Sunday, January 3, 2010


Thao grew up in southern Vietnam... her parents what could be considered middle class for their time (she was careful to mention, things have really changed.)  She went to public schools of course, private one's being more than out of reach.  She used to really like math she mentioned casually, when trying late in our coversation on a flight to Dallas from Albuquerque, to weigh the benefits of a job she enjoyed as a Chemical Engineer, in Corpus Christi, with the diminishment of an old joy, now used, like a childs stuffed animal, beyond recognition.

That said, she had a confrontational look, mixed with an incredibly ingratiating demeanor, that had a man believe she could slice you and dice you with plus signs, and multiplication one's too.  And don't even get her started about making a difference (she'd make a difference outa you.)  She had been merely hiinting in the manner that long conversation, that rambles the mansions of two strangers hearts, can provide an instance of small false confessions... if only to prove to herself, and with a certain squint of her eyes... myself... that what she believed, and what she said, weren't separate matters but dynamic all across the equal sign of our time together.

And it wasn't long... maybe one and one half hours.

So growing up she'd done well enough in school not to be ejected from the unnatural selection process that provided that few with what the many desperately needed: opportunity, a future, and dearest of all: security.  Food for the table from a hand that could be counted to provide it.  Thao was careful to point out that such a thing was almost unheard of: and going hungry all too common.  Even though, she was, as it were, middle class.

Her mother worked full time and came home to cook her three meals a day. "I was terribly spoiled.  But you know, I never would say, 'I love you mom,' and she wouldn't say that to me either.  In Vietnam the family is everything, and it goes without saying that you do what you must for your family without thanks, or words of love.  My brother is a PHD candidate in a Paris suburb, and the moment he received a grant for his Masters degree, he sent me nearly all the money, so I could leave Vietnam and attend college in the US.  Were it not for my brother I would not be here.  I had the tuition, but I could never have eaten, or paid my rent."

"How did you come to Albuquerque?" I asked her, now confused by this timeline that seemed to include college in New Mexico for a few years, and some period of time, from what she had casually mentioned, in Fargo, North Dakota.

"So did you see the movie, Fargo?" I asked.  "Was it like that?  I've never been there."

 "Oh," she said, "it's exactly like that!"

"Murder and mayhem in a white wedding winter?" I asked.

 "Well.... " she said, "definitely a white wedding winter.  Not so much murder... its was winter that was killing me.")

"But why, New Mexico? I'm an American, and I really had no idea what New Mexico was until my parents moved here, from Indiana.  I thought it was more or less cactus with a hispanic accent, or something, you know?"

"I was hosted by a family in an exchange program in high school.  Cultural exchange.  They were such wonderul people, I called them Mama and Papa.  They took me all over New Mexico, to California.  I remember seeing, with them, the Grand Canyon for the first time!  Can you imagine?  From Vietnam to the Grand Canyon!  They became new parents.  So I came to them this Christmas."

"Your Mama and Papa?  Here in Albuquerque?"

"Yes.  I left Fargo, to attend the University of New Mexico for the remainder of my undergraduate studies.  I have no intention of doing graduate work in Chemical Engineering!"

"Sounds like you have a tendency to make wise decisions!"

"Things are going well."

"So, your Mama and Papa, where did, or do they live now?"

"Are you aware of the mountains east of Albuquerque... The East Mountains?"

"Well, I wasn't until my parents moved to Sandia Park."

"Your kidding? Sandia Park... your parents live in Sandia Park... that's where I lived."


"That's where my exchange program was.  With Mama and Papa."

What a lovely woman to talk with on the way home.  After we exited the place, Thao asked if I would walk with her to the next gate, the predictably insane distance.  We got on a train together, and stood their chatting.  She with an almost sterling silver can do positive attitude, and I my usual sarcastic, gee whizz self.  In some ways two stereotypes... ambition and jaded indifference.  

My stop came first.  We clasped each others hand goodbye, and the longing in a strangers eyes, after connection, came to me once again.  The roads so endless, and the crowd so many.

I stepped from the train, and looked back to see her looking upon this last moment with a man she only knew as Andy.  Then Thao was rushed to the future in which she so fiercely seemed to believe.

(Though, in all fairness, it can't be that difficult to find a Thao, Chemical Engineer in Corpus Christi.  Something tells me she leaves an impression, wherever one might find her.)


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Harlequin said...

a sweet and wistful tale and well told; especially the part about the saying goodbye on the train...
very nice work, you

Andy Coffey said...

Thanks Mule. Your stories from your life crack me up. I'm always a bit unsure exactly what your feelings are about your own story, which is kind of lovely. Thanks for sharing. I think it's safe to say that women are worth the trouble (though there's plenty of evidence that the same can't be said for us!)

Andy Coffey said...

Thanks Harlequin,

Sorry it took me so long to write back. I've been a bit busy. I love seeing you here.


Anonymous said...

hi andy, delightful story. i savored it with some red wine. well, it's accidental meetings which kills you. thirty years ago I was a young man your age. met a jane fonda looking woman on the way to miami. my car broke down half way a ford. man i was in love. they played janis joplin at the motel, i remember that. i was kind of sleazy then, a bit fat but handsome. she was a waitress in the small town. i bought her drinks in the bar and she gave me the story of her last year. a divorce. she as desperate to find a man i suppose. in those days attractive women liked real men. not like these days. everyone had cash in those days, she got really impressed by my credit card.

anyway, back to the bar. she was really fit, that woman. curly locks. and she had quality. i don't know how to describe it. today's young westerners seem to be wasted on play stations or whatever. they look and feel like plastic fantastic lovers (man, grace slick was a real woman). this woman was real, she had lived the hard life. she was hurt alright and i took advantage i guess. i loved her andy, i assure you that. she became my wife. she was so full of life when we met. where does life go? a couple of years later she left me. looking older.

oh, a glass to much today. oh well. my point is, money can't protect us from loosing life's spark. i grew fat and tired and rich. when traveling in poor countries i see all this poor people full of life. they have something westerners don't. we've lost it i think. if i could re live my life i would like to be a factory worker in america in the 40s. meeting dean, kerouac and these guys. becoming a poet and fight for justice. we made an effort at that time andy. before computer games people where actually fighting.

oh, an old man and his drinks and ramblings.and now i tuned 59.