Saturday, 21 April 2012

Change Comes Slowly

Chapter 13

"I believe that no matter how badly your heart is broken,
the world doesn't stop for your grief."
(author unknown)
 

Following my visit to Tennessee, I half-heartedly continued my search for employment. More than six months had elapsed since I had left Vancouver and my unemployment insurance benefits would soon run out. Searching for a job was frustrating at best but my lack of adequate conversational French was a millstone. Whether or not I had any education at all or was willing to work at just about anything for minimum wage did not seem to matter to prospective employers. If I was unable to speak fluent French then I was rejected as worthless.

My last interview had been with one of Canada’s well-known department stores and that interview was nothing less than a remarkably rude case study in how to destroy a persons’ self-respect. After responding to a newspaper advertisement, one of many which I had answered, I had managed to arrange an interview. With a spark of optimism, I arrived at the store’s head office about ten minutes early and was promptly told to have a seat and wait.

After an hour of silently waiting, nothing happening and no one coming for me, I finally asked when I would be able to meet with the person who had called and asked me to come in. I was shocked to learn that the person I was supposed to be meeting with was not in the office and was not going to be in. No effort had been made to either cancel the appointment or have someone else conduct the interview. 

A meeting was hastily set up with the Assistant Traffic Manager, however as soon as I was ushered into his office he promptly told me that the department was short of people and he was just too busy to waste time with an interview. He asked me to leave. Saying nothing at all, I walked out of the office. Desperate for a job I kept my mouth shut but inside I was seething with anger. Anyway, I did have the final say and vowed never to set foot in or shop in any of the company’s stores again.

Failing so far to find employment, I spent several days revising my composition, “Sketches of a Vietnamese Girl in America” to make a serious effort to have the work ready for entry into the national music competition for young composers. Pleased with the new cadenza and coda, I followed up with a second movement structured around a few musical idioms that I had played for and discussed with Phi Bang during my visit to Tennessee. After the changes were completed I made a recording of the revised work and sent the cassette to Phi Bang for her comments. 

Ever hopeful but somewhat doubtful I mailed in my music opus and application just ahead of the competition’s closing deadline. Two weeks later an acknowledgement letter arrived to inform me that my submission had met the entry qualifications.

I heard nothing further from the music council or Phi Bang. I cared little about the music composition contest but Phi Bang’s silence was distressing. We were drifting apart again but another trip south was out of the question. Since returning from Tennessee I thought that Phi Bang and I had drawn closer together again, but now realized that nothing had really changed.

Following a lengthy rest upon the proverbial shelf, I dusted off the music notation books and resumed working on the F minor piano sonata. The first two movements had been completed months earlier in Vancouver but the finale was incomplete. Brooding over Phi Bang’s silence made it too easy to pound out a fast paced conclusion in the home key. Dissatisfied with the ending, I re-wrote the final movement and added a coda that modulated from the darker sounding tones of F minor into the more optimistic timbres of the relative major key. I wanted to conclude my opus on a positive note with loud chords of hope instead of dark knells of despair. Perhaps I really was an optimistic pessimist struggling once in a while to shed the image of simply being a pessimist.

My grandfather died in June, a month short of his 89th birthday. Alzheimer’s Disease is a silent invisible, insidious final earthly antagonist. Death was my grandfather’s release from the horrible mental anguish that the dementia of the disease had mercilessly inflicted upon him throughout his last year.

Oh yes, I felt deep sadness and remorse but I had no tears to shed knowing my grandfather would no longer have to painfully relive tragedies from his past. Profound, poignant episodes made lasting impressions about my grandfather and about the hated disease. Even though his younger brother had been deceased for nearly twenty years, my grandfather diligently searched the house for him one afternoon. Later my grandfather wept brokenly, as if he was hearing the news for the first time when my grandmother gently tried to remind him that his brother was dead. No more noisy midnight episodes of ranting about desperately having to go out to meet non-existent trains at a non-existent train station. Trying to explain that the station had been torn down years earlier in a village many miles away could not arouse my grandfather from the disease inflicted delusions. No more futile searches for woodpiles out back. Although my grandfather had been repeatedly reminded that the house was heated by an oil furnace in the basement, he searched for non-existent woodpiles nonetheless.

Alone in the church, I chose to meditate in the pew at the very front. Yes, the pew before the communion table and directly beneath the pulpit, the pew that no one ever sat in during a church service.  Perhaps that pew was reserved for angels, but a more likely reason was because no one wanted the minister to see restless fidgeting and lack of attention during his sermons. The middle; I always chose somewhere in the middle. Never up front and never right at the back; just somewhere in the insignificance and anonymity of the middle. Anyway, that day was the first time I had ever chosen to sit in the front of the church and believe me, I was no angel.

After instinctively studying the patterns of the carefully crafted woodwork on the walls and ceiling and after watching the top branches of the trees waving and beckoning from outside the windows, I finally stared at the lifeless form in the open casket and reflected, “Grandpa, there are two things I wish I did learn from you; first, how to milk the cows and second, how to slaughter, clean and prepare a chicken for a dinner. I know it sounds odd to speak in God’s church about killing, particularly at this time in the presence of your remains, but I will always feel that I did not learn all I should have learned from you. I will always believe there was so much more you could have taught me especially if I had been listening more attentively.”

Failure to learn and failure to pass on knowledge must surely be one of the great tragedies about life and death.

My grandfather’s death forced me to face reality and reluctantly come to terms with the slow disintegration of my dreams. Presumptuously, I had always expected to return from western Canada prosperous and successful. Instead, I was unemployed, almost broke and I felt like a dismal failure. Returning to live the Megantic Mountain highlands was never going to happen.

Worse, my dream of spending my life with Phi Bang was withering and fading away and there was nothing I could do about that either. The unwanted changes were unstoppable and unavoidable. Time was mercilessly eradicating the little I so desperately wanted to cling to.

A week later my music submission in the music composition competition was returned to me by mail. The judging had already been accomplished and winners selected but my name was not on that list. Also accompanying my returned manuscript was a rejection letter from the CBC. They too were not interested in my music.

In three and a half years much had changed in the West Island and most irksome was the migration elsewhere of most of my friends and acquaintances. Eventually I crossed trails with a high school friend who had not made that one-way trip down Highway 401 to English Canada like so many others had done following graduation. 

I had been looking forward to an evening out to unwind and talk over old times but sometimes events just do not unfold as anticipated. 

“Look around this place!” Jim exclaimed as he slowly surveyed the nearby tables, rather, the young ladies seated at the nearby tables.

“Yeah, I did, but what about it? I remarked rather flatly. 

This brasserie, watering hole, pick-up joint, or whatever people want to call it now was well known through l’Isle de l’Ouest.

“My boy, I’m not talking about the décor. I’m talking about the decorations.” Jim replied, looking like a kid in a candy store.

“What decorations?” I wondered aloud.

“The women! Look at ‘em! This place is full of beautiful young women…a garden of opportunity just waiting to be plucked.” Jim explained.

“I’m not looking for any opportunities, and besides, it wouldn’t be right.” I answered.

“Just for a moment try to forget that serious religious stuff of yours and look.” Jim suggested impatiently.

“Jim, don’t drag religion into this” I implored.

“Why not?” Jim asked.

”Religion without belief doesn’t mean anything.” I replied.

“So?” he asked while gesturing with his hands.

“I’m a Christian.” I stated.

“What’s the difference?” he asked, sounding unconvinced there was any difference

“Christians are taught by Jesus not to look at women as objects of lust.” I said uneasily.

“Are you going to tell me you never look at a woman without lust?” Jim asked, defying me to argue this point.

“No.” I answered, now wishing I had left the subject alone.

“Then what’s the point of religion?” Jim asked, sounding as if the subject needed no further discussion.

“I don’t know but there has to be something more to life than this.” I replied, at the moment feeling uncertain about what I believed or believed in.

“Something more? This is what life’s all about. This is why we’re here!” Jim answered while turning his attention to a young lady at a neighbouring table.

“She may be why you’re here but I really don’t know why I’m here.” I answered while discreetly pointing toward the other table, knowing that our beliefs would always disagree.

“Tell me, how can you you believe in God? How do you even know if there is a God?” Jim asked, now sounding more curious that derisive.

“Jim, there are some days when I really don’t know, but I believe in God nonetheless.” I answered honestly but reality in my life seemed to be less about God and more about waiting for another letter, letters that never seemed to come soon enough.

“I think I’ll stick with my Garden of Eden here.” Jim commented.

“Well I suppose you’re in the right place if you want to look at women that way.” I answered uncommitted and unimpressed by Jim’s remark.

“Is there any other way to look at them?” He asked somewhat sarcastically, defying me to tell him there was some other way to look at a woman.

Looking around the room again, I did not see the garden of opportunity that Jim saw. All I could see was an intimidating sea of unknown faces. Oh yes, my friend was absolutely right. This place was filled with beautiful women. Some were laughing, a few looked bored, others were shouting and trying to be heard over the deafening, thumping disco music, many were smoking cigarettes and most were downing beers as if a serious drought was coming. As far as I could tell though, those beautiful ladies were accompanied with boyfriends, partners, husbands or whatever. Regardless of what the relationships may have been, I really did not want to tangle with any of those someone elses. 

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Jim asked and then added, “Surely your religion allows you to talk to a woman.”

“Jim, this really isn’t my style.” I answered.

“Style? Forget style. All you gotta do is connect with someone. And that’s it!” Jim said, sounding like a pro offering advice to a rookie.

“I meant coming in a place like this is not for me.” I clarified

“Man, you really need to relax and loosen up.” Jim said, sounding a bit more sincere.

“I always envied you." I said.

"Me? he asked.

"I always thought you are one of those happy-go-lucky people who have everything given to them without ever having to ask.” I admitted.

“Really?” Jim answered, with a hint of genuine surprise.

“Yes. Really! What happened between you and Janet?” I questioned, trying to change the subject and hoping that Jim would shed some light on why he and Janet had separated after more than two years of living together.

“I wasn’t ready to settle down.” He replied flatly, sounding as if their break-up had been no big deal.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Things were great for a while but then she started talking about settling down and buying a house.” He revealed.

“What’s so bad about that?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t understand unless you’ve been there, Women are funny that way, you know.” He answered slowly, and for an instant sounded philosophical.

“No, I don’t know.” I confessed.

“Women have different needs.” Jim stated.

“What needs?” I asked naively.

“They want to run your life. They want you home all the time. All they think about is settling down, buying a house and then having children. I couldn’t take the pressure any more. I’m only twenty-three and I’m not ready for that scene.” Jim replied.

“Then why did you get mixed up with Janet in the first place?” I questioned out of curiosity.

“Older woman. You know how it is.” He said.

“No, I really don’t know.” I admitted.

“She was twenty-seven, divorced and had a six year old daughter when we met.” Jim revealed.

“Why on earth did you want anything to do with a divorced older woman with a child if you didn’t want the responsibilities? I asked, wanting to know the reason.

“I didn’t know she was divorced and had a child when we first met. When I found out, I thought I’d give it a try.” Jim admitted.

“Did you meet Janet at this place?” I asked on a hunch.

“Yeah. How’d you guess?” Jim wondered aloud.

“Just a lucky guess, I suppose.” I replied, thinking it simplest to leave my explanation at that.

“Yeah, I guess it was a lucky night for me to back then.” Jim added, sounding wistful.

“So now you’re back here again looking for someone else?” I asked, like someone who had just put the pieces of a puzzle together.

“Yeah. That’s life.” Jim replied, shrugging his shoulders as if what he was doing was no big deal.

“Jim, this place isn’t for me.” I muttered and quickly glanced around the room again. 

Some faces I thought I recognized from high school, except now, those kids in the lower grades were young adults. I grew up with these people. They were my peers. This was my generation and yet I felt so far removed from it.

“What happened?” I silently questioned while staring into the half empty beer glass I was holding and fiddling with.

I felt as if I had somehow missed a turn some place along the highway of life because I just could not identify with these very attractive but loud, harsh, brazen young women. Their nature was so very different from the gentle beauty and quiet, unassuming yet determined nature of Phi Bang. Confusion and despair overwhelmed me as I tried to reconcile the contradiction. I did not seem to fit into my world but I definitely did not belong in Phi Bang’s world. 

“Jim, I gotta get out of here.” I stated resolutely.

The disco bar scene was certainly not what I wanted nor could it ever offer me what I was searching for.

“What? We just got here!” he exclaimed, then suggested, “Stay a while. The night’s still young. Besides, we haven’t got started yet.”

“No thanks. I need to go.” I said, determined to leave, and then added, “Do you remember that time we walked for miles along the railway track south from North Hatley?

“Yeah, we sure walked far that day.” Jim replied, sounding a bit nostalgic.

“Well it’s my turn to do some serious walking to sort things out and I need to do it now.” I answered.

“Yeah. I understand. We’ll have to get together and do this again sometime.” Jim suggested with a tone of forced sincerity.

“Sure.” I remarked meaninglessly but thought to myself, “Yeah. Sure. Not a chance!”

Stepping outside was a relief. I hated disco music and the constant loud thumping that went with it. The sudden silence and cool late night air were soothing, inducive to reflective contemplation while walking. 

To me, life and people relationships always seemed to be an unfathomable, strange mysteries that were unsolvable. Jim and I had been close friends a few years earlier in high school yet we were so different. Maybe that was the reason we once got along so well but seemed to be like strangers now. Anyway, he had recently walked away from, had literally thrown away, that special type of relationship that others would have envied, that I too had longed to create with Phi Bang.

While walking I thought about Phi Bang and the words I would say to her in the letter I was planning to write upon reaching home. As I walked further, my thoughts turned to the question Jim had asked. How could I believe in a God who seemed so silent, so distant, especially since I felt that the more I prayed and pleaded to God about Phi Bang, the more distant and silent Phi Bang became? Truthfully, I felt that my faith was being tested to the breaking point.

Phi Bang had not written for nearly two months and I had no idea if she had remained in Pittsburgh, returned to Cleveland or went somewhere else. I thought about calling but calling her usually left me feeling even more depressed afterward. My fear was facing reality and hearing the truth in her words.

We battle through the same old drudgery by carrying on with the same routines day after day and nothing ever seems to change. But routine and drudgery are deceptive because things are changing. Day after day small insignificant events do occur, and while each on its own is imperceptible at its outset, they do add up to major changes in our lives. 

Change in life is like walking along a railway track and into a curve. The curve is unmistakable but pointing out an exact spot where the change in direction actually starts is almost impossible. Only when stopping to look back do we realize that a change in direction has already begun.

During the summer I finally found full time employment with a British-owned ocean carrier that was far more interested in my work abilities than my linguistic credentials. Working for a container transportation line was not the same as working for the railway nonetheless I was grateful to be earning a steady income again. 

Between semesters Phi Bang wrote sporadically but her letters stopped again in September when classes resumed.

The second week of November was not a week I would have willingly chosen for vacation, however, because I was the newest employee in the company I was now working for, I was left with last choice. 

CNR was offering a special deal to entice would be travellers to visit Toronto by train to see the CN Tower. A same day return ticket including a trip up the tower was only $29.95. Yes, I was enticed by that exceptionally low price. More than a year had elapsed since I had returned to Montreal from Vancouver on CP Rail’s Canadian and a visit to Toronto would be my first real train trip since then.

Travel was on CN’s famous turbo train. First heralded as a new, sleek, fast means to travel between downtown Montreal and downtown Toronto in less than four hours, the turbo train was now legendary for failures and breakdowns during revenue journeys. CN’s turbo train certainly was fast, knocking off four miles in less than three minutes, however, lateral jerking made walking in the aisle awkward.

The train was on time and uneventfully rolled into the sheds of  Union Station. Toronto’s sky was shaded Vancouver gray with a very low misty cloud ceiling. Toronto possessed a genuine drab gray November appearance. Streets were wet but at least the rain had stopped. This was my first visit to Toronto and I was not at all impressed. Toronto was definitely not a city I could fall in love with and ever want to call home. 

Nonetheless, Toronto was becoming a well-known destination name in English Quebec, and thousands of ex-Montrealers were now calling this city home. Yuck! Yuck for Toronto and a far bigger yuck for Quebec City’s Parti Quebecois government. A license plate I saw on someone’s car accurately reflected English sentiment in Montreal best: FUPQ. In spite of my intense dislike for the separatist government, I was already glancing at my watch and mentally noting the hours and minutes remaining until the departure time for the return train to Montreal.

CN’s concrete tower disappeared into the mist just like Jack’s beanstalk. Because of the low cloud ceiling, I could not see the ground and Toronto from the top of the CN Tower. While at the top, I wrote a letter to Phi Bang on the backs of several postcards that I selected from the gift shop. When my letter was finished, I mailed it from the mailbox at the top of the tower, Toronto’s highest mailbox. Would Phi Bang be interested whether or not I visited Toronto? Would she want to know? Would she even care? 

Yes, I did wonder what she would think, because I found living with the false sense of hope derived from denial easier to live with. After returning to ground level, I spent a lonely afternoon wandering around downtown Toronto and thinking about Phi Bang while waiting out the remaining hours until train time.

Arriving in Montreal’s Central Station was no different than arriving in Vancouver. No one was waiting to meet me. No one was waiting for me anywhere. Being alone but not wanting to be alone was the story of my life. All I really wanted was to find a happy ending. Later at home I complained to God about my failing relationship and wondered, “Does God really listen to the cries from our misery?”

God’s silence was unbearable.

No one can cross a language barrier, a racial barrier or a cultural barrier without making mistakes. To believe otherwise is folly. Mistakes are usually easily forgiven but foolishness is not. In spite of language barriers, in spite of racial barriers, in spite of cultural barriers, in spite of great distances in miles, human nature is the same everywhere. Differences between cultures, races and languages only influence the manner in which different individuals have learned how to react and deal with the idiosyncrasies of human nature.

We had few misunderstandings because of our differing languages or from errors made when confronting our racial and cultural differences. My failing was that I really did not understand human relationships, and in particular, I did not understand that special love relationship between a man and a woman.

Phi Bang drifted away because of the long periods of separation between our tragically short times together. Time apart was unavoidable. Our relationship, if there had ever really been one, fell apart because I was not communicating. Perhaps I had learned well how to read Phi Bang's letters but never learned how to listen to what she was really telling me. I may have been guilty of writing far too many pages of words to Phi Bang but never really speaking from my heart. My fear of offending her prevented me from learning because I did not ask her very many personal questions. The truth is that I feared what Phi Bang's answers may have been had I only dared to ask.

January 1978 was a cruel month and not only the frigid winter weather. The devastating reality that I utterly did not want to face and admit to myself was now here in front of me and could no longer be pushed out of my thoughts and ignored. I could no longer hopelessly try to believe and live a lie. Cruelly confronting me now was the pain and anguish of facing the truth that I had feared to even think about. Our relationship was over. I had nothing left in me to write. Nothing I could say or do would change Phi Bang’s heart. Our relationship was over. I could no longer deny and desperately cling to a hope that did not exist and may never have existed. Our relationship was really over. The despair of irretrievable loss was unbearable and grief overwhelmed me. I broke down and wept.

Even though I felt as if the world had come to an end, the sun rose on time the following morning. Winter days came and went undeterred by my misery and without any concern about how I may have felt. I did not want to give up hoping we had a future together but Phi Bang no longer wanted me. Her plans for her future did not include me.

During that change of seasons from winter to spring my despair abated but something had changed within me. Maybe the change was the numbing sorrow of irretrievable loss. Perhaps the change was because I had come to terms with reality and experienced the humility that follows devastating failure. My bitter lesson was also learning and understanding the humbling truth that my place in the order of things is so irrelevantly small and so microscopically insignificant.

Days came when I would ask those two haunting questions, "What went wrong? Did I miss something somewhere?" 

The questions no longer sound relevant because the passing of time and changing events had painfully taught me that they were not the right questions to ask. Knowing the answers to what went wrong did not matter anyway because the answers would not and could not have changed anything. Only God can change the human heart.

Of greater concern now were these questions, "Now what? Where to from here?"

Keeping reminders of the past visible does not help in letting go. By the end of April I had removed all the photos of Phi Bang from my desk at home and at work. Another chapter in my life was closing and I felt that same sadness as on the day I departed from Vancouver for the last time.

Opening up the mailbox every morning was no longer an erratic emotional elevator of anticipation then disappointment. I no longer felt distraught to find that Phi Bang's letters were not there waiting for me. I had learned to stop expecting them. Instead, and unexpectedly, I began to welcome the unsolicited letters from the other people around the world I had sporadically corresponded with previously when trading stamps. Perhaps I had become more willing to write to other people since I had given up trying to devote all of my writing only to Phi Bang.

During these last few months I also noticed that I was receiving letters more frequently from one penfriend in Indonesia. Theresia's writing style was completely different from Phi Bang's. Recalling Phi Bang's acerbate comments about the two Indonesian Chinese students at Lee College I concluded that Phi Bang must have been wrong. Her comments contradicted the impressions I had made from reading Theresia's letters, and she was an Indonesian Chinese. 

My new friend in Indonesia wrote from her feelings as well as her thoughts. I felt as if she was genuinely talking to me when reading her letters. She did not leave me guessing about what she intended for me to understand. While I did not want to admit it to myself, I found myself looking forward to receiving Theresia's letters. Even more surprisingly was that she seemed to be more interested in me than Phi Bang ever was.

One morning in June following months of unwritten silence from the United States, a letter with familiar handwriting was waiting in the mailbox. My heart jumped because I now had a letter from Phi Bang. Having already come to terms with my wounded feelings, I had begun to believe that my emotions had been tempered, but now, I did not know what to think. Agonizing over what the contents of the envelope were going to contain, I delayed opening Phi Bang’s letter until after I had returned home from work.

Phi Bang’s letter was short and to the point. She wanted me to go and visit her in Pittsburgh.

"Why now? Why after all these months of silence? I needed this invitation from you six months ago, not now." I asked myself, trying to make some sense out of this latest surprise.

Seeing Phi Bang once a year and then waiting endlessly for her rare letters to arrive was no longer the relationship I wanted.  As far as I was concerned our relationship was over.

That evening I talked to Ted. He thought that going to Pittsburgh was a great idea. As we talked on I eventually suggested that Ted come along so he could meet Phi Bang. He was interested and we made plans to drive to Pittsburgh.

As our departure date approached I was wondering if Phi Bang was interested in putting our relationship back together again. Even with this latest invitation from her, I was no longer interested in riding that emotional roller coaster again.

"How many times can the all the King's men and all the King's horses try to put Humpty Dumpty back together?" I wondered, realizing that our relationship had been akin to fractured eggshells.

I wrote to Phi Bang and let her know that I would visit her. I also told her that Ted was going to come with me and detailed our planned highway adventure to Pittsburgh.

Two days before Ted and I were to depart, Phi Bang telephoned me.

"I'm so sorry to tell you. I must ask you change your visit time to the next week." Phi Bang informed me.

"What?!" I answered, surprised by her request.

"My plan has changed. You change to the other week after next week." she said.

"Phi Bang, I can't just go and change time off work like that." I replied.

"I must go to New York for meeting. Not at Pittsburgh during week." she indicated.

"I can’t go to Pittsburgh the week after next. I can't just change my vacation." I stated, trying not to sound upset by this last minute change.

"I call you again after I return to Pittsburgh. Then you can make change for plan to visit." Phi Bang suggested.

"No. Don't bother. I won't be able to take the time off." I repeated to Phi Bang.

"I want you visit Pittsburgh." Phi Bang repeated.

"Phi Bang, call me after you return from New York. We'll talk about it then." I said flatly.

I said good-bye and then hung up the telephone.

"Who was that?" Ted asked. 

He had walked into the room as I was finishing my conversation with Phi Bang.

"That famous egg fell off the wall again." I muttered, probably sounding rather annoyed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ted asked.

"It means we won't be going to Pittsburgh Saturday." I said.

"Why not?" Ted asked, surprised by my news.

"Phi Bang just called and asked us not to go there.” I explained.

“Why?” Ted asked again.

"Her plans changed and she won't be there next week." I recounted to Ted.

"Well I can't just go and change vacation like that." Ted said, sounding somewhat irritated.

"You don't have to change it. I told Phi Bang we weren’t going." I answered.

"What am I supposed to do with my week off?" Ted asked.

"I don't know. I have the same problem too.” I said.

“We should go anyway.” Ted suggested.

"There's no point.” I said.

"We could see the city." Ted suggested.

“What for?" I asked, not expecting an answer.

"You're crazy to put up with her nonsense!" Ted exclaimed, sounding annoyed by my latest news. 

He left the room and I said nothing. Maybe I was crazy; maybe even "Beaucoup dien cai dau" recalling that expression May Lien had used.

A few more times Ted remarked that we should have gone to Pittsburgh anyway. He may have been right, but what would going to Pittsburgh have changed or proven? Probably nothing at all.

A week later I received another telephone call from Pittsburgh. Phi Bang wanted me to visit her the following weekend and she was very forward about her purpose. Seeing me again was not the reason she wanted me to go there.

Phi Bang wanted me to go to Pittsburgh to play the piano and perform some of the musical works I had composed. The Vietnamese organization she was involved with had arranged some sort of an event and, for reasons that I shall never know, Phi Bang had placed herself in the awkward position of having promised to find someone to perform on the piano. She was now in a spot and was begging me to help her out. Her pleading shoved me into an unwanted state of confusion. Part of me wanted to just say good-bye to her and hang up the telephone. Another part of me wanted to go and help her out.

Undecided and non-committal, I promised Phi Bang that I would call her later after thinking things over. I was still annoyed with her but did not want her to know.

The following day I gave in and promised Phi Bang that I would fly down to Pittsburgh early Saturday morning. Phi Bang was pleased with my decision and repeatedly assured me that she would meet me at the airport on time.

Friday evening was spent in the basement practicing the piano and trying to decide what works to perform the following evening in Pittsburgh. I had made numerous markings on the pages of the score to the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" but had not yet made up my mind about whether or not to play the piece. The first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata", seductively deceptive in its simple appearance, is far from simple to competently perform. The music is filled with awkward little passages just waiting to trip up the amateur and inexperienced pianist, both categories for which I was fully qualified. 

Once more I stumbled through my own composition "Sketches of a Vietnamese Girl in America". Hurriedly I rewrote the cadenza and altered the coda, hoping perhaps to add a little flair at the end of my performance. My work paled in the presence of a Beethoven opus so I decided not to open with Beethoven.

By the end of the evening I had decided against any Beethoven and elected to perform only my own works. My intention was not to show any disrespect toward Beethoven, but if I made mistakes in playing my own compositions, who was going to be the wiser? The final movement of the F Minor piano sonata had been completed and I was able to confidently play through the entire work with few fluffs. Deciding that the sonata would be too long a work, I rejected it also. 

By midnight my hands were too stiff to effectively continue rehearsing. Worse, I was just as undecided about what work or works to perform. I really did not have any idea what type of audience I was supposed to be performing for. Wearily, I packed all the musical scores into the bag and deferred making my decision until tomorrow.



The Oddblock Station Agent


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