Monday, May 22, 2006

Mystery on the Yangtze...(or Ghengis Khan vs. Chaka Khan)

Because of this child - this child who I will never see again, this child who will not remember my face, I have left no impression, I am truly anonymous, an old man – I begin to understand Death in Venice. I am watching his beauty become defined. He is unaware of what he is. He brings me indefinably closer. I try to put this emotion in to words. It is not physical and it is not spiritual. It has to do with art. It has to do with evolution and creation, some weird biology accident. Closer, I start to understand Michelangelo and Lewis Carroll.

Once again, I am in the lounge. This time I am drinking the complimentary dishwater tea. I am drinking it out of a Dixie Cup. The cup looks like a Dixie Cup. Are Dixie Cups made in China?

The Aztec boy has come back in with his cousin, brother, whatever. He says hello to me when I look up. He smiles. I smile. I want to talk to him but I do not. You do not talk to Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Blue Boy.

I have the urge to follow him when he leaves but I do not. I try to read Moby Dick but I cannot. I go back to my cabin. I see the Aztec boy on the stairway. I ask him if he knows English. He does not. He runs off to find his cousin, brother, whatever. He is like a fawn or the Picture of Dorian Gray. I am anonymous. I am the main character who dies of the plague (Was it the plague?) in Death in Venice.

I go out onto the upper back deck and enjoy the solitude. To me the weather is perfect, the sun is shining which makes it warm but then the breeze blows so that it is not a still stifling hot. When I asked Bruce why the deck was abandoned he told me Chinese people do not like the heat. They would rather be in their cabins. The cabins seem more stifling to me.

I walk to the front fourth floor deck. Maureen and Jennifer are the hit among some young Chinese men. They are talking about the Chinese language. For some strange reason, I am jealous. I say hello and I ask if we are stopping while the bus takes those who want to pay an exorbitant amount to see some random waterfall. They do not know.

I go back to the back deck. The day drifts along. I read. I write. My insides start to feel as if Genghis Khan is trying to sink my battleship. I go lay down.

This is where you beg your body to behave. You do not want to be squatting in this space smaller than a closet.

Jennifer and Maureen come back to the room. One of the men they met wants to go to supper with them in the dining room. This seems so love boat. There is a knock on the door. The man – English name Jeff - is there with his son – English name Jack. Jack - a self-possessed ten year old - has plastic monster finger puppets for everyone. I am trying to sleep and I say a half-hearted thank you. Genghis has brought in the heavy artillery.

As soon as everyone goes out the door, I head to the miniscule bathroom for some privacy. Touch me I’m Sick! Now that I no longer drink, I am not used to such ferocious stomach pains. I admire the Chinese for being able to squat during sickness. I will be so happy to get back to my privileged Western toilet. After what seems like an eternity but is probably only fifteen minutes, I feel much better. I take a shower. I have not towel. I use a dirty t-shirt. With a new attitude that would make the Pointer Sisters or Sister Sledge proud, I decide to go to the back deck to write about the gastronomical ups and downs of life on the river. Did Mark Twain go through this? Is that how he named Huck Finn?

Twilight shadows the river. Other vessels pass by like phantoms with light sneaking out of cabins and reflecting on the river. I think of the spirits that might be floating around. I wonder if Karen Carpenter would have fared better on the food in China.

The twilight fades into a dark, cloud-filled, moonless night. I gaze out upon the bank. A few passengers come out and sit and enjoy the night. After sitting for awhile, my mood which was on the nasty side of things suddenly becomes much better. I am actually almost giddy. I head for the front deck because I am sure Jennifer and Maureen are there. Or I think they might be there. I head that way.

Yes, they are there sitting. I sit with them. I ask them if they had a nice meal. They told me they did. Didn’t I see the note in the room and the tray of food? Jennifer gets up and I follow her. Maureen is always a bit oblivious to her surroundings.
“Tray of food?” I ask
“Yeah,” Jennifer says “Weren’t you in the shower like ten or fifteen minutes ago?”
“No, I took a shower like an hour ago.”
“Well, who was in the shower?” Jennifer asks.
Jennifer and I are perplexed. We make haste to the room. I am actually looking forward to the meal although my stomach is at defcon 3, I feel daring enough to eat. I am still a bit mystified that someone was taking a shower in our room. Maybe the ladies imagined the showering.

On the way back to the cabin, I tell Jennifer I had been in a rotten mood but now I am in a much better mood. I do not know why I tell her. Maybe she cares, maybe she doesn’t. I am still almost giddy.

The tray of food is on the chair, a chair which has a missing back. Next to the tray is a note to me. I tell Jennifer I certainly would have seen this tray if it was me in the shower. Beside the tray is an unfamiliar backpack. The plot thickens. We are actually a bit freaked. Jennifer tells me she did not mean to but she told her new friend Jeff I am a famous American singer. She does not want to embarrass me. I tell her that is flattering. She then tells me Jeff would really like me to come by and give his son an autograph. I tell her I need to properly thank his son for the plastic finger puppet.

We traipse down the hall to 314 and knock on the door. Jeff answers the door. Jeff tells his young son that I am a famous American singer. He asks me if I will autograph something for his son. I tell him I would be honored. Jack tells me he would like to be a singer. This makes me feel like Lou Rawls, Johnny Mathis, John Davidson, Chaka Khan. I tell him I am now a teacher. After careful deliberation, Jack hands me his Chinese translation of Dante’s Inferno which he is currently reading. I sign my name and draw some obligatory crosses and hearts. Jack watches as I sign my name. I give him back his book. Jennifer and I head back to our room - 308. Later tonight, around 10 pm, the ship will dock and we will have a night tour of a temple which is exciting to tour a temple on a hill at night. I am reminded of playing kick the can and hide and seek at night out in the Osage. I am reminded of eating mushrooms in Connecticut with the Kittens.


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