The year was 1972. Eddie was working at his father’s hardware store in Chinatown when the People’s Republic of China Peking Circus came to town as a cultural exchange arranged by President Nixon.
It was a busy in his father’s hardware store, named Yang’s Do-it-Yourself. It was the first day of Spring, and all the hibernating weekend warriors suddenly awoken to the maintenance jobs left undone during the cold winter month, their wives pushing them to fix the broken doorknobs and misfitting window shades.
But Eddie’s mind was elsewhere. The NYPD closed off part of Mott Street for a procession of the Chinese performers, a mini-parade, and Eddie was keen on seeing it. At lunchtime, he left the shop, against his father’s wishes.
Eddie thrilled at the sight of the exotic acrobats and horses which paraded down the grimy, littered Lowe East side street. The circus performers looked as Chinese as he did, same eyes and dark hair, but they stepped with a precision that made them seem distinctly unAmerican. If only the Chinese people saw the chaos during a fire drill at an American school like P.S. 100.
“Form a straight line.” Mrs. Goldenberg, his teacher, would yell. “One at a time.” And, of course, no one listened. Americans are like John Wayne. They do it THEIR WAY.
“I bet there isn’t one Eddie in THIS circus,” Eddie thought to himself.
A few moments later, he saw a woman in the procession wearing a costume with golden wings. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her name was Howin, which means “loyal swallow” in Chinese. He discovered that was her name because he followed her for a mile along the route uptown and waited for her for five hours in the lobby of the Pennsylvania Hotel until he could see her again, completely forgetting about his job back at the hardware store. That night, his father beat him with a belt, calling him a shameful son who lacked ambition.
Today is the first of Spring, 2015, and Eddie has long forgotten the beating. Eddie prides himself on remembering the good things in life and not the tragedies, such as his father’s death, his son’s suicide at seventeen, the closing of the shop, his wife’s cancer. And he will always remember the day and especially the night with Howin, the Communist Chinese circus acrobat visiting on a cultural exchange arranged by then President Nixon, a woman he could barely communicate with in Cantonese or English.
He never again saw Howin, the loyal swallow, but as Eddie, now an old man, walks along Mott Street on this cold first day of Spring, he remembers her golden wings.