A Lucky Dinner in Hong Kong
Toward the end of 1982, I was signed to make a picture in Japan, playing General Douglas MacArthur. The story was about the first Japanese premier after the war. I called my old friend Ralph Emerson in Washington and pleaded with him to accompany me. "This is the third time Ive asked, so how about it?"
He thought for a few seconds and said, "Ill close the law office for three weeks. When are you leaving?"
"Middle of January. Theyre going to shoot all my scenes in five days, and for the money theyre paying, I couldnt say no.".
We arrived at Tokyos Narita airport late afternoon in a blinding snowstorm. There was a limo waiting for us with a bar in it for the hour-long drive to our hotel. When we got settled (theyd given me the governors suite with two bedrooms), I called Nick Zapetti at his restaurant, by then located on the Ginza (Tokyos Broadway).
"Get washed up and come on over. Ill buy you dinner and a bottle of wine." Ralph thought it was hilarious to fly to Tokyo for an Italian dinner, but the kicker, while I was shaving, was a cry from the living room.
"Rick, cmon in. Quick!" Ralph called.
I rushed in to find him sitting in front of the TV. "Look," he said, "Combat! And youre speaking Japanese!"
The food at Nicks was great and he, as always, was very entertaining. Ralph, a dyed-in-the-wool romantic, fell in and out of love on almost a monthly basis. Each girl he met he would describe as the most wonderful, most beautiful in the world. This being his first trip to the orient, he asked Nick where the action was. Nick wrote down a name and address in Japanese.
"Give this to any cab driver," he said.
"Wanna come along?" Ralph asked me.
"You go on. I have to turn in early for wardrobe fittings tomorrow," I said and off he went.
The next morning I was up and dressed by nine and had ordered breakfast. Ralph was dead to the world and snoring gently in his bedroom. When the table was wheeled in, I knocked on his door. Over our morning repast he told me that hed positively fallen in love the night before with the most beautiful Japanese girl he had ever seen.
"Look at this," he said, showing me a Bic cigarette lighter with a phone number inscribed on it. "She gave me this lighter as I was leaving so I wouldnt forget the phone number. And here, in Japanese writing, is obviously the address. Right on the lighter! How about that?"
The next morning, a desolate Ralph dragged himself into the sitting room for breakfast. "Whats the matter?" I asked, "fall out of love already?"
"Nothing that good," he said. "I got a cab and showed the driver the cigarette lighter."
"We drove for about ten minutes and he pulled up in front of a store. I figured he didnt know his way around Tokyo. I grabbed another cab and showed the driver the lighter, and you know what? That cigarette lighter is just an advertising giveaway at the whorehouse . its for a plumbing store!"
After a week in Kyoto, we headed for Hong Kong. My friend George Lukas had just retired after seventeen years as civilian in charge of the U.S. Navy Purchasing Department. During the Vietnamese War it was known as the "Great PX in the Sky" because it supplied all the PXs in Southeast Asia. When servicemen spent their R&R (Rest and Recreation) time in Hong Kong, they could shop in the building housing the numerous stores and counters, buying things at 20% below the inexpensive Hong Kong prices
Georges civil service rank was equal to that of a colonel. With the money hed made in the Hong Kong stock market over the years he went out with a pretty good pension and a great standard of living. We were guests in his huge, three-bedroom apartment in a great neighborhood called the Mid-Levels. The view at night of Hong Kong, the city and harbor with the lights from Kowloon on the other side, was spectacular.
George announced over cocktails at his bar where we were going for dinner. Also, that hed laid on a dim sum lunch for us as a Sunday brunch. "And," he said, "Ive invited a couple of girls along to keep you fellows company.
"Whats dim sum?" asked Ralph.
"All sorts of little dishes of different kinds of dumplings and other goodies. Girls push steam carts around the restaurant and serve little trays at the table of anything you select from the cart, each cart has two or three items."
In the dim sum restaurant, we were seated at a large, round table that could take twelve. Within fifteen minutes, two Chinese girls headed toward us. We rose and I noticed the one in front was unusually tall for a Chinese, about five-feet-seven, quite slim, and with a good figure. Her friend was almost a caricature: shorter, with a good figure as well, but her makeup must have been applied with a trowel. Her lips verily vibrated with a red that put Titian to shame.
George gathered the "tall drink of water" and sat her between himself and Ralph on the other side of the table. I was introduced to Cindy, over there, and Lisa, whom I sat next to my chair. She was really quite nice, but it seemed most of what she could do well was smile and look at me with cow eyes.
That one across the table, for some reason, was much more interesting, and certainly more animated. She had both George and Ralph in a conversation they were enjoying immensely. Lisa and I, all but shut out from that side of the table, proceeded to get acquainted. She spoke English, but had very little to say; she was too busy devouring me with those eyes. I determined, after trying out half a dozen subjects of conversation, that she was possibly one of the dumbest people I had ever met.
While we ate lunch, Cindy informed Ralph each time he picked up a new kind of dumpling from his plate what it was. I, out of absolute boredom, flirted with Lisa, since it was the only thing she knew how to do really well. That, and use chopsticks. But she did very little of that, probably not wanting to muss her heavy lip rouge.
By the end of lunch, I had run out of flirt. There was almost nothing to do but stare across the table at those three having a fine day. Each time I glanced to my left I found a face staring up at me with a hopeful smile that I couldnt sell if it was printed on a t-shirt.
After lunch, George suggested we all meet later for dinner at the restaurant atop the Furama hotel. This restaurant is circular with rectangular tables all around the perimeter. A hidden track in the carpeting, some fourteen feet from the outer edge of the restaurant, moves, revolving once every hour. The movement is so slow its barely noticeable, and the diners get a constantly changing view of the city.
While by ourselves, I said to Ralph, "That tall drink of water, theres something interesting about her. I dont know what it is, but since youre leaving in a few days and Im going to be here for several more weeks, dya mind if we switch dates?"
"Not at all," he said, as only a true friend can.
We arrived at the Furama Tower almost half an hour early. As we were enjoying our second drink of the evening, the girls arrived. I was sitting alone on my side of the table and saw them at a distance. I waved as we stood. They were all gussied up. Lisa appeared to have freshened her makeup by applying several coats over the old one. Cindy was wearing a designer dress that she complimented as well as it complimented her. Definitely a lady of taste.
As they neared the table, a pre-arranged play went into effect. Ralph took Lisa gently, but firmly, by the arm and guided her to a chair between himself and George, while handing off Cindy in a lateral pass to me.
As we sat, Lisa had a strange and confused look on her face. We three men quickly busied ourselves with attracting a waiter for more drinks and discussing what to have for dinner. By the time libations arrived, wed all decided to try the sumptuous and endless buffet in the center of the room. For some reason, I couldnt stop talking between bites of food. Something was happening to me, though I didnt have the slightest idea what it was.
I saw Cindy to her home in a taxi. I asked if I could see her again and she was willing. "Tomorrow? Lunch?"
We had a wonderful meal, filled with stories and laughter and I couldnt remember a time in all my previous visits to Hong Kong when Id enjoyed myself so much. Cindy was between jobs as a hotel executive in the banquet department, and had most afternoons free. Ralph left for Washington and this tall drink of water and I had about two-and-a-half weeks to get to know each other.
She ultimately divulged to me that George, during a luncheon some three months earlier, had told her a friend of his was coming back to Hong Kong and he thought the two of us might get along quite well. I had never envisioned a womanizer like George (though he never, for whatever reason, made a move toward Cindy) in the role of cupid. There is a dignity about her that makes any man, with even a small brain, think twice.
The time came and I had to go home. Cindy cried the morning I left, though I knew she didnt want to. A few days after I got back, I came down with the flu and was bedded for almost a week. As I started to feel human again the phone rang, it was Cindy.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Im feeling better," I said.
"What happened? I didnt hear from you and I was worried."
"I think I brought the Asian flu back with me."
"Do you need anything?" she asked.
I suddenly realized several things and they scared the hell out of me. One: dont ever let anybody tell you theres no such thing as love at first sight, and two: if youre at the track and you lose the first four races, its either not your day, or youre playing the wrong game. Id been to the post four times. It was definitely not a place for me. I said something to her, I cant remember what, and that Id be in touch when I was completely well.
My God, I thought as we hung up, shes twenty-seven. Im thirty-one years older than she is!