Thursday 7 April 2016

A Girl Named Cheerio-ko

My wife, Junko (June-ko), is horrible at making decisions. Or she's a master. I can't decide.

It took her a month, after the birth of our daughter, to agree to a name. It was a frustrating process for me. Each day, during the pregnancy, I came to her with names I thought were good and she vetoed them all:

ME: What about this name? It sounds very poetic.

JUNKO: I'm Japanese. Nothing with an 'L' or an 'R' in it.

ME: What about this name? It sounds smart.

JUNKO: I'm Japanese. Nothing that ends with a consonant, other than 'N.'

ME: What about this name? It sounds sophisticated.

JUNKO: That name means "horse poop" in Japanese.

ME: What about this name? I think it's drop-dead sexy.

JUNKO: Wasn't that the name of your ex?

In the meantime, our family referred to our child as Cheerio-ko based on her ahead-of-the-curve accomplishment of having once sucked on a Cheerio.

ME: You've got to decide soon.

JUNKO: Why? She has no idea that she has no name.

I can see, now, that this was a valid point, but I am panicky by nature and was busy doing what came naturally.

ME: You can't leave her nameless. In all of human history no one without a name has ever accomplished anything worth mentioning.

JUNKO: You seem agitated.

ME: This shouldn't be so difficult. Even my bologna has a first name.

JUNKO: Huh? Is this performance art?

ME: The family's calling her Cheerio-ko!

JUNKO: That's cute.

ME: Are you kidding me? What if that name sticks and she accidentally kills someone. Even if it was in self-defence, she's still going to be labelled a cereal killer. And labels like that can really hurt, during high school.

There are certain etymological advantages to arguing with someone in their second language, but if the word play fooled Junko, she didn't let on.

JUNKO: Ok, then. How about Noname? (No-na-mey)

I immediately phoned all of my family members and excitedly announced that a decision had been made. The baby has a name, something Japanese: Noname!

A few hours later, when I wrote it down on paper, the truth leapt off the page at me. "Noname," it turns out, is not a Japanese name; it just sounds like one. When you see it on paper, it is obviously English, and obviously: "No Name." I was chagrined, both at having fallen for it, and at having been so smoothly tricked, in my native language, by a foreigner.

A few days later, seemingly out of the ether, Junko came up with the name "Rihana."

By this time I would have said yes to "Horse Poop," in any language. I like "Rihana" but it seems an odd culmination of 10 month's worth of ruminating. It is not quite "Rihanna" which would be quickly understood most anywhere in the world, and it seems a somewhat random combination of characters to Canadians, as well as the Japanese. Every time we introduce our daughter, the response is an awkward pause followed by the same set of mundane questions: You mean Rihanna? Is it Japanese/Canadian? What does it mean? Could you spell that again? 

Also: Since when were 'R's' allowed?

Junko assures me, it looks amazing when written in Kanji characters.

Thank goodness we didn't have to come up with a last name.

It's usually a good thing, but my wife gets her way, a lot.

Such is the power of "not wanting."

Approaching deadlines carry little weight with Junko, who often makes her final decision long after most people consider the matter closed. As you can imagine, this generates a lot of agitation and inconvenience for others. It's stressful for me, as well. Having been a project manager on many print and video projects, I've spent most of my working life responsible for making deadlines. Also, I have a lifelong habit of arriving awkwardly early to house parties. When, exactly, to arrive at events remains one of our most consistent and contentious marital issues.

But I'm experienced now and can look at things from many perspectives. In one light, I see people as walking collections of systems and agendas. And I'm wise enough to know that every system has its advantages. Junko's decision-making process is no exception.

In order to maintain control of a situation, it's easiest if you can let go of the outcome. In other words, if you don't care which way things go, if you are able to walk away from the result, then no one can use your desire to manipulate you. This is particularly true when shopping, and Junko wields this power like a Samurai.

If you are ever shopping in Victoria, Canada and see a little Asian woman with a cartload of groceries and a fistful of coupons at the cash register while three store managers huddle with the cashier, either move to another lineup or open a package of Doritos and settle in. Odds are those store managers are going to lose the argument and the longer they fight, the more they'll lose in interrupted sales. And, if by some small chance they do not relent, they will be doing a lot of restocking, because regardless of the fact that she may have spent an hour gathering her groceries, and an hour before that planning the coupons and memorizing store policy, she is absolutely prepared to walk away with all of our money still in her purse. She considers that a relative win, because, ultimately, it's a loss to the store. Either way, that cash register is going to be tied up for a while. Wiser store managers rubber stamp everything and wave her through. Unwise ones drink heavily, after hours—which may, or may not, have anything to do with Junko.

In our consumer-based society, instant gratification has become the expectation, and the power of "not wanting" can be impressive.

Junko is not quick to decide anything and this is why it was only two weeks prior to our wedding when she ordered a custom made ring through a local specialty jeweller. Our salesman was also the owner; a large, hairy man of about 35, well dressed and draped in gold chains, with rings on most of his fingers. His hair was shiny black and slicked down; his manner, charming and charismatic. He exuded confidence, almost to the point of arrogance, but you got the impression that his faith in himself was not unfounded. After a few rounds of bartering with Junko, he agreed to a lower price and a higher quality ring, custom made to her specifications, guaranteed to arrive from his Vancouver shop in time for the wedding. As the ring had to be purchased sight-unseen, we were assured that, if we were not totally satisfied, we could cancel the order at any time—including after it arrived—and that our deposit would be fully refunded. Myself, feeling the pressure of the looming deadline, I was just happy to finally have the decision made.

With Too-Good-To-Be-True deals, buyers usually hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Whenever a salesman over-promises, most people implicitly understand that there may be compromises and, by the time those compromises arise, are so emotionally locked into the end result that they will bend to accommodate. Our salesman forgot that "most people" does not mean "all people." He knows better, now.

The wedding day drew nearer but, despite assurances, the ring did not appear. About three days before the wedding Junko returned to with the jeweller. He finally admitted that it did not look like the ring would arrive in time. He then offered to sell us another ring for the wedding day and do an exchange when her ring came.

Junko looked at the salesman, her eyes large and smiling and politely declined his kind offer. When she spoke, her English was, of course, infused with her Japanese accent, but she enunciated each word carefully and clearly, suggesting that, at this point, it might be best to cancel the order and get our deposit back.

He blanched.

And, in that instant it became obvious that he'd known when he sold us the custom ring that it was unlikely to get here in time, but assumed that once he had our money and her heart was set on the design, she would be too emotionally invested, and it would seem too awkward, to ask for a refund... especially knowing that the custom ring was under construction and would be difficult for him to sell to another. He had tried to manipulate her and was about to find out that she had known this all along and had been prepared to ignore it, but only so long as things fell her way. The jeweller recovered quickly and offered to lend her a ring for the ceremony. You could tell he thought this a magnanimous offer that could not be refused. She thanked him for his thoughtfulness but declined on the basis that she would rather marry with no ring than with a ring that was not hers. There was a short pause, then, while the salesman and I absorbed her declaration and tried to imagine a one-ring wedding ceremony.

I thought I knew my wife-to-be, but this was another of those many instances in which I was wrong. It had never occurred to me that she might be perfectly happy to get married without a wedding ring. It had never occurred to the jeweller, either. In this, as in many other ways, she is not your average woman... or human, for that matter. And, I guess, that's part of the reason I end up being her chronicler; John Watson to her Sherlock Holmes.

By this time, we were familiar figures to his staff and I could feel them all surreptitiously watching the exchange. Things were getting interesting.

The conversation went a few more lines with him finally implying that she did not trust him to which she replied in the sweetest of tones that although his intentions have been very generous, she had a list of the promises he had made or implied to this point which had not been fulfilled. Then, she listed them. Furthermore, based on these failed promises the quality and workmanship of the custom-made ring was also in question. Couching her complaints in compliments seemed to tazer his brain, making it, at once, impossible to refute and impossible for him to take offence.

The jeweller went completely silent and just stood, staring at her. Me too. In fact, the entire shop was stone silent, and, I think maybe street-traffic had come to a halt, as well.

Then, he did something that I'm sure he had never done before. Suddenly, and stiffly he went behind the counter, unlocked a safe, and returned our money to us. He was smiling, but he was not happy. All his employees were staring as if water were being transformed into wine.

As we left, he managed a weak smile and invited us to return; the mark of a true professional, but it was obvious that he did not welcome a rematch.

Had Junko not been there, I would have walked out owning a ring I did not want and, probably, a set of matching earrings. I have never been more impressed. I should have been frightened. I know better, now.

In the end, Junko changed her mind, entirely, and decided she'd rather have a very simple gold band as a wedding ring. We bought one of the cheapest ones we could find in a mall, somewhere.

About a year later, the diamond popped out of Junko's engagement ring and we were forced to replace it, under insurance. To my surprise, she insisted that we return to that same store because they had given us the best deal, on paper. There, she dealt with the same man as if the first incident had never happened. But you could tell that, for him, the emotional scars had not healed, and the fact that the incident seemed to hold no weight with her probably prolonged his recovery by another year. He did not strut as he had before; seemed timid, in fact. Rather than talking to us like old friends, as he had the first time, he remained distant and formal throughout, probably wondering if she were now toying with him; a strange woman who spent idle hours bargaining salesmen into untenable promises, then shaming them.

To this day, we've never purchased anything from that store.

The power of "not wanting" extends past the shopping mall. Junko refuses to be rushed, letting go of anything she feels can be used to pressure her.

Three years ago, our mortgage was up for renewal and our longtime banker had recently moved away. Unlike the previous person, the new woman assigned to us was clearly more interested in the bank's welfare than in ours. The deal she offered us was on par with every other institution, but we were used to getting a few extras because of our long association with that bank and our previous banker. Suddenly, I no longer felt richer than I think I am. I had not expected this and had left the negotiations until close to the expiry of our mortgage. There was no time for shopping around. I took the deal home and talked to Junko about it, told her that we should accept it for now, and use the next five years to shop around. Junko listened but did not say much. A few days later I noticed that she had not signed the documents. When I asked her about it, she told me she was still thinking. I didn't see what there was to think about, we were only a couple of days away from the deadline. I began to panic. I'd never missed a payment or a contract deadline and had no idea what might happen if we didn't sign. I was worried about losing the house, or being forced to accept a lesser deal. I argued with her and became very upset. Finally, I threw up my arms and told her that she could handle the whole thing.

The deadline passed. Turns out, that when the old mortgage lapses, the bank continues to finance the property, but they apply their current standard rates. However, they are aware that you are not locked in and may leave whenever you find another financial institution offering a better deal. A week later, our phone rang. It was the bank, offering us a better deal.

You might wonder what happens when you come up against an adversary who is equally skilled in employing the "not wanting" system. Well, that occurs daily in our household. It is not nearly as elegant as the above scenarios and often involves tears, shouting and pouting.

And, it's why I think we should have named our daughter Karma.


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