“You know Tom just repeats himself so often. I really want to ask him to stop, but I just can’t do it.” Ivy says. She’s talking about her husband Tom Tsai. They’ve been married for twenty years now and have a good manageable relationship. Ivy’s idea of a good marriage is “manageable”, but recently she feels that Tom’s repetitiveness is becoming a little unmanageable.
Ivy and Tom run the “Ivy Training Center” at Edison, New Jersey. And Lulan, an unemployed anthropologist, is one of their employees.
“Can’t believe you say something like this. We all think you’ve got the best. Tom is a responsible husband and a cooperative business partner and very good tempered. What else do you want? I think you’ve dealt with a good hand in the marriage game. You should be the last person to complain. Just think about all those other women who have to deal with an unsuitable husband and can’t get out of the marriage–they struggle like a duck with its head cut off?” Lulan says.
“All my goodness. I love your metaphor. It’s a little bloody, but this is why I like you. You just talk like a fearless scholar.” Ivy says.
Whenever Ivy praises Lulan, Lulan knows it’s a sure sign that Ivy is going to ask her for a favor.
“Now can you use your fearlessness on my husband? Next time when he repeats something, just tell him to stop. Please save me, Lulan. If I hear ‘I love home cooked noodles freshly made from flour’ one more time, I am going to explode like a volcano.” Ivy says.
“Why can’t you tell him? You are his wife. I am just a friend and an employee.” Lulan says.
“I’m the wife and I don’t want him to be mad with me. You know. I have to live with him. You don’t have to. Also Tom always says that you are quite vocal and blunt. You always blurt out things that sound very smart but not quite polite. So you already have a reputation for being brave and rough in your language, while I have a sweet reputation and I want to keep it that way.” Ivy says.
Lulan is always amazed at Ivy’s ability to balance sweet politeness with business acumen. Lulan will never be able to do that.
“Well, Tom is my boss, you know, but of course you take care of the office, not him… Well, I guess I could if…” Lulan says.
“OK, how about fifty dollars?” Ivy asks.
“Make it sixty? I love a lucky number. But the problem is I usually don’t talk with Tom alone since he doesn’t take care of the details of the office. It’s usually in an office meeting or at a party with everybody around.” Lulan says.
“That’s true. Let me think. Wait for my signal. When I feel it’s an appropriate moment, I will signal you and you will say it.” Ivy says.
Lulan reconsiders the whole thing and has another idea. She doesn’t want to be singled out as the lone fighter against repeating, or against Tom. So she talks to two colleagues of hers, Sandi and Tak, giving each twenty dollars to back her up whenever the occasion comes.
The weekend comes and there ‘s a dinner party at Ivy’s house. Tom talks again about something he has talked about many times before, “The biggest cultural difference is that the sidewalk in New Jersey is too empty. If you go to Penang, that island of South East Asia where I came from, the sidewalk is always full of life, full of people.” Tom says, a little tipsy from the rice wine.
Lulan looks toward Ivy, but Ivy is not sending out any signal. So Lulan keeps her mouth shut. However Sandi is just a college intern, working 6 hours each week at the training center for some pocket money. Sandi doesn’t have the patience to wait for signals. She has something on her mind and she wants to express it.
“Tom, we’ve heard that many times and stop repeating yourself.”
Tak wants to date Sandi and he supports everything Sandi says. So he chimes in, “Tom, stop repeating yourself. What do you think, Lulan? We all think Tom should stop repeating himself, right?”
Lulan nods her head, but she can’t say anything since she is still waiting for the signal, which is not coming.
“What?” Tom says in a surprised voice. “Is that how you treat old Tom? I am old and talkative and boring. You all think so, don’t you? This is what one gets when one gets old. No respect. I get no respect. OK, I’ll stop repeating myself.” Tom says. He tries to stand up to deliver his speech, but a little too tipsy to manage that. So he sits down.
Ivy glances at Lulan, nodding her head approvingly. Lulan reciprocates. The two women smile at their unexpected victory.
“I am old and useless. People really want me to shut up.” Tom continues to murmur. Ivy comes over to sit by Tom and grabs his hand,
“You still have me, Tom. You always have old Ivy. I am here for you.” Ivy says.
“Oh, Ivy. Sweetheart. I am so lucky that I have you. I would go mad without you. When they all think I am down and out and boring as hell, you stand by me.” Tom says, gulping down another cup of rice wine.
“Of course, Tom. Now have more beef pineapple here, it’s good for you.” Ivy says, and scoop some pan fried beef with pineapple for Tom.
“You are so sweet, Ivy. I love home cooked noodles freshly made from flour? Can you make some for me tomorrow?” Tom asks.