Masa Comes For Xmas

My son Clayton is a polyglot (one who speaks many languages). His talents first manifested themselves with an interest in learning Japanese, and the catalyst for that was meeting a man named Masakazu Hamasuna (“Masa”) when Clayton was a freshman at Miami University in Florida (1991). Masa, a Japanese national, was studying in the states, and they became (and still are) good friends. Masa suggested to Clayton that he might take a course in Japanese, and Clayton promptly did so.

As the holidays approached, Clayton called me from Miami and said that his friend Masa was trapped in the United States during the break and had nowhere to go. So Clayton wondered if it would be all right if for one week he took Masa with him to Indianapolis, where Charleyne was living with her husband Gabe (whose daughter Terry, slightly older than Clayton, would also be home for Xmas), and then bring Masa to Columbus for a week with me and my partner Jerry. I said that was fine, but had he told Masa what he would find first in Indy and then in Columbus? “What do you mean, Dad?” he asked.

A bit of explanation here. Charleyne’s husband Gabe had been a neighbor of ours during Char and my marriage, and was good friend to boot. He and I used to get high and go to movies together in his tiny sports car (and to this day I swear he would sometimes drive under trucks just to get my reaction, which, frighteningly, he won’t deny---he was one of the people who came to the New Year's Eve Party that I threw, but missed: "New Year's Eve Party Without the Host" Jan.7). After Char and I divorced, Gabe and Charleyne began dating and were married. Gabe and his daughter Terry moved into the condo Char and I had lived in before I took the job at Ohio State and moved to Columbus. The only complication this presented for Masa’s visit is that Gabe (and, of course, Terry) are African-Americans, and I thought perhaps that was interesting enough information to merit a head’s up to Masa ahead of time, and then on to the next challenge: Jerry and me, a gay couple (since Clayton was fourteen Jerry had been part of his life).

“Oh, he won’t care about any of that,” Clayton responded. Clayton had been reared in these unconventional circumstances, and nothing fazed him. “I’m sure not,” I replied, “but you can’t just spring it on him at the last moment. Tell him ahead of time.” “Okay, Dad,” Clayton muttered, grudgingly.

A week went by before Clayton and I spoke again on the phone and, of course, I asked him if he’d mentioned all this to Masa. Yes. And what did Masa respond? (Sometimes talking to Clayton is like cross-examining a hostile witness.) “Well, Dad, Masa sort of paused . . . and then said it made his family in Japan sound boring.” I had to laugh. It would make anyone’s family sound boring.

When Masa and Clayton arrived in Columbus after an enjoyable visit with Clayton’s Indy family, they proceeded to have a fairly traditional Christmas with Jerry and me. This started with a shopping trip to an Xmas tree lot, selection of said tree, and its decoration by the four of us. It was interesting to see all of this through Masa’s eyes: hmm, you kill a tree, install it upright in your home, decorate it with lights and who-knows-what-else, and then a few days later haul it out to the trash? Why? He didn’t actually ask these questions, but there was often a puzzled look on his face. Masa turned out to have a great sense of humor, and a good time was had by all.

Following Masa’s visit, I’ve seen him a couple of times. Once at a dinner in Indianapolis with Charleyne, Gabe, and Clayton, and again in NYC, where I was giving a lecture and he was then living (we had an entertaining breakfast at which I advised him on what Broadway shows his Japanese wife, with limited English skills, was most likely to enjoy). Clayton and Masa once took a trip up the Amazon River together (see above photos), where they fished for and caught piranhas. And sometimes through the years (until the advent of email put them permanently in touch) Masa would phone me from various places in the world (now a journalist, he’s currently living in South America), “Mr. Whaley, do you have Clayton’s address?” being his typical question.

Clayton went on to leave Miami, move to Tokyo for a year and a half of Japanese language immersion study at Sophia University (where he made friends with people from all over the world, all of them learning Japanese). Clayton is now fluent in the language (reading, writing, speaking). He currently is in charge of the wiring for the wings of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner (my little baby—yikes!), and since the wings are built in Japan, Clayton (who lives in Seattle) frequently spends long periods there with Boeing executives, where he's often the only person in the room who fluently speaks both languages (and, he tells me, the Japanese are usually not happy to have an American doing the translations).

So, meeting Masakazu was a life-changing experience for Clayton. And for Masa it meant not only gaining a good friend, but also a chance for an in-depth immersion in the craziness that is Christmas in America.

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


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