Father was right, of course; the piano turned Noona around. Often I stood next to her as she played, watching her fingers flutter over the keyboard, her bare feet jamming the pedals below. With every note triggering the rise and fall of a hammer, how could you not feel better? Noonas negativity fled in droves as notes dashed out of the piano.
Financially, the piano was a horror. Within two weeks, we lost our telephone. A nice black man knocked on the door and said, Good evenin, good sir, to my Father and slipped our rotary phone into a little canvas bag. We almost lost electricity, but somehow Father managed to sell enough merchandise at the store to get everything back before the end of the month.
It mustve been difficult for Mother to live with Father again, constantly living on the edge of disaster. He was a smart man in a lot of ways, but not when it came to money . To this day, Im unable to figure out exactly what he was doing wrong. I dont think he ever could, either.
The best vantage point from which to see all the cars in our apartments back parking lot was out the kitchen window, standing on a chair, looking down and to the right. This was how Noona and I decided that Father drove the ugliest car in the neighborhood. It was a 77 Ford station wagon in a shade of green that felt doomed. In the summer the car held a fishy stench. In the winter it shook while idling.
Theres a story that goes with the purchase of this car:
July to August, 1980. For six consecutive weekends, torrential rain soaks coastal New Jersey. This is great for business because Fathers store is half an hour away from the beach and when people cant head for the shore, they head for the store. Each weekend he sets a new sales record. Mr. Lim has been kind enough to carpool with Father, the detour adding a good forty miles to his trip, so its time for Father to get a car of his own.
At the end of six weeks, he has enough money to buy the black 79 Mustang from Bill Moreno, the scruffy guy in 14A. Since the beginning of the summer, a fluorescent FOR SALE sign has adorned its rear window. Father knows its a good buy because hes seen the way Bill Moreno makes his turns like an old woman, and the car wash and wax that happens on every Saturday without fail.
On the day that Father decides to approach Mr. Moreno, Mr. Lim comes looking for him. My car just died, he says. I dont know what Im gonna do. Im sorry, but I wont be able to give you a ride anymore. Father lends Mr. Lim a sizable part of his money - enough to fix the busted transmission - and dejectedly goes to a Ford dealer, hoping to get maybe a 75 or a 76 Mustang, then comes hobbling back with the station wagon.
Why did you buy the car? I asked Father.
I dont know, he told me. It didnt seem like I had a choice. I was gonna get one that day, so I was gonna follow through.
You couldnt wait?
I wish you were here that day, he said.
It was just what I wanted to hear.
The day that Father and Mother decided to have me and Noona begin working at Fathers store (Our store, not my store, Father repeated until I got it right), Mother drove for the first time. Shed been taking lessons from Father, but it was obvious they werent going well, for after each session, Father knocked back a double shot of his Cutty Sark and Mother ran into their bedroom, slammed the door shut, and cranked up her Korean lounge music to near-deafening levels.
Excerpted from Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo. Copyright © 2006 by Sung J. Woo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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