“That’s when you got the pen pal idea, eh!” MV responded.
“Yes, that’s when I started corresponding with Asian ladies,” I said.
“I thought if I could meet a Buddhist I would be half way home. It
didn’t take long to find out that it wasn’t going to happen, though.
The women in the brochures were all Christian. As fate would have it,
however, I met Shirley. She was out for a hike when I met her. Well,
actually, I had met her a couple years previous. Her husband and I sat
through a boring Theory of Knowledge class together, but after her
divorce she moved into the apartments just kitty-corner from my own.
It seemed natural that we should get together. Well, it seemed natural
at the time. She was a full blood Anishanabe Indian.”
“That was a disappointment?” MV replied.
“Yeah, you could say that,” I said, “She was too independent. We were
too much alike in that respect I guess. We both wanted it to work,
though. I was sure of that. It’s just that it wasn’t meant to be. She
was an artist devoted to her art and extremely possessive when it came
to her twelve-year-old son. Our affair bottomed out on the trip we
took out West. Our relationship ended shortly after that.
“So how long did it take before you and your wife got together?” MV
“After that, a little more than a year,” I replied. “Well, maybe two
years. Our correspondence lasted six months or more.”
“You and your mail order brides; a hundred and fifty years ago the
frontiers needed people,” said MV, “but now?”
“In a way, you could say I was living on the frontier,” I said. “By
holding beliefs that nobody shared, I had, more or less, isolated
myself. No real communication could take place. By that time, however,
it didn’t matter. I had already given up on finding a wife and was
concentrating on the first stages of another bicycle trip, a long
“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about that,” replied MV. “You were going to
bicycle around the world, right?”
“Absolutely,” I said, “I had received permission to take a leave of
absence from CMU, something agreed upon only after I had highlighted
the good publicity that my bicycle trip would generate, and I was only
three thousand dollars shy of putting it all together.”
“And that was the stickler,” replied MV. “The money part, it just
didn’t happen, did it.”
“It should have,” I said, “but the summer construction job that I had
lined up fell through.”
“So the trip was off,” MV responded.
“Not quite,” I replied, “While planning out the trip, I once again
took up writing to overseas pen-pals. I was writing to five or six
ladies from Asia and India. On my bike, when I got close to where they
lived, I had planned to turn my pen pals into oases. I knew from past
experience that I would definitely appreciate those rest stops, not to
mention the opportunity to get a look-see into the local culture. When
I told one of my pen pals that my trip was postponed, maybe even
cancelled, she asked me if I had ever considered marriage. One thing
led to another and six months later I ended up sending her round-trip
airfare. With Agnes, Asian culture came home to me, rather than the
other way around.”
“That sounds a bit cold if you ask me,” said MV.
“Cold! Mr. Cold himself is describing me as cold,” I replied. “Maybe
you’re a little hard of hearing. The whole thing, community, family,
love, it’s all about God, and doing God’s work, remember?”
“Well, it still sounds cold to me,” said MV.
“Let me put it this way,” I replied, “arranged marriages happen all
the time, in every culture. Even when Mr. Rockefeller marries Ms.
Tiffany, that’s an arranged marriage. As my old history professor used
to say when arguing the merits of Japanese arranged marriages: `It’s
as old as the teapot philosophy. A hot pot cools off. But, a cold pot
has only one way to go—when the stove heats up, the tea gets hot.
Ancient wisdom becomes ancient because it works.'”
“So that’s what happened in your case,” replied MV.
“In a roundabout way,” I said, “but it was a little more complicated
than that. Love is not only about hot tea; it’s about `tea for two.'”
“What did your family and friends think of your new wife?”
“She wasn’t my wife yet,” I replied. “We didn’t get married until two
or three weeks after she arrived. My mother wanted grandchildren, so
she was okay with the idea. My friends thought it strange, but they
knew me, so it wasn’t all that strange. Actually, the only negative
reaction I got was from a professor friend of mine. He was an
intelligent rock and roll singer who just happened to have his PhD in
Islamic studies. Politically, he leaned to the left, and we got along
just fine; that is, until he found out that I was thinking of marrying
a pen pal. It wasn’t that he had anything against foreigners. It was
just the opposite. He didn’t like the idea of Americanizing other
cultures, which, I guess, was what I was doing. The short story was
that the two of us stopped being friends while I became a husband and dad.