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Five's the Charm

As a few months passed, having exchanged letters a lot more than several times, I got to a point where I didn’t want to go out. Except for work, I literally barricaded myself and my bird dog, Cappi, in our home. I found myself writing to Hong Kong every day. Her letters were never less than interesting and I found myself waiting at the post box. The days when no letter arrived I was in a deep funk. I felt like a schoolboy; then two letters would arrive at once.

We thought she should come over for a visit so we could really get a good look at each other again. Her application for a tourist visa was denied. Cindy had attended college just outside Washington, D.C. for four years where she’d majored in hotel management. The American State department, in their heartfelt humanity, was positive she only wanted to come over so she could get lost in the states as an illegal alien. If she’d wanted to do that, with her British passport (Hong Kong was still part of the U.K.) she could have gone to Canada and easily sneaked into the lower 48 states. Very brainy, our State department.

I went on a hunt that October in Texas with my old friend, Al Zapanta. His son, Al Junior, joined us from his home in Tulsa. While sitting in a blind waiting for wild turkey, I mentioned I’d met this girl in Hong Kong and couldn’t think of much else but her, after having been a happy bachelor for almost fourteen years. Al Junior had served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior, had some good contacts (and I guess a little juice) in Washington. When I told him about the refusal for Cindy’s tourist visa, he invited me to call him, if and when I thought about marriage. I started to shake at the mere thought.

Cindy is a patient person and she takes life as it is. About nine months after we’d met, during one of our bi-weekly transcontinental phone calls, I heard a man’s voice say, "Will you marry me?"

I looked around. Nobody was in the room but me and there was about a thirty-second silence. "Hello?" I said.

"I’m here." Cindy answered.


"Would you repeat the question?"

"You heard it the first time."

"You knew what my answer would be."

"I love you," I said, and we hung up. I called Al Junior, in Tulsa.

He said, "Go downtown to the Fed building and make out an application for a K visa, then call me." I did all those things and called him. "They said they’d be in touch with me in three to six months. So, now what?" I asked.

"If you don’t hear something in ten days, let me know."

I called him at home one evening ten days later. It was now the beginning of January 1984.

Al asked, "Do you know the name of the visa officer in Hong Kong?"

"A guy named John Tasik.

"I’ll call you back."

Half an hour later the phone rang. "Okay," Al said, "you’ll be getting a notice for an interview in a few days. Round up photos and letters—"

"Letters?" I said.

"You have no letters?"

"About a thousand."

"Good. Call me when you get back home."

On March 20th, Cindy stepped off the plane from Hong Kong. A customs officer I knew who was a fan of Combat! took me downstairs to the tarmac to help her off the last few steps. Even with fourteen hours of flying and fifteen of jet lag, she was more stunning than I remembered.

Although she was familiar with Washington, she didn’t know the west coast. As we drove to my house, she watched the streets and said, "I’ll never be able to find my way around."

Within three years she was showing me shortcuts I’d never thought of.

We were married a month later on April 21, 1984 on what would have been my father’s ninety-ninth birthday. My dear friends, producer Renée Valente and her exceptional artist, writer, art director, ichthyologist and great fly fisherman husband, Burr Smidt, loaned us their huge back yard where we entertained eighty people.

Cindy’s youngest sister, Kitty, along with three girl friends came along as bride’s maids, and her youngest brother Michael came to give the bride away. I was nervous as a Canada goose in hunting season until she appeared, wearing a full-length white chiang sam with its high collar. The look of serenity on her face settled me down. She’s always been able to do that.

I invited friends from every area of my life: a studio truck driver with whom I used to talk hunting and firearms, the Los Angeles Times Arts Editor and dear friend Charles Champlin, the late great contract bridge writer, Alfred Sheinwold, and a slew of friends who all mixed well. My (now our) dear friends Marty Lipkin and his wife Jane to this day still exclaim that it was the best wedding they’d ever been to. I catered it, prepared thirty pounds of Scottish smoked salmon, three patés en croute (baked in pastry), and a three-tiered wedding cake. Plus three cases of excellent champagne.

I married a Chinese wife with a Jewish sense of humor and got the best of both worlds.

A few days after the wedding, the house now cleared of houseguests who’d all gone back to Hong Kong, I said to her over breakfast, "Why didn’t I meet you twenty years ago?"

Without a pause she answered, "You would have been arrested, I was only nine years old."

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