At the Violations Bureau


February 14, 2008
West Marin Citizen


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I’d see her in the lobby of the small office building that I worked in, on Market Street in San Francisco. She’d be talking with the security guard in the late afternoon, a grandfatherly man. She had this big smile, honest and bright against her dark skin. Somehow I had the impression that she didn’t like me.

One day I walked into the elevator and there she was. Say something, I thought. Say something.¬†Was she the owner, I asked? I knew the owner was Asian. It was a clumsy stab; I’m not a man quick with a line. But at least I got it out of my mouth. That was progress after all those years, I’m telling you.

No, she wasn’t the owner. She worked for the owner. The elevator stopped, and I got out. Was that a smile?

A few days later, or maybe it was a week or two, I came in on a Saturday afternoon and there she was, watering the plants in the lobby. One thing led to another. On a walk a few days later I asked what she would do if she had a million dollars. Set up a foundation, she said . (She neglected to mention that there might be a few trips to Marshall’s too, but still.)

I asked if she wanted children. This was another test question of course. One, she said. Why? I was a little alarmed. “Completeness.”

It was just that one word, so simple and irrefutable, like the cosmos speaking. Well, maybe one, I thought. Do you know how big a wall fell at that moment?

She moved back to Hong Kong with the owner. About a year later and a half later, we were in the town hall in Teaneck, New Jersey, where her aunt lives, waiting to get married. I was okay with the married part, but the thought of a big wedding filled me with dread. This was just about right, a town hall. That she was okay with it was another big point in her favor.

We sat on a wooden bench outside the traffic violations bureau. It was three Filipinas — Mary Jean, a cousin and an aunt — all dressed for the occasion, and myself in a suit that I haven’t worn since. People came in to pay their tickets, in about the mood you would expect. Then they’d notice our dress, surmise the occasion, and brighten up. The violation bureau became almost festive that afternoon.

Finally the judge arrived, an African-American man with thick glasses and a bemused paternal quality that was just right too. He took us to a multi-function room in the basement that had a big table in the middle and a scale in the corner. The ladies entertained themselves by checking their weight while the judge did the paperwork and put on his robe.

Finally the ceremony began. We stood at the table, exchanged rings, and kisses all around. On the drive back to the aunt’s house a new normal settled over me. Unlike the first time, this glue was going to set. We returned to a big Filipino feast with a suckling pig in the middle of the table.

I passed on the pig, but that was okay. Filipinos are the opposite of controlling — this family at least. You can take a nap on the couch, go into a bedroom and watch the Mets on TV, if that’s what you want to do. That was a big point too.

(She was right about the child by the way. For once I listened.)