Life finally caught up with Rufus Wadwallow. Heretofore he had lived the life of a complacent bachelor, but his mother, Abilene Wadwallow, had finally decided that Rufus needed to be kicked out of her well-used nest and build one of his own. After all, he’d lived with his long-divorced mom for 29 years. It was enough, already. She now wanted a life of her own. Well, not precisely her own. Simply put, she’d got her eye fixed on Simon Peter Pickwick, the neighborhood butcher, and, let’s face it, his supply of prime beef, and I’m not necessarily talking only about chuck steak. She wanted a life with that old guy. True, both were past their prime, but between purchases of chuck short ribs and sirloin tips over the years, a spark between the two had finally burst into flame. And Abilene Wadwallow did not need Rufus underfoot to trample the fire. He had to go.
Although Abilene did not care much who Rufus might marry — just as long as he married somebody who was a female, reasonably tolerable, and not a harridan . . . and was finally out of her hair — she knew that if she waited for him to go shopping for a wife on his own, she may as well wait for hell to freeze over. A bit of motherly intervention and encouragement were in order . . . in other words, some push and shove and, if needs be, a hefty kick in the pants. It was high time to initiate some unexpected experiences into this boy’s busy schedule of connubial inertia.
For starters, a blind date.
Abilene knew thing or two about blind dates. Namely, she’d gained much experience by watching countless Chinese, Japanese, and Korean soap operas on TV (with English subtitles), where arranged marriages seemed to still be alive and thriving overseas. Obsessive Asian mothers were forever setting up blind dates for their sons and daughters for the purposes of marriage and the speedy generation of grandchildren whom they could thereafter spoil rotten in their old age. This antiquated custom seemed rooted in their genes . . . or at any rate in their teledrama genes. Abilene would not have tolerated it for a second in her own case, naturally, but these were desperate times. Which every schoolboy and girl knows require desperate measures. To be frank, if she were right this minute to have been asked to choose between her son and her butcher . . . well, while she loved her Rufus, Simon Pickwick would win hands down in a heartbeat. East Asia: 1; USA: Ø.
Abilene also had a sizable working list of available single women between the ages of 21 and 35. Some of these were the daughters and granddaughters of friends. Others were the daughters and granddaughters of acquaintances. Still others were the daughters and granddaughters of perfect strangers. Sisters, cousins, nieces, and even a select number of unmarried friends, no-longer-married moms, and soon-to-be spinster aunts (if they didn’t stop messing around) were also on the list. Abilene wanted Rufus married and out of the building in a bad way, and as such had become an equal opportunities procurer, so to speak.
Abilene was no dope. She knew that Rufus would probably balk if she came right out and confessed her plans. She had to use subterfuge, at least initially. Later she might have to resort to cajolery, coercion, blackmail, and beatings, but this would mean a greater output of energy. Better first to attempt simple deception. If he was off his guard, all well and good. If not, then she’d have to call out the big guns. See above.
Abilene knew that she had to work cautiously, and for a number of reasons. First, she had to consider her son’s tastes in women. Second, she had to consider prospective dates’ tastes in men, particularly in men like Rufus. Third, this had to be played out with a certain degree of finesse (stealth) on her part so that Rufus would not rebel against her interference or just because her motives to get him out from under her roof were not as pure as the white of freshly fallen snow. Fourth, she wanted that her efforts not end up in a marital disaster for her son and her future daughter-in-law for which they could point their respective accusative finger at afterward. Her own first marriage had not been exactly a Cinderella and Prince Charming tale, assuming of course that after Cinderella and Prince Charming had married, they lived happily ever after. Who’s to say how that story really turned out in the end? Then there was the matter of the evil stepsisters. No evil stepsisters. Not a single one. In any case, Abilene did not wish her first marriage on either Rufus or his bride-to-be. So they had to have at least some kind of compatibility so she would not feel racked with guilt for the rest of her life.
God! This matchmaking business was more complicated than she had anticipated! In the end, she threw up her hands and cried out to hell with caution. She got out her eligible women’s list, set it on the kitchen table, closed her eyes, turned around twice, sightlessly aimed and dropped her her right index finger . . . into a bowl of jam. Bad aim. This wouldn’t work at all. She next wrote out everybody’s names on separate slips of paper, tossed them into a salad bowl, shut her eyes again, and drew.
“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “Gretchen Mangjeol!”
Gretchen Mangjeol, a Korean-American — with perhaps a smattering of German, Abilene presumed — wasn’t exactly a dazzler, but she was by no means a dog either. Kind of somewhere in between. But that was okay, because Rufus was no George Clooney or Denzel Washington in their prime either. And Rufus had never expressed a proclivity for drop-dead beautiful women. Gretchen would do for looks. Mmm. The girl was also reasonably intelligent, good-natured, trusting, harmless, tidy, honest, and hospitable. At least, thought Abilene, that’s how she came across in public. One never knew what dark secrets lurked under the veneer. On the plus side, she was of Korean descent. No doubt if those k-dramas were any indication, her own mother would be more than eager to see the girl married before she turned thirty.
Abilene nodded now with satisfaction. “She’ll definitely do.” She then turned her eyes toward the ceiling. “God forgive me if this is so, so wrong, but may this be a match made in heaven.”
The next thing was to figure out how to get the two united. Abilene mulled it over for a moment, then looked skyward again. “Any tips up there how I put these two lovebirds together?” She waited. “Right. I’m on my own for this one.”
She sighed, just as Rufus entered the kitchen, finally awakened from the dead and scratching his head with one hand, his tummy with the other. She glanced up at the kitchen clock and frowned.
“Morning, Mom,” he said sleepily, glancing then at the paper-filled salad bowl on the table. “I hope that’s not what we’re having for breakfast.”
Wide-eyed with alarm, and surprised that Rufus was even there, Abilene swept the incriminating evidence away and scooped her telltale nefariousness into the waste basket.
“Sorry, son. Nothing but cereal again this morning. My, you’re up early today.”
“It’s nine a.m., Mom.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Weren’t you supposed to be at work an hour ago?”
“Mm-hm. Normally, yes, but the boss gave everybody the next two days off so that the exterminators could get rid of the office vermin that have infested the whole building, without gassing the employees as well.”
“That was thoughtful of her. You’ve got vermin at work?”
“Eight-legged, six-legged, four-legged, and also a few two-legged.” He grinned at his joke. “The two-legged ones are the hardest to get rid of, though.”
Abilene nodded with a knowing chuckle. “That they are, that they are.”
In that instant a lightning flash of inspiration illuminated both her brain and her face. Could this be divine intervention? Maybe God was hard at work on her behalf after all.
“Listen, Ruf, I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make. I’ve already eaten, so fix yourself whatever you like. As long as it’s cereal.”
Abilene mentally rubbed her hands together and exited stage left. Out of earshot, she seized her cell phone and started punching buttons.
“Hi, Gretchen?” she said. “How would you like to help make an old woman’s most cherished dreams come true?”
Four hours later, Rufus Wadwallow found himself sitting across from a bespectacled young lady of Asian visage he’d never set eyes on before, at a table in a local Korean restaurant he’d never been to before, called Meogja, which turned out to mean ‘Let’s Eat’ in Korean.
“It’s a subterfuge,” she said pleasantly, after he’d explained that his mother had been suddenly called away to an unexpected emergency but had been unable to contact her to cancel their luncheon engagement.
Rufus blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“A subterfuge. Your mom set you up.”
“What do you mean?”
“This is supposed to be a blind date. Your mother set you up.”
Rufus was astonished. “A blind date . . . a blind date!? Why would she do that?”
“Because that’s what mothers do when they want their children married and out of their hair.”
“All the time. Trust me. My own mom is at the top of the list of schemers. She’s been working on me for ages to get married. I’ve been on more mom-arranged dates than you can shake a stick at. I’m sick to death of them. I would have flat-out declined your mother’s ploy, but I accepted out of pity for you, just to do you a favor so you’ll be on your toes in the future.”
“Wow! I am stunned. My own mother.”
“Yep. That’s how they are. And once you go home and tell her that I’m not the girl of your dreams and to mind her own business, she won’t stop. She’ll be cagey and try again and again. Then she’ll get downright aggressive. It’s a war of attrition. I know this from first-hand experience. They are unrelenting. They won’t let up until you either acquiesce out of sheer exhaustion, or you move to a different country under an assumed name.”
“This is absolutely amazing.”
“I know. So, let’s eat.”
“Let’s eat. Your mom’s paying for this. We may as well make the most of it. I’m famished.”
Rufus stared at the girl goggle-eyed for a moment. She adjusted her glasses, which had slipped down her nose, and smiled conspiratorially.
“Are you familiar with Korean food?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“Okay, why don’t you let me order then? Otherwise we’ll be here all day while you try to figure out what the heck bulgogi, bibimbap, galbi, deun shim, kimchee jigae, udon, sam gyup sal, ojinguh bokkum, and jajangmyeon are supposed to be. Oh, by the way, a lot of Korean foods are spicy. Do you have any preferences? Any restrictions? Beef? Pork? Fish? Chicken? Or are you vegetarian?”
“Uh, medium spicy, no restrictions . . . omnivore.”
“Good. Me too. Okay if I order what I like for the both of us?”
Rufus nodded dumbly. “Please.”
“I promise it won’t be too bizarre, and who knows, you might even like some of it.”
He did. They were married in the fall.
“Thank you, God,” breathed Abilene Wadwallow . . . soon to be Mrs. Abilene Pickwick.