Jefferson Lo-Pinto was carrying his trombone case through Grand Central Station when he spotted a crowd around a glass enclosed structure. Removing his headphones, a syncopated rhythm of clacks, whacks, and thuds drew him towards the crowd. The late afternoon mid-January assembly surrounded one end of a glass squash court, where two women were in the midst of a long rally. 4 rows deep of standing spectators made it difficult to get a good look.
A loud clack of a racquet against the floor seemed to signal to a few spectators that it was time to go. A thin path appeared for Jefferson to slither through to the front behind a barricade. Years of rushing through subway stations and crowds at concerts made finding the most direct route second nature.
JLP, as he preferred to be called, envisioned his rushing ability as if he was an American football running back hitting the hole, breaking clear into the secondary, and sprinting for the end zone. 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighing in at 140 pounds, he knew the only football he would ever play was with his friends in the after school intramural flag football league.
Saddled with jazz band rehearsals, even that fantasy was not an option. Checking his watch, he had a few minutes to kill before the next train to Yonkers. Front row view, a touchdown!
The match was riveting. Not knowing the rules, he studied the two long-legged ladies dashing side to side and forwards and backwards in another long rally. The southpaw was a tall, lanky blonde with a pony tail, dressed in a white skirt that would flutter teasingly up and down.
Her opponent, the right handed, shorter, brunette Eurasian with the orange headband wore a somewhat loose fitting purple tank top and orange shorts that matched the color of her headband. “Girl in orange in control of the point, sending the ball in every direction, yet blonde in white returning each shot until the one that she could not!”
Among other sports fantasies, JLP fancied himself to be a sportscaster. He silently described a play by play rendition of the action unfolding before him that he barely understood.
Eventually he became distracted by the movement of bare arms and legs, as the competitors were not like any of his female classmates at his high school. The two bodies seemed to flow to and fro and around and around like a modern dance performance he had seen on PBS.
Graceful, yet athletic. Yet this was a sport! What a combination! The setting in the large hall under a chandelier was decisively elegant in contrast to his day to day drudgery. The bonus was seeing a little bare flesh in the dead of winter!
Another glance at his watch and he swore under his breath. Why couldn’t his parents buy him a phone with a camera? It was time to go, even though the match was not over. Begrudgingly glancing backwards, he made his way towards the Metro North Platform for Yonkers. He would likely have to stand the entire trip as he was stuck on the rush hour train.
Headphones back on. The 25 minute ride dulled his senses to the real world, but permitted him to reflect on this exotic event he had just witnessed. A jazz trombonist on the squash tour! Traveling with the women circuit! What a great life that would be!
Exiting Yonkers Station, JLP continued to daydream about touring through Europe with the bevy of female squash players when he slipped on a patch of ice and skidded on his butt. His partially zipped backpack opened up and papers scattered out onto the sidewalk. He checked his trombone case and his hand me down iPod: both were unscathed. Cursing his existence, he gathered the damp sheets and jammed them into the backpack. Yes, football players have to play in bad weather conditions. But squash, it’s inside!
JLP opened the swinging door of the Star of Macao. His parents took over the failing diner on Main Street and converted it to a “Nouvelle Asian” Bistro. The Lo family of Hong Kong worked in a Kowloon restaurant. Only son Johnson Lo met Macao-born Stephanie Pinto when both were working in the bustling dim sum palace.
The two fell in love. Despite warnings from their families that they were too young, they decided to elope and got married in Las Vegas. Johnson’s mother had gone into premature labor on a vacation in San Francisco, and luckily Johnson became a US Citizen by birth. 1/4 Portuguese, Italian, Thai, and Chinese, Stephanie, who grew up listening to Broadway show tunes, had always dreamed of living in New York.
Together, they made their way to the Big Apple. After 14 years working in various Chinese restaurants in Sunset Park and Flushing, they made the move to Manhattan’s Chinatown to get their only son into a good high school, only to move to Yonkers when the diner became available to start their own dream business. JLP, who lived the New York melting pot in his childhood, considered his family’s journey as the Chinese diaspora.
The American Dream. Johnson Lo’s grandfather had survived the Communist Revolution of China. Pro-Western and Pro-American, he named his son, Johnson’s father, Franklin, in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt. The family then escaped to Hong Kong where son Franklin continued the naming tradition with his only son, Johnson.
JLP was never clear as to which President Johnson grandpa Franklin was referring. Lyndon did not seem to be the obvious choice. In Queens, Johnson and Stephanie were Democrats, so when their son was born at the county hospital in Elmhurst, the choices were either Carter or Clinton. Stephanie did not care for either name, and also wanted their son to include her family name. They compromised with Jefferson Lo-Pinto.
JLP had assumed it was for Thomas, but perhaps it was a nod to the 42nd President’s middle name. That President did play the saxophone, his mother did like music, and JLP did end up playing the trombone. There were plenty of hyphenated last name kids growing up, but not a Jefferson. In his early school years, other kids would tease him about his name, which caused him to be a bit oppositional towards his parents. He would end up cutting his Chinese language school and disappear on days when he had to see the orthodontist. His father wanted him to play ping pong, but he chose baseball. His mother wanted him to play piano, but he chose the trombone.
Classical music no, jazz yes (his mother actually found classical trombone concertos for him to play). JLP’s salvation was his academics. He was a good student and always achieved excellent grades. He was placed in a decent high school in Manhattan, which was better than the options in outer Queens and Brooklyn. College? Now that he was of age, it was time for him to pull his weight at the restaurant. A teenager’s nightmare.
Two senior couples were already gathered at one table along one wall, and a young couple with a baby in a stroller occupied a corner table towards the back. They were regulars, opting for the early bird special and to avoid the latter part of the evening when business might pick up. In January, business was mostly take-out for the commuters returning from the city. Johnson admonished him for being late, while Stephanie with a knowing smile placed a rice plate at one of the single tables. JLP inhaled the meal quietly before going to kitchen and putting on his apron.
His job was to wash the dishes while his mother took the orders and his father cooked. There was plenty of time to get his homework done during the offseason.
After the last customer left and the lights were turned off, the family walked one door over to the entrance to the one bedroom apartment rental above the diner turned bistro. JLP had the sofa bed in the living room, which doubled as the family’s office. He turned on the one desktop computer the family owned to finish his homework.
“Too cheap to buy a laptop” he thought. There was never much conversation after hours as his parents would make some small talk before retiring to the bedroom. Homework done, JLP began to research the squash event to identify the two players he witnessed. After a few clicks, he discovered the blonde was from Sweden and the brunette was from Indonesia.
It was late. JLP knew he needed to get up early in the morning. After browsing through a few other squash sites, he called it quits and turned off the computer and the single desk lamp. Laying back and staring at the ceiling, he orchestrated the beginning of a jazz music video.
The two players would be floating, slow motion within the glass court in a variety of 3-Dimensional angles, to the tune of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” by the Buckinghams, one of his favorite tunes. It would be brilliant! He would submit the masterpiece to his audio visual class for his semester project. He could then apply to a nice Ivy League school where he could pick up squash and play in a jazz band. Travel to Sweden, Indonesia, Europe, Australia. Maybe hook up with some exotic girls. Life would be fantastic!
The alarm woke him up in the frigid morning of January. Still dark, JLP went through the morning ritual half awake. Turn on the hot water in the shower and leave it on for 2 minutes, then plug in the electric water kettle. Quick shower, towel off, clothes on, hot water to the instant oatmeal, stir, eat, grab the lunch bag prepared from the night before, and out the door.
Outside it was light enough for him to sidestep yesterday’s icy patch on the sidewalk as he dashed into the train station. At least he would get a seat on the train into the city. Headphones on. The morning commute was his time to prepare for the school day. Which class could he do his homework so he would have less to do after school.
Which class would be the one where he would have to pay more attention. It was all strategy to get ahead. But first, he would have to make a detour to the Glass Cage to find out when the ladies would play that afternoon. He was not able to find the starting times the night before while surfing the ‘net.
Unlike many of his friends who were wired with the latest smart phones, JLP had second hand items. He often felt disadvantaged and that his talents were being wasted. He could build a better squash website if he had his own lap top. He decided to “borrow” the family dinosaur of a video camera to capture the action this afternoon. The music video was already scripted in his head. Now he needed footage. Emerging from the platform, he found his way quickly to the cage, but stared in disbelief. The ladies’ matches were in the evening, not in the afternoon. He was screwed. There was no way he could be late again for his evening shift. Life is not fair!
Cursing his luck, JLP sullenly worked his way to the Downtown #6 Local stairway to connect with his one stop transfer and the walk to school. The dank smell of the platform along with the other blank faced commuters added to his misery. A rat scurried away from the tracks as the train approached.
On the train, off the train, transfer to the next train, on the train, off the train. He could do this in his sleep. Exiting Grand Street station, he fist bumped a few of his friends as he entered the building of higher education. The school day droned in a monotony of moving lips that said nothing relevant. He made it through the day without any additional annoyance from teachers or classmates.
He skipped band practice saying he had stuff to do for his parents. Truthfully, the current arrangement that the band was practicing did not need a trombone. The teacher had added a few bars to include all the band members. In reality, the jazz band was a non-entity at the school. The glee club seemed to be getting all the attention. Glee Club! Jazz is real music!
Perhaps someone would be streaming the event and he could pull footage off the feed. It was worth checking out. He worked his way back to Grand Central and asked around. No one knew anything. The security personnel knew nothing. “Typical New York” clueless employees he thought to himself.
He discovered the first match was scheduled for 6 p.m. With any luck, maybe the players would show up early to warm up. He could afford to be a little late to the restaurant as long as the event started on time. Business had been slow. The same schedule was to follow the next two nights, and he did not want to ruin his attendance record at band practice too much. Today would be his best opportunity.
A kid loitering around Grand Central with a trombone case, an ancient iPod and video camera, along with a backpack drew 3 separate security checks. Is that your real ID? What are you doing with this camera? Do you have a permit? This isn’t a detonator is it? Is there anything in the trombone?
What do you have in the backpack? Anything in your shoes? Are you a US citizen? Feeling a bit persecuted, JLP was more determined to at least see one player before he had to leave.
Sitting on the Tennessee Marble tiles (he had plenty of time to read a copy of the “History of Grand Central Terminal” cover to cover several times), JLP learned enough about squash through a free tournement brochure to understand the rules of the game. He glanced at ads about youth squash in the city.
His school did not offer squash, and the sport was never mentioned by any PE teacher or school counselor. “Typical” he thought of some of his instructors. A few paying spectators had entered the ticketed seating section of the hall, but he was alone in the standing area where security allowed him to sit while waiting. His watch told him another train had left. He could squeeze out another 20 minutes for the next train, but that would be it. He would have to hear the same irresponsibility speech again tonight.
Finally, a flurry of bodies approached the Vanderbilt Hall where the Glass Cage stood. Within the blur of dark warmup suits he spotted an orange headband. His heart began to race and his palms became moist. She was walking directly towards where he was sitting. She, with the unpronounceable Indonesian name, was maybe 30 seconds away with a leisurely pace. JLP scrambled up off the floor and pulled the bulky video cam onto his shoulder.
He pressed the “on” button as Orange Headband approached with a determined look of concentration. JLP yelled out, “I saw you play yesterday, glad you won!” not knowing if she understood English. At least she wasn’t wearing headphones. She turned directly towards him, made direct eye contact, and the stern demeanor melted into a smile. A softly spoken “Thanks!” followed along with a wave of her hand! And just as quick, without breaking stride, she continued en route to the court.
Orange Headband disappeared around the corner out of view. Camera off. Now what? Should he wait for her higher seeded, veteran, English opponent to appear? What would be the odds of the Swedish blonde with the ponytail to make an appearance? Tick tick tick…the next train would be extremely crowded. What to do, what to do?
JLP thought of the orange color headband. Yes, Indonesia was a Dutch colony. He knew that orange was The Netherlands’ national color from watching World Cup football and the Dutch women field hockey team in the last Summer Olympics. The only other orange he could think of were the oranges and tangerines at the restaurant.
Chinese New Years was coming up and tangerines meant good luck. Maybe orange was a good sign! Then he thought of the pumpkin. A gourd, not a squash. The pumpkin that meant the end of a fantasy. For this “CinderFella”, the clock that struck 6 instead of midnight would mean his stagecoach would vanish. The court was still empty. The pumpkin vision won. It was time to go.
Jammed into the 6 pm express, JLP could only think of the smile, the wave, and her politely spoken “Thanks!”. He avoided slipping on the patch of ice as he gingerly hustled through the streets to the restaurant. Apologizing profusely upon entering the Star of Macao, he declared the subway broke down again and he missed his train. He went directly to the kitchen to put on his apron. Luckily for him the bistro was empty, so he had time to eat his dinner before the first take out order was called in.
Closing time and JLP shuffled up the stairs into the living room and plopped his backpack and trombone case on the floor. Business had picked up during that evening so he was busier than he would have preferred. He was thankful his father did not consider a delivery service where he might have been the delivery person.
He despised the cold weather. His mind alternated between the fluttering white skirt with the bouncing pony tail of the long legged Swedish blonde and the orange head band with the loose purple top of the Eurasian with the beautiful smile and elegant beauty queen wave. He turned on the computer to look for the evening’s result.
The higher seeded English woman won in straight sets. He plugged his headphones into the computer to listen to a different version of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” by the great Buddy Rich. If he could get some footage, he would would edit his Indonesian competitor as the star of his feature. A few more clicks and he found her on twitter. Never having used twitter himself, he quickly signed in and sent off a tweet “Sorry you lost”. Exhausted, he closed down the computer, turned off the desk lamp, and quickly fell asleep.
The alarm woke JLP up to another January morning. Up to turn on the hot water in the shower and leave on for 2 minutes while plugging in the electric water kettle. Quick shower, towel off, clothes on, hot water to the instant oatmeal, stir, eat, grab the lunch bag prepared from the night before, and out the door. Before stepping out, he turned on the computer and there was a reply to his tweet!
It was a simple “Thanks ” Not wanting to take any chances that his parents would find this email, he moved the message into one of his folders titled trombone. They would never think to look there.
The street was a bit slushy that morning on the way to the train station. It seemed less cold as he sprinted to the train station. No ice to avoid slipping on today. The sun was peeking up above the buildings behind him in the east. He found a seat on the train and slipped on his headphones. He next brought out the video camera to replay his 30 second clip while listening to a third version of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” on his iPod. His project for the day was to find a way to forward the footage to his new muse. Today would be a good day.