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Baishakunin, Inc.

Chapter Three—Let’s Make a Deal

>> Chapter two

Ever since I turned 35 (two years ago), everyone has treated me differently. During every holiday dinner, my parents and my younger brother with his wife and two kids look at me pitifully, as if my expiration date has long passed. I’m no longer part of the cool 21-34 crowd on surveys and marathon categories, I’m now part of the 35-44-year-old crowd. Even bag boys call me ma’am and offer to carry my groceries to my car—what are they thinking—that maybe I drive a Super Stock Dodge, the classic Little Ole Lady from Pasadena wheels?

All this time I’ve been fighting being old, and now my best friend Ginnie Lee is telling me I’m not old enough. Since being laid off from my dream job as a human resources manager, I’ve decided to start my own matchmaking business, Baishakunin, Inc. I’m on my way to look for a cheap office in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo (one of Ginnie’s friends says that he’ll give me a good deal). But Ginnie says I still have a problem. I need a face for my company. An old face. A comforting Obaasan face. A face filled with wise wrinkles and a twinkle in her eye. I don’t have too many wrinkles yet and definitely no twinkle.

As I pull in the parking lot at Japanese Village Plaza, I wonder if Ginnie’s right. Maybe I can just remake myself. Maybe I can just go for my usual corporate look—pantsuit and button-down blouse. I picture myself—yikes! Would I go to a Hillary Clinton clone for dating advice? No, Ginnie has a point. Just like Colonel Sanders, Beard Papa, Pillsbury biscuits, I need some kind of comforting figurehead. Someone with a soft shoulder to cry on.

I get out of my car and wonder how long I’ll be able to keep up my car payments. Luckily my Pasadena condo is connected to the Gold Line Light Rail line and a station is due to be opened in Little Tokyo sometime soon, judging from all the construction going on.

I smooth out my knit shirt and my denim skirt. I went for a casual look today; no sense in pretending that I have money when I obviously don’t.

The available office space is not in Japanese Village Plaza, but one of the smaller buildings nearby. It’s two-story and a big dingy, but I realize beggars can’t be choosers. I walk into the building and look for the manager’s office, 101, on the first floor.

I try the door knob, but the door is locked. What? I had called to make an eleven o’clock appointment. It’s ten fifty right now. If my Nisei parents have taught me anything, they have taught me to always be punctual.

At eleven-fifteen, a man in his thirties in a brown T-shirt and jeans saunters into the lobby.

“Caroline?” he says.

I stick out my hand. “Nice to meet you.” I’m a little miffed that Jake had come fifteen minutes late, but I’m not going to make a fuss. This is my potential landlord. Although he’s one of Ginnie’s friends, he’s younger than I expected. He still has most of his hair, which is longish on the top and sprays out like a peacock’s crown. It’s not intentional, I think. Just bedhead hair.

“You want to see the space?”

“Yes, most definitely.”

We wait for the elevator—it looks pretty old school, circa the seventies with a clear button that lights up when you press it.

“So, what’s your business?” he asks.

“Baishakunin, Inc. Well, actually, I’m not really incorporated yet, but I have my DBA. My own business checks and everything.” I’m proud that I went over to the Hall of Records in Norwalk to register my business name and place a notice in the classified ad section of some local rag to officially reserve my name.

The elevator door opens and we walk in. There’s a dirty blue rug on the floor and I wonder how quickly they can clean it before I move in. We stand next to each other as the elevator goes up and I notice the strong scent of Irish Spring emanating from his body. So he actually did take a shower before our meeting—I’m gratified.

“Buyshackinn?” Jake butchers my business name and for the first time, I get scared. Maybe my name is too difficult for the post-Japanese school crowd. I know that my older sisters were forced to go to Japanese school, but by the time my parents came to me, they were plain worn out and disillusioned by bicultural/bilingual learning. I ended up watching Saturday cartoons instead, which I truly believe has helped me connect with my fellow man and woman.

“It’s Baishakunin. Are you Yonsei?” I ask somewhat disparagingly.

“Yeah, I guess. My last name is Martinez, but I’m Japanese on my mother’s side.”

The elevator stops on the second floor—it took five minutes! Note to self—take the stairs next time.

“So what’s your business?” he asks as I follow him down a hallway.

“Matchmaking. It’s a matchmaking service.”

“Oh no.” Jake stops in his tracks. “Ginnie didn’t tell me. I can’t have that. This is my grandmother’s property. She wouldn’t like anything shady taking place in here.”

“No, no. I’m not talking about an escort service. This is totally on the up and up. This is high-class professional matchmaking. Because in these times, people find it difficult to meet each other.”

“Well, there’s the Internet.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know about, eHarmony,” I don’t go into all the most specialized ones: date a Buddhist Taoist, date a vegan, date a dog lover, date a senior citizen. I’ve done my market research, I tell you! “Those are icky ways to meet. But this is safe and much, much more reliable.”

“So what, you’ve created a special compatibility computer program?”

“Well, no, it’s all in here.” I tap my head.

“You are going to match people up. Do you have any experience?”

“I will have you know that I’ve successfully matched fifteen couples, including Ginnie and Matt.”

“Does Ginnie know this, because I thought they met at the Dodger game.”

I snarl silently. Why don’t my friends recognize my subtle nudges, my efforts to push them together? I don’t get any respect, which actually is fine with me, if I’m finally going to get money for my efforts.

Jake opens the door to room 202. And it’s literally a room, not an office. It’s barely 12 by 12, if even that. The room can even fit inside my bedroom. And no windows, not a one. I look at the scuffed white walls. This would be perfect for interrogation or housing a madman. Not for romance. “How much will rent be?”

“Well, it’s normally two dollars a square foot, and this being about 250 square feet, 500 dollars a month.”

“But this is barely a shoebox! There’s no windows. And your elevator rug is dirty!”

Jake stares at me for a moment, but my cheeks flush. I didn’t mean to be rude, but 500 dollars is more than I can afford right now.

“Okay, okay, how much were you going to charge for this service?” he asks.

“Five hundred dollars,” I murmur. I know I need to say it with confidence—I mean, I’m going to be providing a quality service and I’m worth it, dammit!

“Five hundred dollars, huh?” he says. “Well, let’s do this. Why don’t I be your first customer, and the rent will be free for the first month. If you’re able to match me up in four weeks, then your rent will be free for a year.”

I can’t say anything for a few seconds. Match this guy up? I sincerely don’t think that he’d need help. He’s not bad looking and apparently showers regularly. Is gainfully employed, I guess. It won’t be any trouble for me to find Ms. Right for him.

I stick my hand out. “You have a deal, Jake.”

Chapter four >>

* "Baishakunin, Inc." is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2008 Naomi Hirahara / Image: Neal Yamamoto and Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

baishakunin Baishakunin, Inc. fiction little tokyo naomi hirahara romance serialized story

About this series

"Baishakunin, Inc." is a new work of fiction from Naomi Hirahara the author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai mystery series and two biographies published by the Japanese American National Museum. Its main character, Caroline Mameda, starts her own match-making business after being fired from her job. Set in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo.

Read Chapter One