Long before Jamie came into my life, I briefly went out with a beautiful Vietnamese woman named Catherine. I cannot emphasize the word “briefly” strongly enough.
We met when she was selling her car. I test drove it, liked it, made her an offer, she accepted, and we met at my banker’s office to sign all the paperwork.
Just as we were putting ink to paper, an irate Vietnamese man burst into the banker’s private conference room. He was a lunatic. He waved his arms. He stomped around the room. He screamed in Vietnamese so that only Catherine had any idea who he was or why he was so angry. The banker and I looked back and forth at each other in total bewilderment.
Turns out he was Catherine’s husband. They were separated, but he felt that the car was his and was absolutely furious that she was selling it and equally furious that I was buying it.
She eventually got him calmed down and convinced him to leave the bank. We nonchalantly went back to our business, signed the paperwork and she turned the pink slip and keys over to me.
To revisit the opening sentence of this tale, she was beautiful. So, our business concluded, I called her that night and asked her out. But after the scene in the bank, I also asked her to define her exact situation with her husband because he was clearly crazy.
“No worry,” Catherine said. “He having trouble accepting that marriage over.” (I understand that it is unacceptable in some politically correct circles to quote people with accents in the actual words they use, but screw that. It’s important to this story.)
As I said, she was beautiful so I quickly accepted her explanation without putting any thought into it and arranged to pick her up the following evening. We went out, had a great time, and made plans to go out again a few nights later.
The night arrived and I drove to her house in her former car to pick her up. I rang the doorbell. No answer. No problem, I thought. She could still be in the shower or on the phone. A dozen other perfectly plausible explanations ran through my mind. Because as I said, she was beautiful.
I rang the doorbell again. Still no answer.
I rang it a few more times before reaching the the obvious conclusion that I had been stood up. This came as quite a surprise to me because we had really had a good time on our first date and she had seemed eager to go out again.
About an hour after I got home, my phone rang. It was Catherine.
“I so sorry I not home when you come to pick me up,” she whispered.
Yes, that’s right. She whispered it.
“I explain,” she continued. “My husband come to house just before you supposed to pick me up. He very mad. He have gun. I jump in my car and drive away because I know he follow me. If he home when you arrive he could shoot you.”
As you might imagine, I did not take this explanation as good news.
“I at my sister house now. You pick me up and we go on date.”
“But why are you whispering,” I asked.
“My husband outside. I don’t want him to hear.”
I was dumbfounded by her logic. Or perhaps by her lack of logic.
“Catherine,” I replied, “You are a very nice girl. We had a great time. But I have no interest in going out with a woman whose husband might shoot me.”
“No,” she said. “It ok. Talk to my sister. She tell you it ok.”
It suddenly occurred to me that Christina might be just as crazy as her husband if she didn’t see the problem I had with this situation. I told her that we were not going out that night, and that she needed to get her marital situation resolved before we could ever go out again. But in my mind, I knew that I was never going to see this nut case again.
I went to work on Monday and told Dan, my long-time business partner, this crazy story. We laughed. No, we didn’t just laugh, we roared.
When I got home that night I fed the cat, went through all the day’s mail, sat down on the couch, and finally got around to checking my answering machine. This is what the very first message said:
“Hey, deYong, I know what you doing with my wife. You stop right now or you gonna see stars.”
Angry man’s voice. Vietnamese accent. I had a brief moment of absolute terror in which I pictured my bullet ridden body slumped over the steering wheel of my new car.
I listened to the message again and suddenly realized that it was the worst Vietnamese accent I’d ever heard and that the voice was actually that of my business partner Dan.
I sat there and laughed so hard I thought I was going to pass out.
And for the last thirty years, any time I do something that annoys Dan he looks at me and says, “deYong, you gonna see stars.”
As is my wont, this was a long, roundabout way of getting to a very short story.
Dan, you will be happy to know that I finally saw stars tonight and lived to tell about it.
Jamie and I went on a stargazing tour here in San Pedro de Atacama. Since we’re at about 8,000 feet in elevation, there is very little atmosphere to interfere with stargazing. And the moon didn’t rise until after midnight so the light pollution was at a minimum. The Milky Way was on fire above us. We saw Saturn and its rings, and Jupiter’s red bands, and the Magellanic Clouds and blue stars and red stars and a ring nebulae and learned many things astronomic.
But I really wonder whatever happened to Catherine. Don’t you?