Last day of March, 2020. Middle of a pandemic. Trying to comprehend such an enormous thing — and such an enormity — as watching the only planet we know, and all of us who inhabit it, be menaced, from West Bengal to Time Square and everywhere in between, by a potentially deadly pathogen, something bascially as UNhuman as a coiling, twisting vine multiplying and creeping up a wall.
It is giving us all time to think, and remember — especially if you’ve been on this planet for nearly three quarters of a century, like me.
And what do I do? I stay confined — though tending to a sick companion; sick not with the dreaded virus but with an inexplicably debilitating leg pain that has put her on a borrowed set of crutches following a painful trip to a clinic for an ultrasound and MRI.
And, with no “hook” to make it relevant, I suddenly scour the archives of my memory during this enforced leisure — and my letter file — and discover that I wrote a very accomplished composer some months back after chancing to see his credit at the end of the television series Biography. He wrote the music for that and, apparently, much, much more — and is a well-known composer of experimental and symphonic music as well.
And on that day, I realized I had once had an encounter, long ago, with this American composer named — Frank Becker.
So — I wrote him a letter. Perhaps it was an email. I re-read it and now — perhaps as one of many diversions from the sickness abroad in the land, harking back a half century to a time when there was war in Vietnam and plenty of trouble to be had in many quarters but no pandemic — I share it with you. It went as follows:
Frank, (perhaps a little too casual for a salutation, like clocking a total stranger on the forehead with a ruler.)
I’ll surface from the distant past just long enough to congratulate you for your musical achievement, then dip back into the sea….(Seems to be telling him not to bother replying. A might too self-effacing.)
Channel surfing one night recently, I caught the tail end of a Biography episode and saw the name Frank Becker flash by. Soon I determined that it was ‘that’ Frank Becker.
In September, 1970, I was an American G.I. on leave in Tokyo from my remote outpost in Korea. I visited a Tokyo neighborhood recommended by the guidebooks (possibly Shibuya), found nothing much there, so stopped into a downstairs bar for a quick drink before heading back to Tashikawa Air Base (my temporary quarters). The place was empty except for an American guy and his Japanese girlfriend at the bar chatting with the bartender.
An American! Eureka! I needed some company with someone who spoke English. The three of us ( four, if you include the English-speaking bartender) chatted briefly, then I left, but your girlfriend, Shizuyo, rushed out to the street to invite me to join the two of you at your apartment in a Yokohama high rise to which we traveled by train and where we talked about music over high balls well into the night. You showed me the score of a string quartet you’d written in memory of Senator Robert Kennedy ( for which you received only a form letter of acknowledgement).
Suddenly a good old Japanese earth tremor set the building to swaying. Shizuyo, who’d gone to bed by now, sprang up in the bedroom doorway on her knees. I, sufficiently numbed by the high ball and you, probably used to such things, quietly sat out the rumbling and went back to talking about a Kansas march you’d joined in opposition to capital punishment.
In the morning, I went back to the base. Shizuyo and I exchanged a couple of letters thereafter, keeping me up to date on your movements. Then, of course, time washed away everything but the pleasant memory of a brief Tokyo meeting.
I always wondered what happened to you. I was delighted to find out.
Keep up the good work. — Greg Wayland
p.s. I spent my life as a television reporter, in Boston ( my hometown), Providence and Rhode Island. Retired and am writing now.
I sent it on-line to a website at which Frank could purportedly be contacted. I never heard a reply. I tried to friend that girlfriend who is on Facebook with Frank’s last name added to her Japanese name. My friend request went friendless. Were they still married?
Of course, I always wondered if he ever got the letter, or, getting it, ignored it. (As noted, I seemed to give him an “out” from making a reply.
I have this tendency, confirming my unadulterated status as a social rube, to engage in such correspondences — reach out to people I’d met generations ago in brief encounters which those correspondents have likely forgotten, or, having moved on in their lives, care not to remember, now having no 21st Century desire to re-connect with someone who might thereafter badger or fairly stalk them with successive unwanted letters.
But I’ll probably do it again. And Frank Becker, if you ever read this, thank you for the drinks and that brief Tokyo — and Yokohama — moment. I haven’t sadly, been back to Japan again. And, of course, you live elsewhere as well.