Jack couldn’t get away from the boy in him still, except now his vices seemed more intense. For a long time, he had been riding a political pendulum; though generally (out of practice) he kept his ideas to himself. He had learned to be elusive. By this time he didn’t know where he belong, and he missed Anna.
There was no excuse for his neglect of Penny. He wanted to talk to her about that someday. After her mother’s murder, he tried to be a real father, but the shape of Penny’s face had reminded him of her mother. Her beauty represented something ugly within him. For him, her wedding probably wouldn’t change anything, for she had already liberated herself and lived with her fiancée.
For the wedding reception they planned to bring in The Cruzettes. To dance to the George Shearing and Joe Loco type of Latin jazz or simply listen was a privilege not often afforded the guests from America. Each of them had their own musical taste, which often had to do with their culture and exposure; so it was understandable that one grandmother appreciated The Cruzettes more than the other one did. Baby de Guzman, the band’s new crooner, once entertained the thought of becoming an operatic singer but quickly realized that there was no future in that for him. Thus, along with Joe Cruz on the piano, Lino Aguilar saxophone, guitarist Mory Cruz, and drummer Ceasar Cruz, Jr., he, instead of Pucini, became identified with the basa-nova. Use to playing the Champagne Room at the Manila Hotel, not one of The Cruzettes ever dreamed that they’d one day forego the Plaza Cocktail Lounge in Makati for a gig on a distant island, a speck of land “no bigger than you could spit across.”
Jack didn’t want anything more than happiness for his baby girl. For her he bought an impeccable copy of a Brooke Brother’s suit. His trip to one of Singapore’s most exclusive men’s shop, among other things, might give the impression that Jack liked to be a step ahead of other men, or liked to give that impression. Rightly, he purchased Continental manufactured socks and underwear. To have found him at his daughter’s wedding with the wrong accessories would never do, particularly when he thought of all the ways he‘d failed Penny.
With the expectation that he had to look sharp at his daughter’s wedding came the assumption that clothes could work wonders. Therefore, he spent a small fortune on himself, and a bigger fortune on the wedding. He even took his guest shopping to show them how to haggle and to bargain and to impress them with his generosity. The buying spree became the focal point of a whole day. Starting at Collyer Quay, where his mom could feel pure silk, hand woven with threads of precious metal, more beautiful then Cleopatra ever dreamed, his mom was impressed when he bought her a yard or two of it.
Nothing seemed more romantic to Jack’s sister Margo and her friend Harriot than a wedding in Jolo. For Margo it was the trip of a lifetime. Harriot was more practical. She bought quinine to guard against malaria, a snake bite kit (which came with a razor blade she didn’t think she could use), and several books on the Philippines. She wanted to learn what to expect and what to avoid. Soon her spirit of adventure equaled Margo’s, when before a trip to the zoo seemed exotic to her.
Margo idolized her brother. She had already forgiven him. He didn’t need to have been so generous. Could his generosity have the opposite effect of what he intended? Did his family think he was foolishly throwing his money away? On the day of their arrival, he presented each of the women with a rare Phaloanapsis. “Orchids! O my, my!” What better evidence of a son’s or a brother’s love? Regardless how they felt about him, they loved jade and ivory, and the brocade dressing gowns he bought them.
Not knowing what to say, even with advance scripting, words seemed feeble, trivializing what had otherwise been of paramount importance, such as missed anniversaries, birthdays, and a graduation. Though he had planned everything, he hadn’t taken into consideration jet lag. There was an element of desperation in all he did.
With his enthusiasm quenched, he saw how he was entirely wrong. But no one told him why he was wrong. He caused a spectacle. He lacked spontaneity. He over did it. He would’ve been better served had he been quiet and modest. A series of pratfalls suggested the continuation of superficiality that certainly had been the rule up until then. From the ridiculous to the sublime, the masquerade continued through a succession of gay and solemn moments.
Jack’s tour of Singapore owed its impressiveness to his personal knowledge of the city. It included a combination of history and colorful spots, such as the Singapore River, with its odd crafts: sampans, tangkongs, twakows, and launches. His appreciation of various races didn’t escape his sister, who described him as a “walking World Book, a civilized man, and a born diplomat.” A person very much alone also described him. He lived in a dream and often as his sister did escaped into a “foggy la-la-land.”
Margo had a distorted image of her brother. She had wrongly idolized him. From when he first welcomed them at Paya Lebar Airport, she tried in vain to get him to talk about his adventures in order to recreate a fantasy world. She had taken an overdose of caffeine and, unlike the others, rapidly questioned her brother about everything.
Now Jack seemed to want to forget his past. She wanted to hear about his exploits in the jungles of Southeast Asia. As exciting and dangerous as they were, only a few details ever came to light. He felt like telling her he risked his ass for nothing. The “son-of-bitching tango” with an elusive enemy suddenly dissipated, “finis”; and on a red-letter day, the cease-fire lasted not much longer than over a lunch hour. Then Jack felt pissed off over being yanked out of the Land of OZ. It was better to focus on the orchids he bought the women and their reactions than on the dismal end of the war.
As their guide of Singapore, he was quite the host. Sometimes he even forgot to frown. For the purpose of getting along, you at least have to know two of the four official languages of the island republic, namely select two from English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Actually, Hokkin, because of his mother-in-law, was Jack’s second language, and around his American family he used it as much as possible.
The rapport between the grandmothers soon made Jack’s mother feel at home. The two women shared a work ethic that seemed universal among the Chinese. Both of them praised the virtue of chapped hands. The rest of the family hadn’t anticipated this.
While shopping Collyer Quay, Ban Heng Co, Hock Sam Long, Change Alley with its polyglot assortment of small traders and money-changers, and Kishi’s, the grandmother placed the jeweled silk her son bought her in her large purse for safe keeping. And if it was alleged that she forgot about the package, however unlikely that would’ve been, her defense was she carried such a big purse because she rarely emptied it. False and ridiculous impressions were made from the purses women carried, but never had a woman’s reputation been more maligned by a purse than in this case. The manager of Vanity, a very dark Tamil, thought he caught a shoplifter. To everyone’s embarrassment he accused Jack’s mother, whereupon she angrily poured the contents of her purse out onto the floor. The accused couldn’t have anticipated the store manager’s charm after that, when (while fumbling with the contents of her purse) he squatted at her feet. The black man hated her lack of control, while he remained poised.
Now, the American woman was not only intrigued by the devoted attention she received but also by this Indian’s Aryan features. Diplomatic in the sense of apologizing and furiously retrieving the spilled contents of the purse, the handsome Tamil did everything he could to correct his mistake. He did all he could do to make her happy, which was no longer difficult. He treated her as queen, and she loved it. He quickly saw that this pitiful woman was not a shoplifter.
Still on his knees, the manager of the store brought the tips of his fingers and the palms of his hands together in the familiar sign of praying, and bowed. New luxuries were offered. The right smile was shown without hesitation. All of this, of course, flattered the grandmother; while the handsome, black Tamil had to put aside his pride. Instinctively then, she placed her hand on the top of his head and with eye contact, said, “Enough.”