We all have our personal, Aldo stories and I am no exception. My story begins in prehistory, when both Aldo and I were at, dare I say it, Marist Brothers. In those days, if you didn’t or couldn’t make it at Marist Brothers, you were sent to CA and if you couldn’t make it at CA you were either home schooled or sent off to either reform school or prison. Examples of the sending away of undesirables by one school, Marist, and the foolishly optimistic acceptance of them by the other, CA, in the hope that they could be rehabilitated, was a demonstration, , of expediency by part of one and of Christian charity on the part of the other. Hence, Bomi Shroff, Nawawi Hassan, and myself among others, better forgotten than remembered, were the subject of experiments in which bad weeds were pulled up in Suma and replanted in the thus far unspoiled hills “ ‘neath Maya-San” without, I am afraid, much hope for success. Aldo was and is an exception to this because he is one of the few who graduated from both Marist Brothers and CA. How he pulled this off, I leave it for him to explain, not just in the isolation of the confessional to the holy father, who is bound to secrecy and, more likely than not, will take all this valuable information with him to the grave, if he hasn’t already done so, but to all of us whose paths were fated to cross.
I was in the fifth grade and Aldo was in the third. It was common in those days to give people nick names, most of which were not of the complementary sort. One of the exceptions to the general rule was John Hansen, who was called handsome-Hansen. Meaning no disrespect, most of the brothers were also not spared the snickering that inevitably accompanied nick names. I can’t say if they knew about it or not but here are a few examples: Brother Charles, Charlie; Brother Steven, Steezie; Brother Vincent, black beard the pirate, Brother Francis, Francois Beno, Brother Rafael, following prostate surgery, plastic pots; Brother George, Georgie-Porgie, and so on. They were good and dedicated teachers so the entire blame for the breach in etiquette should rest solely and squarely with the wild animals which they were sent out to tame. Tame and train as they tried, this was no easy task, even for those of the black-robed order.
One day, while walking aimlessly about the playground, I heard this raspy voice call out from behind: “Tony Tonkatsu.” Tonkatsu is the Japanese word for pork. Since there were no other Tonys in the school, I assumed that someone was referring to me. You needn’t guess who the perpetrator was. It was none other than Aldo. Now, to have been called “inoshishi,” wild boar, would have been better but that word did not rhyme with my name. Or to be called “buta manju,” would have been worse but I was a skinny thing and buta maju are known for their plumpness. Tonkatsu in itself was insult enough. The school was multicultural. That meant that there were students from various cultural backgrounds who came from families that were traditional in their outlooks. Therefore if you were a Jew or a Muslim or even a Hindu, being called Tonkatsu would have been one of the gravest affronts.
In those days, slurs such as these were dealt with “behind the kura,” where the insulted and the insulter met and scores were settled. My first reaction was to invite Aldo to a meeting behind the kura where I would show him a thing or two about respecting one’s elders and one’s betters. Before acting rashly however, there were two aspects of this which had to be weighed. First of all, although Aldo was in a grade two years below mine, it would not be a foregone conclusion as to who would be presenting the lesson and who would be on the receiving end. Aldo, although younger, had already shown considerable strength, both in sports as well as with a biting wit. Secondly, as these things go, the more you protested and the more it seemed to affect you, the greater would be the interest among the other boys to discover your weakness and exploit it mercilessly. This, for those of you who need to be reminded, would have its source in Darwin’s theory on the origin of species, as it relates to the playground behavior of beasts, something he no doubt considered but did not get around to writing about owing to the limits of time and the danger of sailing The Beagle to Japan where variations to the Yakitori menu were far from what we know them to be today and still very much in the developmental stage. So in the interest of avoiding further embarrassment and a veritable chorus of hyenas howling out “Tonkatsu,” every time I passed, although boiling inside, I shrugged off the insult as if it were nothing. The remainder of the wolves, who were within earshot, having not noticed any wounded to attack, went off to find more interesting and tasty prey elsewhere. It was a close call.
It took me some years to reconcile myself to having been called Tonkatsu now and again. Since then, although I have been away from school, but not from under the influence of Aldo, for so many years, it is still lies fresh in my mind. Is it acceptable to be called Tonkatsu while still maintaining one’s self esteem? It’s doubtful. “Inoshishi,” on the other hand, would have been more respectful, but you cannot ignore a catchy phrase, an old love song or an annoying nick name. Although having been deeply and permanently traumatized, I have somehow learned, with some difficulty and with the support of my family, to live with it, probably, because I like Aldo so much.