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 Chapter 26

A Japanese-American

Brenda arrived in Cincinnati the day before Maria and I did. Jane was due back in a few weeks time, in early October, and Ralph in late November. Brenda was in quite good spirits, bordering on euphoria. She was engaged in monster building programs in Germany and expected to make lots of money.

Enrollments were increasing steadily at the college and some additional student rental units had been built. All of it was subsidized, and Brenda was thus getting cash payments from both the American and German governments. I pointed out that Wilhelmina Sanderson had probably never received a government payment in her life. Brenda agreed and added,

"Times have changed. Instead of cheating the farmers, the rising financier gets it from the Treasury. I'll have to hire a lobbyist at this rate."

The upshot was that Brenda was now worth about twenty million dollars. She insisted on sticking to a pre-war scheme according to which she gave me eight hundred thousand. Ralph's money was separate, as was Jane's, but we all left it to Brenda to manage.

One night, Brenda said to me that Maria had changed noticeably over the summer. I replied,

"Of course, I've been with her every day and haven't noticed. She hasn't grown, has she?"

"No. I imagine she's reached her full height. It's not mostly a matter of looks, except perhaps of expression. She just seems so very smooth."

"That's what I thought the first time I met her in London. She was being a younger version of the perfect Kensington lady."

"Yes, but that was funny."

"Was it? I thought it was a pretty impressive adaptation myself."

"Still, no one who knew she'd just come over on the boat could have taken it seriously. Now she's pretending to be something she might really be."

Brenda's jokes sometimes did reflect her philosophical training. Before I could reply, she added,

"I bet she won't hang around with Biff much longer."

"Perhaps not. But, after all, that's not surprising. Maria must be three times as intelligent. I've always wondered what they could possibly talk about."

Brenda only shrugged for an answer. I asked,

"You and Maria haven't quarrelled, have you?"

She now laughed with something like good humor.

"No. I can hardly imagine what it would be to quarrel with Maria."

That night, sleepless in bed, I wondered about Maria. She had been accepted into an adult environment that summer, but I could also remember her joking with Anna Louise in a delightful childish way. What change had upset Brenda? I knew Brenda too well to think that she was imagining things.

The next night we went to dinner at the Smiths. I watched as Maria went up to Biff and hugged him enthusiastically. She had never done that before, at least in public. It was a change, but hardly the one we had expected. I caught Brenda's eye, but she had on her face a "Just you wait" look.

As the evening went its informal and happy way, I could see that Maria had indeed changed. She was quicker to speak, more confident, and more relaxed. Just after dinner, Brenda murmured to me,

"I see what it is. It's okay. She's just growing up."

I laughed. That was true enough, but I was by now curious. In exactly what way was Maria growing up?

Looking back from my present vantage point, it seems that I was naive in not considering the possibility that Maria had begun to menstruate. It also surprises me that Brenda said nothing of it to me. She has never been one to be bashful about such things. The fact that she said nothing of it at that time leads me to believe that she knew that Maria had already become physically mature before that summer. Whatever happened on that score, I have the definite impression that Brenda and Maria never had mother-daughter talks on that subject.

As it happens, that naivite kept me on the right track. The process of maturation which Maria was undergoing wasn't a physical one. When Maria was speaking to Margie Smith, I caught a definite southern accent, in fact Anna Louise's Georgia accent. I then understood.

The other women Maria had known had rough spots. Jane had relatively few confrontations only because people quailed in front of her. Brenda could be smooth, but liked to shock. Even Helen had a touch of Philadelphia puritanism about her. It was only Anna Louise who got her way so easily that most other people thought she had done what they wanted. By the same token, she spread her charm so easily that it was hard to know who she really liked. Maria had evidently looked on all this and found it good. That posed some problems.

As far as I had gathered, Anna Louise, whose husband I never met, didn't have affairs. I, at least, hadn't dared approach her. I had wondered, and still wondered, how she gave so many men so many positive signals without leading them on. Evidently the others, like myself, had been afraid. But how had Anna Louise inspired that fear? I had no idea.

I may not have thought about menstruation, but I did know that Maria was now at a dangerous age. If she was going to embrace Biff, and presumably others, would she also be able to emulate Anna Louise in controlling their sexuality? Moreover, Maria would be dealing with teen-aged boys with their legendary sexual drives.

When we left, there were again embraces for Biff and his sister. When Brenda and I were finally alone, I told her about Anna Louise. Brenda wasn't thrilled. She said,

"Thomas, you may not have lived in America long enough to know about a particular American type, the plantation style southern woman. Anna Russell does a wonderful parody of a southern girl at a dance."

According to Brenda, it was a matter of insincerity and flattery carried to the ultimate degree. She said,

"Northern women consider it unfair competition. Even if you catch a woman like that in the act of flattering a man and confront her, she'll insist, "Ah do declayuh, ah think he's just wondaful." They speak much the same way to other women, but the smart ones toss in little barbs."

I didn't think of Anna Louise in this light. She had complimented me, but not, I thought, excessively. When I made that point, Brenda laughed and replied,

"I can see that she plays the game well. Evidently well enough to impress Maria. I wish those London Poles were around to counteract influences like these."

I thought, but didn't say, that Brenda's Polish phase was now long gone, like an old love affair, and was unlikely to have any effect on either herself or Maria. It also seemed to me that Anna Louise and Maria, accents and upbringing apart, were not so very different. I didn't think that Maria's new manner would be just another fad.

There soon followed, just before Maria's school started, an interlude that pleased Brenda and eased a good deal of her anxiety about Maria. The latter wanted Brenda to invest in the company that made the Symbolotron in Seattle. We lost no time in booking a flight.

I was reminded of an earlier hunting expedition before the war when Brenda and I had gone to Southampton in search of J. D. Demlinger. I told Maria about it in some detail. According to Maria, Wilhelmina Sanderson often made visits to small industries in some of which she bought large shares. I could imagine a middle-aged Wilhelmina, in long flowing skirts and a large hat, picking her way through a machine shop or railway yard. She might not have known much about machinery, but she, too, was a smooth article. The men would have talked to her without much reserve, and she would later have made the correct decision.

On this trip, without Ralph and Jane, we were much more like an ordinary family, albeit one with a superannuated father and husband. Moreover, while we took separate rooms for appearance's sake, Brenda and I actually slept in the same bed in the Pacific Hotel. That first morning, when Maria came down to breakfast, Brenda and I were already seated, ready to welcome her like proper parents. Maria, reciprocating, was much more the child than she had recently been.

In order to approach the Ishigawa Manufacturing Company, it was necessary for our taxi to descend one of Seattle's breakneck hills, and then pass through a district in which most residents seemed to need help from a lamp-post in order to remain standing. I can never pass such people without reminding myself that I never quite reached that stage. Maria pretended not to notice while Brenda looked on with a certain grim humor. Then, quite suddenly, we reached an Oriental district. Wanting to make our final approach on foot, we dismissed our taxi and alighted on a street corner next to a large bulletin board with a little roof over it.

Happening to look at the board, we noticed pictures of some twenty girls, the contestants in a Japanese-American beauty contest. Most of them were pretty, but looked as if they were trying to look as un-Japanese as possible. Only the eyes gave them away. The names were rather amusing. There was a Gloria Mishima, an Isabella Fuji, and a Carol Sue Yamamoto. I pointed out a Beatrice Ishigawa, saying,

"She's probably related to the people at the manufacturing company, perhaps even the daughter."

The picture showed a sharp-faced girl, not as pretty as most of the others. Brenda said,

"I don't think she'll win the contest, but she looks intelligent. Perhaps that's a good omen."

As we moved off, Maria said,

"That girl would have good English. She couldn't be the one I spoke to on the phone when I called about Landrum's Folly."

I had forgotten that Maria had spoken with people at the company and replied,

"The woman who could hardly speak English might have been Beatrice's mother."

Having thus formed a composite mental picture of what the company would be like, we arrived at the reality, a modest building which might have housed a small distributor. Our picture wasn't far off. In the office area, a child was sitting with a coloring book, and a squat pleasant-looking Japanese lady set about welcoming us. There were many bows and bits of improbable English. Maria smiled, evidently recognizing the voice she had heard over the telephone.

It wasn't long before the woman summoned her husband. I guessed that he was the man Maria and Mack had spoken with, but we had decided not to mention, at least at the beginning, our connection with the ill-fated Landrum's Folly. Instead, I asked if they had a product called the Symbolotron. Mr. Ishigawa smiled, I thought rather uneasily, and explained that it was being constantly improved. In fact, they had a new model right on the shop floor if we would like to see it.

As he led us back, Mr. Ishigawa asked if we were connected with the government. Brenda told him that we were not, but left him with the impression that we were interested in buying one. I suspected that he wanted to know so that he could be prepared, either with realistic prices for private customers, or the ridiculous ones he charged the government. Maria gave a little gasp, which only I heard, and, following her glance, I caught sight of the burned-out wreck of Landrum's Folly on a nearby bench. I was quite certain that Ishigawa had heard from Sam White in quite distinct terms.

They had no computer, but a typewriter keyboard was wired up to provide the required electrical inputs to the Symbolotron. It could now display two lines of three characters each, an improvement indeed.

Impressive as the demonstration was, I couldn't help comparing Ishigawa with J. D. Detlinger. The contrast wasn't mostly a matter of being Japanese as opposed to English. Detlinger had been, at first glance, a man who was, not only honest, but honorable. Ishigawa was obviously much less than that.

On that earlier foray into Southampton, Brenda had settled the whole business in half an hour. This time, she, like myself, appeared to have misgivings. The price of a Symbolotron to us was nine thousand, not the fifty thousand that Ishigawa had charged the government. When I asked how fast they could be produced, Ishigawa said that they could make two a week, or even more.

It had occurred to me that the price differential might be accounted for by economies of scale as they produced more. However, it looked and sounded as if it took a single man twenty or so hours to assemble each one out of components which didn't cost much. I guessed that the cost of production might be in the range of several hundred dollars. While charging NIL fifty thousand wasn't fraud, it was certainly gouging the government on an impressive scale.

As we left with promises to consider our plans and return, Brenda asked Mr. Ishigawa if he had a daughter named Beatrice. He did smile as he asked Brenda how she knew about his daughter. When we explained, he threw up his hands, not exactly in disgust, but with obvious unhappiness. I gathered that his children were expected to be productive, and not get up to foolish games.

We retired to the comfortable coffee lounge of the Pacific Hotel for our discussion. Brenda began,

"He's not exactly a warm caring human being, but I was impressed. All these Nisei were put in camps in Colorado until after the war. In a very short time he's gotten a great deal together."

I asked Maria what she thought of the technology.

"I never thought the Symbolotron was a great invention. It's kind of obvious, but no one else is doing it. As soon as he can get whole sentences and columns of figures on the screen, everyone with a computer is going to want one."

Maria had also discovered something else that Brenda and I had missed. She said,

"While you were talking with him, I talked with the women at that long bench against the wall. They were assembling components for air-borne radar for the air force."

That sounded like another growth industry. I said,

"I imagine that the prices the air force pays are not inconsiderable."

Maria, rather shyly, compared Mr. Ishigawa to Robert Mott Rogers.

"In both cases, the greatest talent seems to be the knack for selling things to the government."

Brenda said,

"This guy is even more remarkable. He's a Jap with no natural contacts at all, and yet he can thread his way through the bureaucracy."

Neither Maria nor I had the slightest idea how he had sold Landrum's Folly to NIL, and so couldn't enlighten Brenda. But, however it had been done, it appeared that Ishigawa was a man who should be backed on a large scale, perhaps with two million dollars or so. I objected,

"The only trouble is, he may be a crook who'll steal the money."

It was obvious to all of us that nothing like the arrangement with Detlinger would do. Brenda said,

"We'll need a good accountant to keep constant track of him. I don't even want to negotiate the original contract by myself. Ishigawa obviously needs money for expanded production, and for an advertizing campaign. The question is, if we provide it, what share of the take do we get? And then, he'll have to go public at a certain point. How much of the stock do we get then?"

In the event, we never returned to the Ishigawa factory at all. We went to the Seattle office of a prominent national accounting firm and entrusted them with the negotiations.

It was only two weeks after our return that those negotiations were completed. Ishigawa was starved for cash, and two million seemed a great deal to him. It was probably the only time in his life that he entered into an agreement which didn't give him a disproportionate share of the profits.

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