May to December

Chapter I

“What the hell?” Kim Bon Jun, better known as BJ,  shook his head.  He felt bruised all over, and cold on top of it.  He’d opened his eyes and seen what looked like a streetlight.  Still dreaming, he supposed.  One of those mornings.

Except he didn’t remember drinking the night before.  Of course he didn’t exactly recall getting into bed either.

“Hey buddy, you can’t sleep here,” a voice interrupted this reverie.  “Center won’t be open for a couple hours if that’s what you’re waiting for.”

BJ opened his eyes once again.  A uniformed man stood over him, shaking his head.

Cop, BJ thought.  Sure.  A dream.  Let’s just play along.

Slowly he stood up, and gave a slight bow.

“So sorry, sir,” he muttered.  “Just arriving.”

The guy bent over and sniffed.

“You don’t smell like a bum,” he admitted grudgingly.  “Show me some ID.”

BJ obligingly reached into his pants pocket to retrieve his wallet.  Well, a wallet anyway.  He handed it to the officer, who opened it, peered at something and gave it back to Kim.

“Chicago, huh?  What brings you to our little town?  Other than the bus,”  the officer laughed at his feeble little joke.  “There’s a coffee shop right over there just opening up.  You can wait there for the Senior Center to open up.  I’m guessing you’re not waiting on relatives?”

“Uh, no sir,”  BJ answered.  “Coffee sounds fine.”  He looked where the man pointed to see lights coming on across the street.  “Thank you so much.”

He started walking, towards the café, and the officer followed him, going back to his squad car.

“Our little town may not have much on Chicago but we don’t just dump our old timers onto a bus to get rid of them,” he muttered.  “You take care, old man.”

BJ, finding walking painful, half-heard this but stored it under one more strange dream thing.  He shuffled on, wondering if this whole body ache phenomena had caused this dream or would disappear when he woke up.  What had he done last night?

The café looked inviting through the glass doors.  He opened them as the cop’s car pulled out past him, and a wave of warmth enveloped his aching body.

“Morning, sir!” chirped a perky voice.  “What’s your pleasure this fine day?”

“Ah, yes ma’am.  A cup of coffee please?”  He toddled off to a booth, grabbing a paper as he went.

Settling himself, he scanned the front page.  Carlton Junction Daily, he read.  Indiana facing drought blared the banner headline.

“Dreaming about America,” he laughed.

“Here’s your coffee, sir.  And that’s another $1.25 for the paper.  Did you want breakfast?”

“So an American breakfast – toast, eggs, orange juice, right?” he smiled.  “That would be fine.”

“Certainly, sir!  I do hope you enjoy our little town,” she added.  “We don’t get much tourist trade here.”

“The people seem very friendly,” Kim smiled.

“Why thank you.   Be careful of that coffee, now – it’s hot.  I must say, you speak English really well!”  she looked pensive.  “Did you fight in the war?”

BJ looked puzzled.  “War?”

“WWII.  My daddy fought in Europe.  Course I know we’re friends with Japan now.  That’s a long time ago.”

“Oh, I see.  I’m Korean actually,”  BJ said.  “Haven’t done military service yet.”

She laughed at that, and returned to the counter.  Customers started to trickle in.  Kim sipped his coffee and read the paper, wondering when he’d wake up.

His waitress came back to fill his coffee cup and deliver his breakfast.

“Jim over there says you’re from Chicago, so I guess you thought me just a nosy silly biddy,”  she told him.  “I’m so sorry.”

“What?  Oh, not at all,” BJ said, momentarily confused.  He looked up at the counter and saw the policeman from his earlier encounter and smiled.

Maybe I should look at that ID, Kim thought.

He pulled out his wallet.  It had some bills, and a driver’s license.  BJ looked at it closely and laughed.  The card pictured some old gent that looked like his grandfather (who HAD fought in the Korean civil war) and had a Chicago address with the name Jae Sun Kim, his grandfather’s name in fact.  It got his day and month of birth right but the year listed him born in 1933.  Definitely dreamtime.  Had he not gone to his grandpa’s last memorial rituals?  Was the old man playing with him?

BJ went to pick up the coffee, but he’d forgotten that his waitress just refilled it, so hot coffee slopped all over his hand.

“Whoa, hurt,” he muttered, shaking it off.  “This dream just needs to stop now.”

But it did not.  He sat, staring at his plate, 2 sunny-side up eggs glaring back at him, and willed himself to wake up.  Nothing.  Outside the night had pretty much faded away.  People and cars passed by the café window going about their business.  A clock on the wall showed the time to be 8:15 – no digital read-out in this place.  He looked at the paper again.  Everything appeared clear, and the same as it had when he first picked it up.  This whole experience did NOT strike him as very dreamlike.  He kept thinking he hadn’t woken up due only to where he found himself.

Deciding to ignore all this, he just ate his breakfast and watched the building across the street.  Jim, there, the cop, had said the people in that place could help him.  Fine, a plan – he’d go over there and see what they’d do for him.  Right about the time he’d finished his breakfast, he saw someone open the door of the Center.  Kim stood up and went to pay for his food, smiling at his waitress.  She seemed very nice, and even pretty, for an older lady.

“I sure hope you enjoyed that breakfast!  You’ll find Carlton Junction lots more leisurely than Chicago for sure.  My dad can’t stand big cities.  You get to that age I guess and just don’t want to hurry anymore,” she nodded to him.  “We’re open for lunch too.  And I gave you our senior discount as well.  There’s a group over at the Senior Center comes over here at noon every day – you should come with them!”

BJ again felt puzzled but just smiled and left, crossing the street and coming to the door of this Center everyone kept pushing him toward.  He saw that he’d ‘woken up’ next to the entrance, and figured whatever lay behind this dream must want him in there as well.  So in he went.

“Welcome, sir!” an older woman dressed rather colorfully in a long gypsy-like skirt, a rather pretty sweater and long flowing hair greeted him.  She looked like an old hippy in fact.  He’d seen several ajummas like this on tour buses in Seoul – the 60s generation getting old.  This woman looked very friendly.

“Hello, ma’am.  I’m told you might help me here,” he answered her.  “I’ve come on the bus from Chicago and don’t know what to do.”

“I see.  Why did you come here?  Do you have friends or family here?”

“No.  I don’t know why I’m here,” he said.  Frustrated suddenly with this silly dream, he decided to stop going along with it.   “I’ve got no idea why I’m not waking up in my own bed.  I’ve a perfectly nice condo in Cheongdamdong that cost me a fortune, I’ve got a tour to rehearse for, I need to get to the gym, and yet here I am.”

“Where the hell’s Mi Sun and why did my brain decide to dump me in this stupid hick town instead of Chicago!” he added in Korean, just because he didn’t want to be rude even to dream characters.

The lady looked concerned at this outburst, and asked him to come talk to her in her office.  BJ followed her, since it seemed his best current option.

“Please take a seat,” she encouraged him.  She had a nice office, with two armchairs and a sofa, plants and her desk, plus file cabinets.  “Tell me about yourself.”

BJ sat, leaned back and looked at the ceiling.  “Fine,” he said.  “First, I’m 24, a Korean citizen, live in Seoul, and make lots of money doing dramas and touring with Super K.  I’m signed with NYP Management – they say I’ll get a solo tour this year.”

He saw her expression and smiled.  “Name’s Kim Bon Jun but I’m basically known as BJ.  So let’s just call my manager & maybe THEN I’ll wake up.”

“BJ.  I see.  That would be the young man who starred last fall in Porridge King?  I do watch some Korean dramas,” she smiled.

“Porridge King?  That’s what they call it here?”  he snorted.  “Yes indeed.  But if you saw it didn’t you recognize me?”

She looked at him for a bit, and then reached into her purse, pulling out a compact.

“Here’s a mirror.  See for yourself why I might not have.”

BJ obligingly took the fold-up mirror and opened it up to look at himself.  Then he dropped the mirror onto the (fortunately  carpeted) floor.

“What the hell!?” he objected.  In Korean.

He’d seen the little old man from the driver’s license, staring back at him from that mirror.

“You mentioned a dream?”  the lady said.  “Can you explain that to me?”

So BJ did.  Seemed the best way not to think too much.  Still dreaming.  Of course.  That had to be the solution to this puzzle.

May to December Chapter II

Mary Jane Ramekin shook her head sadly, watching little Mr. Kim wander out her office door.  She’d suggested he try getting on the Senior Center computer to get in touch with his friends.  Or as he put it, his manager.  Such a sweet face, she thought.  Nice manners, lovely way of speaking, engaging smile, twinkly eyes – all the markings of a charming elderly gentleman.

One she feared might be in the first stages of Alzheimer’s, sadly.

She admired the imagination that created the story he’d told her.  She thought it held some clues to his real life.  He must have lived in a Korean neighborhood in Chicago, or at least gone to one on a regular basis, for lunch or to play Go Stop with his cronies, since his Korean seemed fluent and he obviously knew the current cultural icons.  That child he’d chosen to identify with might easily be his grandson.  As a young man, Mr. Kim probably had resembled BJ.

Mary (or Marja, the moniker her nephew saddled her with when he’d been two), decided to look up the Hallyu star, purely for research purposes of course.  Soompi had a headline, dated yesterday, blaring about BJ’s sudden decision to enlist in the military, instead of doing the Japanese tour his fans had all anticipated.  BJ planned to appear for a farewell fan meet and greet before his enlistment, and apologized to all for his sudden change of plans, citing personal reasons.

She scanned that, and saw in the comments section that BJ’s manager had filed a complaint about a stalker – some old otaku fellow.  She clicked on that link, and a story dated last week appeared, lamenting the harassment of Hallyu idols, using BJs experience as an example.  She clicked on that link and a press release from NYP Management came up, stating BJ’s phone had gotten hacked so he’d changed all his accounts.  Fans needed to be patient.

Maybe my Mr. Kim just got back from Seoul? Marja wondered.

Another article, this one also dated yesterday, caught her eye.  “Shin Mi Sun breaks up with BJ of Super K!” it trumpeted.  “Enlistment mystery solved?”  The inventive writer for that gossip site postulated that BJ’s sorrow over losing his girl must be the ‘personal reasons’ for enlisting.

Marja amused herself briefly by clicking on Google Images for BJ (a very lovely and athletic looking young man certainly) before going onto one of her locator sites to attempt to find information on her Mr. Kim.

She’d filled out the form requesting housing assistance for him, using the information from his wallet.  He did not know his own SSN or Chicago address, and claimed no memory of his life in the US.  However, his wallet contained a SS card, driver’s license, Navy retirement ID and the bus ticket stub – all the information she needed.

She stopped, hearing a knock on her door.  Mr. Kim stuck his head inside.

“Might I disturb you now?” he asked.  “I found a worrisome thing.”

“Certainly! Please do come in and sit down, Mr. Kim.  What’s troubling you?”

Mr. Kim sat and looked at her, head tilted a bit, obviously choosing his words carefully.

“I do not have my phone, as you know.  Or at least, this phone I do not recognize has only strangers’ numbers,” he lifted up a cell phone to show her.  “I tried to call numbers that I do remember, but they do not work.”

“Yes, I see how that worries you.”

“My call that did connect upsets me more,”  he sighed.  “When I called the Director’s private number at my management company, his assistant said that she’d just sent me up to talk to him.”

He looked up at Marja then.  “How could she say that?  I do not understand at all.”

“I expect that puzzles you a lot,”  she said to him soothingly.  “Have you looked up the news on this young man, by the way?”

“I did.  A great deal of nonsense showed up.  I have no plans to enlist any time soon, Mi Sun certainly did not tell me she wanted to break up, and I got together with my group and manager to discuss the Japan tour at lunch yesterday.  So how could all these stories be printed so soon?”  He glared.  “Who’s this stalker?  I’ve no notion.  When did my phone get hacked?  I used it yesterday.  I never changed passwords at all.  Lies, that’s all lies.”  A spate of Korean followed this outburst.

He really did sit like a teenager, she thought.  At least he hadn’t regressed to toddler stage, as some patients she’d seen.

“Well, such speculation cannot help this situation, Mr. Kim.  I am very sorry that none of your remembered contacts offered any help to you.  Did you by any chance try calling any of the numbers in the phone you currently have?”

“Ah, well, I did call one,” he lifted it up to show her.  “It says VA Center so I thought, maybe.  I gave this Social Number to the assistant and she found an entry for me – well for this old Mr. Kim anyway.  She said I get money every month.  I found a bank number too, but they wanted a password.”

“That’s good!  I saw your bank card.  We have a branch here in town.  I’m sure we can get you access to your account,” Marja smiled encouragingly.  “Did the VA tell you how much you get a month?”

“Yes, I wrote it down,” he pulled out a piece of paper.  “$1100?  I’m not sure.  That’s about 110,000 Won I guess.  Can I live on that here?”

“I’ve put in a request for you at our Senior Living Center, which you will find very affordable.  I’m afraid you will need to go to a motel or shelter tonight,” she looked thoughtfully at him.  “You’ve a credit card in your wallet, I think.”

He pulled out the wallet, opened it and after a bit produced a Visa card.

“I guess I can find a room somewhere.  I didn’t see a hotel.”

“Let me call the Holiday Inn – that’s closest to the Center.  We will get one of our staff members to take you there and make sure your card can cover the cost.  Try not to think of anything else worrisome right now.  You’ve got the means to pay for lodging and food, and don’t need immediate medical care.  Plus it looks like you might have some kind of military health care,” Marja checked off these positive points for him.  “I know that you feel disoriented and alone right now, but it will get better, I promise.”

She smiled brightly at him.  Mr. Kim looked at her, then at the wallet in his hand, and back again, tilting his head with a very calculating look in his eyes.

“I believe you, ajumma,” he finally said.  “I’ll just keep going along with this dream.  That seems simple.”

 

May to December Chapter III

 

Things got better rather quickly for Mr. Kim, just as the nice lady at the Senior Center promised him.  Since in his opinion he’d hit rock-bottom, he didn’t feel especially gratified about this.

The night of his arrival, the Senior Center driver took him to the promised motel.  Walking in with only a backpack he felt a bit apprehensive about his reception, but needn’t have worried.

“Welcome, sir!” the young lady behind the desk smiled warmly at him.  “I hear you came from Chicago.   Lots quieter here, I’m sure.”

“Thank you very much,” he nodded & smiled, accepting his room key.

“Complimentary breakfast in the morning starts at 7,” the clerk told him.  “Enjoy your stay!”

That morning, after going to the ‘breakfast room’ for a stale donut & a cup of coffee that at least had caffeine, BJ took stock of his resources.  He’d emptied out the backpack he’d arrived with, and found a change of clothing, toiletries, an MP3 player and a harmonica.   The tunes on that player made him cringe,  and he quickly fixed that.  Engrossed in the massive amount of American hip-hop he had access to in America, he did not hear the knock on his door until he heard a little cough.  Looking up he saw  a middle-aged lady whom he thought from the Phillippines.

Ajumma, hello,” BJ said in Filipino.  “You are here to clean?”

No comprendo,” she said, looking flustered.  “I  clean?  Do bed?”

Lo siento, senora.  Buenos dios,” BJ apologized to her.  “Por favor, continue. “

On hearing this, the lady smiled broadly .  BJ figured he’d get super service for the rest of his stay.

Going down to the lobby,  BJ looked about, wondering what to do with his day.

“Oh, Mr. Kim,” a  man in a red hotel jacket came up to him.  “Ms Ramekin called us to make sure you knew about our shuttle service.”

“Oh?  A taxi?”

“The Senior Center runs a shuttle bus and it will be making a stop for you here each day,” Mr. Kelly (he had a nametag on) explained.  “It should be here in about 15 minutes.  I hope you’ve breakfasted.”

BJ smiled to acknowledge this, then waited for his transportation.  So Ms Ramekin, who’d settled his itinerary  as well as his lodging, could be accepted as his manager’s assistant.  Something familiar.  He laughed, wondering how that fine lady might take this label.

Over the next few days, BJ  found his schedule a bit tedious.  He endured it as part of the entire baffling dream experience.  He no longer talked of being BJ – he felt that served no purpose other than to make him look delusional.  However, one major breakthrough occurred for him.   He managed to reach his brother on the phone,  and established his creds right away with a code system  the two of them had long ago devised to weed out imposters .  Bon Hwa might not be a huge Hallyu idol like BJ but he did work in the industry, and had a loyal fanbase of his own.  That silly secret greeting had always been a joke between them, but thank the universe they’d done it!

During that conversation he learned that somebody posing as ‘BJ’ had indeed shown up for a farewell appearance before going off to an Army base for training.  Fortunately he heard this before relating his predicament to Bon Hwa.

“Got phone privileges right away, I see,” his brother laughed.  “Sure they don’t treat you guys different.  I believe that.”

“Just wanted to make sure this number stayed good.  That stalker character, you know,” BJ explained quickly.  “I’ll call you in a couple weeks, ok?  Do NOT tell anyone about this call!”

BJ hoped his brother wouldn’t check that cell phone number too carefully and reflected that a cover story sending him out of Korea might be warranted.

The fact that he could be himself with at least one person made a huge difference in his attitude.  That Ms Ramekin had him enrolled in some kind of Alzheimer’s program just because he’d spouted off that first day.  If Bon Hwa hadn’t answered that call, BJ wondered how soon he’d have started believing he’d really lost his mind instead of holding on to his own reality.

After a placid uneventful week at the motel, BJ got good news from Ms Ramekin.

“Your application for a room at the Oaks came through today, approved!” she smiled at him.  “Only a week!  And there happens to be a vacancy.”

“Ah, so I can move there soon?”  BJ asked.  “How large a room?  Do they have TV with gaming hookups?”

“Oh, Mr. Kim,” Ms Ramekin laughed.  “I rather doubt that.  The staff encourage residents to mingle and be social, you know.”

“Certainly,”  BJ looked glum.  “I hope they have better exercise equipment than the Holiday Inn.”

He’d had a tedious week.  No way to listen to his own tunes, or play any games, and he’d had to practice in that crowded little hotel room.  Also, when he tried exercising in the hotel ‘gym’ (laughable for a room with two stairsteppers and one bicycle machine) he found his stamina greatly reduced.  Still he went there every morning before heading out to the Senior Center.

“You just need to sign up at the YMCA for their Senior Fitness Programs, Mr. Kim.  They have very affordable programs for your age group.”

So off he’d gone, to check out of the motel and to sign up at the Y, before showing up at the Oaks Senior Living Center with his backpack.

“Mr. Kim!  So glad to see you here,” a lady in white came towards him when BJ presented himself at the front desk.  “We wondered that you didn’t come for lunch.  I’m Amelia Warburn, Director of the Oaks.”

“So sorry, ma’am,” BJ nodded.  “I had errands.  But you have meals here?”

“Yes indeed!  We provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Of course you can get your meals elsewhere if you desire, but we don’t allow cooking in the rooms,”  She smiled sweetly at him.  “Let’s just go into the office to sign a few papers and read over our policies, shall we?”

Mrs. Warburn did not wait to see if BJ followed her, but simply forged ahead.

Like an ocean liner, all in white, BJ thought somewhat sourly.

Once in the office, BJ got to read a bunch of rules that reminded him forcibly of the studio dormitory he’d spent four years living in, while in training to be a performer.  Great.  Better than really going into the Army, he thought.  Maybe this fake thing would take the place of his enlistment?

“Just sign here – that’s right – and we’re all done,” cooed Mrs. Warburn..

She gathered up the papers into a folder, put it into a file cabinet, then turned to motion BJ out the door.

“Come along now to the recreation room.  All our residents want to meet you!” she sang out gaily.

BJ diligently trotted along in her wake, wondering about the other residents.  Mrs. Warburn came to a stop at the end of the corridor, and moved a little to the side to let BJ walk up beside her.

“Here he is, girls,” she smiled while BJ cringed.  “Mr. Jason Kim, our new resident from Chicago!  I know you will make him feel right at home.”

BJ looked about the room.  No girls to be seen, naturally.  Several ancient crones smiled at him, most either in wheelchairs or holding onto walkers.  A couple more energetic ladies came up to him enthusiastically.

“We heard you came from Korea after that war.  My husband fought there,”  one of them said to him, nodding her head.  “I expect you did too.”

Her companion shook her head.  “He won’t have met Roger, Sandra.  For heaven’s sake.  Korea’s not that small.”

“I’m afraid I don’t remember that conflict very well,” BJ smiled, desperately searching his memory for the tales his granddad told him of the 625 upheaval, which everybody he knew called it.  “So long ago, you understand.”

He smiled at the ladies.  “There don’t seem to be many gentlemen here.”

“Oh, most of them watch sports at night,” Sandra’s friend told him.  “I’m Vivian, by the way.  Here, let me introduce you to the rest of the girls.”

“Where do they watch them?” he asked, looking about.  This room had some tables with crossword puzzles laid out, and various chairs in conversational groupings, but no TVs.

“We have a fancy new home theater room, with this huge TV, video players, and even some kind of game box,” Sandra told him.  “Renee’s grandson donated everything.  He brings the kids to visit and they get bored, so that keeps them out from under foot.  He owns a Radio Shack.

“I see,” BJ nodded some more, inwardly rather excited.  A gaming console!  What luck!

“We girls watch our soaps and such, during the mornings, and let the men have the TV for their ballgames.  We don’t have a problem taping our shows,” Vivian explained to BJ.  “I expect we will lose you to ESPN as well.”

“Not unless they watch soccer,” he smiled.  “I’d rather listen to music.”

“Really?  How lovely!  We have a piano here,” Sandra pointed to the corner.  “And a CD player.”

BJ looked and sighed.  The piano looked ancient.

“That’s great,” he said.  “I need to practice.”

“You play?  We’d love to hear you!”

BJ looked at the ladies thoughtfully.  “I know a few tunes,” he said, thinking of songs that his mother liked him to sing.  “Let me try out this upright, then.”

He sat down at the piano, tested out the tuning (not bad!) and played a quick little intro to one of the ballads on his latest album.

A chorus of sighs could be heard, a very familiar reaction for him.  He decided to try singing, just to see how badly his voice had deteriorated.  He picked the theme song his group had done for a Kdrama last year, a typical moaning lament which caused every woman he knew to dissolve into tears within the first few bars.

These ladies, who couldn’t understand the words  and hadn’t seen the show, didn’t weep, but they all smiled and clapped when he finished.  His voice still worked, BJ noted.  He couldn’t sing quite so high or clear, but he hit the notes and still had the power to fill the room.  That cheered him up as much as the reaction of his audience.

He spent the rest of the evening playing various songs for what looked to be his new fanbase here at the Oaks.

May to December Chapter IV

Marja sat at her desk nursing a cup of coffee, studying the charts in front of her.  She hated fund-raising, or begging as she referred to it.  Couldn’t be helped, of course.  She looked up on hearing a knock at her door.  Her Chicago refugee stood there, and she beckoned him in.

“So, Mr. Kim, I hear wonderful things about you,” she said warmly.  “All the ladies at the Oaks gush whenever they talk of you.”

“Ah, yes, so kind of them.”

“You’ve organized a little group of senior soccer players as well, so Mrs. Warburn informs me.  She finds you a most positive influence,” Marja looked quizzically at him.  “That’s a hard nut to crack, you know.”

“She’s a very hard-working person.  Quite admirable I think,” murmured BJ.  “For the soccer, I needed exercise.  A couple of the other gentlemen wanted to join in, and it just became popular.”

“Effortless in fact.  I see”  Marja looked at him, thinking of that.  She’d gone to see the Senior Soccer game last Saturday.  Mr. Kim could move.  She shook her head to focus.

“Our local Community Theater cast you in their next production, I understand,” she asked him.

“I’ve some theatrical experience, so the director thought I might help out.”

“Yes, I’m sure.  Janet Devereau’s got a very good nose for talent,” Marja stated.  “You must shine on stage, in fact.  I’ve never seen her this excited before.”

“I hope not to disappoint,” BJ answered.  “I shall do my best.”

“Well, I’m sure you will.  Which brings me to the point of this meeting.  I asked you here because our annual fundraiser looms,” she motioned towards the pile of papers in front of her.  “We do a call-in on the local government access station, a mini-marathon, and need performers and at least 4 MCs.  Janet told me you’d be perfect as one, and that you might be persuaded to perform a few songs as well?  You play the piano, I understand.”

“Ah, yes,” BJ sighed a bit.  “I should be honored to help you and this very worthy Center raise funds.  I enjoy working for charities.”

“You’ve done some good already without knowing it.  Paul Grant’s thrilled about his dad joining in your soccer games – it’s improved the old man’s health greatly.  Paul heard your story and has offered to give us free airtime to advertise our marathon,” Marja told him.  “Mr. Grant Jr owns WZPM-FM radio so this will help us enormously.”

“Such good news!  Mr. Arthur Grant told me his son could help you,” BJ said.  “Who will direct this charity marathon?  I expect I need to get in touch with that person.”

“Come with me.  We’ve managed to get Nelson Watkins on board for that.  Do you know that name?  He worked in Hollywood in the 50s, and then came back home to Terre Haute as the news anchor until he retired to our little town,” Marja opened the door to lead Mr. Kim towards the Center’s conference room, a fairly good sized room that Nelson the Great felt adequate for holding auditions.

“He would like to meet you, and hear you sing,” she explained non-committedly.

“I fully understand.  Do not worry,” BJ smiled, showing his teeth.

An hour later, Marja sat at her desk again, just amazed.  That little Mr. Kim (although why she kept thinking him little when he stood at least a head taller than herself) really did have talent.  He’d handled Nelson Watkins like a cowboy on his horse, expertly.  She felt privileged to witness it.

Watkins had of course visibly sneered when Mr. Kim walked in.

“Dear Janet, always so optimistic,” he’d greeted the old man.  “I hope you speak the lingua franca at least, fine sir?”

Mais oui.  But I believe English might be better overall, monsieur,” Mr. Kim smiled benignly.  “Perhaps I shall sing you a song first?  Then you may tell me if I am wanted at all.”

“Oh, certainly, certainly.  Knock yourself out, old boy.”

So Mr. Kim did just that – sang The Impossible Dream for Nelson the Great, a cappella, in tune.  Powerfully.

“I fear I do not have a piano here, but I do play fairly well,” BJ offered, on finishing his song.

“That’s professional training.  What’s your background?” Nelson snapped.

“I studied drama and voice in high school and university,” Mr. Kim answered.  “I did some entertaining of the troops, as well, and other minor things over the last years.”

“Amateur theatricals no doubt.  Well, still you’ve a voice, and speak well enough.  Better than I could expect from this hole in the wall.”

“So delighted you approve,” BJ bowed his head.  “I enjoy musicals, and always wanted to be in one.  Mrs. Devereau plans to put on Man of La Mancha so I had prepared that song, fortunately.  She thought we might stage a scene from it as well.”

“Not sure you as Don Quixote will play that well,” Nelson frowned.

“Ah, no, you misunderstand.  I might sing this song, but I play Sancho Panza.”

“Indeed.  That’s better.  Although if she cast her usual leading man, he’ll butcher the score.”

“She feels I might help him improve,” mentioned Mr. Kim.

“Perhaps I might lend a hand there.  I have not interfered with the local Community theatre, feeling I should allow the locals a chance to play the boards, so to speak.  But coaching the local talent might be interesting,” Nelson mused.

Marja, thinking of Janet’s probable reaction to this, stifled a laugh and left the two alone.

He really has a beautiful voice, she thought.

May to December Chapter V

“Hey, Hwa, need a favor – can you set up an account for me?  In your name?  I’m dying here,” BJ begged his brother, two days before the Community Theatre production of Man of La Mancha opened.

Hyung,  I don’t see why you need a separate account,” Bon Hwa protested.

“Cause I don’t want Manager Song finding out about me dating, that’s why!  Plus the Army gets antsy.  I just want a little.  500,000 Won would do,” BJ grimaced at the phone.  He’d known his brother might get the wind up.  Still had to try.

He’d found out that $1,100 did not go very far towards replenishing his wardrobe, let alone allow for things like car payments or apartment rentals.  Plus he couldn’t just use his own money – even if he still had access to his accounts.  Drawing too much money triggered all sorts of alarms apparently.  He’d had a discussion with a retired lawyer who lived at the Oaks and played on the Senior Soccer team about funds left to him in Seoul by some mythical deceased relative.

A small sum, like $5,000, showing up quarterly, seemed safe enough even if he’d have to pay some sort of US tax on it.  He just had to convince his brother to do it.

“You can set it up on PayPal – to send the money I mean. “

“If you’ve got a fake PayPal account that’s gonna get you in trouble, man.  I don’t like it.”

“But it’s my money!  I’m not gonna burn myself, Hwa,” BJ let out an exasperated sigh.  “Come on, I need to get the girl some flowers, like this weekend, cause I can’t see her & she’s being difficult.”

So many lies  I’ve tolds, BJ thought.  Major cleanup to do once I come back from this.

In two days BJ needed a decent tux to attend the Community Theatre Opening Gala, as Marja’s escort.  Plus, he’d offered to take the cast out to dinner for the wrap-up party, foolishly forgetting his cash flow problem.  To make matters worse he’d invited Marja. She’d grown on him – her being 15 years younger than most of his other fangirls and looking 25 years younger didn’t hurt.

Funny what one got used to, he thought.

Anyway, he needed cool clothes, a credit line on the old guy’s card, and indeed, flowers for the lady.

“Far be it from me to interfere in your lovelife,” Bon Hwa conceded.  “I’ll send you money thru PayPal – I’ve got an account.  You just pay me back – seems simpler than trying to embezzle money in your name, you cretin.”

“Ignore the address – it’s a blind, you know.  The Army has me doing weird stuff,” BJ said, really hoping this went way over Bon Hwa’s head.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re a real secret agent James Bond now, I hear.  All Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan Ninja warrior stuff.  Whatever.  I’ll do it.  I hope you don’t get caught up in some huge scandal.  Look what happened to Bi couple years back.”

“I’m not letting paparazzi near me, Bro.  Don’t worry,” BJ promised.  In fact his worst fear would be for his manager (or the lowlives responsible for this situation) to out him as the stalker geek.  Since his brother offered to just lend him the money, that seemed very unlikely.

“So tell me about this lovely girl you’re seeing,” Bon Hwa laughed.  “Real looker I guess.”

“Uh, sure!”  BJ thought hard.  “She’s got a sweet face and long red hair, with freckles.  Rather amply endowed.”

“Uh oh, no wonder you don’t want anyone getting wind of her – where’s she from?  She an Anglo?”

“Yeah,” BJ admitted.  “American Irish.  She told me America has more Irish than Ireland.”

“Does she even speak Korean?”

“Not so much.  Hey, it’s improving my English.  Don’t be racist,”  BJ protested.  If his brother only knew.

“That’s just so not going over well anywhere,  Mom being your biggest hurdle.”

“Why would Mom ever hear about her?  Did I say I was serious about this girl?  Why make up imaginary future problems?”

“If the press gets wind of this, so will Mom.  So just keep it under wraps.  She’s lots scarier than the Army,” Bon Hwa warned.

BJ’s mind boggled at the thought of what his mom might say about MJ as his girlfriend.  Of course his mom’d be dead of a heart attack just seeing what he looked like right now.  The whole situation still felt like a dream or hallucination whenever he thought about it seriously.  Most likely he’d wake up drooling in some padded cell.

He shook himself.  “Gotta go, Hyung.  Just email me when you send the funds.”

“Will do.  Be careful.”

BJ shut off his cell phone & stared out the window of his room.  He’d described Ms  Ramekin rather loosely,  for obvious reasons. She did have long curly auburn locks (hennaed, she’d told him, since her teens, because she hated her own mousy brown color), and freckles.  She also had a decent enough figure for her age.  He thought she looked 45 or so, his mom’s age.  A pretty ajumma (he cringed at the current American slang terms).

Still, NOT someone he’d ever get interested in, under normal circumstances.  Ladies over 30 had never attracted his attention, unlike certain of his friends who really enjoyed dating good-looking older women.  He preferred girls his own age, or at least ones he thought  looked under 25.

MJ Ramekin just looked good to him right now due to the other ladies he had to choose from, BJ felt sure.  He had met some truly adorable twenty somethings, who all treated him like a pet  of sorts and laughed at how cute he acted when he tried flirting with them.  He remembered watching  all the little Idol girls treat the retired President of his studio that way, and flinched.  In fact BJ now received that treatment from just about every female under 60 that he met.  All of them cooed over him and not a one saw him as a man.

MJ didn’t do that.  She saw him as a friend, and sometimes an ally at the Senior Center.  Of course he didn’t really know her age. He’d talked with his lawyer buddy about her once – Carlton liked her and wanted BJs opinion on asking MJ out to dinner.

“She’s a fine gal, you know,” the old lawyer insisted.  “Lovely smile and beautiful eyes, and a very fetching figure.  Could do much worse.”

BJ looked down the corridor where Carlton had glanced to see Sandra Langley trotting along with Mrs. Warshburn.

“Yes, much worse,” he agreed.  “But she’s much younger, after all.”

“Not so much, my boy,” Carlton nudged him.  “I agree, she wears her years extremely gracefully, but she’s at least ten years older than our sturdy Nurse here.”  He nodded to Amelia Warshburn as she passed.

“Not true!  I do not believe that.”

“She’s the widow of an old client of mine, you know.  Her husband had a contracting business, died ten years ago of a heart attack. He must have been sixty at the time and not that much older than his wife,” Carlton thought about it.  “I remember him saying he’d met her while a graduate assistant.  She’d been an undergraduate in the teaching program, over at Indiana State, and took one of the classes his mentoring professor taught. “

“So, she might have been 55 or so when her husband died, right?”  BJ tried doing the math in his head.  “Which happened ten years ago?”

“Correct.  She retired from teaching two years ago.  In fact she collects full social security – so she’d got to be at least 67 or 68.  I know because she asked me about working full-time at the Center,”  Carlton beamed.  “That’s not so bad.  Less than 15 years difference in age.”

“There’s no way she’s close to 70!  She looks maybe 50 on a bad day!”  BJ protested.

“Yes, a lovely lady,” agreed Carlton.

BJ walked away from that conversation feeling rather abused somehow.  He hoped MJ turned the old boy down.  Old Carlton looked like her father!  A very mix-matched pair, in BJ’s opinion.  No matter what her real age, she didn’t look it and she acted even younger.

Sandra and her friend Rebecca dragged him to a Salsa dance class one night,  that to his surprise MJ taught.   She could dance beautifully, and since he could as well she pulled him away from his elderly admirers and used him to demonstrate dance moves. She talked him into coming on Wednesdays to help her.  MJ kept bugging him about where he had learned to dance and insisting he must have danced professionally (not exactly far from the truth) but he didn’t mind because he really enjoyed the classes.

In fact the dance classes led to this current monetary crisis.  Not only did he need a drastic wardrobe makeover, as he tried to find decent clothes to wear to class each week, but he’d asked Marja out to dinner the night of the last class.

“You must come, as a return favor for me,” he’d told her.  “I help you with the dancing, and now can have a lovely dinner companion .”

That gave him pause as well.  No one could have made him believe, six months ago, that he’d look forward to leading a bunch of old ladies and a few of their hapless husbands around in a Salsa class at a retirement home, nor that he’d be happy that the aging dance teacher singled him out as her partner.  It amazed him to discover the truth about adaptability.  He’d read that you could get used to anything.  The phrase ‘comparatively speaking’ which had seemed to him a cop-out, turned out to be firmly based in human psychology.

That of course led him to the real reason he needed money.  BJ wanted decent clothes, and enough money to take a lady to dinner from time to time.  Never mind which lady.  He’d exhausted 2 months of savings already on one dinner and some shirts.

He really hadn’t lied to his brother after all, BJ realized.   Only about the details.

May to December Part VI

Marja looked at the flowers on her desk and sighed.

Why does this bother me?  she muttered.  I should feel flattered. I’m no spring chicken myself

She could not sort out her feelings about this whole situation at all, and it annoyed her.

Normally she had no problems dealing with the infatuations of her charges, whether the HS seniors of her working days or the elderly gentlemen here at the Center.

For some reason her Mr. Kim brought Mat to mind.  That young man, having proudly flunked 10th and 11th grade, bragged to her about making  a clean sweep of it so he’d graduate at the age of 21.  She herself, all of 24, found him disconcerting and alluring.  She and John, although serious about each other, hadn’t even gotten engaged yet, and having such a gorgeous young man paying her such attention flattered her.

Mat  flirted outrageously with her the entire year,  acting out his own personal Hot for Teacher scenario.  In fact that kept her focused – he really had no deep interest in her.  Mat probably thought she pushed him to finish school so they could date, but that hadn’t ever crossed her mind.  She met her goal, for him to graduate that year, and he’d sent her flowers with a sweet little thank you note, very different from his usual bravado style.

She didn’t think comparing Mr. Kim to Mat particularly fair, of course.  Mat, despite his looks, hadn’t theintelligence nor the experience of her current admirer.  Mr. Kim must have cut quite a swathe with the ladies in his heyday, she thought.  He had poise, charm, wit, talent, and genuine sweetness.

She’d started to forget his age, in fact.  He had a wonderful smile, that lit up his entire face, and a full head of fluffy white hair that he kept styled in rather flattering ways.  He’d improved his wardrobe over the last few months.  Marja remembered how scruffy and lost he’d looked that first day when she’d met him.  Nowadays he looked like he’d just stepped out of a GQ spread everytime she saw him.  In fact she’d mentioned that he looked very much like Jimmy Page (who she’d just seen do a Varvatos commercial of all things).  He’d laughed but looked pleased.

She just hadn’t paid attention.

Mr. Kim had at first gravitated to her rather naturally as the person who’d helped him when he’d arrived from Chicago, confused and alone.  Marja still wondered about that.  She’d accompanied Mr. Kim to the doctor’s office, who stated the old gentleman had no health problems other than the usual deteriorations of advanced age.  No angina or other restrictions of the blood flow, no signs of alzheimer’s or other dementia-causing conditions, and in fact a very strong heart and muscle tone in general.  Mr. Kim told her and the doctor that he’d not slept properly his entire last month in Chicago, and had existed on ramen noodles and coffee.  The doctor decided the old man just collapsed due to all of this, and gave the usual medical scold about eating right, exercise,  and sleep.

Marja wondered what had happened in Chicago to upset her Mr. Kim, but felt unable to ask him.  Despite his very friendly attitude and politeness , she could tell he kept himself private.  Very British, she’d told him one day, which made him smile.

He could dance so wonderfully.  She loved that he came for her salsa dancing.  John had always enjoyed stepping out, as he called it, and they’d belonged to a ballroom dance club for most of their married life.  Marja thought she’d reconciled herself to losing John, but her Mr. Kim brought it home to her, how lonely she felt.

He’d shown up at her class one Wednesday night, and she’d asked him to partner her.  She’d seen him rehearsing for the musical at the Community Theater and knew he could dance.  Mr. Kim knew how to tango, samba, waltz, foxtrot, hustle, and most surprisingly could do the hip hop kind of dancing she saw on all those music videos.  Privately she thought he should be teaching her dance class.

Most of those elderly folks who matured in the 40s knew several kinds of ballroom dance, whereas her generation often  only knew some form of the shag & the hustle, or even worse thought that the generic ‘slow dance’ where the couple basically hugged each other and swayed, counted as ‘dancing’.

Once the word got out among the retired set that Mr. Kim had signed up for the class, she had a waiting list.  It pleased her greatly, and after the first session of 8 weeks ended she started to ask him out to dinner, to thank him.  He surprised her by telling her that he preferred to take her, for brightening up his week, and as a bribe to let him continue coming to her classes.  She’d not really thought much about that, certainly didn’t classify it as a date.  They’d had a lovely time chatting about various topics,  and she felt glad to have found such an interesting dinner companion.

Not long after that, about a week before the opening night of Man of La Mancha, Mr. Kim had asked her if she’d been invited to the opening celebrations.

“Oh, yes, I always go!  I used to be the drama teacher at the high school,” she’d nodded.  “When the CCT first started I let them borrow the school’s costumes, and made a lot myself.   I guess that qualifies me as a forever VIP.”

“I heard the wardrobe mistress saying you created all her favorite costume pieces,” Mr. Kim said.  “ I wondered.  I am glad you will attend.”

He looked at her, and gave a wry little smile.  “I do not have a vehicle, so sad to say, or I should offer to take you to this affair.  At least I could be your escort, do you think?”

“Why that’s very sweet!  I do have a car, but I will be glad to meet you there,” Marja smiled at him sympathetically, wondering how she herself would feel when she no longer drove.  “I shall be in the opening night audience, of course.”

The Gala, held the night of the dress rehearsal (always a Thursday matinee),  held a special  significance for her.  John had loved the theater and often acted as a narrator.  The poor man really couldn’t act or sing, but his speaking voice rivaled Orson Welles.  She treasured the memories of past  galas and opening nights, dressed to the nines with a handsome man on her arm, happy and in love.  The last ten years she’d gone faithfully, but never with much enthusiasm.

This year Marja had found herself thinking about what dress to wear, and she made sure to get her nails and hair done.  She’d not anticipated the Gala for many years.

At the Dress Rehearsal she’d looked about and been secretly amused at all the elderly ladies in attendance, dressed to the nines. That marked a departure from previous years.  Community Theatre had not always been quite so popular with the Senior set. Anyone with no previous knowledge of the musical could hardly be blamed for assuming that Mr. Kim played the lead, given the amount of applause at the curtain calls.

She’d gone backstage to congratulate the cast and to meet up with Mr. Kim.  He appeared looking incredibly suave in an impeccably tailored tux, which caused quite a stir among his little group of admirers.  It had rather thrilled her to walk into the Gala on his arm, in fact.  She’d had a wonderful time.

Last night she’d gone with him to the wrap-up party for the cast.  That had not been so fancy at all.  Mr. Kim hosted, and proved very up to the occasion.  In fact people had been commenting to her about her new beau for several weeks now, very approvingly.  This bouquet on her desk had a letter from him, thanking her very prettily for allowing him the honor of escorting her and for her attendance at his little party.  She’d actually blushed on receiving it.

What in the world am I doing?  she thought.  I’m much too old for this nonsense. 

Unwillingly her mind brought back an image of Mr. Kim in that tux.  He’d looked like an aging movie star, suave, silvered, as if he should have a chauffeur and private jet instead of living at the Oaks.  He could make her laugh, and she always found his conversation very interesting.  Despite his having lived for years in Chicago, he showed such curiousity and wonder about the most mundane things.  On the other hand he really had a wide knowledge of things Asian, and talked passionately on such subjects as Korean unification and the rape, as he put it, of Jeju Island.

He loved American hip hop music and had spent quite a lot of energy trying to convince her to appreciate it.  In fact he’d enlisted the help of some of his young cast members in this endeavor.   They all adored him – especially the girls, who treated him as a cross between their favorite old uncle and a mascot.  He’d laughed about that with her.

“I used to think myself quite the catch,” he told her.  “These little charmers just put me right in my place.  Humility, as Buddha says, keeps us balanced.”

That also surprised her – he told her he really didn’t think himself religious but he’d probably self-identify as Buddhist if pressed. Did Chicago even have a Buddhist temple, she wondered?  Probably – Atlanta had a Hindu one, she’d heard.

Marja sighed.  He wanted to meet her for lunch today, and she couldn’t help but smile about it.

Later she surreptitiously watched as Mr. Kim negotiated with the waiter in Chinese.  He spoke Korean of course but she’d not realized that he also spoke several other languages until recently.

“You shall now have something delicious,” BJ smiled at her.

“Not something involving a pet, I hope”

“Why no!” BJ looked wounded.  “I do not eat goldfish myself.”

She laughed.  “So sorry, tactless of me.”

“I had a friend once,” he said.  “She had a little pig as a pet.  But it unfortunately got big, so she took it to her grandfather’s farm.”

BJ shook his head.  “Her halabeoji – that is, her grandfather, thought of course she brought it for the New Year’s feast.”

“Oh, dear.  Poor pig!”

“Poor Mi Sun too!  It dampened our holidays a bit,” BJ laughed.   “But that little pig provided a most delicious meal.”

“How awful of you,” Marja shook her head at him, and watched as that lovely smile of his transformed him.

“I remember when you first came to the center,” she said hesitantly.  “What you said about yourself.”

“Ah, my delusions of youthful stardom,” he murmured.  “How cruel of you to mention that.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to be!  I just wanted to say that I understand why,” she babbled.  “I can see that you must have looked very much like that young man, many years ago.”

“My salad days, you mean.  Long past, I’m afraid.”

“When you smile I can see,” Marja said.  “It seems to erase time.”

“Does it, my dear?”  He smiled at her again, and reaching across the table took her hand.  “I have a request for you.”

“Yes?” she quavered & mentally kicked herself for acting like such a  schoolgirl.

“Please might you call me by my first name?  Mr. Kim sounds entirely too formal.”

“Oh!  I thought you might not like it somehow.”

“Not at all. The fine ladies at the Oaks call me Jason and yet the one person I should like to hear it from, does not.”

“But Jason’s not even your proper name!” she blurted out, flustered.

BJ looked puzzled, then laughed.  “Close enough to Jae Sun, my dear.  And you say it so prettily.”

“Then, Jason, I have a request as well,” she blushed.  “ Please call me Marja.”

“I shall with pleasure, Marja,” he said, then brought her hand to his lips.

So cliché, she thought.  I expect that’s why.  Because it works.

May to December Part VI

Marja looked at the flowers on her desk and sighed.

Why does this bother me?  she muttered.  I should feel flattered. I’m no spring chicken myself

She could not sort out her feelings about this whole situation at all, and it annoyed her.

Normally she had no problems dealing with the infatuations of her charges, whether the HS seniors of her working days or the elderly gentlemen here at the Center.

For some reason her Mr. Kim brought Mat to mind.  That young man, having proudly flunked 10th and 11th grade, bragged to her about making  a clean sweep of it so he’d graduate at the age of 21.  She herself, all of 24, found him disconcerting and alluring.  She and John, although serious about each other, hadn’t even gotten engaged yet, and having such a gorgeous young man paying her such attention flattered her.

Mat  flirted outrageously with her the entire year,  acting out his own personal Hot for Teacher scenario.  In fact that kept her focused – he really had no deep interest in her.  Mat probably thought she pushed him to finish school so they could date, but that hadn’t ever crossed her mind.  She met her goal, for him to graduate that year, and he’d sent her flowers with a sweet little thank you note, very different from his usual bravado style.

She didn’t think comparing Mr. Kim to Mat particularly fair, of course.  Mat, despite his looks, hadn’t theintelligence nor the experience of her current admirer.  Mr. Kim must have cut quite a swathe with the ladies in his heyday, she thought.  He had poise, charm, wit, talent, and genuine sweetness.

She’d started to forget his age, in fact.  He had a wonderful smile, that lit up his entire face, and a full head of fluffy white hair that he kept styled in rather flattering ways.  He’d improved his wardrobe over the last few months.  Marja remembered how scruffy and lost he’d looked that first day when she’d met him.  Nowadays he looked like he’d just stepped out of a GQ spread everytime she saw him.  In fact she’d mentioned that he looked very much like Jimmy Page (who she’d just seen do a Varvatos commercial of all things).  He’d laughed but looked pleased.

She just hadn’t paid attention.

Mr. Kim had at first gravitated to her rather naturally as the person who’d helped him when he’d arrived from Chicago, confused and alone.  Marja still wondered about that.  She’d accompanied Mr. Kim to the doctor’s office, who stated the old gentleman had no health problems other than the usual deteriorations of advanced age.  No angina or other restrictions of the blood flow, no signs of alzheimer’s or other dementia-causing conditions, and in fact a very strong heart and muscle tone in general.  Mr. Kim told her and the doctor that he’d not slept properly his entire last month in Chicago, and had existed on ramen noodles and coffee.  The doctor decided the old man just collapsed due to all of this, and gave the usual medical scold about eating right, exercise,  and sleep.

Marja wondered what had happened in Chicago to upset her Mr. Kim, but felt unable to ask him.  Despite his very friendly attitude and politeness , she could tell he kept himself private.  Very British, she’d told him one day, which made him smile.

He could dance so wonderfully.  She loved that he came for her salsa dancing.  John had always enjoyed stepping out, as he called it, and they’d belonged to a ballroom dance club for most of their married life.  Marja thought she’d reconciled herself to losing John, but her Mr. Kim brought it home to her, how lonely she felt.

He’d shown up at her class one Wednesday night, and she’d asked him to partner her.  She’d seen him rehearsing for the musical at the Community Theater and knew he could dance.  Mr. Kim knew how to tango, samba, waltz, foxtrot, hustle, and most surprisingly could do the hip hop kind of dancing she saw on all those music videos.  Privately she thought he should be teaching her dance class.

Most of those elderly folks who matured in the 40s knew several kinds of ballroom dance, whereas her generation often  only knew some form of the shag & the hustle, or even worse thought that the generic ‘slow dance’ where the couple basically hugged each other and swayed, counted as ‘dancing’.

Once the word got out among the retired set that Mr. Kim had signed up for the class, she had a waiting list.  It pleased her greatly, and after the first session of 8 weeks ended she started to ask him out to dinner, to thank him.  He surprised her by telling her that he preferred to take her, for brightening up his week, and as a bribe to let him continue coming to her classes.  She’d not really thought much about that, certainly didn’t classify it as a date.  They’d had a lovely time chatting about various topics,  and she felt glad to have found such an interesting dinner companion.

Not long after that, about a week before the opening night of Man of La Mancha, Mr. Kim had asked her if she’d been invited to the opening celebrations.

“Oh, yes, I always go!  I used to be the drama teacher at the high school,” she’d nodded.  “When the CCT first started I let them borrow the school’s costumes, and made a lot myself.   I guess that qualifies me as a forever VIP.”

“I heard the wardrobe mistress saying you created all her favorite costume pieces,” Mr. Kim said.  “ I wondered.  I am glad you will attend.”

He looked at her, and gave a wry little smile.  “I do not have a vehicle, so sad to say, or I should offer to take you to this affair.  At least I could be your escort, do you think?”

“Why that’s very sweet!  I do have a car, but I will be glad to meet you there,” Marja smiled at him sympathetically, wondering how she herself would feel when she no longer drove.  “I shall be in the opening night audience, of course.”

The Gala, held the night of the dress rehearsal (always a Thursday matinee),  held a special  significance for her.  John had loved the theater and often acted as a narrator.  The poor man really couldn’t act or sing, but his speaking voice rivaled Orson Welles.  She treasured the memories of past  galas and opening nights, dressed to the nines with a handsome man on her arm, happy and in love.  The last ten years she’d gone faithfully, but never with much enthusiasm.

This year Marja had found herself thinking about what dress to wear, and she made sure to get her nails and hair done.  She’d not anticipated the Gala for many years.

At the Dress Rehearsal she’d looked about and been secretly amused at all the elderly ladies in attendance, dressed to the nines. That marked a departure from previous years.  Community Theatre had not always been quite so popular with the Senior set. Anyone with no previous knowledge of the musical could hardly be blamed for assuming that Mr. Kim played the lead, given the amount of applause at the curtain calls.

She’d gone backstage to congratulate the cast and to meet up with Mr. Kim.  He appeared looking incredibly suave in an impeccably tailored tux, which caused quite a stir among his little group of admirers.  It had rather thrilled her to walk into the Gala on his arm, in fact.  She’d had a wonderful time.

Last night she’d gone with him to the wrap-up party for the cast.  That had not been so fancy at all.  Mr. Kim hosted, and proved very up to the occasion.  In fact people had been commenting to her about her new beau for several weeks now, very approvingly.  This bouquet on her desk had a letter from him, thanking her very prettily for allowing him the honor of escorting her and for her attendance at his little party.  She’d actually blushed on receiving it.

What in the world am I doing?  she thought.  I’m much too old for this nonsense. 

Unwillingly her mind brought back an image of Mr. Kim in that tux.  He’d looked like an aging movie star, suave, silvered, as if he should have a chauffeur and private jet instead of living at the Oaks.  He could make her laugh, and she always found his conversation very interesting.  Despite his having lived for years in Chicago, he showed such curiousity and wonder about the most mundane things.  On the other hand he really had a wide knowledge of things Asian, and talked passionately on such subjects as Korean unification and the rape, as he put it, of Jeju Island.

He loved American hip hop music and had spent quite a lot of energy trying to convince her to appreciate it.  In fact he’d enlisted the help of some of his young cast members in this endeavor.   They all adored him – especially the girls, who treated him as a cross between their favorite old uncle and a mascot.  He’d laughed about that with her.

“I used to think myself quite the catch,” he told her.  “These little charmers just put me right in my place.  Humility, as Buddha says, keeps us balanced.”

That also surprised her – he told her he really didn’t think himself religious but he’d probably self-identify as Buddhist if pressed. Did Chicago even have a Buddhist temple, she wondered?  Probably – Atlanta had a Hindu one, she’d heard.

Marja sighed.  He wanted to meet her for lunch today, and she couldn’t help but smile about it.

Later she surreptitiously watched as Mr. Kim negotiated with the waiter in Chinese.  He spoke Korean of course but she’d not realized that he also spoke several other languages until recently.

“You shall now have something delicious,” BJ smiled at her.

“Not something involving a pet, I hope”

“Why no!” BJ looked wounded.  “I do not eat goldfish myself.”

She laughed.  “So sorry, tactless of me.”

“I had a friend once,” he said.  “She had a little pig as a pet.  But it unfortunately got big, so she took it to her grandfather’s farm.”

BJ shook his head.  “Her halabeoji – that is, her grandfather, thought of course she brought it for the New Year’s feast.”

“Oh, dear.  Poor pig!”

“Poor Mi Sun too!  It dampened our holidays a bit,” BJ laughed.   “But that little pig provided a most delicious meal.”

“How awful of you,” Marja shook her head at him, and watched as that lovely smile of his transformed him.

“I remember when you first came to the center,” she said hesitantly.  “What you said about yourself.”

“Ah, my delusions of youthful stardom,” he murmured.  “How cruel of you to mention that.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to be!  I just wanted to say that I understand why,” she babbled.  “I can see that you must have looked very much like that young man, many years ago.”

“My salad days, you mean.  Long past, I’m afraid.”

“When you smile I can see,” Marja said.  “It seems to erase time.”

“Does it, my dear?”  He smiled at her again, and reaching across the table took her hand.  “I have a request for you.”

“Yes?” she quavered & mentally kicked herself for acting like such a  schoolgirl.

“Please might you call me by my first name?  Mr. Kim sounds entirely too formal.”

“Oh!  I thought you might not like it somehow.”

“Not at all. The fine ladies at the Oaks call me Jason and yet the one person I should like to hear it from, does not.”

“But Jason’s not even your proper name!” she blurted out, flustered.

BJ looked puzzled, then laughed.  “Close enough to Jae Sun, my dear.  And you say it so prettily.”

“Then, Jason, I have a request as well,” she blushed.  “ Please call me Marja.”

“I shall with pleasure, Marja,” he said, then brought her hand to his lips.

So cliché, she thought.  I expect that’s why.  Because it works.

May to December VIII

Hawaii!  Marja really had to pinch herself each morning.  She’d only seen the ocean once before, on her honeymoon, and then it had been Virginia Beach.

Where in the world did her Jason get the money?

He’d told her he had just saved up every month, and sold some stuff on EBay, but she wondered, and worried.

“Why do you not just say thank you?” he’d asked her.  “My problem.  What else can I spend my savings on, if not you?”

Incredibly sweet, of course.  But he seemed to be operating under a deadline of some kind.  Anxiety just rolled off him the day he asked her to go with him.

“Such a thoughtful suggestion,” she’d said.  “Let me look at the calendar.”

“No need, all booked,” he’d told her, grinning.  “No worries.”

“You’ve already made reservations?”

“For the surprise,” he’d answered, frowning a little.  “So you have to do nothing but pack a bag and go.”

“But when?”  Marja had really felt torn.  “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but what if I’d had plans?”

Jason’s face fell.

“You told me, no plans for the summer,” he’d explained a little unsurely.  “I thought you’d enjoy letting someone else take care of you.”

That of course had shut her up immediately.  She’d hugged him and reassured him that she did indeed think herself the luckiest woman ever.

She actually liked this take-charge attitude but wondered if she should.  He did come from a really patriarchal patch of the world after all.

Her friend Elaine, who worked at the Oaks and therefore knew Mr. Kim, thought Marja very silly to worry about such nonsense.

“He’s old school, sweetie,” Elaine had teased her.  “Making sure the little woman doesn’t have to worry her little head about a thing.  I mean you might as well complain about him opening doors for you or sending you flowers.  I bet he makes sure to walk on the street side of you, too.”

“Yes he does!”  Marja found this funny.  “I don’t let him choose my clothes or order dinner for me though.”

“So enjoy your trip to paradise and quit making problems out of nothing!  Let’s go shopping to celebrate.”

Marja took Elaine’s advice after that, and just enjoyed not having to plan anything.

She & Jason had arrived two weeks ago and had enjoyed their vacation so far.  Jason, who said he’d been to the islands before, had chosen to stay at a resort on Maui, and they’d rented a car.  Marja loved the trip up to Haleakala to see the sunset, and the Zodiac trip to Hana.  Neither of them felt the need to drive that road and risk ending up at the bottom of the cliff.  Most of the time, they’d just lounged about on the beach, wandering through the little whaling village in the afternoons and ending up on the veranda of Leilani’s by sunset.  It all seemed just magical to her.

Today, though, Jason seemed very distracted.  She watched him now, as he stood talking on his cell phone, just outside the little curio shop she’d wanted to check out.  He’d been on that phone a lot the last two days, and some of the conversations  looked heated from her viewpoint.

Nothing in the shop really struck her interest, so she wandered towards the door.

Jason said something  angrily into the phone, in Korean, but she did catch some of the words.  She’d been learning the language over the past two years, helped by both Jason and her Korean drama addiction.

That’s his brother on the phone, she realized.  And Jason’s saying he’s home.  Or something like that. 

Marja crossed the sidewalk to sit on a bench, waiting for Jason to finish.  He smiled at her, and quickly ended the call.

“My hyun – brother – Bon Hwa,” he explained.  “He helped set up this trip.”

“He still lives in Seoul, correct?”

“Yes, or at least some of the time.  There’s a family hanok, in the countryside outside Daejeon.  He wants to turn it into an organic farm. “

“That’s very modern of him,” she exclaimed.  “I hope he has sons to help him.”

Jason turned to her, a bit taken aback.

“He’s not married yet,” he answered, but hesitated.  “I mean, he just never got domestic.  I guess since the, uh, parents passed he wants to preserve something.”

“I see,” she looked puzzled.

“Many cousins,” Jason added quickly.  “They will help.”

“Will you go visit him?  I expect you have over the years.”

“Yes, many times.  For funerals especially, but to see my mother too,” Jason nodded.  “She lived there all her life.”

Marja smiled.

“Did you never think about bringing her and your brother to America?”

“Oh, no, my mother has, or HAD, strong feelings about foreigners.  Rather embarrassing in fact, sometimes.  She would never even visit here.  So of course Bon Hwa must stay in Korea,”  Jason explained quickly.  “We must go now to the restaurant, to make sure to see the sunset one last time.”

He basically pulled her off the bench, and they started back to the hotel.

“We can slow down a little, Jason.  We’ve time.”

“Sorry.  I just want to make this last day perfect,” he smiled.

That smile of his melted her as usual.  Marja smiled back and continued walking down the sidewalk.  With, she noticed, Jason between her and the non-existent traffic.

Later that night, after a wonderful evening watching the sunset, walking on the beach in the moonlight, and lounging in the hot tub with a tray of fruits, wine and cheese, she and Jason cuddled on the balcony, where he had dragged one of the room’s comfy chairs.

“So we fly away tomorrow,” he said to her, sounding very wistful.  “I like it here.  I wish we could stay like this.”

“I like it here too,” she answered, smoothing his hair down.  It tended to fly up in the back like some anime boy’s, after getting wet. “Maybe we might come back some day.”

“Perhaps.  But everything will change then,” he said mournfully, looking at her with tearful eyes.  “You may come here just to remember me.”

Marja started, alarmed.  She’d wondered whether a proposal loomed, which she’d not known how to handle, but this sounded ominous.

“What do you mean?”  she grabbed him by the shoulders to stare into his face.  “Did the doctor tell you something?”

“No, no,” he soothed her.  “I am just very old, my dearest.  How much more time can I have? “

He kissed her and then just held her,  shaking a little.  Marja, upset, said nothing more.  After a while, the wind kicked up a bit from the ocean.

“I think we should go to bed,” Marja suggested.  “It’s chilly.  Besides we have to be at the airport by noon tomorrow, and out of here before that.  I want to get up early enough to at least have a nice last Hawaiian brunch.”

“Yes, I suppose,” Jason said reluctantly.  “I love looking at the moonlight on the waves, though.”

“You can’t stay out here all night and it’s much too cold to sleep here,” she insisted.

“If you don’t stay here I won’t,” he said.  “I want most to be with you tonight.”

She finally did get him to bed, and despite his best efforts to rouse himself, he drifted off to sleep in her arms very quickly.

Like a little boy staying up to see Santa,  she thought.  My poor Jason.  Does he think he’ll die before he wakes, like that scary little prayer?

She cried a little, but forced cheerful thoughts for her dreams.

Never go to sleep angry, frightened or sad,  she remembered her own mother telling her.  Otherwise your dreams will distort everything out of proportion and you will wake more upset than ever.

That good advice had served her all her life and she followed it now.  After all, Jason could live another ten or even twenty years, and she herself might contract some horrible disease and be gone by next year.  The plane could crash tomorrow and they’d die together.  Who knew what the future held?

She couldn’t see Jason because he’d fallen asleep spooning her and still held her tight in his arms, but she stroked his hand and settled comfortably against him, thinking happy thoughts of their morning brunch, hoping to wake early enough to see the sunrise. As she floated off into sleep  she had an image of sitting on lounge chairs under the palms, watching the waves and sipping mimosas.

Sun streamed in onto Marja’s face, and she blinked, waking up.

We missed it, she thought, disappointed.

Jason had already gotten up, she realized, as she stretched.  Something didn’t seem quite right, however.  She sat up, looking about, and realized what had bothered her.

The sun, she thought.  It shouldn’t be coming in here.   The window faces west, and has those dark drapes to block the light.

But there in front of her the sun streamed in through pale silky curtains, from a window at the foot of the bed.

May to December IX

BJ felt cold.  Helay half-asleep, not wanting to open his eyes, afraid of what he’d see.  It did not feel like a mattress beneath him – he wondered if he had fallen asleep on the hotel’s verandah.

“Up and at em, boys!  Rise and shine,” a harsh male voice shouted, in Korean.  “Hey pretty boy, wakey wakey!  I’ve got you till noon.”

He felt the bed shake & decided the Sarge had kicked it.

Sarge, he thought.  Yeah, that’s right.  Sergeant Park.  How do I know that?

Opening his eyes, he found the Sarge looming over him, and hastily sat up, bumping his head against the upper bunk.

“Formation in five!” barked the Sarge and marched out.

“Hey, BJ, you lucky dog!  Back to the high life for you, huh?”

“Yeah,” BJ scratched his head.  “Damn.”

BJ jumped up, grabbed his gear and headed for the showers.

All the morning just blurred by for him.  He could remember being here, knew all his fellow platoon members, saluted, marched and stood in formation without a thought.  Yet this seemed the dream.  BJ just didn’t have the time to sort it out.  No one left him alone long enough.

They’d formed up and done morning exercises, then gone to the mess hall.  There he’d had all he could do to eat, as all his buddies barraged him with questions, well-wishes & requests to not forget his poor Army friends.

Off to headquarters after that, to sign a stack of paperwork, then out across the parade ground for the requisite publicity pictures with his fellow platoon members, the Sarge, and the CO.  That worthy gentleman shook his hand while cameras flashed, and wished him well, thanking him for his good service to the nation.

BJ walked out the barracks entrance and  a small army of security guards surrounded him, escorting him to a black limousine amid a large crowd of screaming girls.  That familiar sound finally woke him up to his surroundings, and he waved and smiled at all the fans.

Obviously I don’t look like an octogenarian anymore, he thought, amused.

“Hyun!  You look great,” Bon Hwa greeted him.  “Army life agreed with you.”

“Hey, don’t mock,” BJ answered, and gave his brother a big hug.  “Thanks for all your help, man.  Can’t repay you enough.”

“So what’s going on with this girl?”

“Don’t ask what I don’t know,” BJ answered glumly, staring out the window as the Korean countryside flashed by.  “I left her in Hawaii.  Need to call her as soon as I can.”

“Well leave it until after this press conference.  We’re heading to the studio now.  Your manager’s got a full itinerary for you this afternoon.”

“I’m sure.”

“You need to call Mom, too.  I told her you’d go see her over the weekend.  Do it.”

“Yeah, yeah.  I will,”  BJ closed his eyes briefly, thinking.  He realized he knew his schedule for the next week – somehow.  Lots of practice for a reunion appearance with his band, then off to Japan & Singapore for fan visits, all interspersed with spots on various TV talk shows.  Not to mention three CFs to film over the next two months.  His manager had been really busy.

At NYP Management, a bevy of hairdressers, makeup artists & wardrobe people attacked him, clucking over his neglected appearance.

“What did they give you to wear?” moaned Mr. Pierre, taking BJ in hand.

“Bon Hwa brought me a suit from my closet,” BJ smiled at the fussy little man.

“From two years ago – oh save me the shame and tell me no one photographed you in this.”

“Of course they did.  Don’t worry, though.  I expect the pictures of me in uniform will be the ones published.”

Off they dragged him to be clad in something much more au courant, and to do what they could to his hair.  BJ ran his hand over his head, bemused.  He certainly had the regulation buzz cut.  It felt very weird, yet he ‘knew’ he’d worn his hair this way for the last 21 months.

BJ hoped to have a moment to himself as he waited in the Green Room for his press conference,  but instead the NYP chairman dropped by for a chat.

“Did yourself proud these past months, I hear,” the Chairman smiled.  “Good publicity for all of us.  All those hints at Special Forces training and secret missions can’t hurt.  Might be a fillm in the offing, in fact.  Good to have you back, son.”

The old man then spent the rest of the time before BJ’s appearance reminiscing about his own Army days.  BJ just nodded, and watched him.  Not actually that old, he realized.  Maybe in his late 60s.  A part of him thought Chairman Song looked pretty young.

At the press conference BJ did a lot of smiling and shaking his head to questions.

“Can’t answer that specifically,”  he repeated.  “Security reasons, of course. “

A meet and greet for the company bigwigs and their guests followed, with BJ on display, glad-handing and assuring everyone about his future career plans.

“I’m going right into the studio to work on new material,” he promised over and over.  “I’ll meet up with the rest of the band this week to work on the Super K reunion show .”

His own manager came over towards the end of the evening, to tell him a limo waited to drive him back to his condo.

“You look beat, there, kiddo.  Did you eat anything from the buffet?   Go on with Jang over there – he’ll escort you out and make sure nobody bothers you.  Go rest.”

“Thanks,” BJ bowed slightly to the older man.  “You’ve done a good job, all these comeback gigs and appearances you’ve arranged. I appreciate it.”

“Just doing my job,” said his manager, very pleased with the compliment.   “You’re a good kid.  No problems.”

“I’ll work hard,” BJ promised, then followed the bodyguard towards the exit.  Screams greeted him as he walked out the door to the limo, and he waved and smiled some more.  Once inside he slumped against the seat, exhausted.

Mom, gotta call her, he realized, and taking out his cellphone,  he did so.

“I saw you on TV,” she told him.  “Those Army people did not feed my poor boy right.”

“I’m fine,  Ma.  Really.  I’m coming there this weekend.”

“The weekend!  I won’t wait that long to see my precious son!  Tomorrow, I will come up, with your favorite side dishes and some kimchi.  I know you don’t have any decent kimchi.   You can’t have had any for months.”

“Oma, I will be busy all this week!  I won’t even be home except to sleep.  Don’t come, really.”

“I will.  I told Bon Hwa I would.  You boys, so thoughtless of your old mother.  I will stay at his place, I expect.  I don’t like all those little tramps that hang about that place of yours.”

“Oma, without those fans I’d not be worth anything.  I’d have to do jobs ditch digging,” BJ laughed.

“I have been looking around, these past months, you know.  For a NICE girl for you to meet. “

“Not necessary, Ma!  I meet lots of nice girls here.  Don’t worry about my lovelife,” BJ protested.

“Nonsense.  All you meet there are these Seoul creatures, or  showgirls.”

“I met some very nice girls during my Army time,” BJ muttered into the phone.   “Social workers and nurses, in fact.”

“What families do they come from?  Bon Hwa hinted you’d been off to foreign parts, so I don’t expect  you met any nice Korean girls, did you?”

“Not exactly,” BJ admitted, cringing a bit.  He knew his mom.

“So not important.  You come this weekend, I will invite a my friend and her lovely daughter.  That will get these alien girls out of your mind.”

“Ma, really, I  can handle my own life.”

“You boys.  Do you want me miserable for all my old age?  Now go to sleep.  I will at least leave you food.  You will know your mother cares about you, at least.”

“Good night, Ma,”  BJ said, and shut the phone off.

Should he call the hotel in Hawaii?  What could he say?

He leaned back and shut his eyes, refusing to think about anything.

“Sir, we’ve arrived.”

BJ shook himself and looked about.  The limo had come to a stop inside the parking garage of his building.  No screaming girls here – they couldn’t get in past the security guards and gates.

“Thank you, “ he told the driver, and got out.

He didn’t have anything to carry in.  Bon Hwa had taken care of all his Army gear.  He’d talked to his brother at the soiree tonight, in fact.  Of course Bon Hwa hadn’d warned him about his mom’s upcoming visit.

Peace and quiet awaited him.  He’d have to decide whether to call Hawaii.

Maybe I already decided, BJ thought.  I’ve had chances to call today, after all.

BJ sighed, unlocked the door to his place, and walked in, to see a scene from a Pre-Raphaelite painting  reenacted in his living room.

“What the hell?”  BJ blurted, really annoyed.  “Bon Hwa, if you set this up, you are so dead.”

A girl lay on his couch, dressed in a silky white wrap, with clouds of wavy red hair surrounding her face like a halo.

“Hey,” he walked over to the vision, and shook her shoulder.  “How’d you get in here?  Who are you?”

She opened impossibly big, blue eyes, and blinked.

“Oh, my,”  she breathed.  In English.  “Look at you.”

“Why are you here?” BJ asked her again.

“I don’t know,” she told him.  “I know you, though.  Kim Bon Jun, right?  BJ of Super K.”

BJ sighed.

“Who are you, and who told you to come here?” he asked again.

“Well, no one told me anything,” she smiled at him, a little worried frown between her eyes.  “ I think you know me.  You might know about how I got here better than me.”

“Why would that be true?” he asked, exasperated.

“Oh! “  the girl looked at him, her eyes tearing.  “Do you not recognize me? “

“Look, I admit you are very beautiful, but I don’t know you and I really don’t feel like having any company right now,” BJ stated. “Please get dressed and go home.”

“I don’t have any clothes,” the girl said.  “I don’t have anywhere to go either. “

“Your name, please.  Tell me your name, “ BJ demanded, going towards the phone.  He’d decided that she had to be some nutcase American fan.  Great.

“My name!  Yes.  I hope you recognize that,” she said very hesitantly.  “My name is Mary Jane Ramekin.”

BJ dropped the phone and slowly turned to look at her.

“I really hope that my Jason didn’t lie to me,” she continued.  “That in fact you are my Mr. Kim.”

In the nano second before he ran over to her, BJ realized a bit disjointedly that tomorrow poor Bon Hwa, who’d have to deal with his mom, just might commit fratricide.

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