I also have, uh, this interest in volcanoes. I grew up in Washington State, I don't know if you know that, near Mountain St Helen. She popped her top fifteen years ago, remember?" He was blank. "Maybe you weren't even here then. But there's this one spectacular volcano in the Phillipines called, uh," I couldn't think of its damn name, "it's on the tip of my tongue. What is is, what is it, what's the name of that volcano?"

It was a dreadful performance, and I'm sure he saw right through me. Maybe I can figure out a way to get him fired before I bring my bride over.

Sitting in Chinatown restaurants, surrounded by Asians laughing and yakking away as they ate, I've come to realize that they are simply more forthright about life's amenities than we are. There is a recently released film directed by this Chinese guy, Ang Lee, called "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman." I didn't see the film, but I know what the title means: Eat, drink, man, woman.

Then there is this other film called "The Ballad of Nagasaki," by a guy named Arakawa. In it, there was this Japanese hick who had just lost his wife. The entire village helped him to find a new wife. She arrived from the next village, sight unseen. First thing she did was stuff her face with potatoes, she was starving, then she lay next to him. They had sex without saying a word to each other. Afterwards, he said: "I feel much better."

When I go to The Office, a go-go bar on 15th street, I see men from all over, a veritable assembly of the United Nations. Nowhere else can I hobnob so freely with Pakistanis, blacks and Mongolians. Each man nursing an unconsolable hard-on, wearing a shroud of pussies, we are all humbled, pared down, incorporated. We are all trash, or rather, we are all trash collectors, lancing up shredded titties. We must all share the nude girl hanging upside down from the greased pole. She's presently doing a series of queer sit-ups to polite applause. None of us can have her. The best we can do is give her a dollar. It is the most democratic place on earth. All the sexual surplus of society ends up in a go-go bar; it's where men go to celebrate their equality. I'm reminded of a Cezanne painting called "The Eternal Female," in which men of various professions and pretensions, high and low, are depicted gazing up at a naked woman hovering over their heads.

Apropos of prostitution and pornography, a symbolic defilement of intimacy and a seance of lovemaking, respectively: I would never patronize a whore because I cannot consent to sex without commitment, with neither preface or prologue, but neither will I allow myself to be titillated, or moved to the depths of my soul, by a photo of a naked female, the cheapest form of idolatry. (Masturbation, which is unavoidable, I consider a breathing exercise, a cardiovascular fitness program and a jogging of the memory.) I avert my eyes from lingerie ads in the newspaper. If I must read an article on the same page as the ad, I cover the exposed flesh with a book or a bagel.

A remedy to the aforesaid perversions, of course, is the go-go bar. In front of me is a real woman, after all, doing what all women do, one way or another. She is alert to my presence, as I am to hers. We have a relationship. The slightest shift in mood in either party is duly registered by the other, a yawn, a pitying smile, a hardening of the facial features betraying irritation or disappointment.

But I must admit that any relationship I can have with a woman in a go-go bar is bound to be unbalanced, asymmetrical. I've thought a lot about this. To start with: she's naked, and I'm not. While she could only read my face, I could read her entire body. Because clothing serves to isolate the face, a naked woman, in shedding her clothes, surrenders her right, the right of any civilized human being, to frame her own face. If I was with a clothed woman, that is, with a framed face, I would gauge her fluctuating moods primarily by deciphering her facial expressions. I may scrutinize her other exposed flesh, but I could only do it on the sly, in piece-meal fashion, because of the tyranny of her face.

When a woman is naked, however, her face loses its authority. Now I'm free to look wherever I please. Now I'm free, even compelled, to look away from her face. And because I'm not really paying attention to her face, but seeing it only out of the corner of my eye, it can no longer cajole, curb, pace, or ridicule my responses to her. The rest of her body is mute, blind, and cannot censor my curiosity.

Also: because she is being probed simultaneously by so many sets of eyes, and not just mine, what I'm doing, what all the other men are doing, become less selfish and subjective, less perverted, and more universal and scientific. We're on a joint expedition to a far-away land, a field trip to the zoo.

All that said, it must be added that a woman's naked body can never betray as much as a man's. Hers is a mask, with the nipples the eyes peeping through the eye holes, the only indicator of tension within. With a man, on the other hand, every psychic tic or turbulence is conveyed immediately by an erection, or at least half an erection. Anything at all can cause a man to have an erection. One can say that his body is more guileless and articulate than hers: a blunt instrument, it always speaks its mind. For a man, clothing serves the absolutely essential purpose of hiding his erections.

The idea itself, of procuring a mail-order bride, can be traced to the fact that a friend of mine from undergraduate school married a Chinese woman two years ago. The pale pink wedding invitation arrived in the mail. Brian Panzram will be wedded to Josie Woo. I called Brian up. I said: "So, Brian, who's this Josie Woo?"

Then Lafcadio Kerns, an associate at our firm, showed up with a Thai girl at last year's Christmas party. She was much, much too beautiful for someone like Laffy, a squat fellow with a beer belly and eyes dilating in two directions. I was standing next to Justin by the hors d'oeuvres table.

"Check out Laffy's squeeze," I said.

Justin crammed a slice of pate-smeared bruschetta into his mouth, chewed it with his mouth open. "Yeah?"

"That's not right."

He chuckled, flushed his mouth with martini.

"Look at her!"

"Relax, Fritz."

"Look at him!"

"You think she's that hot?"

"Are you blind?!"

"She's alright."

"Every man should have a girl that pretty. How come you're not with a Chinese girl?"

"I would ask an Asian girl out for a date if I were white."

An odd thing for him to say, I thought. I even thought he had said: "I would ask an Asian girl out for a date if only I were white," but then that really wouldn't make any sense.

"And why do you care?" he continued.

"Never mind, never mind," I waved him off and walked away.

The music was vibrating the floor. I went to the bar and said: "Give me some of that Puligny whatever." The grinning bartender tilted the heavy bottle over my trembling flute. I drank it in one gulp, spilling half of it on my shirt. It's time to leave, I decided.

I sidled along the wall, dodging the tuxedoed and black-dressed figures convulsing to the techno music. This ape-din, why do people listen to it?

I almost made it to the door when Laffy intercepted me: "Yo, Fritz!" He was hoisting a bottle of Cristal over his nearly-bald head, spilling champagne all over it, a drunken gloat. One of his hands appeared surgically sewn to his girlfriend's bare midriff.

"I've got to go. I've got to go." I tried to ward him off.

"I'd like you to meet Grace."

"Nice to meet you, Grace," I extended my hand, "I'm Fritz Glatman."

"I'm Grace."

"Grace what?"

"Grace Kittikasem."

"What's that? Thai?"

"Very good," she said, with discernable disdain in her voice. If only we were alone, you fuckin' bitch, I'll teach you some American manners. Laffy was frowning at me, his eyes dilating in two directions. It was all I could do to refrain myself from punching him in the face.

[first published in "Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose" (New York: The Asian American Writers' Worshop)]

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