Chapter 9 Summary

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The ninth chapter, “Clarinet Serenade,” opens on Cal’s first date with Julie Kikuchi. Cal takes her out to a restaurant called “Austria” and translates the menu for her. Julie is 36, though she looks ten years younger. She is a photographer, but she does not want Cal to look at her work. She has arthritis in her right hand, which means that she cannot hold a camera for very long. She likes the restaurant, and though she briefly mentions a boyfriend, she does not allow the conversation to turn to former partners. This decision is good for Cal since she has a short list of partners to complain about, which she knows can make women suspicious. Looking at Julie, Cal admits to the reader, “I like her. I like her a lot.”

Cal turns the story back to another romance. It is the romance between his parents, Milton and Theodora, or "Tessie" as everyone calls her, in 1944. Cal has advanced the story eleven years, explaining that a great deal has changed during that time. Prohibition has been lifted and Lefty has closed the speakeasy in his basement. Using the money he saved from the auto-erotica, he opened a legal bar that is patronized by Ford’s workers. When the Second World War begins, Detroit returns to work. And even before the work day begins, they come to the Zebra Room to dull their senses against the day’s routine. Milton has grown up into a thin man, and Cal explains that even recalling Milton’s face with Calliope’s forgiving eyes, his father was never attractive. Tessie, meanwhile, grew up different from her mother, Lina, who used to compare the two of them to “Chinese food. Sweet and sour.”

The romance begins one day when Milton comes home with his clarinet and finds only Tessie at home watching a roast for Desdemona. Up until this point, Milton would have described Tessie to his friends as “honey from the icebox” because “cold sweets don’t spread.” However, on this day, Milton discovers that Tessie paints her toenails red and realizes that his entire opinion about her has changed. He plays her a note on his clarinet and as he does so, he touches the end of the instrument against her naked knee. Following this initial serenade, Milton and Tessie continue to explore how the clarinet will “fill her body with music” using different body parts.

Sensing and dreading the romance between her son and his cousin, Desdemona once more takes on the role of “matchmaker.” She brings girls from all over to meet her son. However, whenever they come over, Milton stays in his room and plays clarinet out the window for Tessie. Desdemona also plays matchmaker for Tessie and introduces her to Michael Antoniou. Mike is going to become a priest and he is kind and handsome whereas Milton is scrawny and pimply. Desdemona thinks it would be great to have a priest in the family. When Tessie agrees to marry Mike, Milton joins the navy. Lefty is shocked and disappointed, and he reminds his son that war is not a joke. However, Milton cannot not be convinced, even when his father reminds him that he cannot swim.

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